5 Ways to Support and Affirm Your LGBTQIA+ Child
Research consistently shows that high levels of parental and family acceptance are directly related to higher levels of self esteem, social support, and the overall well-being of LGBTQIA+ children and youth. Conversely, LGBTQIA+ children and youth that experience familial rejection are much more likely to experience depression, substance abuse, and suicide attempts.
For some families it may feel challenging or confusing to understand how to best support your child who identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Here are some foundational tips and guidance to get you started!
1. Express your love and support of your child.
Especially when you first learn that your child identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, you may not know exactly what to say or how to react. This may be a new concept for you, or it may not. Regardless of your knowledge or experience level, the MOST important thing you can do is to express your love and support of your child.
Simply saying, "I love you no matter what and I will always be here to support you" can make a world of difference to your child. You can also ask your child how you can best support them and assure them that their safety will always be your priority. Family Equality offers other helpful tips on what to do and what not to do when your child shares their gender identity or sexual orientation with you.
2. Seek opportunities to educate yourself on your child’s sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
Educating yourself on your child’s identity and learning more about the LGBTQIA+ community in general is a great way to show your child respect and affirmation. This will also help you to feel more confident in having ongoing open and supportive dialogue with your child about their experiences. This can include learning basic vocabulary related to sexual orientation and gender identity, learning the importance of using correct pronouns and chosen names, and also learning more about the joys and fears that the LGBTQIA+ community commonly face.
Staying informed about legislation that affects LGBTQIA+ youth, especially trans youth, is also crucial. Staying informed about legislation that affects LGBTQIA+ youth, especially trans youth, is also crucial. Campaign for Southern Equality's "Southern Trans Youth Emergency Project" is a great resource for folx in NC (and all of our southern neighbors).
3. If your child expresses they would like to use a new name, pronouns, or change the way they dress, simply SUPPORT them.
Always use pronouns that your child (and others) ask you to use. This may be challenging at first, and you may need to practice a while before getting it right. If you make a mistake and use the incorrect pronouns, simply apologize, correct yourself, and move on. This will reinforce to your child that you respect and affirm their identity, and that you are committed to supporting them. Your child may also ask to be called by a name different from their birth name, in this case, it is equally important to respect and use their chosen name. Additionally, your child might want to change their appearance to better align with their gender identity, which could involve aspects such as clothing choices, makeup, or hairstyles.
4. Stay in communication with their school.
Unfortunately, bullying in school is a common experience for students who identify as LGBTQIA+. Maintaining regular contact with teachers or other school staff members, particularly those you and your child trust, can help identify and address instances of bullying quickly.
If your child feels comfortable and safe, you can also request a meeting with school staff (consider inviting the school counselor or social worker) to discuss how the school can best support your child, especially if they have changed their name, pronouns, and/or appearance.
Remember that YOU are your child’s biggest advocate! If the school staff seem receptive and supportive, you may also want to check out Gender Spectrum’s Gender Support Plan for Schools.
5. Connect with LGBTQIA+ focused or affirming resources in the community.
Building a sense of community is extremely important for LGBTQIA+ youth, as it fosters a feeling of belonging, support, and reduces isolation. Depending on where you are located there may be many LGBTQIA+ focused community resources and organizations. This could include LGBTQIA+ affirming camps, support groups, or local nonprofits that create safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth to spend time together. Online organizations also provide safe virtual communities specifically designed for youth, such as QChatSpace and TrevorSpace. As always, when your child engages online, it is essential to have open discussions about internet safety and, when appropriate, monitor their online activity.
Building community is not just for your child either! Build a support system for yourself as well by connecting with other parents and caregivers of LGBTQIA+ children. PFLAG is an excellent starting point and there are many local chapters across the country.
Remember that these tips are just a starting point and a foundation for how to support your LGBTQIA+ child. Committing to continuous learning, building an LGBTQIA+ affirming community, and encouraging open and compassionate communication with your child is the best way to raise your child into a happy, healthy, and resilient adult.
Additional Helpful Resources:
Callie Caudill, LCSWA is a mental health therapist in Asheville, NC that provides individual and family counseling to children and adolescents. As a former school Social Worker and medical case manager, one of her primary areas of expertise is supporting LGBTQIA+ children and their families.