FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
PFLAG Atlanta is reproducing this information from multiple sources including Presbyterian Church of Mt. Kisco (PCMK) Blue Book and PFLAG National. None of the content on this page is authored or claimed to be authored by PFLAG Atlanta.
For a list of LGBTQIA+ terms, go here.
Is sexual orientation a choice?
No. Professional mental health organizations, including the American Psychological Association, have issued statements explaining that sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be changed or cured.
Is homosexuality a mental illness or emotional problem?
No. The label of “mental disorder” was removed by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973.
Does homosexuality have a known cause?
Though scientists do not yet fully understand how one’s sexual orientation develops, a large body of research suggests that sexual orientation is in place “very early in the life cycle, possibly even before birth.” Studies suggest that sexual orientation has a biological and genetic component, and may also be influenced by prenatal factors, such as endocrinological levels in the womb.
Is the “gay lifestyle” a real thing?
No. Gay people are a diverse group and the lives of gay people are as varied as the lives of straight people. Some anti-gay activists use the terms “gay lifestyle” to suggest that all gay people are similar and that the lives of gays and lesbians are fundamentally different from those of heterosexuals. The term “gay lifestyle” is also often used to suggest that gay people’s lives are defined primarily by sex and sexuality, or to suggest that gay people are promiscuous, which is a false narrative.
What is conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual's sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions. There is no reliable evidence that sexual orientation can be changed and medical institutions warn that conversion therapy practices are ineffective and harmful.
Pronoun information sourced from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee LGBTQ+ Resource Center.
Are transgender people gay?
Being transgender only speaks to the gender identity of an individual, not their sexuality. Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being male, female, both or neither. Sexual orientation refers to “an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attraction to individuals of a particular gender.” The difference is between “who I am” (gender identity) and “whom I am attracted to” (sexual orientation). Transgender people may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer or asexual.
What are pronouns and how do I know if I’m using them correctly?
A pronoun is a word that refers to either the people talking (I or you) or someone/something that is being talked about (she, he, they, this or it). Gender pronouns (he/she/they/ze/etc) specifically refer to people that you’re talking about. It can take practice to be sure you’re using them correctly but as long as you use the correct pronoun for the person you’re talking about, you’re on the right track.
What if I make a mistake?
It’s okay! Everyone slips up from time to time. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away, like “Sorry, I meant (insert pronoun)”. If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on. A lot of the time it can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right. Please don’t! It is inappropriate and makes the person who was misgendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is absolutely not their job.
Why is it important to respect people’s pronouns?
You can’t always know what someone’s pronouns are by looking at them. Asking and correctly using someone’s pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity. When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric (often all of the above.) It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.
What are some commonly used pronouns?
She/her/hers and he/him/his are a few commonly used pronouns. Some people call these “female/feminine” and “male/masculine” pronouns, but many avoid these labels because not everyone who uses “he” feels like a “male” or “masculine.”
There are also lots of gender-neutral pronouns in use. Here are a few you might hear:
They/them/theirs (Shea ate their food because they were hungry.) This is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun and it can be used in the singular. In fact, “they” was voted as the Word of the Year in 2015.
Ze/hir/hir (Tyler ate hir food because ze was hungry.) Ze is pronounced like “zee” and can also be spelled zie or xe, and replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like “here” and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.
Just my name please! (Ash ate Ash’s food because Ash was hungry) Some people prefer not to use pronouns at all, using their name as a pronoun instead.
*Never refer to a person as “it” or “he-she”. These are offensive slurs used against trans and gender non-conforming individuals.*
For more information and a how-to guide about pronouns, please visit UWM's LGBTQ+ Resource Center page.
How can I interact with transgender people in a respectful and sensitive way?
The easiest way to be respectful of a trans person is to use their correct name and pronouns. Beyond that, it’s important to remember to respect the privacy of trans people. It’s never okay to “out” a trans person (i.e. to share with others that the person is transgender) unless they give explicit permission for you to do so. Also, avoid asking personal and invasive questions about their body and any surgeries or medical procedures they may have had. It is natural to be curious but please remember that trans peoples’ bodies are often under intense scrutiny and judgment and many people do not feel comfortable sharing such personal details. Besides, it is not necessary to know what a person’s body is like in order to treat them with respect and dignity!
Do families know if their children are gay?
In the experience of our group, most parents of gay teenagers have no idea that their children are gay. To parents, most gay adolescents appear to be heterosexuals (just the way adult gay people do). Many gay people will disclose their identity to a close friend or sibling when they are younger, but wait until they become adults to tell parents, if in fact they ever do.
Sometimes parents who have always considered themselves very “open-minded,” who have gay friends and colleagues, can be surprised by their intensely negative reaction when they learn that their own child is gay. This is not unusual at all. Everyone realizes that the future of one’s own children is not a theoretical construct. Everything takes on new meaning when it affects your own children. Also, most of us were raised with the idea that gay people were “somebody else.”
