Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo are innovators. In 2010 they founded EveryoneIsGay.com and turned a clichéd and moribund communications medium, the advice column, into something quite different—a multidimensional support resource that is fresh, funny and real. Then right after starting the site, they made a great decision to go out on the road and meet kids around the country, traveling to middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities. The experience was pivotal. It gave them the opportunity to connect personally with lots of kids in lots of different situations. I’m sure that establishing so many personal connections helped create an even greater sense of urgency about the value and importance of what they were doing.
Since then, Everyone Is Gay has become a vital resource for tens of thousands of LGBTQ kids and young adults who are trying to come to terms with their sexuality and their lives. In fact, in a pretty short time it’s become much more than an advice column. It’s now a robust, multifaceted organization that includes a diverse group of contributors who provide guidance and support to LGBTQ youth.
In November 2013, Dannielle and Kristin expanded the scope of Everyone Is Gay by launching the Parents Project with the goal of helping parents understand their LGBTQ kids. Now they’ve distilled a lot of their wit and real-world wisdom into a really accessible question-and-answer guide to everyday life called This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids (Chronicle Books, 2014). The focus of the book is on sexuality and in particular the challenges of coming out.
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Culturally, coming out is so important. The fact that so many people have now come out is certainly the number one reason why support for marriage equality has increased dramatically in such a short time. Having LGBTQ family members and friends makes all the difference when it comes to overcoming bigotry and embracing equal rights for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But we can never judge people on when or whether or not they should come out. It’s frightening to tell your parents or your siblings or your friends something that may make them reject you. Dannielle and Kristin really understand this personally. They’ve come out, and they know how hard it can be. They know that it can be awkward and confusing for everybody—not just the kid who is coming out but for the parents as well.
I love how their book is really straightforward and how it addresses so many of the tough questions that parents have. Many parents wonder. Is it a choice to be gay? Is this my fault? Is this just a phase? Will my other kids be gay? How should I tell people? What will people think? How do I talk to my child about safe sex? How do I support my child when being gay goes against my religious beliefs? Of course, parents also worry about the safety of their children. If their child wants to come out at school, they wonder how they’ll be treated and if they’ll be bullied. Dannielle and Kristin do a great job navigating through all of these tough questions while sharing many of their own experiences throughout the book. They begin by making it clear that it’s OK to be afraid and confused. It’s OK not to know what to do. It’s OK to feel awkward. As they say, this is not only a journey for your child. It is also a journey for you, the parent. The key is to open up a dialogue with your child and communicate love and support. When our children know that we love and support them, it makes all of the challenges of coming out so much easier.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Kristin last year. She’s one of the participants in my upcoming book, The Human Agenda: Conversations about Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity (Trans Uber, 2015), and I had the opportunity to ask her about the Parents Project and the book. She told me “It was sort of a no-brainer for us to make the next step of Everyone Is Gay be dialogue with parents whose kids had just come out to them. So many of the questions that we get both through our site and when we tour schools are about heartbreak and relationships or coming out to parents. . . . After Dannielle and I talked about it a bit, we decided we would put our resources together and our own experience with our families together and write a book.”
I’m really glad they did. I highly recommend this book not just to parents of gay kids and to the kids themselves but to everyone who would like to gain a better understanding of what it means to be LGBTQ and what it means to be human. As Kristin put it so eloquently in our Human Agenda conversation, “what we have found . . . is that so many of these issues, as serious as they are, in so many cases really hinge on universal human needs.”