First off, let’s be clear about this: you SHOULD be supportive of your LGBTQIA+ child! There is no debate to be had here. According to an article by Katherine Schrelber on Psychology Today, teens who identify as a sexual minority are twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to have suicidal ideation, and they are anywhere from two to seven times more likely to die by suicide than their heterosexual peers. Beyond the regular adolescent risk factors that their heterosexual peers face, LGBTQIA+ youth face a number of unique risk factors as sexual minorities. Chief among these factors are victimization from being a sexual minority and the lack of support from trusted adults in their lives.
The sad reality is that many LGBTQIA+ youth do not find the support they need from the adults in their own home. A recent study by the TREVOR Project found that only 1 in 3 LGBTQ youth found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming. That same study reports that access to affirming spaces lowered the rates of suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth and that specifically honoring the pronouns and chosen names of transgender and nonbinary youth lowered the suicide rates by half. Knowing this, the question should not be SHOULD I support my LGBTQIA+ child, but HOW DO I support them?
While there are no short, easy answers to this, I did find a blog post from Bianca Salvetti, an adolescent medicine nurse practitioner, to be concise and helpful. As a gay man, I feel that she covers a lot of important points to consider as a parent of an LGBTQIA+ youth, and I invite you to read her blog for more information. With her post in mind, I would like to add some personal thoughts and extensions that I feel are important to consider.
Create a supportive environment before your child comes out to you.
The more accepting and supportive of diverse people you are in your daily life, the more you communicate that you are a safe person for your child to confide in. Before your child decides to come out to you, they will be watching you to see how you treat the LGBTQIA+ community. Comments such as “I don’t have any problems with people being gay, but I wish they weren’t so in your face about it” or using homophobic slurs, even as a joke, convey a message that there is something wrong about being gay, that it should be hidden. Your child will hear these comments, and it might keep them from feeling that you are a safe person to come out to. Being mindful of creating an open, accepting atmosphere in the home can go a long way in supporting your child from the start!
Be willing to admit AND accept your limits.
Your child doesn’t need you to be their everything when they come out. They just need to know that your love for them hasn’t changed. It’s okay to admit there’s things you don’t know and need to figure out for yourself. “Knowing everything” isn’t near as important as showing the willingness to learn. If you are not a part of the LGBTQIA+ community yourself, there’s probably a lot of assumptions and misinformation that you’ve gathered over the years. Be willing to learn and grow with your child, and be willing to let members of the community fill in where you can’t. Just keep loving them through it!
DO NOT share your child’s story without their express permission!
One of the greatest myths is that coming out is a “one and done” experience. I cannot stress this enough – just because your child has come out to you DOES NOT mean that they are ready to come out to everyone! Coming out is an ongoing process that occurs with every new person we meet. It is our story, and it is our choice whether we come out to that person. The reasons we might decide not come out to people are numerous, including fear of rejection, fear of victimization, and fear of losing privileges/rights (i.e. many states still do not have provisions for sexuality and/or gender expression written into their anti-discrimination clauses, so things like jobs or housing applications can be denied). As well-intentioned as you might be in sharing the news with a friend or a relative, it still does not give you the right to share your child’s story without their permission.
Be willing to get professional support for your child (and maybe you as well).
Another statistic from the TREVOR Project report is that nearly half of the youth they interviewed wanted mental health support and did not receive it. Along with higher suicide rates, LGBTQIA+ youth usually suffer from higher rates of depression and anxiety then their heterosexual peers. They greatly benefit from being able to talk to professionals trained to meet their unique needs mentally and emotionally. Parents, the same is true for you as well! It can be beneficial to talk to a professional about your own feelings regarding your child as well as to make sure you are providing the best support you can. Be open to seeking services that will affirm your child and offer support to you as well as them.
At Heartland Therapy Connection, we are a collection of LGBTQIA+ members and allies who would love the opportunity to meet with your child and with you as parents. We offer both individual and family sessions that will help you and your child to navigate moving forward in an environment that is safe and supportive. Feel free to call us at (816) 287-0252, email us at hello@heartlandtherapyconnection,com, or learn more about us on our website here. We look forward to hearing from you soon!