What happens to families initially when children come out?
Though some families handle news about a family member coming out calmly, many do not. When children, whatever their age, decide to come out to families, they are in a very vulnerable state because they are risking everything. Family members may be in shock, may be angry, may withdraw or stop speaking. Parents may “blame” themselves or each other. The parents’ marriage can be under stress. Some parents become depressed. When some family members take different views than others, conflicts can arise within the family unit. Sometimes rejection is more subtle: families insist they are understanding, yet keep the gay relative only on the periphery of their lives. Gay people may eventually remove themselves emotionally (and sometimes geographically) from a painful family situation. Most families need and benefit from conversation, support and guidance during this time.
What happens when well-meaning parents initially reject their children?
Some families hope that rejection will lead gay relatives to become straight. Long-term damage may be done to the individual and to the family unit as a result of this rejection. We recognize the power of the need for a family to conform and fit into society, not to be too different from others. People who have gay loved ones may initially fear that others will have less respect for them or consider them inadequate in some way. These feelings can be very powerful. However, the decision to avoid the topic for fear of “what the neighbors will say” can be devastating to the family unit.
Gay children may begin to live as a second-class family members; less importance is attached to their life, to their future and to their presence (or absence). Antigay remarks may continue. The subject may be avoided or considered “off limits” and completely dropped. The child’s friends or partner are never mentioned and never included in family gatherings. Parents may withdraw emotionally or wonder aloud what they did “wrong.” Gay children are frequently advised not to tell grandparents. The reality that the child is gay may be carefully avoided in the parents’ social circle. The wounds from outright rejection are painful and so are those feelings that arise from the fact that one’s very existence is an embarrassment to the family.
What does it mean when a married person announces that he or she is gay? Isn’t that a type of change in orientation?
Some gay people do marry people of the opposite sex, and it is a common misconception that to be married is “proof” that one is heterosexual. There are many reasons why an LGBTQIA+ person might enter into a “straight marriage.” Some people may marry before they come to terms with their gay identity. Others, who may have married in order to try to blend in and appear as heterosexuals for most of their lives, may stop trying to accommodate themselves to the expectations of others and begin to live openly. No change in orientation occurs, rather it is the perception of that person’s orientation that changes. There are many reasons why people join their lives together in marriage and it is difficult to make generalizations.
What was the landmark 2003 Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas? Why was it important?
In the 1986 case, Bowers v. Hardwick, the Supreme Court held, by a 5-4 vote, that the right to privacy did not extend to consenting, adult same-sex relationships, even within the privacy of a citizen’s own home. In Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court was given an opportunity to reconsider its ruling in Bowers. The Lawrence case was the result of the following incident: Until 2003, private, consensual sexual intimacy between gay adults was still illegal in several states, including Texas. In 1998, the police pushed open the door and entered the bedroom in the home of Mr. Lawrence in response to a false report of a disturbance made by an unfriendly neighbor. (The neighbor was later convicted for knowingly making the false report.) Mr. Lawrence and his partner were arrested in their bedroom, fined, imprisoned overnight and convicted of violating Texas’s “Homosexual Conduct Law.” Their conviction would have barred them from holding several types of jobs in Texas. They were now labeled as convicts. They also would have been required to register as sex offenders should they have moved to several other states. Their five year legal battle ended before the Supreme Court in 2003 when the court, in a 6-3 vote, reversed the convictions of Lawrence and his partner. The Court overruled its previous decision in Bowers v. Hardwick and held that the Texas law deprived gays and lesbians of their constitutional rights.
What is the legal status of civil marriage for gay couples in America?
Gay marriage is legal in all 50 states. Gay marriage was legalized on June 26th, 2015 as a result of landmark civil rights case Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The 5–4 ruling requires all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the Insular Areas to perform and recognize the marriages of same-sex couples on the same terms and conditions as the marriages of opposite-sex couples, with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities.
What is the current status of healthcare protections for transgender people?
On June 12, 2020, the Trump administration finalized a rule that overturned Obama-era protections for transgender people against sex discrimination in healthcare. The rule focuses on nondiscrimination protections laid out in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. That federal law established that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of "race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities." In 2016, an Obama-era rule explained that protections regarding "sex" encompass those based on gender identity, which it defined as "male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female." The Department of Health and Human Services now says it will enforce sex discrimination protections “according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex' as male or female and as determined by biology.”
The Trump rule makes changes to gender-based discrimination protections beyond Section 1557 of the ACA; it affects regulations pertaining to access to health insurance, for example, including cost-sharing, health plan marketing and benefits. The rule could also mean that those seeking an abortion could be denied care if performing the procedure violates the provider's moral or religious beliefs.
Information sourced from this NPR article, follow the link to learn more.
There are many more legal issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community that are not included in this section. For more information, check out our Legal Resources page or reach out to your local PFLAG chapter.
How can I reconcile my or my loved one's sexual orientation or gender identity with my faith?
