Telling the Family
Disclosing one’s homosexuality to family can be more difficult than disclosing it to others. Coming out to one’s family is a particularly significant step, as the following account by a 35-year-old man illustrates:
Most of my vacation at home went well, but the ending was indeed difficult. Gay people kept cropping up in conversation. My mother was very down on them (us), and I of course was disagreeing with her. Finally she asked me if I was "one of them." I said yes. It was very difficult for her to deal with. She asked a lot of questions, which I answered as calmly, honestly, and rationally as I could. We spent a rather strained day together. It was so painful for me to see her suffering so much heartache over this and not even having a clue that the issue is the oppression of gay people. I just wish my mother didn’t have to suffer so much from all this. (Authors’ files)
Parents may react with anger or guilt about what they "did wrong." Research does indicate that as societal attitudes become more positive about homosexuality, parents react more receptively to disclosure (Pearlman, 2005). Families that are less rigid and
authoritarian and more cohesive are more likely to react with less stress to disclosure of homosexuality (Willoughby et al., 2006). The organization Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), which has over 350 chapters nationwide, helps parents and others develop understanding, acceptance, and support. Potentially more problematic than coming out to one’s parents is coming out to one’s spouse and children. A gay man or lesbian closeted in a heterosexual marriage may have grave concerns about the reactions of his or her spouse and children, who indeed tend to struggle with the disclosure (Sanders, 2000).
To a greater extent than White homosexual people, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from other racial and ethnic groups are more likely to stay in the closet with their families and community than to be open and face alienation, not only from their families but also from their heritage (Span & Vidal, 2003). For example, traditional Asian cultures place greater significance on loyalty and conformity to one’s family than on individual needs and desires. Being openly homosexual is seen as shaming the family, and not marrying and creating heirs to carry on the family name is a failure for the whole extended family. In addition, lesbianism is an affront to the traditions of an ethnic group that expects virginity for unmarried women and views "good women" as primarily nonsexual.
The emphasis on masculinity as the ideal gender norm in the lower socioeconomic segment of the African American community—and the emphasis on machismo for Hispanic men—creates particular difficulty for gender-nonconforming individuals. In one study, more Latino gays reported negative family reactions to their sexual orientation as adolescents than did any other group of lesbian, gay, or bisexual teens (Ryan et al., 2009). Another study found that suicide risk among young African American and Hispanic lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals may be greater than for Caucasian LGB youth (O’Donnell et al., 2011).
In general, the African American community has stronger negative views of homosexuals than does White society. Consequently, African American lesbians and gay men have a greater incidence of psychological distress than do White homosexual people as a result of racism and homophobia (Szymanski & Gupta, 2009). Although leaders such as the Reverend Al Sharpton, Coretta Scott King, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson have supported gay civil rights, the influence of strong fundamentalist Christian beliefs contributes to the higher degree of intolerance in the Black community. Many African American lesbians and gay men who were affiliated with the Black church as children find continued participation untenable as adults due to church-sanctioned antigay prejudice (R. Miller, 2008). Unfortunately, antigay prejudice has gravely hindered African American communities from proactively addressing the AIDS crisis (Bond, 2006).