Advice for a father of a 13yo gay girl?
February 21, 2017 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Simply put... My 13 year old daughter is gay. I really want to support her in anyway I can. She goes to a religion-based, private school where she is very happy with lots of friends. I feel a conflict between the anti-gay official position of the school and the actual reality of the students. So... should I keep my daughter in a "Christian" school vs. ?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What were her thoughts?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2017 [29 favorites]

If she's happy in the school and wants to stay there, than absolutely support her staying there! If things turn ugly, you can pull her out then, if she wants. Just let her know that you think the school's policies are total BS and you want her to know that she can leave if she wants to.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:38 AM on February 21, 2017 [38 favorites]

The best thing you can do for your daughter is to ask her how she feels and what she wants—AND LISTEN TO HER.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:41 AM on February 21, 2017 [12 favorites]

I could imagine a situation where a child is happy at school, but the school is harming the child in ways they can't appreciate or understand (my daughter would be happy eating mac and cheese 3 meals a day, but I have to step in because it is not in her best interest to do so). If the school and the religion's anti-gay position were causing a negative self-image, for example.

Even so, I think there has to be some pretty severe harm going on to pull a child out of a school they are happy with and where they have a good social life. Especially at that age, when school is so often torturous and lonely.

I think I would talk to her pretty frankly about your concerns and worries, and make sure that you and she are checking in regularly to make sure this is the best place for her to be.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:44 AM on February 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

Check out any PFLAG chapters nearby. They will be able to address your worries more directly, and it's an awesome way to show your kid that you're supportive as well as become part of a support network for other queer people and their loved ones.

13 is a nearly impossible age regardless of orientation. I imagine that taking her out of a school where she feels happy is probably a nuclear option. Instead, can you try to counterbalance the situation by involving her and yourself in queer-friendly groups and activities in your community outside of school?

It is possible that the school just needs a push to change its policies and maybe you are in a position to give it that push. This isn't your responsibility but I think it's worth investigating. There are definitely other gay kids in school who have parents who won't be nearly so accepting as you.
posted by Mizu at 11:50 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

The two (now) out gay women I know from growing up moved from the school I went to (a secular private school) to (different) religion-based schools. They went from being unhappy at school to happy at a school with lots of friends. (I don't think it's a huge coincidence that one of them was all girls and the other was a boarding school, but that's neither here nor there.)

The point is talk to your daughter, see how she feels about it, and let her know you're on board with a change if she wants it. But don't be surprised if she chooses to stay.
posted by phunniemee at 11:50 AM on February 21, 2017

Help her find supportive communities of LGBTQ youth and allies, and support her in spending time with those communities. If the school suppresses youth with these identities, it will be important for her to learn what it can be like to be out and with others who are also out. You want her to feel positive about the possibilities related to her gender and sexuality, not isolated and alone.
posted by cubby at 11:53 AM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I was a 13-year-old queer kid in a religious school! My school was Roman Catholic so the "official" word on that was that is way okay to be gay but not okay to act on it. This was in no way enforced/policed/loudly proclaimed by the administration. It was more background noise. A different religious group may be more harmfully vocal, so definitely be aware of what they're putting out there. My friend group included several other queer kids. I was not out to my parents and not out to the administration, but my friends knew when I came out and I even ended up dating one of them for a while. I cannot imagine how stressful and upsetting it would have been to be moved to a school away from them.

I vote for keeping her in the school as long as that's what she wants. Having a supportive peer group is so important for kids her age.

Seconding the advice to find local queer community in addition to keeping her with her friends in school. If you're having trouble finding out what those are, see if a local college has an LGBTQ support group/center. They are likely to have connections in the community for age-appropriate community.
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:01 PM on February 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

Right now, in this climate, I would say just make sure you're volunteering at the school in whatever capacity is available to you so that you are keeping a first-person ear to the ground, and always know what your alternatives are at any given moment so you're not caught off guard if you need to pull her in a hurry.

But you should assume that the tide *is* going to turn, and either she's going to want out or you're going to have to get her out. Plan ahead.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:12 PM on February 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

Seconding PFLAG. It could turn out fine but it's best to have resources on hand. I went to a Catholic high school. It was known for its theater and arts programs and there were lots of openly and semi-openly LGB people. I myself was gender nonconforming and openly identified as queer. I can't say everything was perfect but I never heard of anyone getting harassed by teachers or the administration even though the position of the Catholic church is regressive (this was the late 80s/early 90s, too). The benefit of private schools is that they can expel bullies a lot more easily than public schools. I was bullied (for non-LGBT reasons) and the kid was expelled fairly promptly.
posted by AFABulous at 12:31 PM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Like others have said, if she wants to stay at the school, there's likely no harm in it. But be prepared for that to change. And I want to third getting at least acquainted with PLFAG or some other resources.

It's not so much for you and her, although, it might be a help. The hardest thing for me, as a parent to a gay teen, was how to handle dating (and sleepovers with friends). I mean, sure the usual rules for teen dating apply - but the dating pool is by definition smaller at her school than if she were straight, so she'll need more support for dating outside of her social circle - which is mostly kids she knows from school. So, you'll have to be a bit more lenient about social media accounts and such - they'll be very important for her.

