How Can Parents and Caring Adults Support LGBTQ+ Youth?
written by Masconomet's High School GSA
We are Masconomet’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA)—members of and allies to the LGBTQ+ community—and we want you to know how important your support of LGBTQ+ youth is, even in more progressive areas like Massachusetts. As a result of increased publicity, while there is much more accessible support, there has been a corresponding backlash of negative comments about the various genders and sexualities. If our Tri-Town community is silent about LGBTQ+ people, young people may worry that those close to them do not support these identities. This can lead to fearful secrecy that can be harmful both for them and for those close to them. On the other hand, those of us who have found acceptance in our relatives, teachers, and neighbors have been able to thrive as people; we cherish these relationships. Here are some general recommendations drawn from our personal experiences:
These recommendations will help you create a broad culture of support for LGBTQ+ youth:
• Educate yourself. Learn about terms and definitions, common misconceptions, real world experiences of LGBTQ+ people, and any other questions you may have. Know what the acronym stands for, and know which words are accepted and which are considered disrespectful.
• Always seek primary sources. If someone in the LGBTQ+ community is open to questions, ask them. GLSEN (glsen.org) is an organization that is experienced with LGBTQ+ youth matters. Family Equality Council and PFLAG (gbpflag.org) are reputable general resources. PFLAG offers resources and support groups for parents of LGBTQ+ children.
• Choose unbiased news sources and seek multiple reports to see a more honest portrayal of events—particularly if the media you typically consume tends not to view LGBTQ+ individuals favorably.
• Be mindful of how you speak about LGBTQ+ people. Youth model their attitudes of respected adults in their lives, so try to be inclusive when you talk. The more outwardly supportive you are, the safer other LGBTQ+ people will feel in your presence.
• Avoid using gender stereotypes. Avoid suggesting that a specific gender identity or sexuality is invalid, or projecting a gender or sexuality onto someone when you don’t know theirs—including your children or young people you care about. Even when you may think there are no LGBTQ+ people to hear you speak, it is possible that there are, and saying something they might perceive as inconsiderate may alienate them.
If a child you are close to ends up being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, your efforts to educate yourself become even more valuable. We realize that not everyone will respect us, so being accepted by trusted adults—especially our parents—is vital. Here are some suggestions for what to do in response to learning that a child you know may be part of the LGBTQ+ community:
• No matter what your thoughts are when you find out, be supportive. A gut-reaction rejection, regardless of reason, will isolate them from you. If they came out to you directly, they may avoid coming out to other people, and they may feel less able to confide in you—a dangerous situation if they are suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues caused in part by hiding their sexuality or gender identity. Instead, remind them that your love is unconditional. If they have come out as trans or non-binary, use their preferred name and pronouns; if they don’t mention them, ask.
• If you have conflicted thoughts, assess your values. For instance, if your religion states that LGBTQ+ people are lesser individuals, ask yourself if honoring that sentiment is worth treating this child as inferior. If you have qualms, talk to them. Never refrain from discussion. To pretend that they did not come out or to refuse to use requested pronouns can be seen as its own form of rejection.
• Understand the plurality of coming out. That is, be aware of where the child in question has come out and where they have not. For children who use a different name and/or set of pronouns in different spaces, ask which to use in those spaces where they haven’t come out. Being “outed” is stressful and sometimes dangerous, so recognize that people may have various reasons for choosing when, where, and to whom they come out.
We know that having a young person come out to you can be stressful; parents especially might feel like they are being asked to readjust their hopes and dreams for their children. If you need to process those feelings or vent, PFLAG can connect you with parents who have already gone through the adjustment process. You might ask the child that came out to you to be patient, but try not to create a situation in which they are supporting you through their coming out instead of you supporting them.