When you came out, didn’t you just wish there’d been some sort of guide designed to help your family, friends and teachers understand what you were going through?
Well, the new book When Our Children Come Out, by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, has been created to do just that.
Pallotta-Chiarolli, a senior lecturer in health and social development at Victoria’s Deakin University, became acutely aware of the many dilemmas facing young GLBT people when she was conducting research for her books on youth issues, Boys’ Stuff and Girls’ Talk.
These kids were experiencing many difficulties. Many of them kept talking about feelings of isolation at school, the ways schools weren’t handling issues, and the way they often couldn’t rely on their families, Pallotta-Chiarolli said.
She was also visiting schools -“ the ones that would allow her in -“ to do workshops on homophobia with students and staff.
She grew sick and tired of the excuses schools would give for not allowing her to visit, such as: Parents will complain, We have a lot of ethnic parents, and We’re a religious school.
Not all of the stories were bad, though.
Pallotta-Chiarolli heard of some wonderful parents and schools who were doing admirable things to support their GLBT kids.
I really wanted to honour the parents and teachers out there doing some really good work, she said. And I wanted to empower parents to really get out there and insist schools support their kids.
Books written about these issues in the past often depicted young GLBT people as victims and the parents as desperate.
Mums and dads were taught there was something wrong with their kids and were told how to cope with them.
When Our Children Come Out puts a much more positive, proactive spin on things.
It tells parents they will get through the feelings of shock, disappointment and fear many of them go through, and that it’s their responsibility as a parent to move on and support their kids.
I wanted a book that said, -˜No, your kids aren’t actually the problem and no, they’re not a cultural deficit, they’re not abnormal. The problems are coming from out there and you have a big role to play in shifting society along,’ Pallotta-Chiarolli said.
The end result took three years to put together and contains dozens of moving and inspiring first-hand accounts by parents, teachers and young people describing what they went through.
There’s the mum who completely lost the plot when her teenage son came out, then wrote him a letter apologising and explaining what was going through her mind, telling him she still loved him and planned to join her local PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) group.
There’s the parents who were relieved to finally understand why their son had been attempting suicide.
And the mum who said having a lesbian daughter was a blessing and had opened her eyes to the world.
Many parents said that when their child came out, they went into the closet. They were now the ones with a secret they weren’t sure who to tell and who not to.
How would neighbours, friends, colleagues and relatives react?
Pallotta-Chiarolli gives tips and strategies on how to deal with such questions, and advises comebacks to throw out when people say homophobic things.
She also advises teachers on how to combat homophobia in the classroom, and what to do if a student comes out.
And parents are encouraged to lobby their schools to support queer students.
It is still an extremely difficult issue for a lot of schools, Pallotta-Chiarolli said.
But we are seeing shifts in society and what we are finding is that young people are coming out at a younger age, because they are being influenced by media, popular culture, and many more people are coming from sexually diverse families and communities. So you’ve got this big world out there which is gradually, slowly shifting.
Then they go into a school environment and many schools just aren’t keeping up. But the drive for change seems to be coming from kids themselves.
Some tell me they’ll just muck up in a class if the teacher’s homophobic. And it’s coming from parents, more proactive parents who are really willing to sue, basically, if their kids aren’t taken care of in school.
Although the book has only just been released Pallotta-Chiarolli has already had feedback from a lot of parents who found it supportive and encouraging.
Some say it made them realise they’ve got a big job to do, and some have gone to their children’s school to discuss it with teachers.
Many said they loved seeing photos of other mums and dads in the book because it makes them realise they’re not alone.
She’s also heard from a lot of young people, who say they’re giving the book to their parents.
And some teachers are saying it’s making them less afraid to speak out in their classrooms.
One school counsellor had four students go to her and say they want to come out and what’s the school going to do? So the counsellor gave the book to the principal and said they had to deal with it.
That’s what I hope this book does -“ that it shows people we can do some really useful things in schools and in families. Because I’m sorry, there’s no more excuses.
When Our Children Come Out, RRP $29.95, is published by Finch Publishing and is available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst.