A Guide to Empty Closets for Parents
Welcome to EmptyClosets.com. Perhaps you've found our site because you've recently become aware that your child is questioning his or her sexuality and you're seeking out resources, or perhaps you've found EmptyClosets in your child's browser history, or she or he told you about the site. Or maybe you found us another way.
In any case, we're glad that you've found us. We've prepared this page to tell you a little about us, and to try and answer some commonly asked questions. If after reading this page, you still have any questions or concerns, our staff will do our best to help you via email.
A little about Empty Closets
Empty Closets is a safe, monitored online community primarily focused toward youth who have concerns about or are otherwise questioning their sexual orientation. As the community has grown, it has also come to serve individuals of all ages who are questioning or struggling with their sexual identity. And, as our community has now been around in its present form for 7+ years, many people who initially joined EC when they were uncertain and/or closeted about their sexual orientation are now open about their sexuality, and are happy, healthy, well adjusted individuals who have stayed around to contribute to the community and help others who are earlier in their understanding process.
Empty Closets is part of the charitable mission of Empty Closets Community Services (ECCS), a nonprofit educational public charity. ECCS is is overseen by a Board of Directors, and day-to-day operations are overseen by a leadership council who work closely with our staff of 25 volunteers, including site administrators, moderators, Advisors and Experts. We also count among our staff a licensed nurse practitioner and a licensed clinical social worker who assist our Advisor staff and provide generalized information and support to our members.
While our community is primarily comprised of people who identify as part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender communities, we also have a number of members who are teachers, parents, or other allies of the LGBT community (including a number of heterosexual people) who participate and contribute. All are welcome.
All members of our community must agree to a Code of Conduct which establishes rules for appropriate behavior and describes the purpose and intent of the site. Members who violate any part of the Code of Conduct may be suspended or banned.
Our site receives no income and no one is paid for the services they provide to EC's community. The financial and server resources necessary to keep EC up and running are donated to ECCS by the former owners of the site (prior to the formation of the nonprofit organization). At present, we do not have any fundraising or arrangements to accept donations, but as we increase the services we offer, we will seek funding and donations to make that possible.
What follows are some commonly asked questions about EmptyClosets and the services it provides.
Will my child be safe participating in this online community?
While ultimately, the final responsibility for online safety must rest with the child and his or her parents, EC recognizes the need for safety precautions for a community open to young teens. Online predators are a real problem, and, unfortunately, particularly so among gay teens. To address these concerns, EC has unusually stringent security provisions in place.
- All activity and communication on the site is monitored and recorded.
- Members are prohibited from posting any information that would allow contact with that member off-site. For example, EC does not allow the sharing of email addresses, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media profile IDs, phone numbers, or a user's full name in any public area of the site, such as discussion forums, chat areas, or a member's "wall."
- Regular Members cannot contact other members. Only Full Members can contact other members via private message, and via access our chat areas, and one can only become a Full Member after establishing themselves within the community and being approved for Full Membership. (There is no cost for any membership on EC.) Once a member has made enough posts and been around long enough, he or she may apply for Full Membership. Applications are then reviewed by the staff and a determination is made if the member appears trustworthy to be granted Full Membership. If approved, full members are then allowed to contact other full members via PM and use our chat rooms.
- PMs and chat (and all other areas of the site) are monitored for safety and security purposes, and for appropriate discussions and behavior. Any inappropriate activity is immediately addressed. Moreover, because EC members are appreciative of the safety of the EC community, any potential concerns which do occur are usually reported by members, sometimes even before the moderation team has a chance to identify them.
- While any online community has the potential for inappropriate behavior to occur, our experience has been that the combination of a vigilant moderation team and a fiercely supportive and protective community of members provides an online experience that, to our knowledge, is unmatched by any other online community.
Will you encourage my son or daughter to become gay or lesbian?
In a word, no. Empty Closets exists to help teens (and, increasingly, people of all ages) who are struggling or questioning their sexual identity. Our goal as a community is to help individuals identify whatever their true sexual identity is, regardless of whether that is heterosexual, homosexual, or somewhere in between. Many of the discussions on EC focus around helping the individual by asking them questions that enable them to answer, for themselves, where their attractions lie. We've had people who have joined our community questioning their sexuality and, with help, were able to identify that they were straight, and we've had individuals who were able to understand and accept that they were gay. And we have individuals who, even after some time, are still in the process of figuring out where their identity lies. We have no agenda and no goals other than to help people find their own truth, and there is no timeline by which anyone must make that decision.
