Help for Friends & Families of Gay People
By Lori Rentzel (edited)
Dealing with Homosexuality in a Close Friend or Relative
An event most people are totally unprepared for is the discovery that someone close to them is gay. Whether the confession of gayness comes from a son or daughter, husband, wife or a close friend, the reaction is often the same: "What do I say to them now?", "How can I help?" and sometimes, "Could I be partly to blame for this situation?"
This article was written in response to hundreds of letters, phone calls and personal encounters with people who have gay loved ones. It is designed to help non-gays deal with their responses to gay people and with their own reactions to homosexuality, and to encourage Christians who are interested in ministering to gay and lesbian people.
Perhaps the most traumatic way a person can encounter the issue of homosexuality is by learning of the gayness of someone close. Yet, this is a common occurrence in families today: a son or daughter comes home from college and tells their parents of their involvement in the gay lifestyle or a married businessman with children confesses to his wife that he's been actively homosexual for several years. Every situation like this is different, yet there is one thing in common: the person hearing the news is faced with some choices of how they are going to respond to the gay individual. Whilst recognising the confusion and bewilderment that can overwhelm someone at this time, here are a few guidelines on "how to respond" to the person who has informed you of their homosexuality.
Remain as calm as possible - The discovery of someone's homosexuality usually sets off an emotional reaction of panic that makes you think the whole world is falling apart. It's not. At this point, it helps to focus on the question, "What does this person need from me now?" This initial disclosure is not the time to dwell on your own fears and insecurities. There will be plenty of time to deal with those things later.
Communicate acceptance - Don't reject the gay person! This individual needs your love and acceptance at this point more than they've ever needed it. You may be feeling totally bewildered - as if that lovable, familiar person who you thought you knew so intimately has suddenly turned into a monster. Rest assured, they haven't. With as much acceptance and grace as you can come up with (prayer is essential here), re-affirm your love for this person. They don't need rejection or harsh, angry lectures.
Love unconditionally - You are probably wondering, "But isn't homosexuality sin? Don't I need to tell him/her how wrong it is?" Yes, but we'll get to that later. The main thing you need to have your energies directed towards now is loving that person unconditionally. It won't come naturally in most cases, so you'll have to be calling on God and drawing strength from Him.
Loving confrontation - Most people would tend to put this step first, but substitute the word "angry" for "loving". That is why we stress the need for affirming our love and acceptance of the gay person. The traditional Christian belief is that all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful, and it results in sin's destructive effects on the individual and on those close to him/her. After you have successfully communicated your love and acceptance and the person knows that you are not going to withdraw your support, you are ready to share your own viewpoints. This is especially true if the person is a Christian. This can be done in a gentle way, taking care not to "beat them over the head" with Scriptures.
Instilling hope for change - Along with loving confrontation, you need to hold out an alternative to homosexual activity. This comes from the love of Jesus Christ and His power to redeem and recreate the individual. It's good to have something concrete to give them: some tapes they can listen to, the phone number of someone who has faced similar issues, or a brochure from a ministry to gay/lesbian people.
Be part of a supportive community - The initial disclosure and response is just the beginning. The person with homosexual issues is going to need faithful, consistent love and support. The gay world is full of change, instability, unkept promises and broken relationships. You can provide a listening ear, a place of warmth, security and wholesomeness that sin can't offer. Practical things you can do include verbally telling them you love them, writing letters of affirmation, phoning periodically, or inviting them into your home.