Family Run

Together, This Mother And Daughter Inspire Social Change By Helping Other Families With LGBTQ Children

"There's a real need, still, to support parents as their kids come out ... I'm more than willing to try to help someone out."

Family Run is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Every month, we profile amazing families who work together in some capacity. From starting businesses, inventing products, collaborating artistically, and beyond, these family members are making positive contributions to the world together, and strengthening their family bonds in the process.

A family-run business can come in all forms. It doesn't have to be a brick and mortar candy store or a family of bankers; sometimes it can be a mother and daughter working together to inspire social change — and impact other families outside of their own. 

This is just what Janet Duke and her daughter Johanna do as they work to help other families with LGBTQ children. 

After Johanna came out 17 years ago, Janet was inspired to launch a non-profit organization called Strong Family Alliance  to provide other parents of LGBTQ children with the resources and support she and her daughter believe are essential to retain loving, accepting, and strengthening relationships between parents and children.

To help foster such a supportive family environment, Janet is encouraging parents of LGBTQ kids to celebrate the inaugural National Parents Coming Out Day on October 12, the day after National Coming Out Day. Her work is more than just providing for her family, but creating a widespread platform to protect it. 

"National Parents Coming Out Day is a day dedicated to helping parents find good ways to increasingly support their LGBT kids, and how they do that depends on how open their child is," Janet told A Plus. "...There's a real need, still, to support parents as their kids come out, despite all the advances in society in general. A lot of parents still really struggle, so… I'm more than willing to try to help someone out." 

Together, she and her daughter encourage parents of LGBTQ children to share the day on social media using #NationalPARENTSComingOutDay. Additionally, on the Strong Family Alliance website, parents can find more than 50 suggestions for actions they can take to represent their child that day, ranging from small, internal things if their child is still very private, to being a very open and vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community at large. 

Johanna (left) and Janet (right) Duke 
Johanna (left) and Janet (right) Duke  Strong Family Alliance 

Providing content in both English and Spanish, Strong Family Alliance focuses on two areas Janet thinks are often neglected. The first is faith. "While we're not theologians, we do take that head-on," she said, noting that one of the organization's board members researched "virtually every religion and denomination" and compiled a list of groups working to support LGBTQ individuals associated with each one. "So we try to talk to them about how they live with their child as a perfect example of their faith," she added. "But if they have deep theological questions, we try to connect them to that organization within their own faith community." 

The second problem Strong Family Alliance wants to alleviate for parents is just how difficult it is to find information when they first start out. When Johanna first came out, there was virtually no easily-accessible information for Janet to learn from. So, she made it a priority that their website is one of the first to surface in online search engine results when a parent types phrases such as, "My child just came out," "My son is gay," and "I need information for transgender children." 

"One thing that happens [during the coming out process] is the child has often been thinking about their identity and working on this for maybe years, and sometimes the parent just found out," Janet said. "And there's a big disconnect between years of thinking about it and 15 minutes of thinking about it. So a lot of what we're about is trying to help close that gap as quickly and positively as we can to help them get some really good information and guidance."

 While Janet understands that the Strong Family Alliance website isn't for every parent of an LGBTQ child, she notes, "If they're taken aback, they don't exactly know what to do, they're trying to get good information and figure things out, we're the perfect place for them. And for a lot of parents, that's where they start."

Janet (left) and Johanna (right) Duke 
Janet (left) and Johanna (right) Duke  Strong Family Alliance 

While most family businesses change lives by providing goods or services, Strong Family Alliance provides something intangible, yet essential for its users: support.

If parents and/or their children aren't ready to make a public statement, Janet encourages them to share their personal story anonymously on the Strong Family Alliance website. "Telling your story is a thing you practice doing. Talking about your family and your child is something you practice doing, and then taking positive action are things you practice doing," she said. "We're trying to help parents see all the steps they might take that help their child feel like they're really supporting them." Janet chose to create the website's story-sharing platform anonymous so that parents living in both "a big, metropolitan area" that's supportive of LGBTQ people and "a small community or conservative part of the country" can feel comfortable saying whatever they need to say and receiving support they wouldn't have access to otherwise. 

And it's already making a difference, both online and offline. Recently, Janet grabbed coffee with a parent of an LGBTQ child planning to participate in a new branch of her family business, a parent interview video, who told her, "This is the first time I've been able to sit down personally and talk to another parent who's been through this, and it means so much to me." 

Overall, Janet explained, "We'd like to bring focus to the fact that parents can do a lot to support their child and making that a positive effort is really important. If parents struggle a lot, sometimes they almost go silent. They just don't talk about it, and that can feel very negative to the child." She explained that when a parent does not support their LGBTQ child, that child is eight times more likely to attempt suicide and six times more likely to have severe depression. Those tendencies "drop to normal," however, if the parents stay connected to their child. 

Being in the business of support, the Duke family knows firsthand how necessary it is for families with LGBTQ children to both give and receive it. "I believe the parents need just as much information and just as much support as the kids do," Johanna told A Plus. "Celebrating the parents [through] National Parents Coming Out Day is a good thing because we kind of make it all about the kid, and I think the parents deserve some kind of recognition as well."

Though she has no official title in her mom's organization, Johanna takes on an unquestionably essential role: support and inspiration. "This is her project, and I'm here to support her by backing her and also helping out anybody else who needs help," Johanna told A Plus. Watching her mother create Strong Family Alliance has not only "been super touching" for Johanna but also strengthened she and her mom's already "great" relationship. 

"Through all the struggles in my life, she's always been there for me and ... she's an amazing woman and always has been and always has been somebody I've always looked up to," she added. "...This is just another thing she's doing, another amazing journey. And I'm in awe actually of how wonderful she is, and how giving she is to the community… It's great, watching her blossom." Fittingly, the family business has brought their family closer together. Compelled by the same cause, they have something new to share. 

Janet is the first person to admit to making "so many mistakes" after Johanna came out, but she can now recognize how her struggle came from a place of love. She wanted to do the best thing for her daughter; she just didn't know what that was. "One of the things that motivates me is how many times I made the wrong choice, and if I had just known even a little bit more, I could've been a better parent to her," she said. "I think trying to help parents know before they have to make decisions is what we're all about." 

Strong Family Alliance 
Strong Family Alliance 

Though the Duke family has had "some bumpy moments," Johanna has never taken for granted the positive impact her parents have had on her life. "If I didn't have the love of my parents and the support of my parents, I don't know how I would've turned out in my later years," she said. "So having the support of your family is a huge, a huge thing, just ... knowing that people love you unconditionally no matter who you are — that's a huge human need." 

The Duke family hopes the example set by their family organization can provide inspiration and, perhaps more importantly, understanding for other families going through the coming out process together. "If they can keep the conversation and openness going and keep showing affection and support, they'll make it through," Janet said. "That's how we got through it." 

Johanna's advice to families is remarkably similar. "I wanna make sure that the relationships stay open between parents and kids, and that both are willing to forgive each other's mistakes and move forward and know ... there's love there," she said. "Relationships grow from making mistakes and forgiving each other." 

Like mother, like daughter.

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