Proud parents: “It is incredibly important that there are good role models”
It is no wonder that the term “coming out” is often the focus of discussions about LGBT issues. Telling people who you really are when the norm applauds the opposite naturally puts relationships on edge: “Do you love me for who I am?”
Whether you as a parent give a resounding “YES” to that question or are wrestling with conflicting feelings, anxieties, and this and that issue, there are mums and dads out there who have already made the same journey. We have both met the nonprofit network, Stolta föräldrar till HBTQ-barn (Proud parents of LGBT children), and gathered valuable tips from mums and dads, all of whom have gone through their very own “coming-out process”.
“Even parents go through a coming-out process”
When Mats Påhlsson’s daughter came out as gay, it did not take long before he decided to get engaged in LGBT issues. And the network Stolta föräldrar till HBTQ-barn (Proud parents of LGBT children) was the obvious choice:
“Even we parents go through a coming-out process, which can be very different and vary between different parents, just like our children’s coming-out processes. But in our role as parents there is also so much that we have in common, and being able to share thoughts, concerns or experiences is so important, liberating and useful. That’s why this organisation is so important”.
The network was founded in Stockholm in 1998 by a group of parents as a response to the uncertainty that may occur around how to react when your kids come out as gay. Many also have a need to meet other parents in the same situation. Today, Mats is chairman of Stolta föräldrar.
“I want to make a difference in as many LGBT people’s lives as possible and share my experiences with other parents. Just being able to give a little of myself and get twice as much back in terms of warmth and love – can it get any better? This became so obvious to me after my daughter came out and she is happy and proud that I chose to be active in the organisation! Not so much for her own sake but for those LGBT people who don’t have proud parents and for the parents who need some help and assistance along on the way”.
Activities, lectures and events you can participate in
Many parents who contact the association feel relieved to have someone to turn to. It does not matter where in Sweden you live – you can reach Stolta föräldrar by email, phone and Facebook. Meet up and have a coffee with someone who has actually gone through the same thing as you, or go to one of the activities, lectures and study circles. During the Pride Festival in Stockholm you can also visit the Stolta föräldrar tent on Östermalm IP – an incredibly important meeting place to raise LGBT questions:
– “Pride raises various LGBT issues and is a free zone for gay, bisexual, trans and queer people and the various gender expressions that exist within the LGBT movement. It’s a week under the signs of love and joy, but also a week where we together can show that the rights and everyday lives of LGBT people are not always the same as those found in the heterosexual world. Certainly, things have changed a lot, but unfortunately we still have quite a way left to go – even in Sweden”, says Mats Påhlsson.
Those who join the work group are quite ordinary parents who use both their own experiences and contacts’, as well as from other parents and LGBT people. Mats’s parent group works in Greater Stockholm, but there are several sister organisations throughout Sweden that you as a parent can turn to. You will find them in Malmö, Gothenburg, Blekinge, Dalarna, Jönköping, Örebro, Borås and many other places.
“We are aimed at both parents whose children have just come out and to parents who have already settled and are already proud. And by ‘children’ we mean people of all ages. If you want to contact us or to know where we are near you, I recommend contacting the RFSL office where you live”.
Mats’s 3 pieces of advice for parents who have difficulty accepting their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity:
#1 Everything may not be as you thought it would be – but do not let it take over your love for your child. It is now that your child needs your love, your acceptance and your support most.
#2 Accept that it may take some time to settle; you also have a coming-out process to go through, but spare your child your own worries or fears – your child will be busy with their own process.
#3 You’re not alone; do not be afraid to seek help and support if you need it. Do not hesitate to contact us at Stolta föräldrar.
We also had the opportunity to talk to Åsa and Yvonne, who are two other active parents within Stolta föräldrar till HBTQ-barn. We also asked them what they would like to say to other parents.
“A day without lesbians is like a day without sunshine”
Åsa Aremyr Boding describes her family as completely normal, with a mom, dad, son and daughter. A detached house, little doggie and a minibus. When the oldest child came out as bisexual, the parents responded happily with a “welcome to the club!”. After a while he also came out as a transmale and the family is now engaged in the gender identity assessment process. When their youngest daughter cautiously came out as a lesbian, it was no big thing for the family, but still a big deal for humanity.
– “As we usually say, ‘a day without lesbians is like a day without sunshine’. I am so happy and proud of my wise and courageous children and that they stand up for themselves and others and they have inspired me to do the same”.
“It’s okay to feel doubt, worry, sadness and insecurity”
When we asked Åsa about what tips she wants to give to other parents, she tried to put her finger on one very important point in the process:
“I would like to say that it is ok to feel doubt, worry, sadness and insecurity. And that one must be allowed to have a ‘coming-out process’ as a parent. It doesn’t happen overnight. I, who thought nothing of being lesbian / gay / bi, got a challenge when I was confronted with trans. You are never as prejudice-free as you’d like to think. And that’s okay. But it’s never okay not to accept your child for who they are. That’s what you will realise”.
Not being as unprejudiced as you think you are can of course cause a great deal of feeling of shame and guilt. Even though Sweden is considered a model example on many levels, heteronormativity is still very strong here. If the news that your child is gay comes as a shock, it might be a good idea to ask yourself what is really important:
“You love your child and everything that entails, and that won’t change just because the child falls in love with someone of the same sex, or all sexes, or identifies as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth”, says Åsa Aremyr Boding.
“I am also active in what it looks like for LGBT people in other countries”
Yvonne Pettersson’s involvement in Stolta föräldrar first took place when she wanted to support her youngest son, who is gay. Her engagement in the organisation grew rapidly and today, Yvonne wants to show the world how important it is for parents to be there for their LGBT children. She definitely sees the importance of supporting both the parents and the children in their processes, no matter how young or old they are. The work of supporting other people has also spread beyond Sweden’s borders:
– “I’m also involved in the situation in other countries for LGBT people as well as participating in a European parent network. Among other things, we have contact with a parent group in the United States, and we have had exchanges with Russian parents and a LGBT group in St. Petersburg. I have been in St. Petersburg at the Queer Festival and in Riga at Europride together with two other former members of the work group”.
Yvonne’s 4 piece of advice to anyone who has LGBT kids:
#1 They are still your child, and worthy of your love just as much as before. Your child has not become another person.
#2 It is a process and it may take some time. Explain this to your child. Your child has gone through their own process and it will have taken time before they told you. Parents also have a coming-out process.
#3 If you need information, don’t treat your child like an expert! It can be difficult for your child if you ask lots of questions. You can always ask your child if it is okay to ask questions, but respect that they may not want to or be able to answer at that moment. Instead, seek information from other adults, for example from us or the RFSL.
#4 Please do seek contact with other parents of LGBT children if you feel it would be helpful; you can do this through us.
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