DEAR HARRIETTE: My 15-year-old son just told me that he is gay. I kind of suspected it, but that's completely different from actually dealing with it. I totally support my son to become whatever he is to be, but I have no idea of how to help him through what will surely be some tough times. For starters, I know my husband is going to freak out. He is West Indian and stereotypically homophobic. My son will need his father to have his back. And then there are the extended family members. I need help in order to help him. -- Standing by His Side, Chicago
DEAR STANDING BY HIS SIDE: Begin by simply and completely being there for your son. Let him tell you about his feelings, what prompted him to talk about it now, and any experiences that he would like to share with you. Be a great listener. That means biting your tongue when you feel like inserting comments or judgments. Be an active listener.
When he asks for your advice, start with your basic values about sexual activity at his age. Regardless of sexual orientation, you surely have guidelines for what you recommend. Remind your son of these guidelines, as they should protect him.
As far as your husband and extended family go, take it one day at a time. Agree with your son about who will break the news to his dad. If he wants to have the conversation, offer to stand by his side. Afterward, talk to your husband about the importance of supporting your son even though it's difficult. For other family members, do not tell them until your son is ready. Meanwhile, help him to build a support network of people who will help him to come in to his own responsibly.