Pride month continues! Here are some ideas and resources for parents of teens who are part of the LGBTQ community:
Specifically for Parents:
"Coming out" is a journey of coming to terms with, understanding, and sharing one's gender identity and/or sexual orientation with others. It is a process that varies for all individuals.
It is important for parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) teens to remember each child is unique and will have their own experiences and feelings along the way.
How it might begin…
Children might feel "different" throughout childhood. These feelings might not be clear to the child. Children may begin exploring gender and relationships before kindergarten.”Coming out" and sharing feelings of being different with others may happen at any time. Gender identity may become clear around puberty as they develop gender characteristics and stronger romantic attractions. Some gender diverse youth recall these memories as far back as preschool.
Your child might say, "I think I might be gay (or lesbian, bi, or trans), but I'm not sure, and I don't know how to feel about it"
Young people begin to wonder if they might be "gay" (or lesbian, bi or trans, etc.) or some other description they may prefer. Many children may try to suppress these feelings to meet expectations, to fit in, or even to avoid upsetting their parents or families. Some teens might be overwhelmed by all these feelings, which increases the risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
It is beneficial to have a supportive environment at home and secure relationships with friends, as this will help empower teens to manage their feelings and cope with discrimination they may face.
"I accept that I'm gay, but what will my family and friends say?"
Teens may accept that they are LGBTQ but not yet be ready to start sharing this information. Some will feel comfortable being open about their identity, other teens may not tell anyone for a long time. Speak positively about the LGBTQ population in order to portray your support.
Parents and children will come to realize that acceptance is a process that involves the entire family. It takes time and support for LGBTQ children to understand and accept their identity, this is also true for parents.
It takes courage and strength for a young person to share who they are inside. This is especially true for teens who are unsure of how their families will respond. It is important for parents to show love and support for their child, even if they don't fully understand everything.
Parents and families can:
Respond in an affirming, supportive way. Gender identity cannot be changed, but it often is revealed over time as individuals discover more about themselves.
Accept and love your child as they are. Try to understand what they are feeling and experiencing.They will need your support and validation to develop into healthy teens and adults.
Stand up for your child if/when they are bullied. Do not minimize the social pressure or bullying your child may be facing.
Express your disapproval of jokes or slurs about gender/sexual identity when you encounter them in the community or media.
Look out for danger signs that may indicate a need for mental health support such as anxiety, insecurity, depression, low self-esteem, and any emotional concerns in your child.
Assist in connecting your child with LGBTQ organizations, resources, and events. It is important for them to know they are not alone.
Support your child's gender-expression. Discuss their choices of clothing, jewelry, hairstyle, friends, and room decorations.
Educate yourself through resources and support if you feel the need to deepen your own understanding of LGBTQ youth experiences.
Know the facts
Enriched parents of LGBTQ youth know that:
It’s not “just a phase.” Accept/Validate - don’t dismiss - their developing sense of self.
There is no “cure.” It’s not something that needs to be fixed.
Don’t look for blame. Instead, love your child and all that they are.
Many LGBTQ youths endure challenges as they come out, making parents’ unconditional love and acceptance much more important. When families support LGBTQ youth, they create positive benefits including greater self‐esteem, better general health, and strengthened family relationships. Family acceptance also protects against bullying, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
Process Your Feelings
Some families may find news about their adolescent’s sexual orientation or gender identity difficult at first. Do not shame or blame yourself for needing more time to process it all. Ask for time to process all of the information. As you ask for time, reinforce that your love for them is not in question. Your child needs your support more than ever. Let your child know you are still with them and you are in this together. Tell them you will do the work it takes to learn how to be most supportive.
Parents, Reach Out for Help
Consider the resources below for more in-depth information. These organizations specialize in helping parents support and connect with their LGBTQ teens.
PFLAG – PFLAG offers support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, their parents and families, and allies.
Family Acceptance Project – The Family Acceptance Project is a research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to prevent health and mental health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) children and youth.
Gender Spectrum – Offers resources, training, and support for families, professionals, and youth advocates to create gender-sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens.
The Trevor Project — Saving Young LGBTQ Lives -The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.
LGBTQ Youth – HRC – Resources from the Human Rights Campaign to support LGBTQ youth.
In some schools, LGBTQ+ youth experience supportive, welcoming environments where they are physically and emotionally safe and their LGBTQ+ identity is respected.
Unfortunately, some schools allow an experience that is unwelcoming, unsafe, and unsupportive. It has been found that LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience stress and fear in school than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. This can be a result of verbal harassment (e.g., being subject to name calling), physical harassment and physical assault due to sexual identity and gender identity/expression.
Creating a Safe Space
More awareness is being spread throughout schools by providing professional development directly to the staff. It could be as simple as putting up “safe space” signs, or a sign that says a classroom or school is welcoming of all identities. Adults can create teachable moments by reprimanding a student who uses the phrase “that’s so gay”. Awareness can be brought into classrooms by reading a book with an LGBTQ character. Constant and frequent small changes often lead to bigger impacts.
More information about LGBTQ issues
There are many online resources where you can find info about LGBTQ issues . Here are some of them:
GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network)
This resource provides practical information on how to develop inclusive and appropriate curriculum and guidance on how to promote inclusive behavior in the classroom.
This organization works to ensure safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. More than 40 GLSEN chapters exist around the country. Chapters work closely with the network’s national staff to implement programs and to keep national staff informed of local events. They also cover a variety of subjects and issues, from public policy to teacher training to supporting students and educators around the country.
This organization connects school-based chapters to each other and community resources. Through peer support, leadership development, and training, GSA Network supports young people in starting, strengthening, and sustaining GSAs and builds the capacity of GSAs to: (1) create safe environments in schools for students to support each other and learn about homophobia and other oppressions; (2) educate school communities about homophobia, gender identity, and sexual orientation issues; and (3) fight discrimination, harassment, and violence in schools.
This initiative promotes the healthy development of all children and youth, with a focus on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. getREAL challenges public systems working with children and youth to improve their policies and practices to support the healthy sexual and identity development of all children and youth in child welfare systems.
Whether your child or someone you know is a part of the LGBTQ+ community, it is important to remain educated and curious.
Written by Amy Silf, LCSW