Coming out: How family can support an LGBTQ child

It’s Coming Out Day! People are celebrating by sharing their stories of coming out. Find out how you can support a child in coming out.

Coming out is not a one-time event for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and intersex children and teens. It’s a journey of understanding, acknowledging and sharing one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity with others. It can be easy or difficult, take a short amount of time for some or be a longer process for others. Parents and guardians can support their child as he, she or they share their identities with you.

Why family support is important for LGBTQ kids

The Family Acceptance Project (FAP), the first comprehensive study of LGBTQ youths and their families, showed that the average age a child realized they were gay was a little over age 13. Many knew they were gay at even younger ages –– such as age 7 or 9. FAP’s research shows that families, parents, foster parents, caregivers and guardians have a dramatic impact on their LGBTQ kids. Family acceptance promotes a healthy sense of well-being and protection from risk factors. Conversely, family rejection has negative effects for a child’s mental and physical well-being. Compared with LGBTQ youths who were only slightly rejected or not rejected at all by their parents and caregivers, LGBTQ teens who were highly rejected by their parents/caregivers were:

  • More than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide
  • Nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression
  • More than three times as likely to use illegal drugs
  • More than three times as likely to be at risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases

“Parental support is crucial for a child’s development, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Katy Hopkins, Ph.D., psychologist with Norton Children’s Medical Group. “Supportive and loving parenting can be a preventive factor for many issues all teens face, including low self-esteem; drug use and other risky behaviors; depression; and suicide.”

How parents can support their child

Your reaction to your LGBTQ child’s coming out has a deep and lasting impact on their lives.  Many parents may feel conflicted and not sure how they should react. You might feel fear and worry because of how others will perceive or possibly hurt your child. What you should know is that your reaction can help set your child up for a healthy life. Research shows that there are many ways to show your love and support for your LGBTQ child, even if you disagree or don’t understand their sexual orientation or gender identity. Parents should be honest about their feelings, because your child will know how you really feel. Even if you’re conflicted, be honest about your feelings or concerns, but don’t forget to tell your child you love them. If he, she or they know you love them, won’t reject or abandon them, kick them out of the house or emotionally retreat from them, this will help you and your child stay connected.

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Parents, caregivers and families can:

  • Be supportive and affirming when your child comes out to you or discloses their identity. Gender identity often may take time to be revealed as a person comes to understand more about themselves.
  • Accept and love your child for who they are. Try to understand what they feel and are experiencing. If you don’t agree or understand, there may be disagreements, but your child needs your love, support and validation to grow up healthy and happy. Support their self-expression, including clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, etc., and have conversations about it. Accepting them for who they are can help minimize shame and prevent low self-esteem.
  • Stand up for your child. If he, she or they are being bullied, take steps to deal with the bullying or social pressures they face. Additionally, make it known to others, including extended family, that any jokes or slurs against LGBTQ persons will not be tolerated.
  • Connect your child to LGBTQ resources and groups. There are groups such as Louisville Youth Group, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and more that can help connect your child to positive, safe spaces with LGBTQ role models, supportive allies and new friends. This kind of exposure to people working and enjoying activities outside of conventional gender expectations can be beneficial for them picturing a happy, successful life. These groups also may help you on your journey as a parent.
  • Regularly check in. Talk to your child regularly about their interests, friends, potential romances and any bullying or teasing they may experience.
  • Watch for signs. Be on the lookout for signs of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and other issues with your child and any of your child’s friends who may not have a strong support system.
  • Get help if you need it. If you need support, someone to talk to or want to understand more about LGBTQ issues, don’t be afraid to reach out.