Parents, this is how to support your LGBTIQ+ child


It’s important to support your LGBTIQ+ child when they come out so that they feel loved and accepted

Upon finding out someone close to you is queer, it isn’t uncommon to ask whether they’ve told their parents yet. Indeed, disclosing one’s gender identity or sexuality to a parent or guardian can be one of the most difficult revelations LGBTIQ+ people make as they come out to those who form a part of their inner circle.

We’ve all heard horror stories of bad initial reactions to the news, and many of us know people who have had to face rejection and even disownment as a result of being honest about who they are.

Of course, parents may be taken aback when learning that their child is gay or trans. However, their reaction can have a long-lasting effect, not only on their relationship with their child, but also on their child’s overall wellbeing.

According to research done by the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), a US-based organisation that helps ethnically and religiously diverse families learn how to offer support to an LGBTIQ+ child, the way parents react to their child coming out may play a seminal role in the rest of the child’s life.

Studies done by the FAP have shown that accepting behaviours go a long way in reducing the child’s risk to a variety of dangerous factors, and have a major influence on the child’s general wellbeing.

Over decades, the FAP has examined the real-word effects of accepting and rejecting behaviours on LGBTIQ+ youth.

The statistics are harrowing: when compared to teens who experience little or no rejection from their families, the organisation has found that LGBTIQ+ young people who experience high levels of rejection about their sexuality or gender identity from their families are more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide, more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, almost six times as likely to report high levels of depression, and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.

But what is rejecting behaviour, and how should parents of LGBTIQ+ youth rather react when their kids tell them they’re queer or trans?

Make sure you’re helping, not hurting

When finding out that their child is LGBTIQ+, some parents may immediately start imagining the horrors that lie ahead. For this reason, some parents or guardians do everything they can to make the child fit in with their heterosexual peers.

As such, they might restrict the child’s access to any materials (like films, TV shows, websites or social media) relating to the queer experience, or prohibiting them from seeing friends that are also gay or trans. From the child’s perspective, this may be interpreted as their parents wanting to change who they are, and this can translate into feeling that their parents don’t love them, or even that their parents hate them.

In other words, while the parents may feel like they are protecting their child, they are, in fact, putting them at greater risk of mental health problems, as well as issues relating to their physical health.

To support your LGBTIQ+ child, parents should endeavour to avoid taking this approach, along with behaviours like:

  • Pushing their child to be more or less masculine or feminine.
  • Telling the child that God will punish them because of their sexuality or gender identity.
  • Telling the child that the way they look or act makes the family ashamed.
  • Not allowing the child to be a part of family events and activities.
  • Forcing the child to hide their LGBTIQ+ identity from family members or other people.
  • Laying the blame with the child when they are discriminated against because they are LGBTIQ+.
  • Verbally harassing the child or calling them names.
  • Physically hurting the child because they are LGBTIQ+.

It is important to mention that none of the actions mentioned above will change the child’s sexuality or gender identity, and that this rejection is far more likely to make the child feel like the most important people in their life are not in their corner.

Instead, parents should try to take a softer approach that reinforces acceptance, and assures the child that their guardians offer a safe space where they are encouraged to be exactly who they are.

Rather than avoiding the subject, parents should express affection when their child shares their LGBTIQ+ identity with them, and talk about it as often as the child wants to. Even if they initially feel uncomfortable with what their child has told them, parents should support their child’s queer or trans identity, and advocate for them when they are mistreated because of it.

If the family are people of faith and belong to a congregation that openly discriminates or speaks ill of the LGBTIQ+ community, parents should try and find a faith community that accepts this group in all its vibrancy. It is also important to demand that the child is respected by other family members.

Perhaps most important of all, parents should fully believe that a happy life as an LGBTIQ+ adult awaits their child later on. Often it is the fear that their child may face danger or rejection that drives parents to exhibit rejecting behaviours themselves.

The fact of the matter is that being a member of the LGBTIQ+ community does not exclude a child from developing into a well-rounded and happy member of society – feeling rejected by one’s own, on the other hand, can certainly lead to the opposite.

To speak to other parents of LGBTIQ+ children, reach out to Same Love Toti in KZN or Parents, Families & Friends of South African Queers based in Gauteng. You can contact them for support, advice or just to share experiences on how to support your LGBTIQ+ child.

Often, speaking to someone who understands makes all the difference, and can go a long way in not only accepting your child’s LGBTIQ+ identity, but also embracing it in all its colourful glory.

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