A documented strength of African American families is their close kinship ties that provide safe harbor from the racist seas of the dominant culture. Loving, strong families can buffer the impacts of oppression on its members. So for gay and lesbian youth who are black, the thought of losing this vital resource is particularly devastating.
I am a professor at Rutgers University where Tyler Clementi was a student. I did not know Tyler, nor do I know the two young people accused of filming his sexual activity and posting it-but what I do know is this act was a gay bashing and the weapons were as powerful and wounding as a baseball bat-perhaps more so.
Fathers in many families are mysterious, distant, intimidating figures-even more so for boys with homosexual attractions. They are the family torchbearers of manliness, and, as males young and old know, homosexuality is considered the dreaded opposite of masculinity.
When parents learn they have a gay or lesbian child, they very quickly realize they are now living in a world that stigmatizes not only their children but also themselves. Suddenly, these parents are involuntarily drafted into a club whose members are disparaged. For the 76 parents I interviewed for the book: Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Gay or Lesbian Child, this was their first bitter taste of the injustice of stigma--and it was eye-opening in ways that were painful and frightening.
To begin to tell the story of the 65 gay and lesbian families I interviewed for the book Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Gay or Lesbian Child, it makes the most sense to start at the end--because there is good news about how families can eventually become more open, warmer, and closer after it is learned that a child is gay or lesbian.