Supporting LGBT+ Youth
By: Amy Marschall, Psy.D., Freelance Columnist
Pride Month is drawing to a close, and although parades were cancelled in the United States due to COVID-19, the significance of observing and acknowledging the needs of the LGBT+ community is still important. Although the community has made strides in the United States, LGBT+ individuals continue to face oppression. In particular, LGBT+ youth are at increased risk for bullying compared to peers, as well as child abuse or foster care placement due to parent rejection.
Parents: you love your children unconditionally, but what happens when a child comes out? Are you willing to support a child who is LGBT+? Children and adolescents who identify as LGBT+ are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and suicide behavior compared to their peers, but this difference is almost completely eliminated if the parents are supportive of their child’s identity. You are the one who can save your child’s life just by loving them for who they are.
Below are some common questions parents have when they learn that their child identifies as LGBT+.
When I was a kid, no one identified as LGBT+. How are there so many more LGBT+ kids and teens now?
It’s a common misconception that, because more people are out and open about their identities, there are suddenly more LGBT+ people in the world. In fact, as it has become safer to be open about being LGBT+, the community has just become more vocal. Media representation of the LGBT+ community has given people the words to express who they are at a younger age, which means that kids who might not have known what “trans” is have the language to communicate their experience decades earlier than before. This is a wonderful thing! Can you think of something you realized about yourself as an adult that you wish you had understood when you were younger?
Can’t I make my child not be LGBT+?
This is a question that still comes up in the year 2020. No, being LGBT+ is not a choice. We do not choose our gender identity or sexual orientation any more than we choose who our parents are. Although we are still learning about the biological and environmental factors that impact whether a person is gay or straight, we have definitively proven that it is not a choice.
Unfortunately, the United States has not outlawed “conversion therapy,” or programs that claim they will “fix” LGBT+ youth even though other developed nations classify this “treatment” as child abuse. Youth who complete these programs do not come out straight or cisgendered. Instead, they suppress and hide their identities and are at higher risk for mental illness and suicide.
If your child is LGBT+, they do not need to be fixed. They need to be loved and accepted for who they are.
Don’t a lot of kids who identify as LGBT+ later say it was just a phase?
First of all, life is “just a phase.” I used to hate leggings, and now I wear them almost every day. Does that mean I can never wear jeans again because that was just a phase?
Second, the labels we use to describe ourselves evolve as we grow. I might identify one way and, as I learn more about myself, I may realize that a different label better fits my experience. This is okay and part of being human. Someone who identified as bisexual and later identifies as a lesbian was not being dishonest and did not change their mind. They simply gained a deeper understanding of themselves and changed their wording accordingly.
But what if my child later realizes they aren’t LGBT+?
Since part of life is getting to know ourselves, and since our identities change as we gain this deeper knowledge, it is possible for a child who identifies as LGBT+ to later say that they identify as straight or cisgendered. Most of the time, this is not the case. However, if you honestly and truly believe that your child will someday “realize” they are not LGBT+, then this is an opportunity for you to show how supportive you are. After all, if they aren’t really LGBT+, they will eventually see that without you pushing them toward an identity that they are not currently comfortable with.
Will my child’s life be more difficult if they identify as LGBT+?
It is true that the LGBT+ population faces oppression around the world and in the United States. Although anti-discrimination laws have made steps forward, we are still far from a solution. The ACLU has more information about specific discrimination facing the LGBT+ community in America.
You want your child to have the easiest life possible, and you don’t want to see them hurt. Because of this, some parents have a negative emotional reaction when their child comes out. If this applies to you, you need to clearly communicate to your child that you accept them but might feel saddened that they will face additional obstacles. This distinction is essential in making sure your child feels supportive.
Our religion says being LGBT+ is a sin.
Every faith has texts that are subject to interpretation, and some religious groups interpret these texts as anti-LGBT+. However, all of these religions also have other denominations or groups that interpret the same texts in a different way. I encourage parents to explore their faith and connect with members of their religion who support the LGBT+ community. It is possible that a specific faith leader holds these views, but it is unlikely that the religion as a whole completely rejects LGBT+ individuals. You should not be asked to choose between faith and family. Find a religious community that will help you support your child for who they are.
So what should I do if my child comes out as LGBT+?
Love them! Remember, when your child comes out to you, they have not changed. The only difference is that they have chosen to trust you with this information about themselves. Show them that you deserve that trust by walking with them as they get a deeper understanding of themselves.