If your child says, “I’m gay, ” what will you say? Perhaps they want to tell you that they are transgender or identify differently from the sex in which they were born. Your response as a parent can make or break your child, and your response is what they will remember for a lifetime. It’s the story of their coming out to those closest to them. Older children usually have had these feelings for a while and come to you because they trust you and need you to know. If your young child comes to you and says they are gay, of another gender, sexual orientation, or identity, ask questions to see what they know and how they know it. Often young children will act on things they hear or see. Listen and watch for consistency in their behavior. Many people in the LBGTQ+ community knew their orientation or identity from a very young age.
In the Black community, many often have strong religious convictions and believe the LBGTQ+ lifestyles are against the teachings of their church or religion. As a result, it often brings explosive reactions to coming-out scenarios. I’ve heard statements like “God doesn’t make mistakes” and similar arguments to justify an adverse reaction. No matter your lifelong convictions, your child is in front of you, being vulnerable, not knowing if you will accept or reject them. Many parents already know if their child is gay and were just waiting for confirmation or you could be in total shock and not know how to respond. Either way, here are some starting guidelines.
WHAT TO DO
1. Actively Listen
There is no one way to accept this news except not to reject your child. Start with actively listening to them — really hear them. A saying goes, “Listen to your children when they are young, even if it seems unimportant so that when they are older, they will talk to you when it is important.”
“The Trevor Project’s research shows that one safe adult in an LGBTQ+ kiddo’s life reduces suicidality by 40%, ” said Mason Aid, an LGBTQ+ advocate and educator who identifies as a pansexual transgender person. “Supporting, even if it is cautious and tentative, can literally save lives. I truly believe that you don’t have to consider yourself an ally or even be supportive of the LGBTQ+ community to support your kiddo as they come out. It all comes down to love and respect for our shared humanity.”
According to the Trevor Project, 21 percent of LGBTQ+ Black youth, compared to 12 percent of LGBTQ+ white youth, attempt suicide. “In particular, Black transgender and nonbinary youth report disproportionate rates of suicide risk — with 59% seriously considering suicide and more than one in four (26%) attempting suicide in the past year.” The report shows that the combination of “historical and ongoing oppression, and trauma, ” along with discrimination are to blame.
2. Show Your Love
Remind your child that your love is unconditional. “Tell them you believe and love them, and thank them for telling you. If you do nothing else, tell your kid you love them. Trust me, you cannot say these words enough right now, ” said Gian Moore, an ally in the LGBTQ+ community. “The fear of parental rejection is very real for most kids, so anything you can say to show them that you believe what they are telling you and that it doesn’t change your love for them, is truly the best gift you can give them. Thank them for being vulnerable and trusting you with this information, and assure them that they are safe and loved. Yes, they may roll their eyes or hide under a blanket, but trust me: they need to hear you say these words.”
Unconditional love is just that. When we choose to bring a new life into this world, we promised that we’d love that child no matter what. There should never be conditions on love, which includes when a child trusts you with information about who they are.
3. Follow Your Child’s Lead
If you disagree with the lifestyle, your support for your child at this time is imperative. Not wanting to hear what they have to say will not change their reality. It is essential to ask questions and not assume anything. “It can be easy as adults to attach your own meaning to your child’s declaration of their orientation; however, both children and teens who share their orientation may hold a different understanding of their orientation than you,” said Angélique Angel Gravely, an LGBTQ+ Speaker, Writer, Educator, & Advocate. “Ask them what their orientation means to them, what language they’d like you to use when referring to them, whether they are comfortable with you discussing this with other family members, and what they want your support to look like. Some young people may want support helping them learn more about other Black people who share their identities or helping them share their identity with others in their life. Others, particularly older teens, may simply want you to celebrate them from the sidelines as they pursue connections with other SGL/LGBQ+ teens. Take time learning with your child what ideal support looks like for them and be open to asking your child if certain actions would feel supportive to them.”
“21 percent of LGBTQ+ Black youth, compared to 12 percent of LGBTQ+ white youth, attempt suicide” because of lack of support.
