By Dr. Jeff Gardere
On CNN this past Friday morning I participated in a discussion with a mother from Kansas City who was criticized for allowing her five-year-old son to dress as a female character from Scooby-Doo.
During that discussion, I made a comment about the mother “outing” her child. Many viewers objected to that point. In today’s world, though the word “outing” has taken on a significance about sexuality, let me be clear I was not using it in that way. I specifically said, “whether he is straight or gay,” I questioned why she put her son’s photo out on her blog. The fact is that I said and truly believe this mother has been very courageous in supporting her child. Her acceptance and unconditional love is a model for other parents in how to raise happy and healthy children.
Now comes the gem! I articulated that in speaking with straight and even gay parents, some of them consider it their “worst nightmare” to have a child who may be coming to terms with being gay. I have made this same statement before but have always completed the thought with "because they were worried that their child would face, isolation, hostility, emotional and physical bullying from people who are anti-gay.” However, this time in my haste to get to the next thought, I left out this very important part of that full thought. The end result was that my incomplete thought and words insulted and hurt so many people’s feelings; both straight and gay. Since that time I have received a ton of emails where people have expressed their displeasure and outrage. And you know what? They are 100 percent, absolutely right to have done so. There is absolutely no excuse for this mental lapse, especially on such an important topic. As a public speaker, clinician and America’s Psychologist, I should have completed my thought process completely and not have left it up to anyone to figure out the true meaning of my words. Shame on me! For that I take full responsibility and offer a public and full apology. I have also apologized to each and every person who has contacted me, I have publicly apologized to the MTV logo site Afterelton.com (who were kind enough to ask for clarification), and I have posted an apology and explanation on the GLAAD website (who know my work and also contacted me because they knew something was amiss). In fact I will continue to apologize genuinely and sincerely to each and every person who reaches out to me on this matter for as long as it takes. I was just plain WRONG… no excuses.
But it doesn’t end there. Now I am also going to take myself to task for something else. Even if I had completed the thought and said it was a “worst nightmare” because of the fear of danger to their children, that would have been wrong too! Because as I heard from many of the folks that wrote me and what I need to be reminded as a father of four, is that when it comes to our kids, a “worst nightmare” is not the fear of what they will face in an unjust world because of their sexuality. No, a “worst nightmare” is finding out that your child has thyroid cancer, or has just been severely injured in a car accident, or is...dead.
This previous point however leads to my final thought of this blog. Though I feel absolutely awful and am truly sorry that I have hurt so many people’s feelings, there has also been a silver lining. Almost each person who emailed me, all appropriately angry, has accepted my apology with kindness and grace. Let me add that I have also been humbled and touched by the capacity of the LGBT community for their support and forgiveness.
After my explanation and apology, the straight and the LGBT community who I was in contact with understood what I was trying and meant to say in the interview. Remarkably, many of them also shared the trials and tribulations they endured growing up as kids in an even more anti gay world than the one we are in today. That is why in return for their understanding, they are asking me to do one thing: continue to increase the dialogue in the media on how to help parents guide their children through their psychosexuality, whether they are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or questioning. We have come to a consensus that we can no longer be in fear of what our children will have to face in this cold and often cruel world. Our fears will simply be transmitted to our kids who will in turn become fearful and at risk for emotional dysfunction, isolation, depression or even suicide. As I mentioned in the interview, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or questioning youth are four times more likely to commit suicide as compared to heterosexual youth. Instead, if we come from a place of strength and not fear, if we can be their role models and actually show them acceptance, courage, support, and unconditional love, then no matter what dangers or traumas they face regarding their sexuality, they will not only survive but thrive. Because when it’s all said and done, love always conquers hate.
Nicely put, thank you.
Thank you for this:
"We have come to a consensus that we can no longer be in fear of what our children will have to face in this cold and often cruel world. Our fears will simply be transmitted to our kids who will in turn become fearful and at risk for emotional dysfunction, isolation, depression or even suicide."
Next time consider bringing your closing thoughts to the beginning of your comments. You, Dr. Gardere, spread a healthy dose of psychologically endorsed fear with your shaming comments about Outing a child, and your later in your remarks that a costumed picture of a child on Halloween is something he will have to "live with forever..."
Talk about promoting fear and shame. I would ask you to please consider spend less time explaining your past words and more time advocating for healthy children and families.
And as you move on please also consider how many children and adults act out anti-gay violence out of the same fear...
This shame and fear you are highlighting doesn't just produce depression or emotional dysfunction for LGBTQ youth, it produces loathing and violence, "emotional dysfunction" on the part of many many many children and adults. You know... that thing we call homophobic bullying which is reportedly experienced and enacted by the vast majority of children in our schools.
Shift your frame and you may begin to see things differently.
Thank you for your genuine apology. Like others, I was very upset after I heard your on-air comments.
It take a courageous man to so bluntly admit his mistakes. I really appreciate the courage and sensitivity you have shown in the aftermath.
It restores my faith in people just a little bit more.
Thank you for your humble and genuine apology, Dr. Gardere. It is obvious to me that you understand how your words were hurtful and have made a serious effort to rectify that offense. For that you prove yourself to be a compassionate and thoughtful person.
For a long time I did feel that, as a gay person, I was indeed my parents' "worst nightmare", and the shame and pain of that was deeply damaging. I am glad to see that you seem to want to help future generations of teenagers feeling that way and experiencing the damaging effects.
@ Tammy : You're either willfully missing the point or you're not quite aware how much of a bigot you are.
Most physcologists and therapists psychiatrists,. Qualified professionals Never ever make statements like this. Problem I have with Dr. Phil. Mr. know it all, and this guy, stating "worst nightmare"/ Lordy..
They just listen, ask questions, and allow the person to find their own discovery.
A home should be that you accept your child for whomever he or she is. Guidance to a point where you do not choose. Home is supposed to be the safe haven for facing the world.
Mother exploiting her little boy on the internet is a violation of that chid.
Five years old, wearing a costume, does not make him anything but a little kid playing dress up. How many of us dressed up as gansters clowns hunters, and such. It was just fun. She violated this kid even suggesting such a thing. Some people just very uninformed.
One thing I did learn raising children. That you never want to put your ideas of acceptable values on them. They live in rebellion and just to spite you they will test you constantly. Never get too upset or make judgements, they will anything to rebel later on. I wonder sometimes how many gay people there are if parents did not rag on their kid and they actually not gay went that way because of rebellion? Life is short. too many homophobes out there.
By the way, people are not upset about his costume, they are upset over the fact that she is exploiting this young boy for notoriety and an to have an interesting topic for her blog. Somebody needs to have the courage to take a stand for this childs well being.
So what do you think of the fact that the mother is exploiting her young child by putting his picture on the internet for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to comment on. What if he grows up straight? Don't you think he will resent the fact his mother put a picture of him on the internet with the heading "My son is gay" over his head. This mother is in the same league as the Balloon Boys dad and she is getting praised for it.
I'm so glad I read this in its entirety and did not just leap to conclusions from the first couple of sentences. I respect your apology and your explanation. It's not easy, change, dialogue and staying in communication in the midst of painful feelings and reactions. Thank you.
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