Kollyn Conrad grew up in Maryville, a suburb of Knoxville, Tennessee. When Conrad came out as gay, he says his mother was confused and afraid—afraid of what that would mean for him in this country, Conrad says.
At 18, Conrad moved across the country to L.A., and eventually launched his nonprofit, Publicly Private, in June of 2021. Publicly Private’s mission is to support and empower the LGBTQ+ community through three virtual resource programs. These programs are Explore, Venture and Strengthen, and they provide information, education and support.
While Conrad’s mother’s reaction to his coming out was initially negative, the two have since reconciled and Conrad now says she is his “biggest supporter.”
“I told her when I started this organization I wanted her to fly a pride flag outside her house. She had no hesitation, and I explained what it means for representation— that it shows people they’re okay and they’re accepted,” Conrad says.
Negative reactions and rejection constantly weigh on the minds of LGBTQ+ people all around the world. Research published in the National Library of Medicine states that the number of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth who experience some degree of parental rejection regarding their identity is upwards of 70%.
We spoke to Conrad about his own experiences to learn how parents can reconcile and rekindle a relationship with their LGBTQ+ child after previously rejecting them.
Why do some parents reject their LGBTQ+ children?
A lot of it has to do with stigma and fear. My mother was very confused. More so, the confusion lay around what it would be like for me in this country as a gay male. She had a negative reaction, and that reaction—I still remember it today. Everyone remembers that reaction, but her reaction was out of an emotion of fear.
What does rejection do to an LGBTQ+ person?
The statistics show an increased risk of suicide, self-harm, drug abuse or homelessness. The statistics are from The Trevor Project’s 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, which surveyed 28,000 LGBTQ young people from 13 to 24.
Among other findings, the 2023 survey found that transgender and nonbinary young people who reported that all of the people they live with respect their pronouns reported lower rates of attempting suicide. The survey also found that 41% of LGBTQ young people seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year—and that young people who are transgender, nonbinary and/or people of color reported higher rates than their peers.
The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people. They offer crisis services, peer support, public education, advocacy and conduct and publish research.
Is it common to want to rekindle that relationship?
Yes, it definitely is. According to The Trevor Project’s survey, a staggering amount of members (of the LGBTQ+ community) don’t have affirming homes.
Where can parents start?
Once a parent realizes their reaction or other actions may have harmed their relationship with their child, there are a few things they can do. Start with an apology and reach out. Be contrite with your verbiage of remorse.
How can parents educate themselves on LGBTQ+ topics?
There are plenty of online resources for parents to educate themselves, or [they can] join an online support group. The Trevor Project has good resources for parents to educate themselves on gender identity, pronouns and the LGBTQIA+ community in general.
Publicly Private also offers educational resources.
What should parents do if their child isn’t open to reconnecting?
They need to respect the choices of the child and the mental health aspect surrounding that. They need to understand that the child is creating a barrier to keep themselves safe from going through potential harm again, and that takes a long time to heal.
Many LGBTQ+ people find chosen families. A chosen family is not necessarily related to you by blood. Rather, it’s people you feel [the] most comfortable with being yourself. Sometimes, it resembles an actual family, and sometimes it’s a group of friends you feel completely comfortable with.
How can parents adjust to their child having a chosen family after reconnecting?
How to adjust to having placed themselves on the outside after rejecting them (their child)? Well, they need to realize every decision has its consequences. They now have to realize that they restructured the support system of their child. In order for [their child] to survive and thrive, they needed to seek out other forms of support, and not seeing their parent in that light ultimately sacrificed an important relationship.
How can parents continue to strengthen their relationship with their LGBTQ+ child after reconnecting?
The best way to strengthen it is to show support and to continue to show a willingness to learn about and support the LGBTQIA+ community.
Why is Pride important as a parent?
If I could sum it up in one sentence, I would say Pride is all about visibility and creating representation within the smallest communities around the country in order for LGBTQIA+ individuals to feel heard, seen and understood and to know that at some point life will be beautiful and prideful for them.
Learn more about Connrad’s organization, Publicly Private, and the resources it offers at publiclyprivate.org. Visit thetrevorproject.org for more statistics, information and guidance.