Happy National Coming Out Day! So, your kid came out to you as LGBTQ, whether today or earlier — congrats! Or, okay, maybe they haven’t quite come out yet, but you have hints they might be about to. Maybe you overheard your kid’s conversation with a friend, or you just have an intuition about your child like you do yourself and know. Either way: Congrats! You have a kid who is beautiful — and likely has more self-awareness than the average clumsy adolescent. Of course, you might be feeling many things about the news — including feelings you aren’t sure about or even don’t want to admit, such as confused or angry or sad or at a loss for how to proceed.
As a queer adult who was once a queer kid coming of age (and who has worked in advocacy and civil rights for many years), I’ve put together a few tips for parents that 100% would have made my own coming-out experience smoother — and can help you and your kid along this journey. Here’s how you can be the best parent you can be for your LGBTQ child.
1. Love first
You love your child. There’s no questioning that. You loved them from the moment you first met them as a tiny newborn, when they were helpless and relied on your endless supply of care and comfort to keep them alive and thriving. They may not need you 24-7 anymore (and perhaps they act like they don’t need you at all), but the truth is they do need you. They look to you for acceptance and reassurance, for love and support. Even if you don’t fully understand what they’re going through, double down on your love for them and let that be your guiding force.
2. Leave the judgment at the door
It’s easy to default to stereotypes you’ve heard and seen about what it means to be LGBTQ, whether from the media or friends or even church. But stop and check yourself; take a look at your biases and rethink what you’ve been told with a fresh look what matters — that your child is happy and healthy and supported by their parents. When you learned about sexuality growing up, it was a much more judgmental, less enlightened era than the one your child is growing up in (fortunately). As a wise old book known as the Bible once said (Matthew 7:2, in case you were wondering), “Judge not, for with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
3. Ask questions (but not invasive ones)
If and when your child comes out to you (do not pry until they’re ready), you should feel comfortable asking them questions so you can better understand them. But don’t ask leading questions or ones that back them into a corner. Instead, ask things like, “How are you feeling?”, “What can I do to be supportive?”, and “Is anyone giving you a hard time because of who you are?”
Take their lead. And listen. If your child is willing to share how they’re feeling and what they’re going through, don’t try to make them feel better by comparing their experience to something you’ve gone through — and certainly don’t bombard them with reasons they should or shouldn’t feel that way. Instead, validate their feelings and their experiences as their own unique and worthy things. Take their cues about how involved (or not) to get in their lives during a time that might be quite tumultuous for them.
5. Don’t internalize
Don’t be selfish. This isn’t about you. And your child identifying as LGBTQ certainly isn’t because of something you did or didn’t do. Your child, as my father always said to me, “comes through you, not from you.” They are their own person, and your parenting did not determine what is programmed in their brains and bodies. Remember: If this process feels difficult for you, it’s likely much more intense and emotional and terrifying for them. So be compassionate.
6. Get educated
If you don’t know the correct terms to use — or even some of the basic facts about what “LGBTQ” stands for and what it means to come out — there are a plethora of resources at your fingertips. Take some time to get educated so you can both spare your child the ignorant questions and be a better ally to the LGBTQ community more broadly. Organizations like GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG and GLSEN are all great resources.
7. Connect with others
The best way not to feel alone is to connect with others going through similar experiences. PFLAG and GLSEN are wonderful organizations that offer opportunities to network and connect with other parents of LGBTQ kids to learn more and share your moments of challenge and celebration. You can also learn a ton from getting involved and volunteering for an LGBTQ organization. Groups like The Trevor Project and the Ali Forney Center, among many others, offer opportunities to help LGBTQ kids in need.
Employ these tips and abandon your prior notions and expectations about what you think your child should or shouldn’t look/act/be like, and you will learn an even deeper love and respect for one another than you ever thought possible.
A version of this story was originally published in July 2018.