When looking for support in the aftermath of their child’s coming out, parents need look no further than A.GE.D.O., a non-profit volunteer association active throughout Italy that offers guidance to parents, relatives and friends of people who identify as LGBTQIA+.
Founded in 1992, A.GE.D.O. carries out activities to raise awareness about homosexuality-related topics and to combat discrimination, including workshops in schools, conferences and assistance to parents coming to terms with their child’s sexuality. Daniela Spizzichino, the representative for A.GE.D.O. Toscana’s listening centre, spoke to The Florentine about her work with the association and her personal experience of her children coming out.
Samantha Vaughn: Can you tell me about yourself and how you got involved in A.GE.D.O.?
Daniela Spizzichino: I’m a mother and I speak about my experience. I’m also the representative for A.GE.D.O. Toscana’s listening centre at Exfila, near TuscanyHall. I have three children, all of whom have different sexualities, and after the first coming out I realized I didn’t know anything about homosexuality. So, I started going to various associations, which my daughter supported. I found A.GE.D.O. and eventually became a volunteer.
I’m at the listening centre twice a month from 6 to 8pm, but other mothers—I say mothers because 90 percent of the time that’s who comes to us—might call me to have a chat or grab a coffee if they can’t make it to Exfila. It helps to share experiences because parents can feel alone. Kids sometimes come to us too when they’re looking for a parent’s perspective. The listening centre is for everyone.
SV: What was it like when your children came out?
DS: My oldest came out as lesbian a few years ago. She had told me that she liked both men and women, and I didn’t see that she was more interested in women. Many parents say they realize something, but not me. My youngest recently came out as bisexual. I thought it would be simpler, but it wasn’t. He was confused because he felt he needed to choose. Instinctively, I said, “You don’t need to choose anything. When you fall in love, you’ll fall in love.” We went together to a meeting of an association for bisexuals, which was a great experience. He felt much better afterwards because he was able to meet and talk with other people, some much older than him, who were living their lives just fine. It was a relief for him.
SV: In your experience, how do parents react when their kids come out to them?
DS: There’s usually a lot of concern for their children because of the prejudice and bullying. That’s why we try to create a welcoming environment at home. In my case, my kids don’t live with me anymore, but they know they’re free to talk or not talk about what happens to them. Of course, we need the right laws, but personally I don’t feel like waiting around for politicians to change things, which may never happen. There are positive experiences, too. A mother once told me that her son said to her, “Mum, listen, I have to tell you something really big. You might not take it well. I’m gay.” And she was like, “Oh, thank goodness! I almost had a heart attack!” It’s not always like that, as we know. There are those who throw around the word “family,” who say, “What will people think of us? Ok, I accept you, but we can’t tell anyone.” That’s the worst thing you can do. There’s still a lot to be done.
SV: What would you say to a parent who thought their child was gay but didn’t know how to broach the subject?
DS: To find a way to speak to them. In my opinion, dialogue is fundamental. They shouldn’t force it because they need to respect their child’s privacy. If and when their child does speak to them, the most important thing they can do is listen.
SV: When kids come to you to express their concern before coming out, do you say the same thing, that they should find a way to speak to their parents?
DS: It depends. There are parents who react by throwing their kids out of the house. I reflect a lot before answering because I can’t encourage anyone to walk into a bad situation. If their parents react badly, it can be a traumatic experience. I always suggest they join an association, so as to have a support network or even a place to sleep if things don’t go well. It’s important to consider these things.
SV: What are the biggest challenges for parents of LGBTQ+ children?
DS: Knowing they can talk about it, that it isn’t shameful to have a gay child. I hear these kinds of things. I spoke to a mother who was furious that her daughter came out. She saw it as ruining the family, which for her was everything. I wanted to reply, “If she came out to you, it means she loves her family. She could have just as easily kept quiet.” When my kids came out to me, I saw it as an honour. It meant that they felt comfortable speaking to me about certain things.
The A.GE.D.O. Toscana Firenze listening centre is situated at Exfila (via Leto Casini 11, Florence).
It’s open every second and fourth Tuesday of the month from 6 to 8pm. For more information, see the Facebook page (in Italian) AGEDO Toscana Livorno.