Parental Responses to Coming out by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Pansexual, or Two-Spirited People across Three Age Cohorts

Diana D. van Bergen, Bianca D.M. Wilson, Stephen T. Russell, Allegra G. Gordon, Esther D. Rothblum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Objective: The study aimed to better understand the complexities of parental responses to coming out in the narratives from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Pansexual, or Two-Spirited (LGBQ+) individuals, and to examine whether those from recent cohorts experience a different parental response than those in older cohorts. Background: Sexual minorities come out at younger ages today than in past decades, and coming out to parents is a major part of the identification process. Method: Interview excerpts of 155 US lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, pansexual, or two-spirited (LGBQ+) respondents were analyzed with a qualitative thematic analysis and with basic quantitative methods. The sample consisted of 61 interviewees in a young cohort (ages 18–25), 65 in a middle cohort (ages 35–42), and 29 in an older cohort (ages 52–59), in six ethnic/racial groups. Results: Themes based on LGBQ+ people's accounts indicated that parental responses varied with the degree of their a priori knowledge of respondents' sexual identities (ranging from suspicion or certainty to surprise). Parental appraisal was either lacking, negative, mixed, or positive with accompanying silent, invalidating, ambivalent, and validating responses, respectively. Validating responses from parents were more often found in the youngest cohort, but invalidating responses were frequent across all cohorts. LGBQ+ people in the oldest cohort were more inclined to accept their parents being noncommunicative about sexuality in general and also about sexual diversity. Conclusion: It is too early to state that coming out to parents has become easier. Harmony in the parent–child relationship after coming out and open communication about sexual identities is regarded as desirable and yet it remains elusive for many LGBQ+ people.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1116-1133
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Marriage and Family
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • cohort
  • family conflict
  • family diversity
  • family relations
  • sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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