Could Your Child Be Gay?
What is and isn't known about kids' sexuality, and how parents can show their love whether their kids are gay or straight. Plus, get tips on talking to your children about sex
Have you ever wondered if a child -- maybe even your own -- might be gay? If so, you're not the first parent who has. But a better question may be: How would you handle it if he or she were? In this special report, Parenting explores what is and isn't known about kids' sexuality, and how parents can show their love no matter what.
I saw a little boy recently wearing a T-shirt that said, I Like Pink and I Don't Care What You Think! At first, I thought, Cool! His mom and dad are clearly encouraging their kid, who was around 4, to express what makes him happy, even if what gives him joy is atypical for a person with a penis.
Then I got a little, well, blue. The fact that he's probably too young to read his own shirt also means he's not reading the larger cultural messages about what is "normal" for a boy. No matter how much he continues to like fuchsia as he gets older, there's a good chance his survival instinct will tell him it's not worth getting his butt kicked at school. Because as absurd as it is to think that an affinity for a specific color could suggest that someone is homosexual, kids have a knack for teasing and bullying over such things. And sometimes with horrific outcomes.
Last April 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover, a Boy Scout and athlete, hanged himself outside his room with an extension cord. He had complained repeatedly about being bullied at school, and particularly about being called "gay" by classmates at his Springfield, MA, middle school. His mom, Sirdeaner Walker, did everything right: She comforted her son and supported him; she called school administrators and met them in person. She was assured the situation would be addressed. But clearly the damage was done -- three months later, her son was dead. "Kids are singling out others for being different, whether it's for being happy-go-lucky or smart or gay," says Walker. "They're using these words to hurt." Carl hadn't hit puberty, and had never discussed with his mom whether he might be gay. If the taunting and nastiness can become too much for children like him who still don't understand their sexuality, imagine the pressure on those who do.
That pain may partly explain why gay youth try to take their own lives four times as often as their heterosexual peers, according to The Trevor Project, an organization that runs a 24-hour helpline and an online community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) kids. (Many of the 2 to 4 percent of people who identify as LGBT report knowing that they were as children.) Even more disturbing: When a kid's family rejects him, the odds of attempted suicide are nine times higher. Nine times.