Evan Davis says keep it 'casual', but what's the best way to come out as gay to your parents?

The Independent speaks to Stonewall about the Do's and Don'ts

Evan Davis, the Radio 4 Today programme and Dragon’s Den presenter, has given a candid interview about coming out to his parents and colleagues as gay.

One of only a handful of openly gay broadcasters on television and radio, he told his BBC colleagues about his sexuality two years after joining the corporation. “It was around the time I joined Newsnight in 1997/1998 that I decided I should definitely be publicly gay,” he told R U Coming Out.

“It wasn't a courageous choice, it just felt to me that it was going to be slightly better for me to control the process of coming out by being up-front about it…The climate was always going to be very favourable for me. I never expected any kind of backlash.”

The journalist told his family that he was gay one Christmas Day when he was in his mid-twenties. Leaving it until after he had had formative relationships and life experiences is something he regrets.

“The longer that you leave telling people, the harder it gets. You end up having to break two bits of news if you leave it too late; the first being that you're gay and the second that you have been leading a double life for quite some time,” he said.

The Independent spoke to Wes Streeting, head of education at Stonewall , an LGBT rights lobbying charity, about the best ways to approach your parents.

I’m coming out! Tips and advice:

  1. Don’t approach it blind: Find ways to bring the topic up in more general terms, ie a television show where a character is gay, or stories in the news. Try to suss out your parents’ general views on homophobia. Remember that if you are gay you are probably more sensitive to comments around you on the subject and can misinterpret the views of friends and relatives. Just because a parent of family member has made a glib remark in the past does not mean they won’t support you.
  2. Don’t take the first reaction as a given: There are all sorts of horror stories about parents asking the wrong questions immediately after their child comes out to them. Is it just a phase? What about my grandchildren? Just be patient with them. They might ask insensitive questions but actually be well-meaning so give them time to respond more appropriately.
  3. Forget finding ‘the right moment’: Most families have specific times/environments that are good for talking: dinner times or big get-togethers. I wouldn’t worry too much about spoiling Christmas dinner. Just pick a time you are comfortable with. There isn’t an ideal age to come out. Many people tell their families in their late teens and early twenties but others wait until they are well into their 30s, 40s or later. It really is up to you.
  4. Allow your parents to see the real you: There are people who have had awful experiences coming out. It is important to acknowledge this. But sometimes we don’t give our parents enough credit. Sometimes we forget that our parents love us unconditionally – and that they might feel hurt and excluded from our lives. Talking about relationships with our parents, whether straight or gay, is important and helps to normalise a situation and make them feel included.
  5. Be open-minded: There are definitely generational differences but don’t expect your grandparents to stop loving you just because you are gay. Equally, if you’re worried about telling younger family members we’ve found that young children find it a lot easier to accept the idea of people being gay than a lot of adults, actually. It’s essentially about love. The most important thing is about your relationships with your family and your partner.

So…you think your child is gay?*

  1. I have an inkling my child might be gay, but how can I be sure? Until your son or daughter comes and tells you that they are, or might be, gay or bisexual, you can’t know. Just like straight people, gay people come in all shapes and sizes. So don’t make assumptions. Steer clear of prying though; you want them to come and tell you in their own time. If you try and pressure them, it’ll probably make them close up - the opposite of what you want.
  2. Create an environment where your son or daughter feels able to tell you they’re gay, knowing you’ll be supportive.  Say positive things about gay people when they’re on TV and don’t allow people to say negative things about gay people under your roof. If your child is - or thinks they might be - gay, they’ll probably be very alert to attitudes about gay people in your home.
  3. How can they be sure this isn’t a phase? We all know that growing up is confusing, particularly where feelings are concerned. Some young people might take a long time to come to terms with being gay; others will be clear about it very quickly. Sometimes someone goes out with someone of the same sex but may not be sure they’re gay. Some young people may be bisexual. This means they’re attracted to both sexes. This is not a phase on the way to becoming ‘fully gay’. Let them define themselves.
  4. Did I do something wrong? ABSOLUTELY NOT. There is no link between ways of parenting or a young person’s experiences and the likelihood of being gay. Gay people grow up in all sorts of families and come from all sorts of backgrounds and there’s nothing you could have done to influence it. You can influence how likely your son or daughter is to tell you about it, and how they feel about it, by creating the sort of environment where they think they can.
  5. But I don’t agree with it. (Or at least some of my family don’t). The truth is, if you’ve got a problem with the idea of your child being gay, you’re going to have to live with it and accept it. The best thing you can do is to put your feelings about ‘being gay’ to one side and remember that, regardless of your son or daughter’s sexuality, you love them and want them to be happy. The fact that they are gay or lesbian doesn’t change that.
  6. There’s no way to ‘turn them straight’. If you reject it, all you’ll do is damage your relationship with your child, hurting you and them. Rejecting it also denies you the opportunity to share in a really important part of their life. As for your relatives, some family members, particularly older relatives, might need some help getting their heads around the issue (although older people are often a lot more accepting than we give them credit for). If they don’t react well initially, put some rules in place and establish what can and can’t be said in front of your children. It’s not always easy, but often, it is.

*Taken from Stonewall’s So…you think your child is gay? leaflet

For further advice and support please contact 08000 502020 or info@stonewall.org.uk

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