A Parent’s Guide for Understanding LBGTQ+

Do you have a child who is questioning their own sexual or gender identity? Or are you just curious to learn more about what LGBTQ+ means and how it may impact your child? Whatever the case may be, you ended up here for a reason! Here I will do my best to provide information, advice, support, and maybe you will even get something out of this post that will help you in your life and relationships. We will explore the risks, the coming out process, stereotypes and stigmas regarding the LGBTQ+, as well as some of the things you may experience as parents.

Risks for Your LGBTQ+ Child

It unfortunately goes without saying that children or teens that start expressing their own sexuality or gender, which may be out of the norm, will get weird looks, rude comments, or even just a slight double-take from someone walking by. Therefore, it goes without saying that yes your child may experience some discrimination or bullying from their peers at school or just from random strangers at the supermarket. Here are some quick facts of some of the risks:

  • Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst LGBTQ+ youth in the US
    • With suicide being the third leading cause of death amongst teens in the US
  • LGBT youth who are rejected by family are 8 times more likely to commit suicide
  • Compared to 19% of non-LGBTQ+ youth reporting being bullied at school, 34% of LGBT youth report bullying in school and 28% reported cyberbullying. 
  • Some LGBTQ+ youth may also stay home from school due to feeling unsafe

However, times are changing and the opinions of others are also changing. As a parent, you want to protect your child from all the different dangers that your child may run into; although that is not always going to be possible!

The Dreadful Process of Coming Out

UGHHH let me tell you, this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done for myself. And yes, that is correct. I did it for myself. I didn’t do it for the acceptance of others, for others to view me differently, or even just for people to know that one thing about me. I did it for myself because it is something that can be so freeing and such a relief for that kid who’s stayed in the “closet” for so long. As parents, here is my message to you: Your child is absolutely frightened by how you will respond, how you will react, and worst of all if you would still love them for who they really are. There is so much going through their heads that they may not even understand, so for someone with authority like yours, for someone who has been with them since day 0, they are only hoping for support. 

It may be helpful to support your child with their journey to finding out their own identity. As parents, you can be the ones providing the information for your child with the security of it being accurate. There are a few stages to coming out, though primarily the stages of self-discovery, coming out, as well as positive self-identity do have a major impact on the everlasting impact on your child. You can read more about the stages of coming out here: The Stages of Coming Out

LGBTQ+ Stereotypes & Myths

  • Sexual orientation is a choice
    • The reality of the situation is that there are biological and genetic factors that contribute to someone’s sexual orientation. Epigenetics, genetics that are changed over the course of generations, also play a factor.
  • Sexual orientations can be “cured”
    • The simple answer is no. Conversion therapy is not practiced in the state of New York, as well as 19 other states. The reason why it is illegal in these states is because it has been found to be harmful and ineffective.
  • My child might turn other children gay
    • Again, the simple answer is no. It is true that your child’s peers do have a heavy influence on each other, though sexual orientation is not something that is learned from peers.
  • Homosexuality is abnormal
    • Homosexuality, or any other sexual orientation, is not an illness. Yes, the DSM had classified homosexuality as a mental illness, though in 1973 homosexuality was deemed to not be an illness that can be treated nor can it be changed. 

What Does it Mean for Your Parents?

As parents who just discovered or found out their child identifies as part of LGBT+, there may be a few different emotions and stages you go through yourself. This is just like any other transition in the family, it is something that is obviously going to cause some shock or take back. Below are some of the stages you may experience as parents, but remember you may not even experience any of these!

  • Denial
    • The initial denial you may have of what your child comes to you with is definitely normal. Part of this stage is believing that your child is just going through a “phase” and that this will be over in a couple of weeks. That is oftentimes not the case! Therefore, if there are some feelings of denial, gather some reassurance from your child because communication is what will help both of you.
  • Guilt
    • Some feelings of blame and guilt can definitely arise during this process as well. You may blame yourselves for believing you did something to cause this, or you may even start to blame your child for forcing their values onto you. The same can be said for blaming your child’s parents for influencing your child. Just remember, it is not anyone’s fault and there is no blame to be placed. 
  • Fear
    • You may fear that your friends or those that you keep close to you are going to view your family differently because of how your child now identifies. You may be fearful of being ostracized by your loved ones; although, can’t the same be said for your child when they garnered the bravery to come out?
  • Acceptance
    • Accepting your child for who they are and loving them unconditionally, as you always have. Your child is still a child. They are still in need of love, care, support, encouragement, all of the above. Weren’t there some things that you did during your childhood that you were worried your parents would hate you for? 

There is so much more that can be said within this guide. Always try to be the supportive, kind, gentle parent that you intended to be when your child was born. This Fall, Suffolk Family Therapy will be hosting a support group for parents with LGBT+ youth. Throughout this group, you will be able to garner support from other parents, gain knowledge on LGBT+, as well as learn how to best support your child on their journey. 

Conor Ohland, MHC-LP