12 Tips on Coming Out Well to conservative Christian Parents

1. You don't have to do it quickly.

Coming Out to conservative loved ones rarely goes well if it's quick and dirty. I would encourage seeing it as a process. Sometimes this is taken out of your hands but if you have the chance... planning is your friend!
 

2. Build support for yourself.

Take time to ensure that you are financially and emotionally robust enough to weather whatever comes from this. If you are dependent on people who may waver in their financial or emotional commitments to you when this happens, work over months or years to change this either through changing them or gradually bringing in other friends/family/sources of income to depend on as well as them. 


3. Think about their experience.

Obviously this is your news and parents are supposed to love us whatever we say but how long did it take you to get used to being LGBT and to feel ok about it? You might need to give them at least the same amount of time before you judge their response. Peter Tatchell (gay rights campaigner) told me that he let his conservative christian parents know very gradually by dropping hints ("Did you see that gay celebrity? He seems like a good guy." "There's this gay woman at work, she's challenging a lot of stereotypes of what people think." etc). Then they asked him if he was gay when they were ready.

It's worth considering what might be happening for the family members or church leaders you're going to tell and if you can give them a running jump on reacting to it well. It could be over months (or longer) or it could be as simple as giving them a few days warning by saying "I've got something important to talk to you about. Is there a good time we can talk soon?" Then ensure that there is enough time for them to ask any immediate questions (30 minutes to an hour) but not so much time that they have to do all their processing with you right there (no more than 2 hours).

You know the people involved. If they're super introverts you might want to send it in a letter first then plan a time to talk about it.

4. Think about when and where...

It's a stereotype but a lot of people consider Coming Out over Christmas dinner or another big family occasion... this is a risky strategy as if it doesn't go well you either have to continue with Christmas dinner or lose your Christmas dinner as you remove yourself. 

Some people decide to tell family members while they are driving somewhere so there isn't eye to eye intensity... though you may want to consider whether they are navigating a tricky round about or are not particularly confident drivers before you say something they may find shocking. The other challenge is that if that doesn't go well you are trapped in a car with them until you reach your destination. If you do decide to do this, don't be afraid to put on the radio and come back to the conversation when there has been some time to process.

If you are so afraid about an angry reaction from someone that you feel you have to tell them in a public place, it's worth asking yourself if you need to tell this person. You don't HAVE to tell anyone. If you are afraid of someone, you can not tell them if you don't want to face how they will react.

5. Ensure that you have good support before, during and afterwards.

If you are in a DC community, post it there and we'll all be praying for you. Have a supportive friend clear some time in their diary to either be at the end of a phone or (ideally) available to meet for coffee immediately after you plan to tell them. Or if you are an introvert, arrange for a gym appointment or to go to the cinema so you have time to let your mind settle afterwards. Don't plan it just before any stressful work deadlines or exams.

6. Get yourself as psychologically healthy as possible in preparation.

Think of it as preparing for a race. Do some low risk practice runs - if you're in a DC community some people have found it helpful to do a DC:TweetFriday where you can have the run of the DC twitter feed for 24 hours to tell your story anonymously, tell a couple of supportive (and trustworthy) friends/family before you tell the difficult ones. Then in the days running up to it, postpone anything you can that will drain you and make sure you do things that make you as emotionally healthy as possible: arrange to hang out with good friends, go to bed early-ish for a few nights, exercise, pray, read a bit of the comforting bits of the Bible (Isaiah 40-60, The gospels, the Psalms), write in your diary, whatever works for you.

Don't come out for the first time in an argument... I know it might be tempting but, trust me, it's very unlikely to go well. 

7. Think of a strategy

You know them well and what they will be most worried about. Eg while it might help you to feel confident to know all the great responses to the Bible passages, but rising to arguments with them is unlikely to go well in the first conversation with family or church leaders. If they want to talk about that assure them that you have thought very seriously about this and believe you're sticking closer to scripture in where you've landed and offer to talk about it with them another time. The first conversation normally is best kept to confident but kind statements and leave the details till later. They might also be worried about other things - "Yes I can still have children, lots of LGBT couples do. No I'm not losing my faith. I still love God very much and I'm committed to staying with God. I know it might be hard to see but this is actually making me stronger in my relationship to God." Try not to rise to their arguments in the first conversation at least. Be as kind as you can to them while not budging on your big news. 

8. Be honest but try not to sound more uncertain than you are in order to soften the blow.

If you're really not sure if you're LGBT then say that... if you're basically convinced and realistically this isn't going to change any time soon then you should say it firmly. While it may sound more palatable to them that their little boy/girl is "going through a phase" and needs help to get back to being straight, it's not going to help in the long run. And they may well leap to trying to fix this rather than accepting your news sooner.

All you can do is be clear and honest about where you are.

9. Try to explain that you're telling them BECAUSE you love them

... and don't want a relationship with them that has to hide big things in your life or that might be based on you being something that you're not. They might not appreciate it at the time but they may reflect on that as the first positive thing they find to hold on to.

10. You might be surprised at the reaction.

A lot of DCers are surprised at how family members respond. Some family members who are very opposed to LGBT+ people in general find they react differently when it is someone they know and love. Some people who are fine with the idea of LGBT+ people in general (and even engage in activism) can be thrown when it's someone close to them who is not the person they thought they were. Take one conversation at a time and get to the point that whatever the response, you know how you would handle it.

11. Reconcile yourself to the fact that the relationship might be hard for a while.

First reactions are rarely (if ever) the final reactions and many of us have seen big miracles in how kind and/or supportive our families have ended up being compared to where they started off. 

12. Don't take any rubbish

If needed help them to own their emotions. You haven't "made" them angry. You haven't taken something away from them. Be as understanding as you can but don't be a pushover.

I hope nobody needs this bit but just in case... If someone hits you or shoves you in anger over this, that is very serious and you can get the police involved. It's one thing to be understanding that people might be shocked but physical violence is never ok.

13. Pray...

it really does help. God is on your side, God knows you better than you know yourself and cares about helping you do this well and keeping you strong through it all. "Pour out your heart to him for he cares for you." as the Psalms say a lot.

14. It (almost definitely) will get better.

They may well grow. You can grow in your self acceptance so you're less vulnerable to their ups and downs. God has got you. You will find deep friendships and kindnesses from people of all ages who welcome LGBT+ people of faith. 

Reverend Sally Hitchiner is the founder of Diverse Church. She is a university chaplain in London. This article was written in collaboration with the DC18 community.