For people with close ties to a faith tradition or faith community that is not welcoming, this can be a very difficult question. When an LGBTQIA+ loved one comes out, you may feel as though all that you know is in conflict with your love for that person. Being LGBTQIA+ does not impact a person's ability to be moral and spiritual, and indeed many LGBTQIA+ people are religious and active in their own faith communities. This can be a good time to explore and question in order to reconcile religion with sexual orientation and gender identity, and determine the next best steps for you and your loved one.
Are there other people of faith out there who are LGBTQIA+ or have LGBTQIA+ loved ones?
Absolutely! We cannot say this enough: to be a person of faith and a person who is LGBTQIA+--or who has a loved one that is LGBTQIA+--are not mutually exclusive. LGBTQIA+ people and their loved ones can be found in almost every faith tradition; you’re not alone.
Are religious attitudes toward sexual orientation and gender identity changing?
Thankfully, yes. When the Metropolitan Community Church was founded in 1968 as a positive ministry to the LGBTQIA+ community, it was the first of its kind in the world. Not only has MCC grown in the intervening decades, but other mainstream congregations have affirmed the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, including other Christian faiths, Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalism, and more. Within almost every denomination, individuals--and sometimes entire congregations--are blazing a trail even when the denomination as a whole lags behind. Those changes, from the ordination of openly LGBTQIA+ clergy to progress, on marriage equality, to affirmation of people who are transgender, were often spearheaded by people who’ve done the hard work of changing hearts and minds.
What does scripture say about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression?
Our interpretations of religious texts has changed and evolved over history. Every text, including the Bible, Quran, and Torah (among others), is open to a variety of interpretations, and passages about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression are no exception. Explore the text with fresh eyes, and acquaint yourself with the scholarship and the debates. You may be surprised to find that those questions deepen not only your understanding, but also your appreciation, of scripture you may have taken for granted.
How do I tell my faith community about my loved one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity?
Start by thinking about how your faith community views LGBTQIA+ people. Think about the conversations you’ve had with fellow congregants, and the kinds of preaching you’ve heard about LGBTQIA+ people during services. If your community is open and welcoming, it’s likely that you will find a strong support system among clergy and faith leaders. Other situations can be more dicey, since an individual congregation’s stance may run contrary to their denomination as a whole, or may be split on their attitudes toward people who are LGBTQIA+. Finding someone you can trust can be a helpful source of perspective and help.
Can faith or therapy help people change their sexual orientation or gender identity?
In a word? No. Any efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity are unnecessary, damaging, and dangerous.
By Brooke Smith, taken from PFLAG National
THINKING MORE DEEPLY
Why do some gay people prefer not to come out?
People remain closeted for a wide variety of reasons. Often, the decision to stay in the closet is the result of a realistic appraisal of the unrelenting and institutionalized prejudice that gay people face on a daily basis. Some also may be in the closet because they want to protect themselves and their loved ones from prejudice and discrimination, or because they want to protect those who depend on their ability to earn a livelihood. There is a widely held and inaccurate belief that one is either completely “in” or “out.“ In reality, a gay person may be “out” to only a few people. Being cautious in discussing one’s sexual orientation is understandable. Many gay people (as well as straight people) are selective when sharing information that could expose them to mistreatment. There is nothing sinister about this secrecy. Unfortunately, in our present American culture, openness about one’s identity is a luxury reserved, by and large, for heterosexual people.
What is the relationship between anti-gay rhetoric and attitudes and anti-gay violence?
Anti-gay rhetoric creates an atmosphere in which the safety of gay people is at risk. If individuals feel that gay people are predators, a threat to society and condemned by God, these beliefs may lead to attacks and to the belief that such attacks are justified. Constant condemnation by politicians and religious leaders and the exclusion of gay people from major cultural institutions reinforce these beliefs. Crimes motivated by hate and prejudice, moreover, tend to be more violent than other crimes.
If it were understood that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice, would that significantly reduce prejudice against gay people?
One of the reasons that some people cling so desperately to the idea that sexual orientation is a choice may be to avoid responsibility for discrimination. If one believes everyone can simply “decide” to be heterosexual, much of the discomfort about discrimination disappears. Understanding that sexual orientation is innate could potentially help reduce prejudice against gay people but it will never completely stop prejudice and antigay attitudes. As racial minorities can readily attest, an understanding that race is inherent has not prevented ongoing and virulent discrimination against people of color.
What are the public perceptions of gay and straight people which gay individuals and their families find offensive and/or ironic?
Gay people and their loved ones are bombarded with unfair, ironic, and offensive remarks and assumptions. Negative behaviors of gay people are frequently attributed to their sexual orientation, while negative behaviors of heterosexuals are almost never attributed to sexual orientation. A somewhat confused double standard exists. Additionally, though divorce, substance abuse, control issues, infidelity and domestic violence are continuing problems affecting the breakup of the family, it is gay people who are commonly portrayed as the major threat to family values.