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Two Sides to Gay Teens Coming Out

hellotagIn what it becoming a popular trend these days, another “live-coming-out” video has been posted on Youtube.

These stories will temporarily trend in social media feeds, including one in particular that Facebook highlighted this week: It features a teenager who hid a camera with just the right line of sight to capture his mom’s reaction to his announcement that he is gay.

There’s a lot to digest here, from the content of the post to why it’s even a trend to begin with. I asked Shawn Harrison, noted author of “Ministering to Gay Teenagers,” to give his perspective on the video concept itself. I also had a few thoughts to offer, not as an antagonist to his point but to supplement it from the ministry side of things. Here are two sides to gay teens coming out:

In terms of the content…

(via Shawn Harrison)

In terms of the takeaways…

(via Tony Myles)

For those that don’t know about these videos, check out Youtube and you’ll quickly see. Instead of writing letters, teens now hide a video camera in a room and film their parent’s (or family’s) response to them coming out as gay. A lot of these videos are hard to watch – some are deeply emotional and deeply troubling in how the parent’s reactions are brutally honest and some times come with the words, “Leave my house now.”

As youth workers, we need to familiarize ourselves with these videos, because they definitely give us insight into the personal lives of gay students – students who could at any time come through our doors.

As I’ve been watching these videos, I’m reminded of the time I came to my parents. I stayed home that day because the thought of coming out to my parents knotted my stomach up like never before. Not only was I physically sick, but emotionally and mentally “sick,” too. It is not easy to tell your parents you are attracted to the same-sex, let alone you have no idea why you experience these attractions, and you cannot seem to change the attractions you have. The stress and fear of becoming an embarrassment and a failure to your parents overwhelms your entire being. The fear of becoming homeless because of your “attractions” is a constant nightmare.

For a gay teen that either has come out or is about to come out, losing friends is one thing, but being rejected by family is on a totally different level.

Friends come and go, while family is supposed to be there no matter what. However, many of the teens in these coming out videos, and many who never make a video, face the unthinkable: parents rejection, homelessness, ridicule, and abuse that is physically and mental. I was fortunate in that though my parents and I never talked about my sexuality, they never stopped loving me.

Regardless of what personal stance you may have on this topic:

  • What did you learn by watching and listening to the kid?
  • What did you learn by watching and listening to the mom?
  • What can we learn about youth ministry from a kid who secretly video tapes his mom’s reaction to something?

Once upon a time, kids wrote something in a secret diary or journal so the rest of the world couldn’t see it. We’re now on the exact opposite extreme where students look for validation and affirmation in the global community, not realizing the bias that in itself creates. They may see how many “likes” or “views” their post gets on the internet and assume that’s what they’ll encounter locally among people they will actually interact with.

Maybe that’s not the end goal in their minds, though. Perhaps if they can just get one more “thumbs up” or “retweet” online, they’ll come up with the courage they need to talk to their family.

It’s why my favorite part in the video is when the mom fires back with her own disclosure… not because of what she says or how she tries to identify with her son, but because for those 10 to 15 seconds the teenager is absolutely out of whatever role he prescribed for himself in this conversation.

This “ad lib” is where real ministry happens… but what if instead of his world getting a little bigger that way there was something more Christ-centered in that moment?

Maybe that’s the message we need to remind students of in this moment. Life is larger than what they’re processing today. While culture is ready to rapid-fire validation or criticism to the latest feelings a teenager expresses, it isn’t dispensing context and wisdom.

What if a student isn’t gay in orientation, but is curious about the same sex? Will culture help them sift through that difference? Will you, with Jesus as your guide?

One way or another, this is a topic that must be explored honestly and unedited, even when we want it to feel one-sided and controlled. We all don’t have the means to package things the way we want to… but over time, context does form. For that reason, I’d like to give Shawn the last word on this – here’s some great wisdom:

shawnharrisonAnother thought occurred to me while watching these videos: Youth workers, what if a student filmed your reaction to them coming out, or what if a gay teen secretly filmed you talking about homosexuality during youth group? What would they record?

And before you determine, “this would never happen,” let me remind you that these parents being filmed most likely said the same thing. We cannot wait to decide what we would say or do concerning homosexuality and our students. We need to decide now how we would respond, how we would teach the subject, and how we would help families through the journey. This conversation is too important to put aside and wait for another day. For too long the church has practiced this approach, and the result is what we see today: we are “anti-gay,” gay teens are leaving Christianity, families sit alone in silence, and the church continues to miss the point about homosexuality.

I am not the “know-all” of this subject. I’m just a guy who personally lives out this journey, and I’m trying to help youth workers, families, and gay individuals navigate through their journey, too. For some practical help, let me suggest my book, “Ministering to Gay Teenagers.” I truly believe in this book, and by God’s grace, thousands of people have learned how to navigate this journey, unafraid and in community with others.

2 thoughts on “Two Sides to Gay Teens Coming Out

  1. Avatar

    Strange things are becoming normal and totally acceptable these days.

    As much as I would accept gay teens/people at their level, I still believe they are not on the right path. I have loads of compassion for them and always want to help them see why they should come out. I wouldn’t push but will certainly pray really hard and seek opportunities to reach their heart. For every gay person, there is a vacuum, one that must be filled. The efforts of the devil at making it seem normal and acceptable in the world … gay stars, gay teachers, gay mum etc doesn’t help matters. In this video, the sick cant help the sick. The mother is also already gay in her mind, she already had a girlfriend! She cant help her son, they’ll go down together. I pray that youth ministers and other compassionate ministers for such causes will be sent their way IJN.

    Pls lets keep praying. I cant really predict exactly what my reaction will be if one of my youths say they are. One thing im sure will be present is SHOCK! I know I will not chase the child away, but I know I’ll weep and weep. God help us!

    • Avatar

      Julienne – you’re pointing out an intriguing tension… how do we stay faithful to what God has said to be true when culture seems louder than it ever has before… and while that’s happening, how do we communicate radical hospitality to people who feel rejected by Christians, without abandoning our calling to not just receive them but to likewise love and lead them into a growing relationship with Jesus.

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Two Sides to Gay Teens Coming Out

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