How to support your child as they discover their identity.
As you’ve probably heard, June is Pride Month, a beautiful celebration of the LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Two Spirit +) community. Although the LGBTQIA2S+ community has come a long way, there is still much work to be done to ensure that anyone who identifies as part of the community is not just free from persecution, but able to thrive…
The role of parents
If you think that your child may be LGBTQIA2S+, they’ve already come out or you are wondering, this article is for you. The first step is to realize that exploring their identity is an exciting, albeit normal time in your child’s life. However, thinking they might be or being LGBTQIA2S+ can be isolating without proper support.
While these youth are not inherently prone to mental illness because of their sexual orientation or gender identity they are often considered at higher risk because of how they are stigmatized or led to feel ostracized.
Of note, these youth are 2-3 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual, cisgendered peers and those that are racialized have even greater mental health needs. The trans population faces even greater barriers to healthcare, transition related care, social inclusion and higher rates of discrimination and stigma.
For parents, these prospects may sound daunting, which is why your willingness to learn about the community and support, accept and love them for who they are really matters.
It’s important that your youngster can come to you for open, non-judgemental conversations that support their identity, or any related matter (bullying, relationships, questioning, development, etc.). Active listening is key as is finding out what support looks and feels like to your child.
Experts suggest to not alienate your child or teen by thinking and telling them that this is “just a phase.” Yes, gender and sexuality are fluid and can change over time, but please keep in mind that your child can change their identity as often as they want.
Supporting your child’s gender expression by using their correct pronouns, name, and affirming that they can dress and style their hair however they want is also important.
Other tips for parents include:
• Asking your child if and how you can share their identity to other people
• Correcting others when you hear them misgender or misname someone and advocating for your child in the face of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia from others
• Welcome your child’s partner and friends, get to know them
• Learn about LGBTQIA2S+ issues, and (if applicable) encourage acceptance at your religious institutions
• Consider joining support groups for parents of LGBTQIA2S+ children
• See and believe that your child can have a happy adult life.
Self-disclosure requires courage, vulnerability, and honesty. Folks never know how their loved ones are going to react. While you may be startled or worried, it’s best to recognize their coming out to you as an act of trust and an invitation to get to know them better.
Whether your child has told you or not, it is important that you speak of the community kindly and respectfully. This will send the right message—that you are open minded and ready to accept their identity. On the other hand, you do not want to pressure your child to come out if they are not ready to be forthcoming to you or others.
When it comes to allyship
There is a lot to learn when it comes to parenting a child, especially if this is all new to you. If you are not LGBTQIA2S+, then you most likely will not understand what your child is experiencing and that is okay.
You won’t be perfect and you will most likely make mistakes, but that’s all a part of the process. Be open to criticism from your kid and be available to listen and willing to change your attitudes or behaviour. What is most important is that you learn what you can about LGBTQIA2S+ history and issues, such as barriers to health care, stigma in schools and family rejection, in order to reduce any harm that may be caused. Above all, make your arms a safe place for your child to come home to.
Being queer means being part of a diverse, vibrant, accepting, fun-loving, and powerful community. LGBTQIA2S+ folks love fiercely and openly. If your child is LGBTQIA2S+, remind them that there is a reason why it is called “Pride Month.” After all, the world is full of people and places who would rather LGBTQIA2S+ people didn’t exist, don’t let your home be one of them.
Jessie Forbes is an intern with the Canadian Abilities Foundation and identifies as gender fluid and pansexual, going by they/them pronouns.