As Pride Month 2021 comes to a close, here is a review of the most commonly asked questions from parents of LGBTQ+ kids.
Not being out with your parents is very common in the LGBTQ+ community. The coming out journey begins with being out to yourself, and depending on the environment you're being raised in, it can feel unsafe to be authentic even to yourself, let alone your parents. The more comfortable a child is with their own identity, the more likely they'll come out to their parents.
Obviously, parents and caregivers influence that comfort level. But home life can be very accepting and the child might still struggle to accept their identity themselves. It’s a very personal journey, which can feel disconcerting since we’re their parents. We wiped their bums for goodness sake! We feel heavily involved in their lives, but their perspective is different.
In my work, I hear a lot from parents who know their kids are LGBTQ+ but haven't come out to them. These parents are frustrated and concerned that it's their fault. If you've made homophobic comments in the past, as many of us have unknowingly, Pride month is a great time to make it clear to our families that we have evolved and are now learning how to be a great ally to the community. I often suggest that families develop their own anti-discrimination policies, just like corporations. It's a great talking point that allows everyone to be clear on where they stand and what they are hoping to accomplish.
But parents of their "non-out" kids also need to understand that coming out is a very personal journey. We are so vulnerable and relationships are changed forever when we utter those words. Teen life can feel too scary already to risk yet another relationship being altered, especially ones with our parents.
But regardless of your kid's "out" status, you can be an ally! You can order books like, "The Gay Agenda" by Ash and Chess which is an excellent, easy-to-read guide to LGBTQ+ history and culture. You can start following prominent LGBTQ+ social media accounts, such as the Pride and Joy Foundation. You can start watching LGBTQ+ centric media such as "Schitt's Creek". You can begin learning about the vocabulary, the local queer coffee shops, the local Pride centers, etc. Being an ally is not dependent on your family member's status. It's just being a good person!
Humans are born with an innate need to belong. For thousands of years, human survival was based on belonging to a group. If your clan/family didn't have your back, your death was imminent. Therefore, our cells are screaming at us to figure out a way to fit in.
Feeling a sense of belonging with your family is the foundational method of feeling safe to explore other environments. Belonging at home makes it safer to risk not belonging at school and other social networks. If we fear being rejected at home with people who share our own DNA, the anxiety and stress affect our mental health drastically.
LGBTQ+ youth are some of the only marginalized populations that are born to parents NOT to the same marginalized population. They don't grow up learning through their family how to navigate their world, what their history is, the tips and tricks of being part of that marginalized identity, etc. Parents of LGBTQ+ youth have to be intentional about integrating LGBTQ+ culture within their family life, in order for their children to have a sense of belonging within their family. Celebrating Pride goes a long way towards that.
Parents can take their lead from their LGBTQ+ children. Some kids, like my daughter, want to do ALL the Pride things. She covered our home in rainbows, went to every celebration that she could, and threw a Pride party for her friends.
Other kids aren't that into the whole Pride scene and that's totally valid. They don't feel the need to share their sexuality with total strangers and that doesn't make them any less queer. Parents can get a feel for how their kid is embracing Pride month and take their cue from that. Their kid might be more interested in learning about current political issues or exploring LGBTQ+ music or finding movies and other media that are considered mainstays of the culture. Experiencing them together can go a long way towards increasing a feeling of belonging within your own family.
First of all, parents that are willing to do this get the Gold Star! I have such respect for parents who are willing to learn, grow, and evolve their parenting for the betterment of their individual children.
Secondly, an easy way to start this is to google the prominent LGBTQ+ awareness days. Those days, such as "Bisexuality Awareness Week", "Lesbian Visibility Week", etc will give you an idea of topics to research and share in conversation with your family all year round! Let your advocacy and learning continue all year, and you'll have plenty to talk about when it's not June.
Last, get creative with it! Jenna Slaughter is a queer Self-Love coach and makes these candles for their clients and others. The candles represent the light that burns bright, being Queer All Year. I got one and suggested that my daughter use it when she needs a quiet moment to reflect on her identity or to let me know she needs some heart-to-heart time to talk about it. Like many teenagers, she’s not great with her verbal skills, especially in approaching me to talk about something that feels vulnerable. Lighting the candle is a much easier way for her to let me know she’s got something on her mind.
Gen Z is identifying as LGBTQ+ at much higher percentages than any other generation. Regardless of the reason, it's still a fact. As we increase safety through inclusion and belonging, we are able to see a decrease in the rate of suicide and homelessness across the board, and especially in LGBTQ+ youth.
There are a few things I recommend to all parents, and especially to parents of LGBTQ+ youth.
More questions? Send them to [email protected] and watch our blog for answers.
Elena Joy Thurston is an inspirational LGBTQ+ speaker, trainer, and founder of the nonprofit Pride and Joy Foundation. A Mormon mom of four who lost her marriage, her church, and her community when she came out as a lesbian, Elena’s viral TEDx talk on surviving conversion therapy has been viewed 40,000+ times and landed her media and speaking opportunities with ABC, CBS, Logitech, Penn State, and Michael’s. Elena Joy recently launched Pride and Joy Publishing, the only publisher of solely LGBTQ+ empowerment and business books.