Book Review by Michael Moran, L.C.S.W
With the tragedy of Rutgers student Tyler Clemente’s suicide this past September, the pivotal importance of positively impacting mainstream culture of the issues and experiences our lesbian and gay children face has painfully hit our radar. Too many lesbian and gay adolescents continue to be harassed — GLSEN’s recent National School Climate study indicates that 84.6% of LGBT youth are verbally harassed, 40.1% are physically harassed, and 52.9% experience Cyberbullying*. As troubling as these statistics are, it is equally concerning that too many parents lack the understanding or ability to discuss sexuality openly with their adolescent children, too many teachers and school administrators lack the training to skillfully mitigate harassment when it occurs, and too many school systems and communities lack the resources necessary to effectively address these concerns. It is not a pretty picture. As social workers, we hold the responsibility to look this squarely in the eye, name it for what it is, and do what we can, with what we have, right where we are.
Fortunately, we have leaders pointing the way, shining a flashlight toward our next steps for lasting change. Michael Lasala’s insightful exploration of sixty-five families, Coming Out, Coming Home, provides a colorful and detailed roadmap to understanding the journey of gay and lesbian youth, and the families that struggle to accept them. As his investigation deepens, Lasala illumines the arc of consciousness that is forged when parents refuse to let go of their lesbian/gay children. As these parents trudge down the often slippery path toward embracing their kids, at times they somehow even find the capacity to move beyond tolerance to actually integrating their children’s uniqueness into the family system and, dare we say, celebrating their sexuality.
Lasala organizes the narratives through a series of stages he identifies that lesbian and gay families largely go through: Family Sensitization, Family Discovery (with its sub-stages), and then Family Renewal. As the stories are pulled through and explored at each stage of the coming out process, themes emerge that signify familial adaptation and growth. He also explores the implications of race and ethnicity, illustrating in some instances how the experience of families considered to be of racial minority are very similar, and in other ways they vary greatly. A running thread that Lasala wisely highlights are the effects that all of us, whether gay or straight, young or old, experience growing up in a homophobic, heterosexist culture. The kids that bully our LGBTQ kids are products of their environment just like the rest of us. As we move past the orientation of “other” to that of inclusion, we begin to see through the cracks of our limited worldview and how our beliefs and behavior impact those around us.
As with any work of this depth, reading of the trials and tribulations of these many families challenged me to reflect upon my own upbringing with its peaks and valleys, crossroads, dead-ends and U-turns. Regardless of one’s sexual orientation and experiences, for social workers and all those in the helping professions, one walks away with a profound appreciation as to how one can facilitate positive change when working with the LGBTQ population and their families. And if you are working with parents of a lesbian or gay child, Coming Out, Coming Home is an excellent resource for bibliotherapy; not only will it help parents to be less alone and give them a context for their own feelings and reactions, it will instill in them what is an underpinning of our work…a felt sense of hope.
* GLSEN, The 2009 National School Climate Survey, Executive Summary
BOTH MICHAEL LASALA AND MICHAEL MORAN ARE STAFF THERAPISTS AT IPG