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Supporting A Young Person When They Come Out

The most important thing to a parent/carer is that your children feel loved and safe.

Times are changing, and for the better. Society in the 21st century, is, as a whole, much more accepting of LGBTQ+ identities than in previous times. But what does that acronym stand for, and how might you support a child who opens up and says that they identify with it?

‘Coming out’ experiences are some of the most formative moments for young people who don’t identify as heterosexual. They are likely to remember them for their whole life, and might be nervous about opening up, even to their parents/carers, because of that.

In this article, we answer some of the most common questions from even the most accepting parents, because frankly – we understand that there is a lot to learn!

The best way that you can support your child is to educate yourself. Once you feel empowered in this way, you can empower your child too.

What does LGBTQ+ mean?

First off, we should start with the basics. You may well know what this acronym stands for, and that’s great. Equally, you may have seen loads of different variations floating around and might feel totally confused.

LGBTQ+ is not the only version of this acronym. Others include LGBT, LGBTQIA+, and LGBTQIA2S+. Do not feel bad if this is confusing.

According to a recent YouGov survey conducted in 2023, LGBTQ+ is the most commonly used abbreviation by the queer community.

The letters in the acronym stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer. The + is used by individuals who feel that their identity is not included by the other letters.

More broadly, this acronym stands for a community of people who just do not feel like the heterosexual label encompasses any or all of their own identity.

table to show the definitions of LGBT community

What to say, and how to say it

OK, so your child identifies with the LGBTQ+ spectrum… what next? It’s good to remember that for a young person, telling you this news might have been very scary and a big deal for them. Of course, it’s quite heartbreaking to think they were nervous about this.

They can be scared about how you are going to react, even if reacting in a negative way was never going to be the case.

Supporting your child with unconditional love, validating them and reassuring them that your opinions of them are not going to change is one of the most crucial things to say in these first moments.

A big hug, and offering to spend some quality time with them, like going to the cinema, or even just having some sofa time could help relieve them of any anxieties they had before coming out.

If your child has come out to you, thank them for sharing this trusted information with you. Children and young people coming out often feel like they are giving away a part of themselves which is a vulnerable act. Provide space and time for them to share at their pace, acting as an affirming sounding board during this process.

Get the boundaries right

But what else? It is definitely possible that you are not the first person that your child has come out to. People may be out to different extents in different parts of their lives, for example at home but not at school. It can be helpful to clarify your child’s stance on this and honour their wishes with regard to information sharing (for example, telling extended family or teachers etc.).

Coming out sometimes does not make sense to some people. It is a personal choice, and doesn’t mean they are ‘closeted’ or hiding a part of themselves. Some people in the LGBTQ+ community do not need to be out to everyone they know in order to be happy. A person’s identity is personal information and this should always be respected.

‘Closeted’

In previous generations, closeted was taken to mean that a person’s sexuality was hidden in the closet, (a small, dark, private space, historically surrounded by feelings of shame or secrecy)in reference to shutting their sexual identity away. Isolated and protecting the contents from exposure or harm.

Questions I feel embarrassed to ask

Your child has just shared a major piece of identity-defining information with you. That is a big deal and it is likely that you may feel confused, nervous or even upset.

Whilst you may want to alter what you’ve been told, the science is in and there is nothing anyone can do about their sexual orientation. Counsellor Mark Loewen LPC writes that even if you consider yourself an accepting person, you may still struggle with the idea that your child is coming out. In this moment, it’s important to focus on what your child needs. They are the subject of this story, and you need to get on board.

One parent, writing for the organisation Young Minds, remembers their experience. With an initial reaction of love, hugs, and accepting affirmations, they soon questioned some of the details. How will the rest of the family react? Will the child have children of their own? What if they experience homophobia?

It is natural to worry about these things, and in many cases, considering them shows that you have your child’s best interests in mind. Whilst we cannot replace the value of having mature, honest and open conversations with your family, we can provide some starting points to your burning questions (and indicate which ones might be better addressed to your friends, rather than your child!)

Is it my fault?

This might be one to keep between you and your significant other… or for trusted and objective sources online. Asking your child this might imply that you think it is wrong for them to identify how they do, which is not the best way to support them.

Counsellor Mark Loewen writes that old, outdated theories can perpetuate the myth that poor relationships with parents can lead to your child identifying as LGBTQ+. This is simply not true. The number of people identifying as non-heterosexual has always been relatively steady, he states, they have just had to hide. If your child has come out to you, it’s likely that there’s a certain level of trust between them, and yourself. This is indicative that your relationship with your child isn’t poor, so you shouldn’t dwell too much.

So does this mean I won’t get to have grandkids?

Again, not a question to ask your child. Our advice would be to keep this between you, and your own support network, preferably a licensed professional.

Ultimately, your child can still decide to have children, regardless of their sexual orientation, just like they have to decide to have children if they are straight. Sexual orientation and the desire to have kids are not the same thing. If your child doesn’t want to have children if they identify as LGBTQ+, it doesn’t mean they’d have wanted them or could have them if they were heterosexual.

Supporting yourself and further resources

Family support is vital to the psychological resilience of LGBTQ+ young people. Although you may be filled with fear, grief, anxiety and confusion – with the addition of navigating challenges at school, within health care settings and other systems that support your child –  this weight can make it harder for you to shield your child from the harshness and criticality often present in the outside world. You cannot help and support your child in the way you would like to if these emotions become all consuming.

There are many ways families can become empowering advocates for their young people. Seeking out safe places for you as parents is paramount. This could be via online or local community groups, where parents and caregivers are able to support one another and network. Finding LGBTQ+ spaces where open dialogue is encouraged and young people are accepted and understood such as groups or clubs is a good way to facilitate this. Spaces such as these that focus on the family network, can help build healthy and respectful relationships within the family unit allowing for positive and affirmative care to flourish and grow.

If you are struggling to navigate your own feelings regarding your child’s identity, it can be helpful to talk this through with a professional such as a counsellor or psychotherapist. We want to reassure you that these emotions are okay – one recent study shared that it can take two or more years for those feelings such as the ones listed above to subside.

Things that might be helpful:

  • Take an affirmative stance
  • Respect self-determination (of your child)
  • Engage in self-reflection (as a parent or caregiver)
  • Learn about LGBTQ+ experiences and needs

We often do not question our own identities and beliefs related to sex, sexuality and gender, especially if we are part of the majority group. Here are some conversation starters, to think about yourself or with another adult in the same situation, like a co-parent.

  • What words would you use to describe your own sex, sexual orientation and gender?
  • How might our own identity or views impact and influence our conversations with LGBTQ+ youth?
  • What messages have you been given over the course of your life about biological sex, sexual orientation and gender? This can be informed by religion, formal education, family, friends, the media or society itself.
  • How comfortable do you honestly feel talking about this topic? Is there more you need to know? What is your level of confidence when discussing identity?

We hope that this resource has been helpful in providing you some starting points at navigating how to support your child when they come out.

The most important thing to remember is that knowledge is empowering. Educating yourself will give you the best foundation to be as present and educated as you need to be for your child.

For more ideas, there is a list of useful website links if you want to explore organisations that provide information for parents and families.

Finally, remember your worries and reactions are valid. But enjoy the journey; your child trusts you well enough to share an important part of their life and that is a credit to you.

Evidence Based
This article has been reviewed by our Kari Health Experts and Editorial Board to ensure accuracy and reliability of the information presented. However, please note that the content provided is for informational purposes only and should not replace advice from your medical professional.

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