All parents want what’s best for their kids, and providing support isn’t always easy — especially if you are the parent of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ+) child. In many ways no different from their peers, LGBTQ+ youth face some unique challenges that parents often feel unprepared to tackle.
When a loved one comes out, reactions vary, from “Now that I know, what can I do to support my child?” to “How will I ever handle this?” For some people, it’s a combination of these two reactions. There is no doubt that people have different and potentially complex responses and feelings to a loved one coming out and this is completely normal.
Parents may have mixed feelings about finding that they have an LGBTQ+ child. This could be because they’re worried about how the child will fare in their community — will they be bullied in school or discriminated against in the workplace? — or because they have religious reservations. But whatever your feelings are you still want to have the same approach; you want to err on the side of being empathetic and being supportive.
When people feel loved and supported, they are more capable. They have greater resilience
For many LGBTQ+ youth, breaking the news to mom and dad is the scariest part of coming out
Remember, you don’t need to be an expert in all things LGBTQ+ to let them know you care.
The best possible scenario is nothing changes — you’re all still the same individuals, you just know more about your child, being LGBTQ+ is just one aspect of their life. Being reaffirmed in knowing they are loved for who they are is powerful.
With children, especially adolescents, it’s crucial to keep communication open.
Having a parent that a child feels they can be honest with is important both to your child’s well-being and to your relationship, in the short- and long-term.
Say things like, “I’m glad you told me, and help me understand what’s going on,” as opposed to immediately shutting the communication down.
Open communication, in which parents listen without judgment, is a form of validation for the child, if parents either minimize the importance of the child coming out, or jump right into problem solving, it can leave the child feeling undermined.
Above all, make sure your child knows that you love them and are there for them no matter what.
“I’m really glad that we can discuss this because we want to make sure that you’re safe and that you’re supported. And whatever decisions you need to make we want to be the best ones for you.”
- Lead with love. For some, this will be the natural response. For others, long-held beliefs may get in the way of being able to respond positively and supportively. As best as you can, however, remember this: No matter how easy or difficult learning about your child’s sexual orientation or gender identity is for you, it probably was difficult for them to come out to you. And, while saying “I love you” is one obvious way to express your love for your child, if you find yourself at a loss for words, as many of us do sometimes, a hug can speak volumes.
- Listen with intention. Give your child opportunities to share their thoughts and feelings. Whether they want to talk about their hopes for the future, or a situation that happened in school or at work that day, the prospect for open discussion is endless. If you have a sense that your loved one might want to talk, but isn’t doing so on their own, a gentle open-ended question, such as, “How did things go at school/work/church” today, can open lines of communication.
- Show subtle support. If overt support is a stretch at first, remember that subtle support can also make a difference. Whether it’s speaking positively about an LGBTQ+ person you know, or a character from a movie or television show; reflecting out loud about gender or sexuality issues surfacing in the news; or openly reading and sharing new learning about gender or sexual diversity, these small hints let kids know that you are supportive and understanding.
- Learn the terms. What is sexual orientation? What does it mean to be “bisexual”? Learning the language is a great way to start having important and sometimes challenging conversations. Of course, like every other human on the planet, you will likely make a few mistakes along the way–and that’s okay! Own it, apologize, move on, and work to do better next time
- Empower your parenting with what experts know:
- It’s not “just a phase.” Embrace — don’t dismiss — their evolving sense of self.
- There is no “cure.” It’s not something that needs to be fixed.
- Don’t look for blame. Instead, celebrate your child and all that they are.
If as a parent you are distressed about your child being LGBTQ+, don’t express those feelings your child. Talking about it with a support group like PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), someone in your church or congregation, or a therapist could be helpful for you and your child, too. You may have strong feelings, and as a parent you always come back to what’s best for your child.
- Remember that you’re not alone. There are more than eight million self-identified LGB people in the U.S., and approximately 1.4 million people who identify as transgender. Other research shows that eight in ten people in the U.S. personally know someone who is LGB, and one in three people know someone who is transgender. In other words, although it may not appear so, there are LGBTQ+ people everywhere, and there are supportive families and allies everywhere, too. You are not alone in this process.
