The last member of my close family who I came out to was my dad, Tim. In my mind, a middle-aged, middle-class, straight white man who worked in the City and had a Times subscription was the most likely to reject me for being a lesbian. This was back in the summer of 2011 and I was too scared to tell him for months. When I did come out to him, it wasn’t planned. He asked which of my friends I was going on an upcoming holiday to Amsterdam with. I couldn’t lie. I took a deep breath, looked around the Starbucks we were sat in and said, “Actually, I’m going with my girlfriend.”
There was a small pause and then he said, “OK.” He asked if I was bisexual or a lesbian. He asked if he could meet her; he said he would like to. Then it was time for him to go back to work.
The changes were small, at first. Along with the political articles we had always emailed each other, he began sending pieces that covered LGBTQ+ issues and asking my opinion. On the phone, he would ask after my girlfriend. After he met her, he sent me a message saying how lovely it was to see me so happy.
Fast forward seven years and, this Father’s day, he has a rainbow flag on his desk at work and wears rainbow laces in his trainers. He’s a member of his work’s LGBT & Allies group. When his employer ran an event with Stonewall two years ago, to offer practical advice to parents with LGBTQ+ children, I sat in a crowded boardroom, watching as my dad stood up to share his experience. He talked about what it was like, when first I and then my sister came out as gay, and how he tried to support us. He said he was proud of us both – so proud – and he started to cry. The previous speaker had talked about being thrown out of home at 16 for coming out as gay, and my dad, still emotional, said he didn’t understand how a parent could do that.
I am telling this story now because it’s Father’s Day this weekend and I want to publicly thank my dad for being such a hero. I want to acknowledge how much his support means to me and how much happier and safer I feel because of it. I want to say it out loud because it’s important to say thank you, and mean it, and it’s important to celebrate positive parent allies. So many people aren’t afforded the privilege of having someone like my dad in their lives – I know too many people who recall horror stories of how their relationship with their dads changed or even dissipated once they came out.
I want to acknowledge how much his support means to me and how much happier and safer I feel because of it. I want to say it out loud because it’s important to celebrate positive parent allies
For me, thankfully, it wasn’t like that – my dad can’t imagine rejecting your children for their sexuality or gender identity. But lots of parents do. Almost a quarter of young homeless people are LGBTQ+ and over two-thirds of them are homeless because they have been rejected by their families. Last year alone, more than 10,000 young LGBTQ+ people were made homeless – just for being who they are.
For black and ethnic minority (BAME) LGBTQ+ young people, the situation is even worse. Of the homeless 16- to 25-year-olds who identified as LGBTQ+ in 2010, three-quarters were BAME. Many of these young LGBTQ+ people cited religious homophobia as a reason for their homelessness. And then there are those who couldn’t come out to their families for this reason.
June Eric-Udorie recently wrote for The Pool that she severed ties with her parents to come out. “I knew that being open about my bisexuality was not a possibility for me,” she wrote, “especially with my fiercely Pentecostal, homophobic parents.” There are too many young queer people who have to hide their sexuality or gender identity from their parents.
I am extremely lucky to have my dad. He read up on how to support his gay kids and he’s gently shown his interest in this part of my identity over the years: have I experienced discrimination (which he was very concerned about), what was it like for me at school, how did I work out I was gay. He’s told me about times when he’s stood up to his friends for making homophobic jokes; when he’s called out gay couples for making derogatory remarks about lesbians at weddings he's attended. He was fiercely tender towards me when I had my heart broken by my now-ex girlfriend.
It’s not that complicated to be a supportive parent like my dad and it shouldn’t be rare. You can mention gay, lesbian and trans people in conversation and be inclusive in your language – don’t let straight and cis be the default assumption. Show that it’s an open topic and not something to be kept quiet. Look up words and concepts to do with queer identities – like non-binary or pansexual – that you may not be familiar with and talk about them with your children. Talk positively about LGBTQ+ people who appear in films or real life. Make it clear that you’ll love your children no matter how they identify – even if they’re straight and cisgendered (not trans).
I came out for a second time earlier this year, as non-binary (a person who doesn’t identify as exclusively male or female). Apart from my sister, who’d known all along, my dad was the first person in my family I told. I wasn’t scared this time. I already knew that he was going to make me feel loved when I told him. He told me about a non-binary colleague at work who, as far as my dad knows, is only out to him. He asked questions that meant I felt heard, rather than doubted.
A few weeks later, I saw him for dinner before he went on holiday and he asked my advice on his holiday reading list. Given that, usually, he strictly reads autobiographies of politicians or cricketers, I was a bit confused – until he showed me on his Kindle. He’d downloaded How To Understand Your Gender, a guide to trans and non-binary identities, to read by the pool.
And then, when I went down to his house to look after his cat while he was away, he’d downloaded the US show Billions for me – it’s the first time a non-binary actor has played a non-binary character on TV and he’d downloaded the episodes from when they first appear. Of course, he’d already watched it.