by: Libbi Gildea

Parents want the best for their children. But when your child first comes out, and “the best” as you’ve always pictured it suddenly looks different than you had imagined, it can be difficult to know where to start or what to say. LGBTQ+ kids face a unique set of obstacles. But good news! As a parent, you’re in a unique position to positively impact your child’s life and have the capacity to help them come out in a safe and loving environment. Here are a few tips on how to show up for your child while they’re first coming out:

Love them unconditionally, and let them know it
. Know that even the most loved and supported children may feel nervous to tell you about their sexual orientation or gender identity; they’ve seen countless examples of other kids coming out to their parents and being met with violence and abandonment. Be vocal and adamant about your love and support for them.

Take their lead. Listen to what your child expresses to you about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Remember that your child is the expert on themselves and what will make them happy. Respect pronouns, support forms of self-expression like clothing,

Keep the conversation going. We live in a world that treats different sexual orientations and gender identities as inappropriate; LGBTQ+ kids often receive messages that they shouldn’t feel comfortable discussing their experiences with family. Make sure that your child knows that you’re open to hearing about all parts of their life. Ask about their friends, interests, and activities, and welcome them even if they seem different than yours.

Educate yourself. If your child is coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity, they might not have all the answers themselves. Seek out resources that will allow you to help your child navigate this time. If you have questions or want to learn more about the ins and outs of the community, read books, and seek out groups where you can learn and ask questions. Many cities have PFLAG (Parents of Lesbians and Gays) groups that can help connect parents of LGBTQ+ children.

Support their decision to come out. Some children will want to come out to everyone right away. Some may be hesitant to tell certain friends, family members, or want to limit the information to people close to them at first. Respecting the way that they come out and making sure they don’t feel pressure in either direction is crucial to helping your child feel safe and empowered. If they do want to come out to extended family, be prepared to have discussions defending your child and make sure that your child knows they are non-negotiable.

Find opportunities for representation. Your child lives in a world full of images and examples of people who aren’t like them. Seeing healthy and happy people who share their identity is proven to increase the self-esteem of LGBTQ+ kids and reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. Find out if their school offers a GSA, or Gay Straight Alliance, identify LGBT role models they can spend time with, take them to or support them going to Pride, or even watch a favorite TV show featuring characters who share their identity.

Keep an eye out for bullying. Rates of peer violence and harassment remain extremely high in LGBTQ+ communities. Check in with your child and keep an eye out for signs of bullying, such as loss of interest in activities they used to love, sudden mood changes, or signs of being withdrawn or isolated. Maintain communication with their teachers to help catch incidences of bullying early.

Advocate for your child. Know that despite recent progress, there are places where your child will experience discrimination. Learn what those places are and be vocal about changing them. Your child might not have access to relevant sex education, may be prevented from using the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, and might face harassment from not only peers but teachers and other adults.

Above all, take a deep breath and remember that you’re not alone. Here are some stories from other parents of LGBTQ+ kids on how they navigated their child’s coming out process:

“I accept him for who he is. I let him know his sexual identity does not change the fact that I love him and he will always be my child. He got married and I stood up and gave a speech in support of him and his partner.” -Joan

“We immediately went upstairs and told him how much we loved him and how proud we were.” -Carol

“I’ve always remembered that I’ve loved her ever since she was born, and that I’m loving the same person I always have so it isn’t hard. My job is to listen when she tells me the best way to love her.”-Eric

“I [assured] her that any issue I have with adjusting to this new knowledge and understanding her being queer is completely and entirely on ME. It is my deficiency and my problem, not hers. It was important that she understand that I see her as perfect and beautiful just the way she is.”- Jen

“If I could give any advice to other parents, it would be to seek out the resources! There are so many out there. When my child first came out to me as non-binary and I bought a book to help me learn the terminology, they later told me they were touched that I’d worked so hard to learn.” -Alicia