Appreciate when a young person comes out to you.
Coming out is scary. Your LGBTQ child has probably tested you with a series of trials over time. Based on your previous responses, he or she decided you can be trusted, but there is still fear of rejection, ridicule, and abuse. When someone comes out to you, your primary task is to respect their courage and honesty, thank them for trusting you, and continue caring for them.
When someone shares their gender identity or sexual orientation with you, you have received a confidence which must be respected. Breaching this trust can be emotionally and physically damaging. Be guided by the wishes of the person who confided in you.
Be informed and examine your own biases.
Male and female roles are strongly defined in our culture: boy or girl, pink or blue, transformers or dolls, players or cheerleaders, and many other messages constantly define male/female roles. Despite modern trends, most of us are products of a gender rigid society. You can’t be free of that just by deciding to be — it takes an intentional effort to break free of assumptions. Try to inform yourself, read, seek reliable sources and talk with your loved one about their experience and point of view. It’s a gift you give yourself and your child.
Learn where to seek help.
Familiarize yourself with the supportive referral agencies and counselors in your denomination and area. LGBTQ helplines and support groups can connect you with experienced people and organizations. There are many websites and online resources listed in our Resources section as well.
Maintain a balanced perspective.
Sexuality and gender identity make up a small but truly important part of every person’s identity. Your LGBTQ child is still the same person you have known and loved for years. That person is still there and cares enough about you to be deeply honest about themselves. They have trusted you with the most personal and risky information they can share and they are hoping you will still love them. It’s urgently important to do so. However big this difference may seem to you, the larger person, the child you love, is still there. Don’t let this smaller part overshadow that.
Understand the meaning of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing.
Sexual orientation describes romantic, emotional or sexual feelings toward others. People do not choose to be heterosexual or homosexual, they simply are. This is about attraction to another person.
Gender identity is a person’s inner sense of being male or female, a separate issue with unique complexities. This is about self-perception.
Help connect the young person to LGBTQ resources, support groups, and alliances. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth feel alone, afraid, and ashamed because of religious, societal, and familial pressures to be heterosexual. You can assist by listening with care to their feelings and concerns, offering a supportive and non-judgmental presence, and remembering they are equally valuable to the world.
Anticipate some confusion.
LGBTQ youth receive so many messages that their orientation or gender identity is sinful, they may be confused or even attempt to deny their sexuality. While many youth are aware of their sexual orientation and gender identity even before early adolescence, this awareness takes years to fully integrate. Often they are in the middle of adolescence when their self-image is rapidly changing. You can help by:
- Affirming to them that their feelings are as normal, natural, and moral as heterosexual attraction.
- Allowing them to wonder about themselves and try on different ideas. This is typical of the teen years when most people struggle with questions of who we are and how we fit in the world. This is no different for LGBTQ youth. Listening to their thoughts builds communication and can provide insight.
- Remembering that no one can be talked into or out of the gender they identify with, even if it is not the one assigned at birth.
Help, but do not force.
If you are heterosexual and comfortable, you may not fully understand what it means to be different in ways LGBTQ individuals experience. We often urge young people into behavior, clothing, or experiences that are familiar to us. We also urge them toward things we would do or use because those are comfortable to us and well known. The best clues for how to help will come from your loved one. Don’t force him or her into your frame of reference to make it easier for you to understand. Remember, teen years are often a time for experiments in appearance, activities, and interests. Be open and patient.
Speak up whenever you hear anti-gay jokes or disparaging language and always function as if there is an LGBTQ youth in your midst (even if you don’t think there is). Your words and example will send the message that offensive remarks will not be tolerated, and that you are affirming of LGBTQ people and their families. You will also signal to LGBTQ youth that you are a safe person with whom to talk. Don’t perpetuate injustice and ignorance by remaining silent. Defend others’ dignity.