A Letter to Queer Youth with Abusive Families

This is a re-post for Pride Month: 

I spent last week at gay camp.  In all my travels of the world- it is the most magical place I’ve been.

For fourteen years Camp Ten Trees has been providing a space for LGBTQ youth and youth with LGBTQ family members to find compassionate community in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.  Volunteering at camp means canoeing, archery, family-style meals, friendship bracelets, and camp songs just like any other camp.  But unlike other camps many campers come with fears about living an authentic life, homophobic school bully worries, and abuse stories about coming out.

I was missing the beautiful campers I’ve met when I watched a viral video on youtube.  “How not to react when your child tells you he’s gay” (trigger warning: violence, and severe homophobia) is a hidden video of a family responding abusively to a son, Daniel, coming out as gay.

It is absolutely heartbreaking.

The worst part is, this experience is incredibly common.  40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, and 68% are homeless due to hateful family interactions and 54% report abuse related to their identity.  Family rejections and hateful religious messages play a huge role in the high suicide rates for LGBTQ youth.  LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to be physically harassed and bullied at school and nearly 60% of LGBTQ identified young people report physical assault or intimidation because they are queer.

Every year, I spend my week at camp trying to affirm these youth as much as I can.  They are truly remarkable performers, writers, athletes and philosophers.  I focus on filling their sweet hearts with all the confidence, self-compassion, and strength I can- hoping it will boost their resilience through the coming year.

But when the camp bus pulls up to say goodbye, so very many of their faces fill with tears knowing they are about to return to a world far less affirming and accepting than our camp community.

When I watched Daniel’s video I cried for him and the thousands of other young people bravely coming out in hateful and violent circumstances.  I wrote him a letter, hoping he and other young people might find it and experience some peace.

Dear Daniel (and all the other Queer youth struggling with hateful families):

I saw your video.  It broke my heart. 

I am so very sorry this was your coming out story.  No one should ever hear the words you heard or experience the violence and threats you did.  What happened to you is abuse.  It is not okay. 

I know nothing I can say will carry the weight that words from your family have, but I feel called to write just the same.

As a member of your community, I want you to know you are not alone.  There are millions of us all around the world.  We are fat and thin, brown and white, professional, and raising children of our own.  We go to school, we help people, we mess up, cry and laugh. We are all around you and we support you. 

You are not alone. 

I want to wrap my arms around you in a hug.  I want to soothe the ache and emptiness you must be feeling.  I want you to know your community is here to help you grow stronger.  Please reach out to us if this feels too hard.   

I heard the word choice used a lot in your video.  My first gay mentor used to say that coming out is the everyday choice between personal integrity and personal safety.  This is the choice you made.  You chose to walk with dignity, self-respect, and honesty as an openly gay human.  What a powerful choice, my dear. 

Coming out is an act of incredible courage.  It takes remarkable integrity to stand up and say who you really are- even in the face of fear.  Your bravery –living authentically in a world filled with critics- will be your superpower in the years to come.      

Whatever you do right now, please be sweet to yourself.  You deserve sweetness.

The next weeks, months, and maybe years might be pretty rough.  Deciding when and if your family will be allowed the opportunity to join your life is a process that may take a while.  Be brave, keep walking with integrity, and most of all- be kind. 

As hard as it is, be kind.  Even though you have looked hatred in the eye, be kind.  Embodying fear and bigotry will eat you alive.  Don’t let anger and fear overtake you, sweetheart.

As you turn and face the world as an out queer person, you will face challenges.  Please hold fast to these reminders on your journey:

You are worthy.  My dear, you are worthy of love, respect, sweetness, and compassion. 

You are enough- just as you are without explanation or justification.

You deserve kindness, generosity, care.  You deserve a family who is warm and celebrates you openly. You deserve friends, and love, and laughter.

When your family’s words run through your head remember: you are worthy, you are enough, and you deserve kindness, generosity, and care.  

Just as you are- just for being you.  

Now breathe, my sweet friend.  This coming out is a trauma that may take time for your body, mind and soul to recover.  Grieve this loss with gentleness and surround yourself with people who compassionately care for you- the whole complex and sometimes confusing you.  

Take care of your body.  

Listen to your heart.  

Be near people who are kind to you, who lovingly challenge you to be the best brilliant version of you.   

Let us cradle you when you are lonely, and help you learn to walk taller on your own. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with loneliness after coming out, The Trevor Project is a national hotline for LGBTQ folks considering suicide- or who just need a safe place to talk.  Don’t be afraid to call them.

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a polyamory consultant, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).