4. Be Their Support System
Asking questions is one way to show that you are actively listening to your child as they disclose their sexual orientation or identity. Moore also suggests that you gauge what type of support your child needs at this time. Perhaps, your child needs you to be their advocate when they come out to the other parent. You can ask what pronouns would they prefer. According to The Trevor Project, “Transgender and nonbinary youth attempt suicide less when their pronouns are respected….” These are important issues for your child. Don’t dismiss them. “There are lots of questions you can ask your kid to gauge what kind of support they need right now,” said Moore. “Are they ready to come out to anyone else in your family, or do they want to keep this between the two of you right now? Do they feel comfortable being out at school, or is there a bullying situation that needs to be addressed? Is there a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) or LGBTQ youth program that they want to try out to meet other LGBTQ kids in their area?” The Trevor Project also shows that “LGBTQ youth who report high levels of social support from family and friends are significantly less likely to attempt suicide than those with lower social support levels.” Showing that you have your child’s back is the best way to support them at this time.
5. Embrace Their Journey
Whether you agree with your child’s orientation or identity or not, they have been on a journey to conclude who they are. “When young people come out to their parents, it is often the outcome of a personal journey they have been on, sometimes unbeknownst to you,” said Gravely. “Most teens who come out have spent some time seeking out information online, through friends, or through supportive adults in school to help them get to this point; however, even young children who come out may have gone through a journey of processing the fact that they are different somehow than their peers or siblings. As a parent, it’s important to recognize your child’s coming-out as an invitation to join them on their journey and begin your own.” Also, according to The Trevor Project, “Having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent” (The Trevor Project).
If you are in complete shock or totally against your child’s desired lifestyle, keep your feelings to yourself for now, and let your child finish explaining. Calmly inform your child that you need some time to process everything. Remind them again of your love for them and take a break.
The LGBTQ+ Alphabet
Educate yourself about terms and issues in the LGBTQ+ community, including knowing what acronyms mean and what resources are available to you.
The letters LGBTQ+ are constantly evolving as the world discovers more about sexual orientation and gender identity.
+ Plus — the plus represents members of the LGBTQ community who identify with a sexual orientation or gender identity that isn’t included within the LGBTQ acronym
A | Asexual — lacks sexual attraction to any person. It is not the same as celibacy. It can also mean ally, a person who actively supports the LGBTQ community.
B | Bisexual — a person who is physically, emotionally, or romantically attracted to people within more than one sex, gender, or gender identity
C | Cisgender — a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.
G | Gay — a person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to members of the same gender
I | Intersex — intersex people are born with a variety of differences in their sex traits and reproductive anatomy. There is a wide variety of differences among intersex variations, including differences in genitalia, chromosomes, gonads, internal sex organs, hormone production, hormone response, and/or secondary sex traits.
L | Lesbian — a woman who is emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to other women.
N | Non-binary — an adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside these categories.
P | Pansexual — describes someone who has the potential for emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to people of any gender though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way, or to the same degree. Sometimes used interchangeably with bisexual.
Q | Queer — a term people often use to express a spectrum of identities and orientations that are counter to the mainstream.
T | Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression differs from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.
For a more extensive list of terms visit the Human Rights Campaign’s Glossary of Terms at https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms.
Avoid yelling or belittling your child. “It is not a sign that you did something wrong as a parent or something to be ashamed of, but a beautiful opportunity to grow with your child as they discover more about themselves, ” said Gravely. “In that journey, you may find that your child’s sense of identity evolves as they continue growing. You may also find that you evolve in many ways through walking alongside your child. Be open to that change and to affirming over and over again to your child that you will be there for them every step of the way.”
Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’
Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, recently passed the Parental Rights in Education law dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law that prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in elementary schools. The law “… states that lessons about sexual orientation are banned outright in kindergarten through third grade. It also prohibits lessons in other grades unless they are ‘age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate’ (FindLaw.com). In addition, parents can sue the school if they believe their child’s rights were violated.
Many families agree that young children should not learn about any sexual orientation in elementary schools. LGBTQ+ supporters, who oppose the new law state that it will stigmatize marginalized students and lead to bullying and attacks.
Other states like Kansas, Tennessee, Indiana, and 12 other states are ready to follow Florida’s lead with similar proposed bills (PEN). The Parental Rights in Education law goes into effect on July 1, 2022, and Florida school districts must have policies in place by June 2023.