To stray from the pack and come out as an LGBTIQ+ person takes courage, yet parents too must learn to live with daily stigma, judgement and challenges, an audience at a EuroPride event heard.
Questions such as “Did you raise them to be gay?” and “Why did you not tell us they had come out?” are all too familiar to such families, who were the focus of an event called Parents Speak from their Heart held in Valletta.
With discussions from multiple panels on education, religion and inclusion, the event on the final day of EuroPride focused on parents’ experiences with their LGBTIQ+ children and the journey of self-discovery that they also had to embark on.
“I have to admit, it was quite a shock,” Maltese mother Anna Marie Mifsud said during one of the discussions.
Recalling when her daughter first spoke about starting the transition to a female life, Mifsud said that the entire experience was not only challenging for their daughter, who was 15 at the time, but for the entire family.
“Was it easy? No. Did we cry? A lot and a lot,” she said.
Although there was never any doubt in Mifsud’s mind when it came to accepting her child for who they are and who they want to be, she looked to groups and therapy for support.
There, she found help on how to tackle public stigma while also finding support from others who are constantly asked questions about the upbringing of their children.
“My greatest worry is that they will always be judged,” she said.
The thought of her daughter being judged not on their actions but simply on who they are was a tough fear to forget.
Now 17, Mifsud’s daughter has begun to “flourish” with her newfound self-acceptance, after her school life was constantly tormented by bullies who told her she did not fit in.
“Growing up, he didn’t fit in this ideal boy image. He didn’t like football but he loved theatre… he didn’t really like the boyish things.”
The issue is one of education, she said, as bigotry spawns from ignorance.
However, it was not only students that needed to learn more about the community: Mifsud recalled the time when not even school counsellors were able to help her child.
Due to the bullying, Mifsud’s daughter began to fake illnesses to skip school but when she was taken to the school’s counsellor, they did not know how to handle the root of the situation.
“When it comes to education, we still have a lot to work on,” Mifsud said, noting that even small things such as non-binary bathrooms are still an alien concept for most Maltese schools. During the panel, other parents visiting Malta for EuroPride 2023 spoke about their experiences with their LGBTIQ+ children.
“He was the first trans person I had ever met,” Lithuanian Ruta Trumpickiene said about her son.
Shocked and unsure of how to continue the conversation, she remembered that the first two years were extremely challenging for her as a parent.
“I saw how strong my son is but, at the same time, he was very vulnerable,” she said.
“I am so proud of him, and I love him, so I decided that if he is going to be strong, I will be strong with him,” she said as she battled her own stigma from friends, family and colleagues.
When it comes to education, we still have a lot to work on
Dutch couple Theo and Marjo Kuipers shared the experience of their son who came out as gay when he was 18.
“It was the day before Christmas, so it was a holiday gift,” Theo said jokingly, explaining that their son asked to keep the news private.
Yet, as the news slowly spread from one social circle to the next, the Kuipers began receiving calls from friends who questioned their parenting, directly asking them if they had raised their son to be gay and why they had not been the ones to spread the news.
“Why would I?” Theo said as he saw no reason to inform people even if his son had not asked him to keep it quiet.
“It can be painful as a parent. When he told us that he was gay, he thanked us for loving him,” Marjo said, a memory which still pains her as she could not imagine a world where she did not love her child.
The event was organised by Drachma Parents, an NGO who support parents of LGBT people. To contact them, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 99454581/79442317.