Kris Danner Johnson is a second-generation German American, but she’s fluent in Spanish. She’s Caucasian, but attended a mostly Hispanic high school.
Contradicting elements like these were common in Kris’s childhood and sometimes made her feel like an outsider. But she found her best friends — who understood what it was like to feel different — in her LGBT+ classmates. She’s been an ally of the Pride community ever since.
And earlier this year, her alliance grew when her 14-year-old daughter came out.
“When our daughter was ready to come out to us, she simply said, ‘I think I’m gay,’” Kris explains. “And we said, ‘We know, Honey.’ We just had a feeling.”
Kris’s daughter was relieved her parents accepted her. It didn’t go as smoothly with her peers, though. Kids who had been her friends since elementary school no longer supported her. She became depressed — and suicidal.
“Even though my husband and I are open and accepting of LGBT+, I’ve been surprised by how challenging this is,” says Kris, who is a senior securities compliance analyst at Securian Financial.
“We really pulled together as a family,” Kris says. “My daughter goes to therapy weekly, and on a regular basis I ask her directly if she’s feeling suicidal. We have open conversations. We’ve had to watch her very closely.”
Acceptance, support and safety
Kris explains that typically, kids come out in stages. While at first her daughter was nervous to talk with her parents, now she has become more confident, doesn’t want to hide who she is and is becoming an advocate for the Pride community.
“You have to accept and support your kids,” Kris says.
But not so many kids feel supported — or allowed — to be who they are. Many are depressed, and many are homeless.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ youth disproportionately experience homelessness compared to heterosexual youth — approximately 40 percent of all unaccompanied homeless youth are LGBTQ.1
Seventy-seven percent of LGBTQ teenagers ages 13-17 surveyed report feeling depressed or down over the past week, and just 5 percent say all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBTQ people.2
It’s stats like these — and her daughter’s experience — that have led Kris and her husband to make their home a safe home for LGBT+ kids who are kicked out of their own homes.
“So much of this breaks my heart,” Kris says.
Authenticity at work
Even before her daughter came out, Kris had been involved with Securian Financial’s Pride employee resource group, which works to develop a community for LGBT+ employees and allies, and serves as an educational resource for all employees and their families.
“Having the Pride group has been wonderful,” Kris says. “It shows our company is making diversity and inclusion a priority. It has given me courage to be myself at work and not hide my support for the Pride community.”
Kris has also been instrumental in developing a Proud Parents group at work for other employees who have LGBT+ children.
“It’s an open environment where we bring up our struggles and offer advice to each other,” she explains. “It’s a very supportive group.”
Building a community
As a way to show her there’s a community that supports her, Kris and her husband brought their daughter to a drag brunch.
“It’s a place where people are open and accepting, and they don’t feel they have to hide who they are,” Kris says. “As we were leaving, my daughter looked at me and said, ‘Mom, I feel at home here.’ And that’s what I hope for other LGBT+ kids. To feel loved and at home.”