'It's a journey': coming out can be a family affair

Coming out can be a difficult for a teen, but family members and parents can also face unique challenges.

'We want to help. But for a lot of kids ... it's a dangerous situation coming out'

In the highly debated Bill 24, the NDP government made it illegal for schools to inform parents when their children join gay-straight alliances. (Canadian Press)

Coming out as gay, lesbian, trans or queer can be a huge challenge for a teen, but it can also be difficult for parents and family members in unique ways.

Two parents who know the challenges first hand shared their experiences on Edmonton AM Friday morning.

Ruby Swanson is the author of A Family Outing, a book about her experiences with a gay son. (CBC)

Ruby Swanson, author of A Family Outing, a book about her family's experiences with her gay son, described how her son came out in stages, first telling his father, then waiting months to tell her.

"My husband felt really isolated because he had something really important that he couldn't share because he had to honour our son's request," Swanson said.

After finding out, she said it was another seven months before her son came out to his brother.

In the end, the family was accepting of his identity, but Swanson said she struggled with keeping her son's identity undercover.

"It's just issues of secrecy. Secrecy destroys people's souls and I felt my soul was being destroyed and I didn't know why being gay was something that had to be protected, withheld."

Terry Soetaert's said he's also familiar with the damage secrecy can do.

His daughter came out at age 13.

When his daughter was young, Soetaert says she was struggling with a lot of issues, including depression and anxiety.

She was seeing specialists, but the first step for her to recover was to end the secrecy within herself, he said.

"With my daughter, the toughest thing was actually coming out to herself," he explained. "She didn't have access to a [Gay Straight Alliance], so having one would have been an excellent idea for her."

Terry Soetaert is with the St. Albert chapter of P-FLAG. He also helps organise Outloud, a meeting group for LGBTQ youth in St. Albert. (CBC)

Despite the problems secrecy can create, both Soetaert and Swanson said they don't think schools should out kids.

"No one can judge whether or not it's right for that child to come out to their parents," Swanson said. "The child knows when it's right. And that 'child' might be 60 years old."

Soetart said he thinks it's a difficult balance for parents.

"We want to help. We want to be there for our kids. But for a lot of kids, at least half of the kids that I deal with, it's a dangerous situation coming out."

GSA's and similar groups give teens an environment to explore their identity, said Soetaert, who works with the St. Albert chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and helps organize Outloud, a meeting group for LGBTQ youth.

"A lot of kids like to say that they're queer or questioning because they don't really know," he said. "It's a journey."

With files from Stefan Opryshko