Whether you’ve suspected it for some time or it’s news to you, when your teen comes out as LGBTQ, you might feel a wide range of feelings: relief that they were able to come to you, worry about the difficulty that they will likely encounter, disappointment that your child is not following a more traditional path.
Supporting Your LGBTQ Teen
It’s likely that your feelings change from day to day or even hour to hour, particularly in the early days after he or she has come out. This is completely normal. While you need to deal with your own feelings, your immediate and long-term goal should be to support your teen. Here are six ways you can make sure that your LGBTQ teen feels loved and supported.
1. Get Educated
If you are not LGBTQ (and maybe even if you are), there are probably a lot of things you don’t know about the experience of being gay as a teen. You might not know what resources are available, what your child’s experience is like at school, or who your teen feels comfortable sharing the information with. If your teen would like you to use a different pronoun than the one you’ve been accustomed to using, that might be confusing to you.
One of the best ways to support your teen is to educate yourself. There will be many questions that your teen has, too, and you can be an ally in finding the answers. Don’t be afraid to ask your teen what he or she is going through, but keep in mind that your teen doesn’t speak for all LGBTQ teens. You can find information and fellow parents of LGBTQ teenagers by contact PFLAG, an organization dedicated to supporting and educating the families, friends and loved ones of those in the LGBTQ community.
2. Celebrate Diversity
If you have been celebrating and learning about diverse groups of people throughout your child’s life, this might not be much of a difference:
- Go to pride parades
- Attend community events in support of the LGBTQ community
- Find ways to honor who your child is, not who you wanted your child to be or assumed your child was
It’s important to celebrate diversity as privately or publicly as your teen wants, however. Your child might have come out to you and other family members but might not be ready to come out to the public at large. If this is the case, he or she might not want you to attend pride events or otherwise make a public declaration of your support. Adolescence is often awkward, and many teens want to keep anything relating to their sexuality private. This is no different for LGBTQ youth. Talk to your LGBTQ teen about what he or she is comfortable with and go from there.
3. Support Self-Expression
Even if your teen were not LGBTQ, you might find it jarring for them to decide to dye their hair blue or dress in a way that is not similar to how their peers dress. These types of changes can be particularly evident in LGBTQ teens. Your daughter might decide to start dressing in a more masculine way. Your son might want to grow out his hair or wear makeup. Be aware that the teen years are for trying out different personas and various types of expressions. Support this in the same way you’d support a non-LGBTQ teen.
Work with your teen’s school to find compromises where appropriate. For example, if the rule is that no one can have blue or pink hair, then your teen needs to follow that guideline. If, however, the rule is that girls must wear skirts and boys must wear pants, this might be something worth taking up with the administration if that’s what your teen wants. Your teen must be allowed to use a restroom that is safe and in line with his or her gender, even if that differs from their assigned sex.
Also, support your teen’s interests, whether or not they go along with the typical gender stereotypes. A lesbian can take ballet class or wrestle; a gay boy might be very athletic or very artistic. Remember that there are no activities at the high school level that your teen should be discouraged from trying based on his or her biological sex or gender.
4. Ban Bullying
Allow no slurs to be used in your home, particularly those meant to denigrate those in the LGBTQ community. Correct your family members and visiting friends if they slip. This tells your child that you are not allowing anyone to make them feel uncomfortable in their own home.
It’s also important to approach your child’s school if bullying is an issue. Youths who identify as LGBTQ develop depression and commit suicide more frequently than their straight peers. One risk factor for these issues is being bullied or not accepted. By accepting and loving your child unconditionally, you are already taking a big step toward reducing this risk.
But if your teen is being bullied or harassed at school, the risk goes up. Work with the administration if there is not a clear anti-bullying policy, and encourage your child to approach the appropriate people in authority if they do find themselves being bullied for their sexuality (or for anything else).
5. Help Them Find a Community
Being an LGBTQ teen can be lonely. Your teen might not have other out-in-the-open LGBTQ teens to talk to and bounce ideas off of at their high school. When they watch movies or listen to music or see romance portrayed in the media, it’s usually heterosexual relationships that are being lauded. Having a community of other LGBTQ youth and allies can go a long way toward making your teen feel supported and comfortable in his or her own skin.
If you currently belong to a church, find out that denomination’s view on homosexuality. Ask your teen whether they would be more comfortable going somewhere else if it is an issue. The Universal Unitarian church is nondenominational and can be welcoming to the LGBTQ community. There might be a gay-straight alliance or another similar support group at your teen’s high school or in your community. Try to find these opportunities for your LGBTQ teen if it interests them.
6. Love Your LGBTQ Teen Unconditionally
Finally, remember that the most important thing you can do to support your LGBTQ teen is to love him or her unconditionally, regardless of their sexuality. Ask your teen what they need from you and let them know that you’re behind them all the way. This is a journey that is your adolescent’s, not yours, but knowing that there is a supportive parent will help them find their way.