Why Do Parents Reject Their LGBTQ Children?

What makes parents reject their transgender or gender nonconforming children? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Jae Alexis Lee, Trans Woman, Advocate LGBTQI Rights, on Quora:

Studies suggest that up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBT and we hear so many stories of transgender and gender nonconforming children kicked out of their homes. Why is this happening and what can we do about it?

There is little in the realm of LGBT issues that breaks my heart more than the high rate of homelessness and estrangement from families that we see in LGBT youth. Somewhere in the middle of debates about bathrooms and pronouns, it’s too easy to lose sight of a vast number of children who are suffering because of who they are.

Why? Why do we have this problem? Let’s start with what we know:

Among those who were out to their immediate family, one out of every ten (10%) respondents reported that a family member was violent towards them because they were transgender. Prevalence of family violence differed greatly depending on the time period during which a respondent transitioned, with those transitioning ten or more years ago (15%) experiencing almost twice as much violence as those who transitioned in the past year (8%) [1].

One in ten. One in ten trans people reported that a family member was violent towards them because they are transgender. There are 12, maybe 13 transgender Top Writers on Quora. By the numbers, at least one of us has dealt with violence from our families.

Eight percent (8%) of respondents who were out to the immediate family they grew up with were kicked out of the house, which represents 6% of the whole sample. Those who transitioned 10 or more years ago were twice as likely to have been kicked out of the house (16%) as those who transitioned within the last year (7%) [2].

One in twelve people who were out to the family they grew up with got kicked out of the home. Take a glance again at the transgender people you may know. By the numbers, one of us has experienced eviction for being transgender.

In one study, 40% of homeless youth identified as LGBT. The #1 reason for homelessness among LGBT youth is that they ran away because of family rejection. The #2 reason is that they were thrown out for being LGBT [3].

What drives LGBT youth to run away? The data is hard to look at. In researching this piece, I ran into one data point that made it incredibly difficult to keep looking at the data.

One shocking statistic from NYC’s Hetrick-Martin Institute showed that homeless queer females aged 13-15 who they had encountered reported that 50% –HALF- were homeless because they ran away after being raped by a father or brother to ‘cure’ them [4].

(Emphasis is mine.)

Sick yet? I am. There’s more data out there, lots of it, but somewhere between lines like 58% of gay homeless youth sexually victimized and 44% of them being approached to engage in sex to meet basic needs [5], I hit my limit for looking at it.

That leaves us with the overriding question: Why? Why does this happen?

The closest I’ve seen a study come to pointing at a cause is lead to two things:

  1. People are coming out at younger ages, which means they are more likely to come out as adolescents.
  2. Families who have “little guidance on how to support positive development for gay and transgender children” [6].

I want to rant, to scream, I want to shout and point fingers at a stew of toxic modern Christianity, Traditional American Family Values, and a fundamental lack of education about queer people. I want to point to political organizations that demonize trans and LGBT people, that paint us as freaks or perverts or predators. I want to blame something.

But if I’m going to blame anything, it isn’t the Church, and it isn’t the Family Research Council or the American College of Pediatricians. The enemy is ignorance.

Pointing fingers and laying blame doesn’t give us a path forward, and ultimately, understanding who perpetuated the status quo is less important than understanding that the core problem is ignorance and working to fight ignorance the only way we can: with education.

One of the absolute worst parts of my transition was standing in the living room of my Catholic grandparents the Thanksgiving after I came out. I was ranted at and lectured while I desperately tried to educate them and dispel the myths and misconceptions about trans people that they had internalized. What they thought their spiritual leaders were telling them, what their trusted information providers were telling them, what their chosen political representatives were telling them. All of it combined into a family confrontation that left me shaking and in tears.

I’m lucky. I’m a grown woman. I got in my car, and I drove home to my loving and supportive wife. Trans youth can’t do that. When what my grandparents did to me happens to them, that’s when we wind up with homeless youth.

If you want to know why trans youth become evicted, the easy answer is to say that their parents are horrible abusive monsters and that their parents must be ignorant and uneducated blue collar workers or denizens of the Bible Belt. That this is something that only “bad families” could do. But that’s a stereotype every bit as inaccurate as the ones people buy into about trans folk. The family members I dealt with have an education with multiple graduate degrees living in the progressive Pacific Northwest within commuting distance of hipster Portland. They aren’t alone, and they are every bit as representative of the families that reject queer children as the Midwestern oil rig worker, the deep Southern tobacco farmer, and any other demographic you’d care to conjure that might be uncomfortable discovering that their child is different. These issues aren’t a problem that’s limited to some distant ‘red state,' some different socio-economic class, some different ethnic group. Ostracization is a matter we deal with everywhere in homes and families across the country.

The only way we stop the growing tide of homeless LGBT youth is with education. In many places, we’re seeing curriculum proposed in schools to teach children about LGBT people and issues, and I hope that the problems of today will fade as future generations are more informed about these matters. But now, right now, we need to reach the parents and grandparents, the pastors and the priests, the politicians and the pundits. We need them to understand us, and the only way that happens is if they get to know us.

Part of what I do as an advocate is to read what the “other side” says about trans issues. More often than not, what I find are distortions of facts, information out of context, and outright fabrications. That’s why we have homeless LGBT youth. Because the only information that’s reaching parents is bad information and because they don’t know what to do when confronted with something they grew up believing is wrong within their family.

My grandmother went to her priest for advice and what she found, I think, surprised both of us. Her pastor said, “God’s job is to judge. Your job is to love.”

I don’t know if he understands trans people or not, but it’s a place to start. We can build from there.

Citations

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