The global LGBTQ+ community has made tremendous strides toward acceptance over the last few decades. Younger generations are exploring gender identity and sexuality in increasingly overt ways. We're seeing more representation in media as more and more celebrities and influencers own their queerness, and Pride celebrations are cropping up in traditionally conservative regions throughout the world.
With so many public displays of acceptance, it would seem that coming out wouldn't be a big deal. But coming out is a complex process of self-discovery that can be compromised by fear, family and peer rejection, bullying and depression or other mental illness.
Parents play an essential role in their child's coming out story, and their response to it can echo throughout a lifetime. Whether they willingly admit it or not, kids look to their parents for support. This is an opportunity for parents to show their kids they have their back. The good news is that it is not difficult to be a supportive parent of a blossoming queer person.
Don't get me wrong—parenting can be challenging, and I am fairly certain that most people are just winging it. It is an education no book can fully cover, and no one is ever fully prepared for it. The same can be said for coming out. It is a deeply personal experience that can be made or broken by a parent's response.
Here are five ways a parent can support their child who may be in their process of self-actualization. Follow them, and you'll up your chances of having a beautiful, shared coming out experience with your LGBTQ+ child:
1. Start envisioning a life for your child that doesn't include your preconceived wants and desires.
Most parents want what is best for their children. All the dreams and aspirations they have for their children give them life, but it is important to understand that those dreams and aspirations can create dissonance when a child has a different plan.
The world is a big place, and there are many paths to take. Let your kid explore and find the path that is right for them— a path that may not be yours. Be curious rather than upset, and trust that your kid has given significant thought to the journey they're taking.
2. Be vocal about your support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Whether providing positive feedback about a queer storyline on a popular show, commenting on a Pride-themed shirt at a local retailer, or going all-out in the local Pride march, support for the LGBTQ+ community can be demonstrated in a variety of ways.
A good friend of mine came out to his father. Within four days, there was a Human Rights Campaign bumper sticker on the family car. No discussions were had. It just happened, and the message was clear.
3. Be patient and show your love.
Whatever the situation, please do not make any attempts to out your children. Everyone operates on an independent timeline.
I didn't make the connection that my attraction to men was a thing until I was 18-years-old. I had no gay role models to look to during my coming out process. It took a girlfriend, in a very awkward and matter-of-fact way, to connect the dots on my behalf. She didn't out me, but she planted a seed that led me to a better understanding of myself. I will never forget her for it, and I will always appreciate her innocent candor.
Just love your kid.
Be good to them and be present. Participate and take an interest in the things your child loves.
And, above all, please do not forget to listen. This is the foundation of empathy. Simply refraining from commentary and actively listening to what your kid has to say can provide you with profound insights about their world.
4. Talk to someone.
If you're stuck, can't reconcile with change, or are feeling lost and confused, start talking to people. PFLAG, the largest family and ally organization in the US, is a great resource for parents with queer children. With over 400 chapters across the US, there is a good chance one will be close by.
Or, if you're not ready for that, talking to a therapist or counselor can help to organize your response to the amazing new life your kid has the potential to experience. As the son of a clinical psychologist, I was raised with a value system that included introspection. I've worked through some dark times with the help of a therapist, and I believe all people can benefit from a little therapy every now and then.
5. Visit ItGetsBetter.org.
The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit with a mission to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ young people around the globe. Its website contains thousands of inspiring stories shared by LGBTQ+ people and their allies. You can spend hours going through the endless scroll, either by yourself or with your child.
You'll laugh, you'll cry, but above all else, you'll find that there are others just like you who are asking the same questions and trying to make sense of their world. I guarantee you will leave feeling better with a solid sense of hope for your child's future. More than 60,000 people from around the world have shared their personal It Gets Better stories of resilience and determination, and the It Gets Better Project loves to share them as frequently as possible.
Because connection is everything.
We know a good story can have a tangible impact in a variety of ways. It can offer a connection to others with shared experiences for an LGBTQ+ person who may be feeling isolated and alone. It can encourage empathy within the greater population of non-LGBTQ+ people. And, it can change a social narrative, if it is shared and repeated frequently.
Stories have the power to change a life, if not the world. You have the power to help make your child's story a positive one.