By: Dr. Jamie Mehringer, MD Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Surprise, joy, fear, sadness, confusion…these are all feelings that parents have shared with me after their child has come out. Many parents vividly recall when they learned the sex of their child…when the doctor or midwife said, “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” From that moment, some parents begin to dream about what life will be like for their child in the future. That dream may include visions of their child in the future, sometimes even as far as down the road as getting married. After a child comes out, some parents realize that some of the details in the future they had envisioned for their child are going to have to change. This realization is sometimes difficult. In fact, some parents tell me that they feel a sense of loss and grief, and that’s ok. These feelings begin fading over time.
It is important to remember that your child is still the very same person you have always known and loved! In fact, it is a wonderful thing that you have gotten to learn something so important, special, and deeply personal about your child. And while some of the details in your dream may need to change, there are many parts of that dream that can still come true, and a new future that is just waiting to be imagined.
Many LGBTQ kids are happy and successful
While your child’s coming out may have come as a surprise, the good news is that lots of LGBTQ kids are happy, successful, and live full and productive lives. Many things you might have dreamt about for your child can still come true, like graduating college, having a great job, getting married, or raising children. In fact, many LGBTQ young people feel a burden lifted when they are able to be “out” and live their lives as their true authentic selves, and are able to focus more energy and attention on school and extra-curricular activities.
It isn’t always easy being LGBTQ in today’s world
Unfortunately in many places LGBTQ individuals may face stigma and discrimination, although this has decreased dramatically with time and greater legal protections. This stigma, discrimination, and marginalization can take a toll on LGBTQ youth and their wellbeing. For example, LGBTQ individuals are more likely to suffer from depression, homelessness, and drug abuse, and are at increased risk of suicide. It’s important to understand that being gay or transgender in and of itself doesn’t cause these risks, but rather it is the result of living in a society where these identities aren’t always supported. Stresses from stigma, feeling unsafe, or feeling unaccepted are toxic and over time can put people at risk for poor health. For example, imagine that a gay teen is being bullied at school and is worried that their family won’t accept them if they find out about their sexual orientation. This is very stressful, and over time that stress might lead them to become depressed. The teen’s depression isn’t because they are gay, but rather because they are living in a world where their sexual orientation isn’t always supported.
Parents can make a world of difference
As a parent of an LGBTQ child, you may be worried about the risks that come with being LGBTQ. Naturally, as a parent you want to protect your child, but you may feel helpless, as there is only so much you can do to change the world your child lives in. In reality though, parents have tremendous power to protect their LGBTQ children!
When a family is accepting of an LGBTQ child, the family’s love and acceptance actually helps to shield the young person from the negative consequences of stigma and discrimination. The power of family acceptance is proven in the research: LGBTQ youth with accepting families are 8 times less likely to attempt suicide, 3 times less likely to use illegal drugs, and 3 times less likely to develop HIV compared to LGBTQ youth with families who aren’t accepting.
Out of fear, some parents may try to question or change their child’s identity, in hopes that they can make their child stop being LGBTQ. While a young LGBTQ person might respond to this by hiding their identity from their parents or try to act differently, this won’t change who they are—they are still LGBTQ. Just like you can’t change your child’s skin color or blood type, neither you nor your child can change their sexual orientation or gender identity. In fact, parents who attempt to change their children’s identity, such as by insisting that it is “just a phase,” trying to keep them away from LGBTQ peers or resources, not allowing them to dress as the gender they identify as, or shaming the child for their identity, is actually harmful, and places children at increased risk for medical and mental health problems. Protecting your child begins with love and acceptance.
Things you can do show your love and acceptance for your LGBTQ child
-tell your child how much you love them
-talk with your child about their LGBTQ identity (and listen to them)
-use their preferred name and pronouns
-support your child’s gender expression
-advocate for your child if they are mistreated for being LGBTQ
-mandate that other family members treat your child with respect
-ask your child to help you create a new dream for their future
-consider going to group with your child to connect with other families who have LGBTQ youth
-seek out spaces where LGBTQ individuals are respected and celebrated
-seek out education on the LGBTQ community
To learn more, check out the following resources:
- PFLAG Resources for Families
- Our Children: Questions and Answers for Families of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Gender-Expansive, and Queer Youth and Adults
Family Acceptance Project: Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children
 Ryan, C. “Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Children”. (2009) https://familyproject.sfsu.edu/sites/default/files/FAP_English%20Booklet_pst.pdf