It's difficult to deal with homophobic strangers, but it can be even more difficult dealing with relatives who reject homosexuality. These "loved ones" should love you no matter what and not judge you based on your sexual preferences. Even though that's the way it should be, it's not always the way it is. Since you can't change the way people feel, the only thing you can do is change the way you feel and the way you react in response to what they do by learning how to understand your relatives' homophobia and what to do to make family relations much more bearable.
Tips for Dealing with Homophobic Families
Whether you are gay, straight, or bisexual, you may find homophobia in your family to be confronting. Consider these ideas for responding to and dealing with family members who do not understand sexuality beyond traditional male/female couples.
Tips for Everyone
Almost everyone has at least one relative, immediate or distant, who has some form of prejudice, whether it comes in the form of racism, sexism or homophobia. When your family doesn't share your beliefs, it can be frustrating and complicated. Listening to people you love say things that make you angry can be hard. However, you don't have to sit silently when a relative says offensive things.
- Remain calm and patient, even in the face of hurtful insults and name-calling.
- Remind yourself that homophobia is typically based on lack of knowledge on the topic, and that your relatives are only repeating stereotypes and opinions they have been exposed to in their environment. This is especially true if you were raised in a conservative or religious family.
- Educate yourself on why someone may be homophobic. For example, some people have never knowingly had a friendship with a gay person and simply do not understand homosexuality, while others may be secretly ashamed of their own homosexual desires. In families where one or more person is homosexual, sibling rivalry may play a role.
- Be realistic and realize that homophobia will not disappear overnight, or in one conversation.
- Use logic, statistics and facts when defending gay rights. For example, if you believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, visit pro-gay marriage websites that have information about the issue, such as Why Marriage Matters or Marriage Equality USA.
- Join an online group that supports gay rights and offers friendly support and advice for people who are dealing with homophobic families. Some examples include GLAAD (Gay and Lesbians Alliance Against Defamation) and The Trevor Project.
- Check out a support website with your family such as PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for information and ways to understand each other.
Tips for Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals
If you are gay, lesbian or bisexual and your family members have trouble with your sexual orientation, or even flat out reject you, there are many ways to deal with the conflict. You don't have to put up with any kind of abuse.
- Remind yourself that you are not alone, and that the problem is with the homophobic family member, not you. It is not your fault that your relative doesn't understand you.
- Remain hopeful that the homophobic attitude will change after your relative has had time to get used to the out-of-the-closet you. Some family members really aren't homophobic deep down, they just don't know what to say or how to say it, and comments may come out awkwardly.
- Stand up for yourself and be honest. If someone says something offensive, correct him politely with a joke. For example, some people really believe that all gay men love to decorate or are cross-dressers. Help these individuals learn that stereotypes aren't always accurate.
- Turn down family-event invitations, such as holidays or weddings, if your partner is not invited. If a family member introduces your girlfriend as "a friend," correct him and say, "You mean my partner (or girlfriend)."
- Spend time with loving, open-minded family members during holidays or celebrations. For example, you, your brother and your cousin can start a new Thanksgiving tradition this year if you're not welcomed at the extended-family event. You may even have a better time than usual, as you can try new recipes, splurge on more expensive wine, and have a pleasant, drama-free family holiday.
Dealing With Rejection and Abuse
Unfortunately, some people are in homophobic families that will never change. In fact, some of these family members physically or emotionally abuse their gay relatives. Many parents even kick out their teenage son or daughter for simply coming out. In addition to following general advice for dealing with difficult family members, take these additional steps:
- Seek counseling to deal with the pain associated with not receiving unconditional love from your family.
- Ask extended relatives if you can stay with them if you get kicked out of your own home.
- Report any type of physical abuse to local law enforcement authorities. There are hate crime laws in place for this purpose.
- According to the Ali Forney Center, 25% of teens are rejected by their families and many of them end up homeless because of it. The Ali Forney Center has set up an enviornment for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual) homeless community to give them support and safety. You can learn more about it in this short video:
Moving Past Homophobia
Living with or being related to homophobic family members can be a challenging situation. Your home is supposed to be a refuge from the hostile, outside world, and it is painful when you realize that family members are so different than you. Whether they reject you or learn to accept the real you, remember that the most important thing is that you live your life freely and that you stay true to yourself.