Par­ent­ing – Talk­ing Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity with Your Child

We live in a time where tol­er­ance should come nat­u­rally. Here are some use­ful tips on how to tackle this thorny is­sue openly


There is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that “be­ing gay isn’t African” and that it ar­rived on our shores at the same time as Chris­tian­ity. This, un­for­tu­nately, doesn’t ac­com­mo­date the school of thought that be­lieves peo­ple are born gay. A 2016 study done by The Other Foun­da­tion ti­tled Pro­gres­sive Prudes found that even though 72% of re­spon­dents felt same-sex sex­ual ac­tiv­ity was “morally wrong ”, a healthy 51% of South Africans be­lieve gay peo­ple should en­joy the same hu­man rights as ev­ery­one else.


The world’s chang­ing and so is the com­po­si­tion of mod­ern fam­i­lies. So, what do you say when your son or daugh­ter comes home from school one day and asks you why Thabo has two dads? Firstly, let your child know there is noth­ing ab­nor­mal about it, says coun­selling psy­chol­o­gist Then­jiwe Lindiwe Nh­lapo. “Par­ents need to educate their chil­dren about the dif­fer­ent types of fam­ily struc­tures and teach them they are just as ac­cept­able. For ex­am­ple, a child raised by a sin­gle par­ent is no less for­tu­nate than a child raised by op­po­site-sex par­ents. Sim­i­larly, a child raised by same-sex par­ents is not in any way in­fe­rior to a child raised by op­po­site-sex par­ents,” she ex­plains.

So how should a par­ent ex­plain what be­ing gay is, in the most sim­plis­tic terms? Ex­perts be­lieve the sub­ject is best broached with pre­teens (chil­dren aged 9-12) be­cause of their level of un­der­stand­ing, un­like with pre-schol­ars for in­stance. Bear in mind that chil­dren are likely to hear deroga­tory terms used to re­fer to gay peo­ple and may as­sume the in­sults are ac­cept­able if you, as the par­ent, don’t set the record straight

“Par­ents should educate them­selves about the dif­fer­ent types of sex­u­al­ity, and should be com­fort­able enough to talk about it. If you feel your knowl­edge is not up to scratch, don’t be re­luc­tant to seek pro­fes­sional help. Par­ents should learn to set aside their own prej­u­dices to help chil­dren dis­cover them­selves and to be tol­er­ant,” Nh­lapo ex­plains.


Feather Awards co-founder, LGBTIQ+ ac­tivist and me­dia per­son­al­ity Thami Kot­lolo, com­monly known as Thami Dish, says he never had to sit his par­ents down to ex­plain he was gay. “I’ve al­ways been my­self and they loved and ac­cepted me. Grow­ing up, I re­mem­ber bring­ing around gay friends, un­til my mom asked if that is who I was, and I re­sponded with a re­sound­ing yes. That was the end of it — she never ques­tioned or tried to change me. For­tu­nately, I didn’t have to jus­tify my sex­u­al­ity to any­one nor deal with an abu­sive father or an un­ac­cept­ing mother,” he says.

If you’re ques­tion­ing your child’s sex­u­al­ity based on the toys they play with for in­stance, re­mem­ber it’s com­pletely okay to have a world­view not in­formed by gen­der stereo­types. “The key part here is peo­ple are dif­fer­ent. There’s noth­ing wrong with chil­dren ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent types of toys or play,” Nh­lapo says. What par­ents should do is shat­ter stereo­types and let their chil­dren know that, just like girls, boys too are ca­pa­ble of be­ing gen­tle and nur­tur­ing, and con­versely, girls are ca­pa­ble of be­ing rough and risk­tak­ers. “The child needs to be taught that although gen­der stereo­types are en­trenched in the so­ci­ety, they don’t nec­es­sar­ily de­fine hu­mans,” Nh­lapo con­tin­ues.

Re­sist the urge to “out” your child as that would be as­sum­ing they aren’t straight. For this kind of talk to be suc­cess­ful, your child will have to be to­tally com­fort­able with you. A more open par­ent­ing style will make such con­ver­sa­tions eas­ier, ac­cord­ing to Te­bogo Ram­aboa, a reg­is­tered coun­sel­lor from Pre­to­ria. “It all de­pends on your par­ent­ing at­tach­ment style. A se­cure at­tach­ment style is char­ac­terised by open com­mu­ni­ca­tion, where you talk openly about is­sues such as sex and sex­u­al­ity with your child. It’s a more ad­van­ta­geous par­ent­ing style be­cause a child can share their thoughts with­out fear or anx­i­ety. This espe­cially ap­plies to pre­teens, who are at the stage where their bod­ies are trans­form­ing,” Ram­aboa says. In ad­di­tion to this, she urges par­ents to rather wait for their child to lead this sex­u­al­ity con­ver­sa­tion in­stead of con­fronting them, as that could po­ten­tially scare them off or worse, de­stroy the par­ent-child trust.


Most of us swear by the line, ‘Ba­zoth­ini abantu?’ (What will peo­ple say?), with­out re­al­is­ing it hin­ders peo­ple from be­ing com­fort­able in their own skin and liv­ing out their heart’s de­sires. Which­ever colour of the rain­bow spec­trum your child may fall un­der, your role as a par­ent is to love and pro­tect them, this in­cludes stand­ing up when they’re be­ing overtly dis­crim­i­nated against.

“Granted, there’s noth­ing wrong with be­ing con­cerned about how oth­ers will re­act to news of your child be­ing gay, les­bian or trans. Wor­ry­ing is nor­mal, but ex­ces­sive wor­ry­ing might lead to fear and is prob­lem­atic as it raises neg­a­tive thoughts and feel­ings,” Nh­lapo says.

Thami Dish says he never wor­ried about ex­ter­nal naysay­ers be­cause his fam­ily’s sup­port was enough to help him build a solid self-es­teem and be com­fort­able with his sex­u­al­ity. “This left me with enough room to con­cen­trate on the per­son I wanted to be­come, my ca­reer and didn’t pay at­ten­tion to out­side ac­cep­tance. I just wanted to be­come the best ver­sion of my­self,” he says.

Ram­aboa strongly rec­om­mends that par­ents seek pro­fes­sional help should their child start show­ing signs of de­pres­sion, self­harm, anx­i­ety or be­ing bul­lied. Fac­ing the world will never be easy but your child will get their con­fi­dence from you and thus be able to bet­ter han­dle re­jec­tion, she says. “Our fam­i­lies cre­ate a tem­plate for how we view our fu­ture and your child’s men­tal and phys­i­cal well­be­ing come first.”

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