I recently had a question from a parent whose LGBTQ daughter had started dating a girl. He was struggling with whether he should say anything to the parents of the teen his daughter was going out with. While this can seem awkward and even dishonest, the answer is an emphatic NO.
There are several reasons for this.
It may not be safe for the other child to come out to their own family.
The family or community may be antagonistic or critical of LGBTQ persons. The child may have a sense that bad things could happen. They may have heard negative comments in the home or seen an LGBTQ relative ill-treated. Very often they fear loss of family love and support, and this is not without reason. Nearly one in four youth who come out are pushed out of their home. Their perception that it is not safe to come out is subjective and may even be in error, but the child is the one who will face any repercussions. It is essential they choose their own time and place to share their identity.
Each child must find their own path to openness.
The path to openness can take a long time. Deciding to come out springs from a well-known pattern that begins with self-realization. LGBTQ people are usually “in the closet” at this stage, which refers to keeping their identity to themselves. However, many seek out information online or through reading or friends. This stage may be deeply, privately maintained until the individual is more independent; this is part of why many LGBTQ individuals come out during college and young adulthood. It is critically important that each child decide when and to whom they come out. Informing a parent that the person their child is dating is LGBTQ may trigger emotional events they are not ready to handle. If they choose to tell their parents, that’s another thing, but for you to speak would be wrong and possibly dangerous.
They may still be struggling with their identity.
Even teens who know they are on the LGBTQ spectrum may be unsure or not yet able to accept themselves. Many teens choose to “pass as heterosexual” for years before feeling ready to live more openly. Taking away this choice by disclosing information from outside the family could be highly painful. Surveys show that most LGBTQ persons knew in early childhood that they were different in some way. However, it can be years before they are certain and comfortable enough in themselves to start living more openly.
You may be making wrong assumptions.
Be sure to allow your child room for friends that are not romantic interests. Not every friend they go out with is someone they want to date romantically.
You must respect your own child’s privacy.
What you say about your own child must parallel their degree of public openness. Bear this in mind: you wouldn’t discuss a heterosexual child’s sexual preferences with the parents of teens they date. Your child deserves the same privacy. Unless he/she is openly LGBTQ and comfortable in saying so, you should not push them into the spotlight. You do not owe another family information about your child, even if you yourself are struggling with your child’s identity as LGBTQ.
Don’t react to conflict or problems that haven’t come up yet.
It’s just as easy for LGBTQ teens to get into relationship problems as any other teen. Some parents want to head this off, but try to resist over-managing. Be prepared for some missteps — every teen has them and LGBTQ youth are no exception. But don’t let their LGBTQ identity cause overreaction by you or others.
Of course, you can give the same guidance you might give your other kids (including good guidance about sexual health and safety) but let them find their own way and only offer help when needed. You may find other young people are much more at ease with LGBTQ friends than some parents. That can be very helpful in refining your own perspective.
Be prepared to advocate for and defend your child.
We hope this doesn’t happen, but you may take heat from another parent if they are shocked by the discovery their child is dating an LGBTQ person. They may even blame your child for “making mine” different. Stay focused on supporting your child as a good person, supporting their child as a good person, and supporting both young people’s identity as an integral part of them that should be respected. You may not be able to change another parent’s mind, but you can model respect and acceptance, for both kids. And your child will be watching every step of the way.