Every summer June serves as a time for us, as a society, to uplift LGBTQIA+ voices and bring awareness to the issues that impact the community as a whole. As an organization we create content for parents of members of the LGBTQIA+ community all year long but in June we to shift our spotlight more intentionally to the community, especially this year.
We need to make the VERY important disclaimer that being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community DOES NOT mean that someone has a mental health challenge. It is due to some very unfortunate societal and sometimes familial pressures that LGBTQIA+ youth are at a greater risk of struggling with their mental health than their straight, cis peers.
That is why we wanted to kick off this pride month with a blog on how you, the parent, can do your part in protecting your child’s mental health if they come out to you as gay or lesbian. We know that any big change, or step in your child's life can be overwhelming for a parent and we want to make sure that you are equipped with some concrete things to do, and not do, in order to make sure that your child feels respected and understood by you.
1. Don't Assume Anything
Let your child come out to you. Don't assume that they are gay or lesbian, let them tell you they are. Especially if you are just basing your assumption on what they wear or what they like. Unfortunately the LGBTQIA+ community has historically had some nasty stereotypes that follow it around and a lot of people think they have an idea of what being gay looks like. This is not accurate. A boy who likes girls can also like pink. A girl who loves fixing cars could also have a boyfriend. Drop these outdated and harmful stereotypes at the door and let your child express their authentic self to you when they are ready.
What you can do is help them understand that you will always love them no matter what.. Don't single out a child who you think may be gay but keep an open dialogue with your entire family that there are no conditions in which you wouldn't love your children. Also, remember that your children are always listening even when you think they might not be paying attention. Be cognizant of how you speak about the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole and never make derogatory jokes, or hateful comments. This is a fast track to ensuring that your child is not going to trust you with their authentic self.
We know this is hard but while your child is talking to you about their sexual orientation - let them do most of the talking. Jamie, a lesbian woman in her mid twenties who we spoke with explained to us that when she was trying to come out to her parents she felt like they were doing everything they could to “talk her out of it.” She mentioned that she felt like they were trying to steer the conversation in a way that made it seem like what she was telling them was just a “phase” and that it would pass.
Jamie felt incredibly discouraged and waited a very long time until she talked to her parents about the topic again. During that time she was very disconnected from her family and they barely had a relationship because she didn't feel accepted. Do not steer the conversation - let your child lead it. Chances are they may be nervous to tell you or even say some of these things for the first time ever out loud and you want to make sure that not only are you hearing what they have to say, but they feel heard by you.
Remember; it's not always a big conversation or movie moment when your child comes out, especially depending on your relationship and their comfort level. Your child could put out feelers about someone else being gay or lesbian and see how you react or they may randomly slip it into a conversation.
If your child has already come out to you and you feel like you "got it wrong," don't panic. Regroup, apologize, and make it right. LGBTQIA+ youth who report having at least one accepting adult in their life were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in 2019 (The Trevor Project). It's not too late to make things right.
3. Do your homework
Do not treat your child like an encyclopedia of all things LGBTQIA+ related. It is not their job to teach you all of the acceptable and unacceptable terms that you can and can't use.
You need to start doing some research. You will get a much better understanding of your child and what they are trying to tell you if you get some background on the terms that they are using. Dig into the history of the community and learn about how they got to where they are today.
We know the internet is a big, and sometimes scary place full of misinformation. That is why we handpicked reputable resources for parents raising LGBTQIA+ youth. Click here to check them out!
4. Take them seriously - always
As Jamie mentioned, don’t make your child feel like you think this is “just a phase.” Take them seriously, look them in the eyes, and really listen to them. The last thing you want to do is minimize what they are trying to say and have them feel like you don’t care.
As we mentioned in the introduction, societal pressures can cause a lot of harm to the mental health of our LGBTQIA+ youth. If they mention a kid at school, a teacher, a coach, or anybody for that matter has made “jokes,” or comments that make them feel uncomfortable about their sexual orientation, take it seriously each and every time.
It is an age old saying to “let kids be kids” and that bullying will eventually work itself out on the playground. This is absolutely false and bullying of any kind needs to be addressed by adults immediately. Unfortunately, a lot of LGBTQIA+ youth experience bullying and we know how detrimental this can be to a child’s mental health long term. In order to protect and preserve your child’s mental health bring this topic up frequently and make sure they feel like they are being respected by the people in their lives.
5. Set some boundaries for them
Your child is still your child - it’s as simple as that. With that being said, coming out may cause you to need to set some boundaries for them. These boundaries can help them avoid uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situations. Ask your child if they are comfortable with you sharing this information with extended family and friends. If they are make sure that everyone in your child’s life is respectful to them.
Give them the proper terms to use, and ones to avoid. Make a very strong impression to your family and friends that you are fully supportive of your child and that you expect that they will be as well. If they have any questions or concerns, point them to our resource page so they too can get a better understanding. Show them how your child is still the grandchild, cousin, niece, nephew, and friend that they have always known and loved.
We know that family dynamics are unique but if you have a family member who is disrespectful, do not force interaction between them and your child. If after you tell them how to speak to and about your child they decide to ignore what you say, talk down to them, or say ignorant things this is not someone that your child should be around. If this particular family member/friend is at a social event let your child know ahead of time and if possible give them the option to skip it. If you are able to do so, ensure that this person does not come into your home for social events also. Home should be a safe space for all of your children and your child should not feel like they can’t be themselves there because of someone else.
6. Show them ongoing effort
This is not something that you talk about and look up once and then go on about your daily lives. Actively do research on legislation being passed that may impact your child or other individuals in the community, continue to be up to date on what terms are acceptable to use and which are not. Keep the dialogue open. Share how much you are learning and how you plan to never stop learning for them.
Continue to be the parent that you have always been for them. Love and nurture them and don’t let this new information change the relationship that you have. If anything it should make it stronger because your child has just shared a little bit more about their authentic self with you.
Do you have a child in the LGBTQIA+ community who is struggling? Our Family Support Partners have experience raising children in the LGBTQIA+ community and can help you best support your child. Click here to reach out to our FREE and CONFIDENTIAL Family Support Partners.