The number one piece of advice that I as both a therapist and a son can give parents of LGBTQ children is to always let your kids know you love and support them.
I'm a gay therapist in Georgia who came out to my parents over 30 years ago.
Like today, there was no manual that told my parents what to do or how to respond.
Unlike then, however, we now know a lot more about the experience and mental health needs of LGBTQ youth.
My parents were taught that being gay was a choice, but there is now substantial scientific and growing biological evidence that sexual orientation is not a choice.
In my parents time, they were taught that gay people lead lonely, immoral lives, but today we know that LGBTQ people can and do live very normal lives with communities of friends, successful careers, and families and children of their own.
When your child comes out to you, your response will make a big difference in their lives.
If Parents Are Supportive And Accepting, Their Child Will . . .
Be more accepting of himself or herself
Be less self-critical and less likely to self-harm
Have healthier friendships and more of them
Be more resilient when he or she faces difficulties or discrimination
Experience improved mental health
Be healthier physically
- Engage in healthier relationships and behaviors
If Parents Are Rejecting Or Unaccepting, Their Child is More Likely To. . .
Experience anxiety and depression
Consider or attempt suicide
Use illegal drugs
Engage in risky sexual behavior
Make bad relationship decisions
Experience social and work difficulties
I realize the list looks extreme, but every item on this list is based on decades of research into LGBTQ people and their families, and the results of all of those studies are surprisingly consistent.
When clients come to my office concerned about relationships with parents, there is a direct line between acts of parental rejection and the client's anxiety, depression, and substance use.
It may be helpful to keep in mind that your child has gone through an agonizing process before coming out to you.
They had to come out to themselves first, and that is not an easy process for most people.
There is often a general feeling of being different than and alienated from peers. Kids usually don't figure out why they feel different until nearer adolescence and puberty when romantic and sexual feelings start to appear.
After figuring out their own sexuality, children may try to change it or at least deny it to themselves, But, the feelings become harder to ignore, and somehow, LGBTQ children must learn to become accepting of themselves.
This is a tough process that many kids have to go through alone with no one to guide them or hold them.
A child's coming out can be a shock or can be upsetting to parents.
Even if you suspected your child might be gay or lesbian as they were growing up, it's different when your suspicions are confirmed. Maybe you, like your child, tried deny the signs of being LGBTQ.
It makes sense that it will take some time for you to adjust to the news. That's ok.
4 Things You Can Do To Love Your LGBTQ Child
1) Remind them regularly that you love them. Children who feel loved and supported develop confidence in themselves and learn they have a place in the world.
2) Make space for your child to talk openly about the experiences and feelings. Refusing to talk about your child's experience or turning away from them, even subtly, sends the message to children that they should be ashamed or that they are not loved.
3) Find support for yourself. Look into local groups for parents of LGBTQ children. One great place to start it an organization called P-FLAG. (Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians)
4) Be sure you have a friend, a spouse, of family member, or therapist that you can talk to. You are likely to feel confused and conflicted at times. It likely isn't always clear what to do and it will be helpful to talk through those emotions and bounce ideas off of others.
If you have more questions about how to be a supportive parent to an LGBTQ child, or if you need to talk about your worries, concerns, hopes, and conflicts, then feel free to contact me.
I'm happy to answer your questions and provide guidance.