Being supportive of your child’s gender and sexual identity can help build a stronger relationship with them, improve their confidence and self-esteem, and set them up for success later in life. Coming out to family, friends, and other individuals can be an uncertain and even scary step, and it’s often a significant moment in the life of LGBTQ+ children, adolescents, and adults.

Parents may have a hard time adjusting when it comes to learning new identity terms, names, and pronouns when referring to or speaking with their child. They may also struggle to let go of previously held beliefs and adopt new ways of thinking. While this may bring up complicated emotions, remember that you are not the only one coming to terms with a new reality. Consider the difficulties your child has faced as they try to understand their own identity and make the decision to come out.

If your child has shared this personal information about themself with you, it demonstrates a level of trust in your relationship with them. It’s important to take this time to listen to what your child wants to share with you, validate their feelings and identity, and learn how you can be a supportive parent and ally to LGBTQ+ youth.

 

Who is the LGBTQ+ Community?

The LGBTQ+ community is a group of individuals who identify with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual, and/or a gender identity other than the sex they were assigned at birth. These aspects of identity can be expressed in a variety of ways.

The commonly used LGBTQ+ acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and many more identity terms. Some more contemporary acronyms, like LGBTQIA2S+, more specifically acknowledge Intersex, Asexual, and Two-Spirit identities. There are several variations on the acronym which seek to encompass the diversity of identities across cultures while also allowing room for the community to expand its own definitions.

The LGBTQ+ community offers a sense of belonging, understanding, and support from a group of people with shared lived experiences. Connecting with a community of peers who can relate to challenges stemming from gender and sexuality is an important way that your child can learn to understand, develop, and embrace their own identity.

 

Challenges Faced by LGBTQ+ Youth

Judgment from parents, harassment and bullying from peers, discrimination at school, and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation negatively impact the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ youth. Targeted harassment and discrimination can come in many forms. This includes incorrect use of name and pronouns, slurs, limited access to restrooms, restrictions to participate in extracurriculars, and even physical assault.

LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to report mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression, compared to their straight and cisgender peers. To that end, they are also at a higher risk for suicidal ideation and attempted suicide. A lack of support and affirmation in home and school environments is unfortunately a major contributor to worsened mental health and suicidality. According to the Trevor Project’s 2023 LGBTQ+ mental health survey, less than 40% of youth did not feel that their home was affirming, and only half felt that their school was affirming.

Being publicly out with one’s identity unfortunately carries a certain level of risk. However, it is important to support your child’s identity and allow them to be their authentic self as openly as they choose. No one should be forced to hide who they are! Embracing one’s LGBTQ+ identity can bring a sense of empowerment, and ultimately challenges the fear tactics and legislative acts used to silence the community.

 

How to Support your LGBTQ+ Child

Acceptance from adult figures, such as parents, teachers, caregivers, and other mentors in your child’s life, play a critical role in their mental health and wellbeing. In fact, this acceptance has been linked to lower rates of suicide attempts among LGBTQ+ youth. Here are some steps you can take to create a safe, welcoming support system for your child:

    • Show Your Understanding. Practice validation and effective communication strategies to show that you respect your child’s identity. This includes using their chosen name and pronouns, supporting how they choose to express themself (e.g. through hairstyle and fashion choices), and listening to what they share with you. It’s also important not to use labels to describe your child unless they have explicitly stated what terms they are comfortable identifying with (e.g. nonbinary, queer, bisexual).
    • Practice Confidentiality. If your teen has confided in you, take their lead and let them decide when they are ready to come out to relatives and family friends. Do not “out” them or share details about their identity without first asking permission. If your child has begun to transition, do not identify them as transgender to anyone.
    • Get Involved. To help your child find spaces where they feel safe and included, check if your child’s school offers a Gender & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) as part of their extracurricular club offerings. This may also be known as a Gay-Straight Alliance. If one does not exist at your child’s school, you can help your child research how to start a GSA and enable them to build a space for support, community, and activism.
    • Seek Community. Participating in support groups and social events hosted by local pride centers is a great way to get connected with the broader community. There are dozens of vetted LGBTQ+ organizations that offer social, support, health, education, and activism resources. Some organizations also offer groups specifically for allies, like caregivers and educators, to learn more about how they can support the community without compromising LGBTQ+ safe spaces.
    • Find Resources. It’s important to find inclusive healthcare providers who offer supportive care for the LGBTQ+ community. They can provide information on safe sex education (e.g. HIV prevention). They can also help you navigate gender-affirming care. You might ask providers these questions and look for signs to help you determine if they practice inclusivity and if they are sensitive to LGBTQ+ issues.
    • Keep an Open Mind. Remember, your child knows themself best! They are the expert on who they are and what they need. Let your child know that you are here to listen and learn, and that they can come to you to talk about their thoughts and feelings. Maintain an open dialogue about what their needs are and follow their guidelines on how you can effectively meet those needs. It’s critical to keep an open mind and recognize that this is not a time for debate, but rather an opportunity for you to learn more and expand your worldview.
    • Acknowledge Your Mistakes. You may find you need some time to adjust to using a new name and pronouns for your child. Mistakes may happen at first, but it’s important to correct yourself when it happens. Practice using these new terms in your mind when you think about your child to help ensure you do not continue to make the same mistakes.

