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‘I Have Two Gay Kids. Here’s My Message to Parents of LGBTQ+ Children’

LGBTQ+ community
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If I could send a message to parents of LGBTQ+ children it would be, firstly, to always choose love. There is nothing wrong with our children. What is wrong is a society which refuses to accept them…

I have two gay children. This fact often gives people pause when it comes up, at dinner parties or chatting in taxis with friendly drivers. I am also divorced (and remarried) and my immediate family straddles three continents, yet these facts rarely throw people off the same way. I can often hear the gears of people’s minds turning: “What are the chances of having not one but two gay kids?” and, “I wonder if she wants grandkids?”

Read More: How & Why We Should Celebrate Pride Month in Singapore with Our Kids

From closeted parent of gay children to LGBTQ+ support

It has been over two decades since my children came out to me. Since then, I have experienced first-hand the ups and downs of loving an LGBTQ+ person in Singapore. I have watched my children blossom from scared teenagers into confident adults. On my part, I have grown from avoiding difficult conversations to actively seeking them out; from being a closeted parent of gay children to helping found SAFE, a support group for families of LGBTQ+ folks like the one I so desperately needed when my kids first came out. I have spoken to people on both sides of the parent-child divide: families with LGBTQ+ loved ones as well as LGBTQ+ people afraid of opening up to their families. These experiences have left me with strong convictions – that our LGBTQ+ children need us more than ever, and we need to put on our own oxygen masks so we can give them the support they so urgently need.

Acceptance for LGBTQ+ people in Singapore is growing

LGBTQ+ community singapore

As I write this, acceptance for LGBTQ+ people in Singapore is growing slowly but surely. With the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code last year, my children can finally picnic at Pink Dot this pride month not as criminals but as ordinary people enjoying a day in the sun. Things have undoubtedly progressed since both my children were in school in Singapore, when accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity was difficult to find, and social support for LGBTQ+ people more difficult still. Yet change has not come fast enough for so many LGBTQ+ Singaporeans and family members who continue to struggle with shame, isolation and family and social alienation.

Read more: An SG Mama on Parenting & Supporting a Transgender Child

LGBTQ+ youths have higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidality

The sad fact is that LGBTQ+ youths have higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidality correlating with the discrimination they face. This is on top of what we already know is a mental health crisis amongst youths in Singapore. In addition to bullying and discrimination, many experience the anxiety of having to hide their true selves from their families for fear of rejection. Both of my children routinely saw casual homophobia and transphobia back in their school days, and my younger child, En, faced bullying from their schoolmates as well.

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The hardest part was trying to figure out how to be more supportive as a mother

Today, youths have more exposure to the LGBTQ+ community. They might interact with LGBTQ+ peers who come out to them, and are more likely to see positive LGBTQ+ representation on social media or streaming media. Often, it’s parents who are behind the curve on these issues. Yet with better representation and connectivity also comes increased vulnerability, exposure and social pressures. I cannot imagine my children growing up in today’s world, leading the hyper-exposed, interconnected lives of youths today. Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youths need safe spaces to be themselves and to retreat to when times get hard. Many LGBTQ+ people spend their entire lives fighting for their rights. They need us, their parents and loved ones, to be their supporters and advocates so they don’t have to fight alone.

None of this is easy, of course, for either parent or child. For me, the hardest part was trying to figure out how to be more supportive as a mother in light of society’s prejudices. I still remember the helplessness I felt all those years ago when, walking down Orchard Road, a policeman told En to stop holding their male friend’s hand. And to date I have never experienced such isolation as those first years after my first son Ming came out to me at the age of 15. Having the good fortune of a relatively liberal education, I was able to tune out a lot of misinformation and accept my son for who he is. Nevertheless, I feared constantly for his safety and well-being. I worried about how his father would react, even asking Ming to keep his sexuality from him for the time being. When friends asked about my son’s dating life, I replied with vague answers. In hindsight I might have done things differently, like encouraging my son to be more open. But I know I did my best. I too lacked the support and the vocabulary I needed.

Read More: What I Wished My Parents Said When I Told Them I Was Gay

LGBTQ+ community-singapore

After my younger child En came out to me, they introduced me to an activist who shared stories of parents kicking out their children after they found out they were LGBTQ+. This shocked and saddened me, and in 2006 I decided to start SAFE (Supporting, Affirming and Empowering our LGBTQ+ friends and family) together with a few like-minded friends and allies. The stories of many of the families I have spoken to through SAFE echoed my own, save that many of them have struggled against even more hostile odds. I spoke to a mother of an HIV-positive gay son whose father did not accept him. Another mother was torn between her church and her gay child. Parents frequently worried about how their extended family would react, or wondered if it was their “fault” their kid was gay. These are difficult, complex situations, and not ones which people should have to navigate alone.

There is nothing wrong with our children

If I could send a message to parents of LGBTQ+ children it would be, firstly, to always choose love. There is nothing wrong with our children. What is wrong is a society which refuses to accept them and requires them to fight for every inch of space. Secondly, it is okay not to have all the answers and to seek help. Seeking support and safe spaces to talk about our struggles is akin to securing our own oxygen mask before putting one on our child. It is so important for families to have access to reliable information about LGBTQ+ people and to hear real stories of them thriving in the real world. That is why this year, SAFE has joined LGBTQ+ community organisation Oogachaga to co-host “My Family Matters”, a series of regular tea sessions intended to provide families and loved ones of LGBTQ+ people a safe, non-judgmental space to learn, listen and love.

It is understandable to feel a kind of grief when a child comes out

The way I see it, it is understandable to feel a kind of grief when a child comes out, for the type of life we thought they were going to lead. But when we, as parents, can’t accept our children’s LGBTQ+ identities, we don’t just miss out on their dating lives; we are missing out on their authentic selves. Coming out is such an act of courage and trust. When first Ming and then En came out to me all those years ago, they were inviting me to see them as they truly are and to imagine the sort of life they want to lead.

Both my children are now comfortably settled in their communities. One is in a long-term relationship with someone I consider part of my family. The other is still searching but is in a good place now. They both have pets! They each have found their own way to give back to the community. One is a lawyer whose work includes representing LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S. He finds great purpose in working towards ensuring that every LGBTQ+ person has community, well-being and dignity no matter where they call home. My other child works for groups advocating for better mental health care and sexual health education for youth and survivors of domestic violence in Australia.

I am grateful to have been by their sides as they fought to create the lives that were right for them. For me, it came down to accepting and loving my children for who they are. Yes, their lives would be strewn with unfair obstacles, but with a bit of support they too could have lives of extraordinary richness, purpose and boundless love.

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