By Allison Hope, Contributing writer
Being a good parent can take many forms. It means wiping away the tears and applying the band-aids after the slips and falls. It also means supporting your child on their journey to self-discovery. For some, this will include supporting them as they explore their gender or sexual identity or expression.
Whether you have a child that identifies as LGBTQ+ or you want to be prepared for the possibility that they may identify as LGBTQ+ when they’re older, there are steps you can take so that they can feel free to be themselves and confident that you have their back. We know that just one accepting adult in an LGBTQ+ child’s life can reduce the likelihood of suicide by 40%, according to a study from the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ anti-bullying organization.
It’s important to address this issue even if your child hasn’t said they are LGBTQ+. They may not feel safe coming out unless you first create an affirming environment and invite them in.
According to PFLAG, the first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, their parents and families, and allies, parents can create an LGBTQ+ affirming atmosphere for their, or any, kids, in a few, easy ways.
Familiarize yourself with the issues
The road to supporting your child no matter who they are or might become starts with you. Like the airline safety instructions to secure your own mask before helping your child with theirs, you should first learn about the LGBTQ+ community to ensure you are approaching any conversations with them from a place of knowledge. Take the time to learn the correct terminology and the issues that LGBTQ+ communities face. The PFLAG glossary is a great place to start.
Start conversations and listen
Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends approaching your child with a “healthy curiosity” to foster dialogue and a two-way information flow. Kids may not always be forthcoming with information about their personal lives, and maintaining a good connection with them from the time they are little will help make them feel comfortable sharing more sensitive details when they’re older.
Parents should aim to approach their children with love as the guiding force, leaving preconceived notions at the door. PFLAG says parents should “listen with intent,” which means giving your child, “ample opportunity to open up and share their thoughts and feelings.” Pose open-ended and gentle questions that aim to help them communicate without any judgement attached.
Avoid making assumptions
Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization that does a lot of work with families and children, suggests that being a strong ally and supportive adult to your child starts by not making assumptions. Don’t assume someone identifies a certain way because of how they look or act or even things they may have said. Your child, or any child who might be LGBTQ+, should tell you who they are and how they identify. That should be your guiding light and not anything else.
Speak up against discrimination
You can also set a good example for your child regardless of how they identify and be a strong ally by speaking up and out if or when you witness anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination or harassment. Don’t just let someone get bullied without intervening in some way, while ensuring your own safety. Not only are you helping someone in need, you are also showing your own child that you are willing to stand up for LGBTQ+ people. Showing rather than telling is a powerful way to convey that you are inclusive and that your child can be their true self. You are also helping to raise a child who will follow in your stead and not be afraid to stand up for others who might be targets for discrimination. All of that work starts with showing up for your child as your authentic self.
Engage with LGBTQ+ communities
You can learn more about LGBTQ+ identities and experiences and jumpstart your allyship for your child by immersing yourself in an LGBTQ+ group or event. Attend a Pride March, whether in-person or virtual. Pop into a PFLAG meeting for parents or allies. Join a group at a local LGBTQ+ center or university to learn more from people who are living out and proud. Even if this option feels out of your comfort zone, know that you can always attend to listen and learn.
Supporting your child, whether they identify as LGBTQ+ or may one day, doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, creating an affirming home for your child, no matter who they are, can bring you both many moments of joy and open opportunities for closer connection.
This content series was created in partnership with Family Equality, an organization advancing legal and lived equality for LGBTQ+ families and for those who wish to form them. Learn more at https://www.familyequality.org/.