Authored by Maria Drummond, Youth Services Recreation Therapist
Having your child tell you he or she is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT), can be uncomfortable or upsetting as a parent. You may feel frightened for your child’s safety or future in a world that is not fully supportive of your child’s identity, or you may struggle with the issues because they conflict with your personal or religious beliefs.
Education and understanding of the issues can be helpful as you seek to best support and protect your child. Fortunately, there are excellent resources available to families who are figuring out how best to support their LGBT child while also acknowledging their personal feelings about the issues.
The Family Acceptance Project has researched how family acceptance or rejection affects the health risks and positive outlook of LGBT youth. They have found that youth who experience a high-level of rejection from family are at higher risk for health and mental health problems, such as substance abuse, HIV infection, and suicide attempts. Conversely, youth who experience support from their families were more likely to believe they could be happy as an LGBT adult and were at a lower risk for the health and mental health problems mentioned earlier. According to the Family Acceptance Project, even moving to slightly less rejecting and slightly more accepting can greatly reduce risk factors for your child. Caitlin Ryan, PhD., author of Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children writes, “Our research has identified many ways to express support that can help your gay or transgender child and show them that you love them, even if you disagree with their being gay or transgender. We tell parents and caregivers to be honest about their feelings, because children know how their parents really feel. If you are conflicted about having a gay or transgender child, be honest with your child about your feelings and concerns. And be sure to tell your child that you love them.”
The following are supportive family behaviors which Ryan’s research found help to reduce “your LGBT child’s risk for health and mental health problems and promote their well-being:
- Talk with your child or foster child about their LGBT identity
- Express affection when your child tells you or when you learn that your child is gay or transgender
- Support your child’s LGBT identity even though you may feel uncomfortable
- Advocate for your child when he or she is mistreated because of their LGBT identity
- Require that other family members respect your LGBT child
- Bring your child to LGBT organizations or events
- Talk with clergy and help your faith community to support LGBT people
- Connect your child with an LGBT adult role model to show them options for the future
- Welcome your child’s LGBT friends & partners to your home
- Support your child’s gender expression
- Believe your child can have a happy future as an LGBT adult”
(Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Children. Pg. 9, 2009, Ryan, Caitlin, PhD, Family Acceptance Project)
You need not be alone as you seek to support your child effectively. Salt Lake County Youth Services offers LGBT affirmative counseling for families and youth who may need support. There are also great resources available through the Utah Pride Center and local chapters of PFLAG, an organization for parents, friends, families and allies of LGBT individuals. To schedule an appointment or if you need more information about Youth Services and LGBT-friendly therapists call 385-468-4500.