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Dealing with child’s sexual orientation

Updated: November 27, 2011 1:22PM

G un Hill Road,” the debut film of Rashaad Green and a finalist for the esteemed Jury Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, is now showing in Chicago. The movie is not only great entertainment, but also tackles important and timely subject matter that makes it a must-see for everyone.

The film is the story of a Bronx family in crisis. The father, Enrique, has returned home after serving time in prison, only to encounter a distant wife and teenage son he barely recognizes. Like any teenager, Michael is searching for his identity and struggling to be himself in an often cruel world. However, his struggle goes beyond the normal teen issues as he realizes he actually is transgendered.  By the time his father comes home from prison, Michael is transitioning from a male gender identity to a female gender identity, a transformation that his father and his peers do not support.

The story behind the film actually is as interesting as the film itself. Harmony Santana, a transgender actress, was a complete unknown when director and writer Rashaad Green chose her for the role of Michael. She had no acting experience and, on top of that, was homeless, as she had no choice but to leave home when her mother’s live-in boyfriend would not accept her as gay.

For many lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender teens, homelessness is a scary reality. The statistics are quite shocking. Some 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, and LGBT youth are roughly 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth. High rates of LGBT homelessness occur because some families simply turn their backs on their children when they make their sexuality and/or gender identity known, and others give them a choice: Be straight, or get out. Of course, that is no real choice at all, and most LGBT teens are then forced to brave the dangerous streets on their own.

If I could impart any wisdom to parents who are struggling to accept their teen’s sexuality or gender identity, it is simply this: Nothing that you can do will ever change your child’s identity. You can’t make them to be straight any more than you made them be gay, and no amount of tough love or ultimatums are going to “fix” your child. He isn’t even broken in the first place.

Of course, in many cases, parents often are trying to come from a good place. They don’t want their teen to suffer or be victimized by society, and the sad fact is that LGBT youth often are targets for violence and harassment. Most parents just want their kids to be happy and healthy, but what they don’t understand is that LGBT kids can be healthy and happy! The only reason they often aren’t is because their own families don’t understand them, and because they never receive the love, support, or compassion they deserve.

If you are struggling to accept your teenager’s sexuality or gender identity, the best thing you can do is simply talk to him. Ask questions. Find out more. Learn the “why” behind the actions and you often will discover that you have nothing to fear and that your teen is capable of making smart choices. You might even talk to a therapist for guidance, or reach out to PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for resources and support.

A film like “Gun Hill Road” might also be a great conversation-starter between you and your child, and it can be a way for you to better understand your child’s point of view. At the very least, this film sheds light on an important topic and will inspire all viewers to be more compassionate. Hopefully that’s a lesson we then pass on to our children, whatever their gender identity or orientation might be.

Dr. Berman hosts “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” at 9 p.m. Mondays on OWN and “The Dr. Laura Berman Show” from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays on Oprah Radio (on XM 156/Sirius 195). She is the author of It’s Not Him, It’s You.

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