My Child May Be LGBTQ+
Many LGBTQ+ kids are aware of or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity at a very early age. Some kids quickly articulate their thoughts and questions. Many are frightened by the thought of real and perceived rejection from their family, peer groups, school, faith communities and by strangers in public.
Parents are often aware and may wonder about their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity before a child comes out. While some curiosities can be based on stereotypes, there are often subtle changes in children’s behavior that can occur when a child is exploring thoughts and feelings around their identity.
To be clear, no one else can know this about your child except for themselves. Until your child comes out and tells you that they are, or they might be LGBTQ+, you cannot know. This can be very challenging for many parents as they grapple with their own feelings and thoughts about their child identifying as LGBTQ+:
- Will they have a more difficult life and face discrimination?
- What if I do not agree with and would not be able to support their identity?
- Why have they not told me yet?
- What will our family, friends and community think?
- How can I help them through this process?
We share tips on what you can do if you think your child may be LGBTQ+.
1. Let children come out on their own time.
Do not force children to come out. Let them take the lead. They should control the narrative of their own coming out story. Many children who are afraid of rejection may feel embarrassment or shame if they feel unready in that moment or caught off guard. Even worse, if you force the conversation, your child may incorrectly deny their feelings out of concern of your reaction. They can suppress or outright reject important parts of their identity. Denial, suppression and rejection can damage your child’s mental health and potentially the parent-child relationship.
When they are finally ready to talk, really listen.
2. Talk to them and be open.
When having a conversation with kids, ask them about their day in school, their friends, their interests and their crushes. Try to ask them open-ended questions and show genuine interest to get them to talk more. Avoid questions that make assumptions about their interest or identity. These recommendations are important for fostering a positive relationship and good communication for any children. This is especially true if your child may be having a difficult time communicating about their identity.
Open-ended questions allow for someone to answer with more than a “yes” or “no”, and it encourages them to share details and personal opinions.
Close-ended question: "Did you have a good day?”
Open-ended question: “What were some of the best parts of your day?”
Showing genuine interest shows them that you care enough to remember past conversations and want to know their thoughts and feelings on matters.
Examples: “I know you and your friend Alex have had difficulty getting along lately. How did that go today and how are you feeling?”
When we make assumptions about our child’s identity and interests, it suggests that our interest - and even our love - is dependent on them fitting our ideas of who they should be.
Assuming: “Do you like any of the boys in your class?” “Which sport do you want to try out for?”
Unassuming: “Do you like any of the kids in your class?” “What extra curricular activities sound fun to you?”
3. Stop hate speech and openly show support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Children should feel that their home is safe for them to be who they are. Do not make insensitive comments about the LGBTQ+ community. There are plenty of words that are considered insensitive that you may not be aware of. Do the research and learn the common slurs and remove it from your vocabulary. If anyone in your home is saying hateful comments, stand up for the LGBTQ+ community and be clear that these harmful attitudes will not be tolerated.
Even when children have not come out, parents can show their acceptance and support to make the process easier. Discuss LGBTQ+ topics that are in the news and share non-judgmental views. Another option is to respond to an LGBTQ+ character on TV. Let them know that being LGBTQ+ is not a “phase” but is who a person authentically is. Let them know that you accept the LGBTQ+ community, which will make them feel comfortable sharing their true self with you.
4. Join a group or network.
Parents need to educate themselves and join communities to understand the journey of LGBTQ+ kids better. This will not be an easy process for LGBTQ+ kids, and parents should be their main support system. While a parent is learning how best to support their child in their potential future identity, they should also seek out support for themselves to discuss any challenging feelings. There, they can communicate with other parents who have gone through similar experiences and learn how they can be supportive. PLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is the nation’s first and largest organization for the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. PFLAG was created to help transform the values and practices of raising LGBTQ+ children. Once a child comes out, parents can also start a gay-straight alliance network at their child’s school. This can help kids feel safer at school, and you can meet other parents of LGBTQ+ kids.
5. Let them know you love them.
For most kids, coming out to their parents are the scariest parts of coming out. Children and teens often first come out to their friends, who may seem more accepting. However, it is a lesser consequence if they are rejected. Most children learn friendships can be temporary and replaced. Children develop their sense of safety in the world based on their attachment to their parents and have a difficult time envisioning a hopeful future without their parents’ ongoing love and support. Being accepted is not only important, it is fundamental to developing a healthy sense of self and the ability to cope with life’s challenges.
Before children come out, parents can emphasize their love is unconditional. The best way to do this is through your everyday actions as a parent. Telling your child, you love them and are proud of them often, and regardless of timing. This can occur after big or small successes – and should occur especially after mistakes or when they make choices you do not agree with. When children believe they are only loved under certain situations, it harms the child and the child’s relationship with their parents.
And finally - when children come out, they should know that they are loved, accepted, supported and their parents are happy for them. Research shows that LGBTQ+ kids who have supportive parents live happier lives and perform well in school. With your support, they are more inclined to be more open and comfortable in their skin.
Click here to learn about Ochsner’s LGBTQ+ health care services.