Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Overlooked Homeless

This week I attended a talk by two friends who have been active in helping parents, like them, who have gay children.

Much of their story was familiar since I know the book by Enid Jackowitz, The Rest of the Way, recounting the struggle she and her husband, Syd, had more than twenty years ago to overcome shame, fear, and grief over the revelation that their older son was gay.  As they said, when he came out of the closet, they went in, telling no one for seven years.

When she saw that her fear was keeping her from loving and supporting her son, Enid began to read and explore, eventually asking her husband if he would like to attend a local PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).  He responded, "I wouldn't be caught dead at such a meeting."

A few years later, he became the president of the local chapter and, with Enid, a speaker and columnist on the problems faced by gays and lesbians in their families. What a turnaround!

What I learned this week was that, after all the progress that has been made in recent years on greater acceptance of this minority, 25 per cent of young people who come out to their parents are still thrown out of the house. They become the overlooked homeless. Who cares for them?

In central Florida, a place called The Zebra Coalition helps kids on the streets get food, clothing, and counseling. But the number of parents who still believe, as Syd and Enid once did, that being homosexual is a choice--and a great evil--remains high. They react in terror and their love turns to hate.

Among young people 14 and above who have "come out" to their friends, fifty percent still have not come out to their parents. So they live in the kind of denial that can cause great anguish, but at least they have a home.

I was startled at these statistics just as I was impressed by the courage of my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Jackowitz. They took seven years to make the journey from deep fear to advocacy.  Their talks and book have helped many parents around the world cope with the shock that comes when they learn that one of their children is gay.

Enid's book is also helpful for the young people themselves who are unsure how their sexual orientation will affect their relationship with their parents. I recommend The Rest of the Way to those interested in the hope that, as the years go by, love will more and more replace fear among parents of gay kids.

Love, as Flannery O'Connor said, is the effort to understand.

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