LGBTQ+ young people are significantly affected by the way that their families and communities respond to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Here, CHOC psychologist Dr. Adrianne Alpern offers some strategies to support LGBTQ+ youth – and if you’re reading this, you’re already off to a great start!
Make your home, office or classroom LGBTQ-affirming regardless of whether you have openly LGBTQ+ kids.
Remember that you do not always know whether someone identifies as LGBTQ+, and you can’t tell based on their appearance or behavior. One study found that 67% of LGBTQ+ youth have heard their families make negative comments about LGBTQ+ people; this number was higher for youth who were not out to their families (78%).
For this reason, avoid making derogatory or negative comments about LGBTQ+ people whether or not you think it will affect individuals around you. Even better, consider making positive comments about the LGBTQ+ community. For example, you may mention how great it is when people can be themselves, or when certain communities, sports organizations or television shows take steps toward being inclusive. You can also call out others’ inappropriate comments.
Finally, keep LGBTQ-friendly books, TV shows and movies around to increase visibility and send the message that being LGBTQ+ is acceptable and being one’s true self is celebrated. You never know if a casual statement or action will have a big impact on how safe the person feels being themself.
Learn about the coming-out process.
The act of coming out is a personal decision. LGBTQ+ people do not come out once, but over and over in all kinds of situations. Don’t “out” the young person to others without their permission unless you feel that you absolutely need to do so to advocate for them. A recommended read is the Trevor Project’s Coming Out: A Handbook for LGBTQ Young People.
If you need to, give yourself some time to process your feelings.
Find a way to be outwardly supportive or neutral without letting the young person in on your inner experience. They are going through their own journey and you are going through yours. You can find support for yourself through your local PFLAG chapter or LGBT Center, many of which have parent/caregiver support groups in multiple languages. If the young person identifies as transgender, nonbinary or gender fluid, or is exploring their gender, check out Gender Spectrum for support and information.
You cannot protect your child from experiencing discrimination, but you can protect them from some of the negative effects of discrimination.
Multiple studies have shown something truly compelling: Young people who feel rejected by their families after coming out are more than eight times more likely to attempt suicide compared to those who felt accepted. Numerous studies have shown that LGBTQ+ youth who feel accepted by their families have higher self-esteem, lower rates of depression, lower rates of substance abuse and make fewer suicide attempts than those who do not.
While you cannot change how other people treat your child, the way that you treat your child can serve as a protective buffer and help them build resilience. Your support means that your child can keep coming to you as they navigate relationships and stressors. Other supportive adults — such as teachers, coaches and mentors — are also likely to play an important role in the well-being of young people, especially in the absence of family support.
Help the young person access LGBTQ-affirming spaces.
These spaces can be a local LGBTQ+ center, a gay-straight alliance at their school, their own home, a home of a friend or family member, youth conventions or safe online forums and chats.LGBTQ+ young people who have access to spaces that affirm their sexual orientation or gender identity (in person and online) have lower suicide attempts compared to those who do not.
LGBTQ-affirming spaces offer a sense of community and allows young people to see resilience up close. These spaces allow youth to see that LGBTQ+ people can be happy with successful careers and build their own families, which will give them more hope about their own futures. You can also follow the It Gets Better Project on social media to current on positive, uplifting news related to the LGBTQ+ community.
Don’t expect them to answer questions that you cannot answer about yourself.
Resist an urge to ask questions like, “How do you really know your gender?” or “How do you really know who you are attracted to?” Stop and think about how you would answer these questions. If your answer is, “I just know,” that answer should be acceptable from a young person who is telling us who they are. Even very young children can tell us their gender, and if they are not trans, we take their word for it because it fits with what we think we know about the world. Instead of thinking that transgender or LGB kids are confused, it is more accurate to say that the world is confused about them and the world is what needs changing.
Use the correct name and pronouns.
For transgender and gender-diverse youth, using the name and pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them, or something else) that align with their gender identity literally saves lives. When others use their chosen name, transgender youth reported 29% fewer suicidal thoughts and a 56% decrease in suicidal actions compared to transgender youth who did not have their chosen names honored.
Youth who indicated that their pronouns were respected by their family had half the attempted suicide rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected.It’s also not just about suicide, it’s about thriving. The three biggest predictors of well-being among transgender youth are correct pronoun use by others, access to clothing and accessories that align with their gender identity, and access to affirming medical care such as CHOC’s GPS program.
This is recommended reading: The Trevor Project’s Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth
Welcome your child’s significant other or partner.
It can harm your relationship with your child (and their future willingness to come to you for support) if you reject or exclude their significant other. Welcoming your child’s significant other is associated with happier LGBTQ+ youth, and gives you a chance to have ongoing conversations with your child about healthy and positive relationships.
Let the young people lead us.
Today’s LGBTQ+ youth are paving the way for a more inclusive society. They are developing new terminology to help our thinking evolve. They are showing everyone — LGBTQ+ or not — that it is amazing and powerful to be yourself. We are here to cheer them on.
Resources to help support LGBTQ+ youth
For parents and caretakers
- Parents magazine’s guide to supporting LGBTQ+ kids
- San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project
- The Trevor Project
Supporting LGBTQ+ youth of color
Finding local LGBT centers
Learning about and advocating for the rights of transgender and gender-diverse youth
Advocating for your child’s rights and well-being in school
- PFLAG faith resources for Muslims
- Buddhist trans community resources
- JQ International resources for LGBTQ+ Jews
- Fortunate Friends’ Catholic ministry for LGBTQ+ families and friends
Books and media
- Common Sense Media list of TV shows with LGBTQ+ characters
- Human Rights Campaign list of LGTBQ+ inclusive children’s books
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The mental health team at CHOC curated the following resources on mental health topics common to kids and teens, such as depression, anxiety, suicide prevention and more.