Also, hopefully things are better now than they were 5-10 years ago when my son was just starting to date - but man, the ways some gay kids were fucked up by their parents and family was really heartbreaking. Having some resources to help with those situations was a real help.

And lastly, I hope you do better than I did. My son still loves Olive Garden. I don't know where it all went wrong.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:45 PM on February 21, 2017

Does the school have and enforce a policy that everyone there treats others with respect even if they don't like them?
posted by brujita at 3:01 PM on February 21, 2017

You can support her by telling her periodically that you love her, and who she loves doesn't factor into the equation. Most kids don't hear their parent say this often enough.

The school issue is tricky. I am not nor will I ever be a parent, but I am approaching middle age, so here is my perspective for what it's worth. The "anti-gay" official position you perceive in the school is likely based on the incompatibility between sex for pleasure and the Catholic Church. I don't see anything wrong with explaining to your daughter at a time when you feel it is appropriate that, in their opinion, they view non-procreative sex as a sin. Should you have this conversation, you should share your values and ask your daughter to examine her own values. I would also try to make it clear that some people will not accept her as she is, and that this is actually a very normal, if undesirable, thing. Anyone who treats her differently than any other well-behaved child does so due to a flaw in them, not her.

Were it my decision, I'd urge her to stay. The Church has changed and it will continue to change. I would want her to be proud of who she is, and to take pride in showing that she really isn't any different than any other student in the ways that matter. Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best of luck.
posted by Mr. Fig at 4:50 PM on February 21, 2017

Please check your MeMail! :)
posted by Verba Volant at 6:14 PM on February 21, 2017

Okay, so this is a tough subject for me. I feel I should start by putting all my cards on the table so you know where I'm coming from.

I was raised Christian. I am an atheist. I'm liberal. I am straight. I went to a small private Christian (quite fundamentalist) school from K-9th grade. Now granted, this was over a decade ago. But I HATED IT. The second my parents started splitting up I went to public school (it was mom that wanted me to go there so when we moved out I didn't have to anymore.)

I never fit in. I got bullied like crazy.

So NUMBER ONE is to ask your kid. In a totally neutral way. Do not bring ANY of your feelings into it.

Say, "If you could do whatever you want, what school would you want to go to? Do you want to stay here?"

If she says she wants to stay, make it clear that she can change her mind at any moment!

Now, that was my experience as a straight kid, so you're probably like "Well, that doesn't matter much in this subject." But it does, because I had gay classmates. Classmates that didn't come out until well after leaving school. That were bullied because they were different. They were called "gay" in a derogatory term left and right. Because we thought gay kids either didn't exist, or were sinners. And since no one at our school were bad kids or sinners then they couldn't be gay.

Now, granted, there was probably a lot of stuff going on at home that kept them from coming out, and again it was a very strict environment. I have no doubt that if any of those kids came out in school they would have to confess their sins to the whole school (it happened to a girl who got pregnant and miscarried.)

So, it's likely that your school isn't as horrible as mine was. And in the past 10+ years attitudes among (some) conservatives have changed. But the fact is that the school has a stance against it.

Do they think it's a choice? Will they try to "Save" her? Will they call her a sinner for her feelings? Will she be able to DATE anyone? Will she be bullied? Will she feel that the school doesn't accept her because of their policy?

Part of this your kid can answer. Part of this the school can answer. Part of this you can observe.

But again, I had a very bad experience and I look back on my classmates and feel such shame and guilt for any of my own actions that may have impacted them and I feel so sad for them not being able to be themselves.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:46 PM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

What kind of "Christian" are we talking about? I think that would better inform the answers. I related my experience about my Catholic school but a Southern Baptist school (do Baptists have high schools?) is going to be a lot different.
posted by AFABulous at 7:48 PM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is, as mentioned by many in this thread, a decision that she should be the one to make. But, that said, make sure she knows that you've got her back if anything at all happens, whether it be peer abuse, uncalled for comments by staff, anything like that. When you know you've got support no matter what, that is a giant confidence boost.
posted by azpenguin at 8:43 PM on February 21, 2017

Gay lady here who went to Catholic school. I'm guessing at 13, she's heading into high school soon, but not there yet? I'd say if she's happy and has friends, pulling her out of the school abruptly would be vastly more traumatic; as she transitions to high school, re-evaluate whether a religious school is the right fit. Everyone is likely to be splitting up and heading to different schools at that point anyway. Just let her know you have her back 100% (even if she's rolling her eyes at you like you're a hopeless dweeb -- she'll be grateful when she's 30).
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 11:08 PM on February 21, 2017

Is she interested in dating yet? The equation may change for her once she is more "visibly" gay. Keep listening to her, be mindful of her emotional state, and if you can be on good terms with her friends, too. If things go pear shaped she may hide things from you (not out of any malice, just not wanting you to feel sad for her, of having teen aged embarrassment about Feelings with The Olds) and her friends may be able to give you a window that she won't or can't articulate. I was a queer kid at a religious school, and while I had a fairly solid relationship with my parents there were some things I just wasn't up to talking to them about.
posted by Jilder at 12:49 AM on February 22, 2017

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