- Remember that your feelings are valid. There is no one way to react to learning that your child or a loved one is LGBTQ+. Some feel happy that their child came out to them, relief that they know more about their child and can support them, or joy that their child is confident in their self-awareness. Others may have more difficult or complex emotions, such as fear, guilt, sadness, or even anger. These are all normal feelings, and you may experience some or all of them simultaneously.
- Remember that this is a journey. While you want to express your love for your child as quickly as you can remember that you are in a process; addressing your reaction and moving forward will take time. It is okay to not be ok. Take the time you need to explore these feelings.
As a parent you may be worried about how your child will be treated, at school and in settings where LGBTQ+ people are not welcome.
Opening the conversation by exploring whether the child is concerned about not being accepted or being targeted for bullying, is the best place to start ensuring safety for your child. Your child feeling comfortable enough to share their safety concerns with you can make a difference. By talking openly about these issues, parents can help create a safer world for LGBTQ+ kids.
Being an advocate for your child and speaking with pride about your child’s identity, works to make the world a better place for other young people.
Kids spend almost as much time in the classroom as they do at home. Here’s what you can do to make sure they feel comfortable there, too.
- Advocate for a gay-straight alliance (GSA), which has been shown to make schools safer and boost academic performance among LGBTQ students.
- Maintain frequent contact with teachers. That way, you’ll know when issues arise.
- Push for more inclusive sex education. Very few states allow schools to provide LGBTQ students with the information they need to be safe and healthy. Be aware of these knowledge gaps so that you can fill them yourself.
- Above all, don’t hesitate to speak up. Parents forget that they have a huge voice in the school system. If there’s a problem and the school isn’t taking your concerns seriously, go to the principal or even the school board.
Bullying is a problem for many students, but LGBTQ+ youth in particular are often targeted for being different. If you see these signs, reach out to a teacher, guidance counselor or school administrator:
- Behavior change (e.g., your outgoing, sociable child is now withdrawn)
- Discipline or behavioral problems in school
- Declining grades
- Unexplained absences
- Sudden shifts in who’s a friend and who’s not
- Engagement in risk behavior (e.g., drug use, new sexual partner) that is out of character for your child
Dating is daunting for most parents — especially parents of LGBTQ+ youth — but it’s an important part of adolescent development for all children. By encouraging your kid to date in a way that’s healthy and age-appropriate, you send a powerful message: LGBTQ+ relationships are normal, and there’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
Many social platforms and apps provide LGBTQ+ youth an inclusive space to connect with friends and allies, but some (especially dating apps) include content that is inappropriate for teens. Monitor what they’re doing on their devices and talk to them about phone and social media use
Understand that kids turn to these apps if they feel like they don’t have anyone to talk to. Be available so that your child doesn’t need to look elsewhere for guidance and support
Coming out can be a huge relief for teens or young adults who are LGBTQ+, but the process is often rocky and sometimes painful.
You or they may be worried about how family members or other important people will react.
Check in with them about how they’re feeling, and how you can be supportive. Start by asking questions and listening to their answers calmly. Your goal is to let them know that you are hearing what they need to share with you.
Something parents often struggle with is the knowledge that they are, if not the last to know, certainly not the first.
Most LGBTQ+ individuals disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity to friends first, then trusted adults, who may not always be their parents. Below are some reasons for this.
- Unlike friends, parents have control over aspects of young people’s lives, including housing and financial support, which can be withdrawn.
- Parent’s expectations of who they should/could be growing up can create a lot of pressure for children. Coming out can put the child at risk of feeling they have disappointed their parents.
- Peers can have a like-minded approach to sexual orientation and gender identity, making them more likely to be accepting and supportive of the LGBTQ community.
When it comes to telling others in the family that a child is LGBTQ+, it’s recommended that you let the child take the lead.
Have an open conversation with them and be honest, clear, and supportive to help them plan how to move forward. Being respectful of their wishes is a very important element to this conversation.
Providing support for LGBTQ+ children can be challenging at times. It’s OK to be stressed, confused, or surprised — but don’t pull back when you’re needed most.
Team up with a pediatrician, a counselor at school, close family members and even community organizations. CONTACT us for support if you’re having trouble going it alone.