Why is suicide emphasized so much as an LGBTQ risk?
Because it is the highest risk of death for LGBTQ individuals.
As a cause of death, suicide is:
- 9th leading cause of death in the US1
- 2nd leading cause of death among US teens2
- LGBTQ youth are 4 times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers4
The National Institute of Mental Health also provides warning signs5 to look for:
- Giving away prized possessions
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Change in eating habits and sleep patterns
- Extreme personality changes
- Aggressive, destructive, or defiant behavior
- Neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
- Increase in alcohol or drug consumption
- Talking, writing or drawing about their own death
- Withdrawing from family or friends
Who are we now? As parents? As a family?
Although it may feel everything has changed, in most ways you are the same family you have been. The child who comes out to you is the same person you loved moments before. Daily decisions and activities may change gradually but try to take time, keep normal routines as much as possible, allow things to settle into new patterns gradually, and focus on communication and affection.
What about my dreams and expectations?
You’ve probably imagined possible futures for your child that seem out of reach now. The death of dreams and shattered expectations may be hard to bear, but try to focus on the bigger picture. Parents hope many things for a child: good health, a happy life, close friends, a good education, a job, a loving partner, a way to serve in the world, and many more. All of these can still be dreams, though the details of how they occur may differ. Dream big for your child, maybe dream bigger than ever before. They need your hopeful view and encouragement.
Please see The Journey for Parents for more on this topic.
Will my child have a lonely miserable life?
You might be worrying that this means no marriage partnership, no children, and no happiness. Despite your own fears, it’s important to help your child dream a positive future. For LGBTQ individuals, hopelessness can breed self-destructive behaviors and despair can breed suicidal thoughts. To help counteract this risk, one of the most important things a parent can do is hold a hopeful view of the future and share that with their child. And the truth is, many, many LGBTQ people lead productive, connected lives with loving partners and families.
Sometimes a minor shift in your own dream can help and basic dreams still hold:
- The dream of a great spouse for your child is at heart the hope for a good partner, one who loves and supports your child.
- Loneliness is greatly counterbalanced by strong family connections — which you can help sustain.
Check out It Gets Better, either the book or website. Both are full of encouraging stories that can help you build a positive vision of the future.
I want to tell my closest friend. Should I?
It may feel strange not telling a close friend. You may really need to talk with someone about what you are feeling. Your needs are important, but you have to carefully choose where you find support, and find a safe place to talk. Please see Managing Emotions and Telling Others for more information. Consider these points:
- When you tell someone, you are “outing” your child.
- It is imperative to let the child decide when he or she is ready to come out and to whom. You must be your child’s protector by doing what your child needs in terms of openness or privacy.
- You may wonder if people notice differences, but many may not know or notice changes in your family.
- Consider that the more you talk about it, the more likely it is that your child will be exposed to comments, opinions, scrutiny, gossip.
Very few people come out to their parent and the world in the same day. It’s a gradual process over time, and you have to be patient and let that unfold.
Finally, remember this is not your story to tell. It’s your child’s story. Your story is your own experience but your role as a parent involves supporting your child in the degree of openness comfortable for them.
Will I have grandchildren?
Many parents long for grandchildren and you may think an LGBTQ child means you won’t have grandchildren. This will be your child’s choice, just as it would be in any relationship. They may conceive, adopt, foster, or choose not to parent. Don’t assume the outcome. Let time play out the situation, just as it would in any partner relationship.
How do I decide when to tell people?
It differs depending on the situation. See the “Telling Others” section for more. But as a rule, you let your child decide who knows what and when. Don’t “out” them to someone unless your child says that it is OK with them.
What is the “second closet?
The term “in the closet” refers to the choice that LGBTQ individuals make to keep their LGBTQ identity to themselves. Family members are said to be in the “second closet” when they are keeping the child’s identity private from others in the family or community. The second closet can be either a positive or a negative situation and it’s vital those trusted by the child understand the difference.