But I don't want my child to be gay! What can I do to help him or her change and be straight?
The credible scientific literature, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Association of Social Workers are all completely clear on this issue: Sexual orientation is fixed very early in life, likely before birth, but certainly before 5 years of age. In an exhaustive review of the literature examining every study done in the past 50 years, the APA found that there was no credible evidence that sexual orientation is a choice, that it can be changed, or that so-called "reparative therapy" is effective in altering an individual's sexual orientation.
While there are various religious-based organizations that claim to be able to change sexual orientation, their own studies indicate that the success rate is exceptionally low, and most of the few reported "successes" revert back to their natural-born homosexual orientation within a short time after therapy ends.
Many parents -- even those who consider themselves liberal and openminded -- struggle with accepting their children's sexual orientation. This is normal; your child has likely been struggling with accepting him or herself for years before coming to terms with it, and you should expect it may take some time for you to accept it also. We highly recommend going to a local meeting of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). There are regular meetings in nearly every community in the US, and in many other countries, and all of them are filled with parents who were once distraught, angry, or grieving. It's a marvelous community that can be a tremendous help to parents seeking to understand their children and their own feelings.
I've heard that online gay social networks are just "hook up" sites to arrange for sexual activity.
That is true of many, perhaps most social networks that attract gay people. But EC is decidedly not a community for people looking for sexual liaisons, and EC staff take immediate action toward any members who post or message inappropriately seeking such activity or behavior. While EC has been the original meeting place for a handful of couples that are now in long-term committed relationships, it is not our goal or purpose, and the overwhelming majority of members understand and respect that we are not here for that purpose.
My child has told me that he or she is speaking with an Empty Closets Advisor. Who are these people and what do they do?
EC established the Advisor program to provide a way of helping people struggling with their sexual orientation, or difficulties coming out to parents or friends. Advisors range in age from late teens to 50s and beyond, and are individually selected by the staff on the basis of the quality of the advice they have shared in the discussion forums, and after an interview and discussion process in which the responsibilities, expectations, and boundaries are explained. Advisors maintain the same sort of professional boundaries with the members they advise as would be found in social services or clinical settings, and are assisted by our Experts when medical, psychological, or socialization issues arise that are beyond their expertise.
While Advisors are not counselors or therapists, and most have no formal training in counseling or therapy, they are all good listeners who have shown themselves to be knowledgeable and resourceful in providing information, pointing to resources, helping members to make smart decisions, and, when appropriate, to encourage members to seek help from parents, teachers, therapists, or other trusted adults in their local area when needed. Because many EC members do not have access to trusted, safe individuals, and may not yet feel safe or ready to disclose to parents about their feelings and concerns, the Advisors help members with emotional support and encouragement until they feel ready to disclose to their parents or other adults.
To ensure the safety of members, Advisors are required to report any potentially inappropriate interactions with members, and, as with all communications on EC, all communication between Advisors and members that takes place on EC is monitored.
In some cases, usually if a member is in crisis, or there is a serious concern for the physical, emotional, or psychological well being of the member, an Advisor may communicate with that member by phone or IM. Advisors report these communications so there is oversight of the interaction by the staff and so that the staff and Experts can provide additional assistance or insight when required. In the event of an imminent risk to the member's safety, such as disclosure of intent to commit suicide, the Advisor will work with the member to take steps to ensure the member's safety, including contacting the member's parent, school, or authorities in the member's area.
Some closing words
In closing, we hope that the above information helps to provide a better understanding of what Empty Closets is here for, and that, as a parent, you feel more comfortable with your child's participation in our community. Our staff works hard to keep our site a safe, supportive, and pleasant community for our members, and we are always open to comments, ideas and suggestions to help us improve our community.
If you have any questions or concerns that have not been adequately addressed here or elsewhere on our site, please feel free to contact us and we'll do our best to assist you.
-- The Board of Directors and Staff of Empty Closets Community Services