If you suspect that your child identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, do not question them about it. It’s important to allow your child to share those details with you on their own. Your child may be nervous about coming out, and approaching your child before they are ready could cause them to feel anxious, ashamed, or even angry. Allow your child to come out at their own pace. Focus on finding new strategies to create a healthy home environment and supportive parent-child relationship— even if you feel you already maintain those. Giving your child time and space is necessary for them to feel confident that they will be safe and accepted. 

 

Safety and Wellness for LGBTQ+ Families

There has been a steady upward trend in social acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. An all-time high of support for equal rights was reported by GLAAD in 2023, with 84% of participants responding favorably. While significant progress has been made in the United States, those strides are not without strife. Recent legislative acts pose a threat to the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. Unfortunately, there are also groups of people who are not as accepting of the community, or who say they are accepting but still subscribe to myths and misinformation. All of these pose some level of harm to the LGBTQ+ community. While it’s important for you and your child to embrace and explore their identity, there are additional steps you can take to handle the mental strain that comes from facing prejudice and discrimination:

  • Daily Touchbase. At the end of each day, leave space for you and your child to discuss how they are feeling in case there is anything on their mind they would like to share. This is an opportunity for them to bring up any challenges they may be facing, and you can learn how to best support them. It also helps strengthen your relationship and foster a sense of closeness.
  • Seek Communal Support. In addition to social spaces, you can seek out peer-based and professional support groups for your child, yourself, and your family. These communal spaces can help you share and process the stress and trauma of prejudicial encounters.
  • Find Professional Care. A good therapist can help you and your child work through specific challenges related to traumatic invalidation. It can be helpful to find someone who specializes in LGBTQ+ related issues, but oftentimes an experienced CBT or DBT clinician can still teach coping techniques to help manage feelings of distress.
  • Avoid Confrontation. If you or your child are in a one-on-one dispute with someone, find ways to de-escalate the conversation and remove yourself from the situation. You won’t be able to change everyone’s mind. Keep yourself safe and volunteer with community organizations to share education about the LGBTQ+ community and find ways to engage on the larger scale.

 

While much progress has been made when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, there are still challenges that the community faces. We are at a point in history where a wealth of misinformation is being spread, and those claims are being used to revoke rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Transgender youth are some of the most vulnerable members of the community, and a continued call for action and progressive change can help protect them and other LGBTQ+ youth.

Take steps to further your knowledge of the LGBTQ+ community, its struggles, and what challenges your child may face. This can be done by reading up on LGBTQ+ history, listening to voices of LGBTQ+ individuals, and referring to peer-reviewed studies and reputable news sources. By educating yourself, you can do your part to create safe home and school environments that help your child and other LGBTQ+ youth feel supported.

Author

  • Alycia Hinrichsen

    Alycia Hinrichsen, BFA, is the Intake Coordinator at the Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. She is an experienced in-home child care provider for infancy through adolescence with a background in intersectional design. Her goal is to provide informational resources, foster communication, and promote creativity among clientele and staff. Alycia is passionate about community engagement and volunteers within the LGBTQ+ community.

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