In the past few decades, and particularly in the last few years, there has been more open conversation about young people and adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. As children in our families, schools, and communities come out into the open, parents, uncles and aunts, and neighbors and friends consider how they can be supportive. Here are some guidelines that may be of use to adults who are considering how they might support their own children, or children in their families and communities.
Guideline 1: Keeping in mind how important it is for children to feel accepted by their parents and loved ones, do your best to support and confirm your child’s identity and self-expression. Often, adults are worried that a child will face increased risk or danger if he or she is gay or transgender, so they try to “change” their child’s identity. Ironically, this often has the opposite effect, as a family’s acceptance has a huge protective impact on a child’s safety and well-being. Research has shown that “Compared with LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] young people who were not rejected or were only a little rejected by their parents and caregivers because of their gay or transgender identity, highly rejected LGBT young people were:
- More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide;
- Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression;
- More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs; and
- More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs. (Source: http://nccc.georgetown.edu/documents/LGBT_Brief.pdf)
Additionally, there is recent research from the journal Pediatrics that shows that transgender children aged 3-12 whose parents support and confirm their gender identities have no greater risk for anxiety and/or depression than non-transgender (or “cisgender”) children of the same age range. This finding is in sharp contrast to earlier, less comprehensive research demonstrating that transgender children are much more likely to suffer from mental health problems. The findings suggest that family support might be a critical buffer to unnecessary pain and suffering.
Guideline 2: Address your own feelings. Everyone has feelings, usually strong ones, about gender and sexuality. Additionally, there are important influences affecting individuals’ and families’ perspectives on such as religion, family background, and personal experience. These perspectives are important to talk about, and likely what we think we think is just the tip of the iceberg. If we can open up honestly and safely about our own feelings, then we are much more likely to find ways to support our children, even if it is difficult. Sometimes the help of a therapist or support group can be critical in identifying how our own emotional struggles are getting in the way of supporting our children.
Guideline 3: Educate yourself about LGBTQ issues. There are numerous resources online to read about people’s stories, get answer to your questions, and help you to be a supportive family member, friend, and neighbor. Here are a few links to get started:
In addition, it can help to make the effort, even if it is uncomfortable at first, to have contact with the LGBTQ community. Organizations such as PFLAG and The DC Center for the LGBT community are great places to get started. A connection with the larger community, while being supportive to you, will also strengthen your connection to your child.