Parents: Here’s how to support LGBTQ+ kids (whether or not they’re your own)
July 19, 2022
by Lindsey Flannery
Pride Month may be over, but LGBTQ+ youth need affirming support and care all year long -- even, and especially, from non-LGBTQ+ families. The LGBTQ+ community faces ceaseless discrimination, harassment, bullying and violence. Increasingly, transgender youth’s rights are on the line as states introduce discriminatory bills that deny their access to affirming health care or prevent them from participating in sports.
LGBTQ+ youth bear the brunt of this culture of discrimination, and the effects are devastating. Poor mental health, suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety soar among the community. LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times more likely to seriously consider suicide.1 The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth, estimates that at least one LGBTQ+ person between the ages of 13–24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S.
To give our children hope, to give them rest from defending and explaining themselves and attempting to educate the adults in their lives, we need to step up and step in as allies. LGBTQ+ youth shouldn’t have to fight so hard for the right to simply exist.
For this reason, we are sharing some simple tips and resources to help you support LGBTQ+ youth, and raise kids who do the same. While the community is not a monolith, and there is no “how-to” guide for becoming an ally, there are ways to shape the conversations in your home and community to create a more inclusive and accepting environment for all.
- Educate yourself on the basics of LGBTQ+ identities.
If you don’t have foundational knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community, it’s difficult to set an example for your kids of being an ally. Further, if you have a child or close friend who is LGBTQ+, it’s not fair to ask them to do the work of explaining their identity to you. This can be exhausting, and youth share that this makes their identity feel less legitimate.
Understanding the spectrum of identities included in the LGBTQ+ community, the right terms to use, and how to talk to your kids are good places to start. Reputable organizations with excellent resources include PFLAG, GLSEN, and the Trevor Project.
PFLAG is the oldest LGBTQ+ rights organization in the country -- check out PFLAG’s Academy Online here. GLSEN focuses on creating safe school environments for LGBTQ+ youth and offers resources for starting a GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) at your school. The Trevor Project offers LGBTQ+ youth a supportive online community, a phone hotline, and many articles that are helpful for both youth and allies.
NPR offers a helpful guide on gender identity terms here.
- Understand the challenges the community faces.
Despite advances for the LGBTQ+ community in the American mainstream, discrimination shows up constantly, which affects the lives of LGBTQ+ youth. No federal law protects people from being fired or refused a job based on sexual orientation. Lawsuits come up regarding a business’s “right” to refuse to serve gay people. A bill passed in Florida that makes it illegal to talk about gender identity in elementary schools. The list goes on.
We cannot advocate for and support LGBTQ+ youth if we don’t understand the issues that affect them. Even when bills don’t pass or a law doesn’t affect an individual directly, the fact that their rights are even up for discussion or debate is painful. News about violence directed at the LGBTQ+ community, like the Florida nightclub shooting, is distressing and heartbreaking.
Understanding and empathy are important for all of us when dealing with something painful -- it helps to have someone who understands what we’re going through. It’s no different for LGBTQ+ youth, except that it’s even more important -- because instead of support, they so often are on the receiving end of bullying, harassment and discrimination. Allies in all facets of a youth’s life are critical.
- Stand up for what you believe is right, even when others disagree
There will undoubtedly be people, even people close to you, who hold different views and will express those opposing views. It’s important to be respectful and open-minded in these conversations, even if the things they say about you or the people you love are hurtful.
Being respectful does not mean silencing yourself. When you’ve taken the time to educate yourself and understand the perspectives of your LGBTQ+ friends and family, it’s easier to stand up for what you believe is right, even when others disagree. Don’t let naysayers deter you from loving and supporting your LGBTQ+ friends and family.
- Don’t out LGBTQ+ youth against their will.
Many LGBTQ+ youth do not share their identities with their families because it’s not safe. Family rejection is a real risk of coming out -- according to a report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, LGBTQ+ youth comprise up to 45 percent of homeless youth.2
Revealing the identities of LGBTQ+ youth has an immense impact on their mental health and safety, and potential for self-harm. Coaches, teachers and other community members have a responsibility to protect youth by never sharing their identities, i.e., using a chosen name or pronouns, without explicit permission from that youth.
Legislation isn’t the only way to help queer youth, but it’s an important one: Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has soared in recent years. In 2021, 25 bills passed, making it the most catastrophic year in recent history for queer rights.3
Vote for candidates, at a local, state and national level, who vocally support equal rights, and are specific about ways that they’ll help the LGBTQ+ community. GLAAD, an organization that accelerates acceptance of LGBTQ+ people by shaping the media narrative and changing the culture, offers resources including an Accountability Tracker to ensure your vote won’t support an anti-LGBTQ+ candidate.
As a parent, you don’t need to have an LGBTQ+ family member to raise allies. You don't even have to know anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+. What matters is cultivating an environment of love, acceptance and compassion for ALL people, regardless of how they identify. Taking the extra step to make your home and community welcoming and inclusive to all goes a long way for our youth. If you are open, accepting and affirming, your kids will follow suit.