So, your child just made a (big) announcement about their sexuality and/or gender identity. You may be feeling a lot of emotion and your child likely is as well.
Before you decide what to say or to do next, take a moment to collect your thoughts and to put a few things into perspective.
First of all, what does LGBTQ mean? Each letter stands for something different. L stands for lesbian: women who are attracted to women, G for gay: men who are attracted to men, B for bisexual: attracted to men and women, T for transgender: gender identity doesn’t match sex assigned at birth, and Q for queer: not heterosexual, or questioning: still figuring it out.
You child has almost certainly put a lot of thought into this and was and is likely nervous and scared to tell you. This is very personal and children can fear negative reactions and rejection from parents. This fear is often justified because LGBTQ people have faced and continue to face a significant amount of discrimination.
Why is your child telling you about their sexuality and/or gender identity? Most likely, because they want to be authentic and open with you. This is a positive, healthy step toward self-actualization and adulthood. It takes courage to live your truth and you should be proud of your child for sharing this part of themselves with you.
What does this mean for me? Are you comfortable with what you’ve just heard? If you are comfortable that is great—you’ve cleared the main hurdle. Your child is brave for telling you and I would thank them for their honesty. Reaffirm your love and ask what you can do, if anything, to be of assistance and support. Do you have family members or friends who your child would like to know as well, but who could have a strong reaction to the news? Would your child like help coming out to them?
It’s recommended that you take time to learn the lingo, if you don’t know it already. The LGBTQ community has its own language, so to speak, and making an effort to learn it will help you better communicate with your child while demonstrating that you care.
Also, when you read about LGBTQ people doing positive things in the news, mention that to your child. This will help boost their self-esteem and introduce them to positive role models for the future. Be your child’s advocate during this time and you will be doing a big part to help them develop into a healthy and well-adjusted adult.
What if I am not comfortable with the news? Although you might want to argue, do not voice your opposition in the initial conversation. Take some time for introspection first. What exactly do you find objectionable, and why? Your first reaction is not the entire story. How do you actually feel about your child, without considering outside influences? Realize that it is critical for you–at a minimum–to practice tolerance at this time. Rejection and hurtful statements can have a lasting, negative impact on your child’s mental health.
Make sure to take care of yourself as well. If you have friends or family members you can turn to for discussion and support, seek them out. If not, or you are worried about their reaction consider speaking with an LGBTQ-affirmative provider who can provide counseling and guidance.
And everyone can benefit from taking some time to read. See this as an opportunity for both you and your child to learn more about what it means to be LGBTQ. There are a significant number of quality resources available for free or low cost online and in the New York City area, several of which are listed here.
Take a moment to check out the links below, and keep the conversation going! From general reading material on LGBTQ topics, connections to counseling services and family groups, we’ve got you covered:
- GLAAD: An Ally’s Guide to Terminology: http://www.glaad.org/sites/default/files/allys-guide-to-terminology_1.pdf
- Project STAY: Youth Counseling: https://www.nyp.org/clinical-services/ambulatory-care-network-programs/project-stay/youth-access-program
- LGBT Guide to Resources in NYC: http://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/LGBTQ_Guide_2017.pdf
- PFLAG: https://www.pflag.org/needsupport