Raising LGBTQ+ Kids
Your child just came out to you. Now what? Here are some things to keep in mind.
(While the term “parent” will be used throughout this article, it is noted that “parent” is used as inclusive of all identities of primary caregivers.)
The Importance of Supporting Your LGBTQ+ Youth
Parental support is key. Many studies have shown that parental support is one of the most effective protective factors against substance abuse, depression, suicidality, and self-harm. Parental support encompasses many domains—not trying to change the youth’s identity to conform with what you believe their sexual or gender identity should be, allowing them to express themselves (through clothing, roles, mannerisms, etc.) in a manner that is congruent with their identity, telling them you love them the way they are, and continuing to provide for their basic needs.
What if you don’t know the language? Don’t worry—there are glossaries (that are kept up to date!) that can help you learn about diverse sexual and gender identities. It is also important to know that language does change. Sometimes it helps to ask, “What words do you use?” or, “Can you tell me what that word means to you?”
How to Support Your LGBTQ+ Child/Teen
You may notice that your teen wants to join groups with other LGBTQ+ youth; or join virtual groups. It is very normal for your teen to want to meet other youth like them, with a similar identity. Oftentimes, youth feel like they can be themselves in this type of space, without explaining their sexual or gender identity to others; some may feel like they can celebrate their LGBTQ+ identity with others. Others may not want to join a group at all, but just want to be who they are. Helping your child find groups, conferences, camps, and celebrations that honor their identity can be important to them (and fun and informative for you too!). If your child is struggling, ensure they have the Trevor Project and/or the Trans Lifeline in their contacts as a resource.
How to Encourage/Help Your Child to Come Out
There are a number of books and guides to help your child on their gender journey or when exploring their sexual identity (as well as books for parents to support them on their own coming out process!). In addition, a workbook for finding joy and resilience when an individual has multiple marginalized identities may be of help.
How to Support Your Child in Dealing with School, Extended Family, and Community
It can be helpful to share tips about the importance of support and acceptance with extended family members. Everyone wants the youth to be happy and healthy, right? If you are curious about how religious/spiritual beliefs can be supportive to LGBTQ+ individuals, the Family Acceptance Project might be a good first step to share data on the importance of acceptance. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has a great list of resources by faith. In addition, parents should always be aware of the laws supportive of LGBTQ+ individuals in their state, laws governing public schools, and places to get legal assistance to combat discrimination. Lambda Legal, the National Center for Transgender Equality, GLAD, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Transgender Law Center, and HRC are all great places to access education and resources.
Where to Go for Positive Modeling for Young LGBTQ+ People
Where are all the positive role models? Whether it is positive body image, healthy eating behaviors, or positive examples of LGBTQ+ folks living their best life, youth need positive examples of queer folks in the media. Folks can check out Where We Are in the Media from GLAAD and the It Gets Better Project for additional information, as well as this Insider article for queer-friendly children’s shows.
Good Books and Other Resources for Parents of Young Children to Help Them Embrace the Gender and Sexuality Spectrum
There are a number of great books available to parents, educators, and other youth on how to embrace gender and sexual diversity. Research suggests that including LGBTQ+ education in schools leads to positive outcomes for LGBTQ+ kids (e.g., less absences, more likely to continue to post-secondary education), as well as less bullying in schools. Curricula inclusive of LGBTQ+ identities, as well as creating a safe space for sexual and gender minority students, can be crucial.
Where to Go If You’re Having Trouble with Your Child’s Gender or Sexual Identity
Many parents have fears and worries when their child comes out as LGBTQ+. Some parents have specific ideas about how their child would engage in cultural or religious ceremonies, are fearful about the bullying or violence their child might experience, or feel like they did something wrong that contributed to their child identifying as a gender or sexual minority. Parents also worry about the future—will their child find love? Get a job? Be happy? All of these fears and concerns can be a normal part of the journey of parenting an LGBTQ+ youth. Reaching out to a therapist knowledgeable with the coming out process (for you, as well as your child!) can be helpful at this time. There are multiple methods to find a therapist, including a network of BIPOC queer therapists, a large search engine such as Psychology Today or Mental Health America, or an online option such as Pride Counseling. In addition, attending parent groups to speak with other parents going through a similar process can be helpful.
About the Author
Christy L. Olezeski, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the departments of psychiatry, pediatrics, and child study at Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Olezeski is also the Director and cofounder of the Yale Pediatric Gender Program, an interdisciplinary team providing holistic care to transgender and nonbinary individuals ages 3–25 and their families. Dr. Olezeski is also a Public Voices Fellow with the Op-Ed Project.