How do I come out to my parents when I know they are not accepting for religious reasons?

UAlberta psychologist Maddi Genovese shares some advice for a reader's question on how to come out to their religious parents.

Maddi Genovese - 28 September 2020

How do I come out to my parents when I know they are not accepting for religious reasons?

Signed, Afraid 

Dear Afraid, 

The decision to come out to your parents can be difficult, especially if you have strict religious parents who have negative views about being LGBTQ+. It is normal to feel scared if you don’t know how they will react; after all these are your parents we are talking about. Every coming out journey is different, but you can make the process a little smoother if you consider some of the suggestions below. 

  • On your own time. You will have to decide for yourself, when, if and how you come out to your parents. Friends and adults who are supporting you should respect your timeline. Ask them to keep this piece of your identity confidential until you tell them otherwise. 

  • Balance risks and benefits. Some people choose to come out to their parents (or not at all) when they are older for many different reasons. It is definitely okay to consider your present living situation when you are balancing risks and benefits. Would your parents stop supporting you financially, or emotionally if you came out to them? Some folks choose to wait until they are financially independent and have a strong support system before coming out. You might want to consider waiting  if you feel you will be better able to weather the worst case scenario in the future. 

  • Do a little research. Within the same faith, there are many different perspectives, and there are individuals, communities, local and international churches who offer a more inclusive interpretation of the sacred texts.  An awareness of LGBTQ+ individuals who ascribe to your faith may give you confidence and inspiration when answering some of your parents' questions, and this may mean you can offer them a different perspective.  At the very least, knowing that there are more LGBTQ+ folks within your faith can normalize your experience, and help you create new connections online or in person. Check out the list of resources at the bottom of this page for links to local and international LGBTQ+ affirmative faith resources. ***IMPORTANT: if you are worried about your privacy make sure to delete your browser history or use “Private or Incognito Mode” when looking up this information online.  
  • Test the waters. It can be helpful to have some conversations with your parents about their feelings about LGBTQ+ folks and LGBTQ+ rights. This can serve as a useful way to gauge how they might respond to you coming out. Consider asking them how they feel about an LGBTQ+ celebrity, LGBTQ+ rights, marriage equality or LGBTQ+ folks raising children. The Trevor Project Coming Out Handbook suggests paying attention to your parents’ words: “Do they put down LGBTQ+ people? Do they invoke LGBTQ+ stereotypes? Noticing how they handle emotional events can also help you better estimate how they will react when you come out”.  
  • Organize your thoughts. This is an important conversation so it is a good idea to take some time to think through what you want to say. Writing down a few drafts might be helpful. Practice with a support person so that they can help you figure out the right words. At the very least, you might want to have your opening line figured out. You might say something like “Mom and Dad, can we talk? I have something important I need to tell you.”  
  • Choose how, when and where. There are lots of different ways to come out. You can call your parents, text them, email them or tell them in person. Make the choice based on what works best for you and what you know about your parents. You might prefer to meet in private, or in a public place. They may be very surprised, so look for a time when your parents are calm and able to focus on what you have to say.  
  • Consider coming out to one parent first. Is one parent more open minded than the other? Many people choose to do this as a stepping stone towards informing both parents. Some have relied on one parent to tell the other, hoping that the more supportive parent could help mitigate the other parent’s initial reactions. Others have never told both parents. Again this is very personal to you and your situation. Just remember you have that option.  
  • Consider different scenarios and plan for them. It can be important to think about the range of reactions your parents may have, the good and the bad ones. You know them well so you might be able to guess what they are going to be most worried about. Try having a variety of plans ready. For example, if your parents are open to listening to you, figure out exactly how much you want to share. If you are comfortable, you can  answer some of their questions after you come out, but you don’t have to answer them all in the moment. Keep the channels of communication open and let them know you are willing to talk more soon. 
  • "Think about their experience”. Obviously it would be ideal if your parents immediately reacted in a positive and supportive way but it might take them a while to reach that place. Think about how long it took you to feel okay about your identity? You might need to give them some time. Parents will go through different stages of emotions, and they might need to grieve their vision of who you are and what your future was going to look like. This is a normal part of the process. This article on Coming Out to Conservative Christian Parents has some really good insights on the topic.   
  • Their reaction might surprise you. Some parents who are very opposed to LGBTQ+ people in general react in a more positive way when it is their own child, and vice versa. To the best of your efforts try to remain calm; take a deep breath before speaking, show that you are willing to listen, and take a pause if you need a little bit of time to think about what you want to say next. If for some reason, the conversation turns abusive, do not feel bad about ending it right there, or refusing to engage in the same tone. No form of abuse is okay.  
  • The relationship might be hard for a while but it will get better. First reactions are rarely, final reactions. Some people can really surprise you in how kind and supportive they turn out to be compared to where they started. In time, your parents may very well grow and soften their beliefs. You can also grow in your self-acceptance so you are less vulnerable to their comments. This is an excellent book that can help you stay resilient when times are tough.  
  • Take care of yourself. Coming out to your parents can at times feel quite nerve wracking. A tough response from your parents can spark self-doubt and exacerbate insecurities about yourself. Reach out to someone who can remind you that you are good and perfect just the way you are no matter what others say. Give yourself a chance to process what you are feeling, and take care of yourself by doing more of what makes you feel cared for, and relaxed. 

Coming out to your parents is an incredibly personal decision. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Listen to how you feel and approach the matter with your parents when you feel comfortable and confident about coming out to them. I like this quote by Abhijit Naskar on this very topic: “Love has no gender - compassion has no religion - character has no race.” I hope it serves as a reminder that no matter what you hear, you are worthy and lovable the way you are and just as deserving of compassion and respect as everyone else. 

Thank you for your letter Afraid. Please do not hesitate to send more, I am happy to help. 




Written by Maddalena (Maddi) Genovese, Counselling and Clinical Services Satellite Psychologist for the Faculty of Science.

Dear Maddi… welcomes submissions from students at the University of Alberta! Read more articles and submit your question online