It is positive if the child is deciding who knows and when, and those trusted are abiding by the child’s desire for privacy or openness. You are supporting their preference and allowing them to control their experience.
It is negative is the child is ready to be more open and the family prefers to be private. This makes the child the “family secret”. For the child, this can feel like rejection, rebuff the trust the child showed through their honesty, and instill a sense that their family is ashamed.
It can be difficult to find the right step in each situation, but asking your child and going slowly are key.
How do I deal with my child dating someone whose parents don’t know their child is LGBTQ?
Please see “Relationships & Dating” for more on this. As a rule, each child’s decision to come out must be their own. If the other young person is not out to their family, they may not be ready or it may not be safe for them at home.
Do I have to tell my church?
No, but telling depends on the church. There are accepting faith communities of all religions. (See Faith-Based Organizations section.) However, if your family is closely connected to a faith community, rejection by that community can be damaging, particularly if the child feels judged. If you anticipate judgemental reactions, it may no longer be a good place for your family. Consider finding a more accepting faith community. If you decide to stay and your child is wounded by the church, the risk is that your child may eventually come to question his or her faith entirely.
Why did my child tell me?
You may almost wish you didn’t know. The good news is children decide to tell their parents for good reasons. They may long to remove hidden barriers and to be accepted for who they are. Many wish to be honest with their family and may feel they have lived a lie with the people they cherish most. Their openness is an act of courage and shows deep trust in you. Try to honor them for honoring you with the truth.
Should I encourage my child to hide their LGBT identity to keep them safe?
Coming out is a very personal decision, but recent research shows it is better for them to come out when they are ready rather than hide when they are wanting to be more open. A 2015 study (Coming Out At School and Well-being in Young Adulthood3) found hiding their identity did not keep them safe and had other negative consequences. Key findings were:
- LGBT students experienced school victimization regardless of whether they attempted to conceal their identity or openly disclosed their LGBT identity. Thus hiding was not successful, on average, in protecting LGBT students from school victimization and bullying.
- LGBT young adults who tried to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity at school reported more victimization and ultimately, higher levels of depression than LGBT students who came out or were open about their LGBT identity at school. Feeling that they had to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity was associated with depression among LGBT young adults.
- Being out about one’s LGBT identity at school has strong associations with self-esteem and life satisfaction and with low levels of depression in young adulthood.
Why do other teens shame or shun my child?
This can be complex. Unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon experience in schools. There may be many reasons, but some common ones are:
- Peer pressure – Teens long for a sense of belonging, which may come with feeling “the same as” their friends. They may avoid someone they learn is LGBTQ simply because he or she is different.
- Fear of association – “They’ll think I’m gay too.” Because of the anti-gay messages in our society, peers may worry that if they hang out with someone who is gay, others will assume they are gay too.
- Condemnation by their families or church – they may be reflecting what they have heard or been taught. Kids often voice the values and beliefs of their parents, and when parents make statements against the gay community, their kids may too.
- Projection — sometimes people who are gay (and are uncomfortable with this) deny their own feelings and accuse others of having those very feelings. It’s can be a way of avoiding suspicion from others.
- Deflection — gossiping about someone who is gay to test other people’s reactions about being gay. This allows kids to preview what might happen if they were to come out.
- Otherness – emphasizing the “difference” factor. Unfortunately, it is human nature to confirm an idea of ourselves as “good” or “right” by calling out someone else as “bad” or “wrong.” Adolescents especially are looking for belonging and or feeling “in.”
- Prurience – Focus on sexual activity rather than the person. Adolescents, who are often preoccupied with sex, may be especially prone to ignore the whole person and focus solely on their sexuality.
(Please see GLSEN for information on bullying and school programs.)
- Centers for Disease Control, Suicide Facts
- National Center for Health Statistics, NCHS Data Brief No. 37, May 2010
- Coming Out At School and Well-being in Young Adulthood. Family Acceptance Project, San Francisco State University.
- Trevor Project "Facts About LGBTQ Youth Suicide"
- National Institute of Mental Health, "Warning Signs of Suicide"