When Your Child Comes Out As LGBTQIA+: Understanding, Supporting, Affirming

Mother sitting by teenage son studying at home

Maskot / Getty Images

What does it mean when your child lets you know they identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community? For some, this may be yet another milestone, a developmental marker of identity formation and one worthy of celebration, at that. For others, this may be a moment filled with fear. Perhaps you’re nestled in a state rife with anti-LGBTQIA+ policies and community members who fear the pure authenticity of those who embrace their whole identity.

You might have some biases internalized, causing you to feel shame as you now look at your child, who has bravely shared a sacred aspect of their identity. And then there are those who aren’t necessarily excited nor fearful, those who maybe haven’t met many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and those who simply feel underequipped to meet their child’s needs. However you identify on this spectrum, consider this story a safe space to learn how to support your child when they come out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The Future Is Fluid

First things first, let’s break down what LGBTQIA+ stands for.

LGBTQIA+

It is an acronym that encompasses identities the community may hold, standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual. The plus encompasses other identities not explicitly included in the acronym.

As evidenced by a 2020 study conducted by UCLA’s Williams Institute, between 7 to 9% of youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. This prevalence isn’t unique to folks under the age of 18. A recent poll conducted by Gallup found 1 in 5 Gen Zers identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The future is fluid, and embracing change has never been more essential.

One of the greatest honors is to experience someone trusting you enough to let you know how they identify in this world and who they love. Nothing is more radical than a young person embracing their identity in a world embroiled in anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation. In 2021 alone, over 250 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills were proposed to state legislature. We are in a crisis of hate, and our youth need us now more than ever. 

The Risks of Authenticity

Living authentically comes with risk for our kids. “Mental health issues are significantly higher for kids in the LGBTQIA+ community,” explains Jeanne Davis, PMHNP-BC, a nurse practitioner who treats children and adolescents at Manuel Astruc, M.D. & Associates. A staggering statistic from The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered committing suicide. Transgender and nonbinary youth make up more than half of that statistic, underscoring the vulnerability of this population. 

If you are a young person in crisis, you can contact The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 for support. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

“A lot of times, kids are so worried about expressing who they are,” Davis stated. Beyond mental health issues is the reality of parental rejection and societal shunning. These pain points can have very real repercussions.

A 2020 study found that 17% of folks who identify as sexual minorities have experienced homelessness at some point throughout their lifetime. The same study found that 25% of youth experiencing housing instability in California schools identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Coming out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community can bring concerns about acceptance—many may wonder if they’ll be kicked out and fall homeless

At the heart of it all, there is a simple desire to live authentically and be celebrated for their full expression. You have the power to shift the trajectory of your child’s life in how you respond to them coming out. It is an honor to be trusted with such tender information. Yet, knowing how to respond doesn’t always come easy. 

Lead With Love

First, take a moment to consider how your response to your child coming out may shape their life. As their parent, you model much of what they identify as fair and normal treatment. Should you shun them or respond in a denigrating manner, that lets them know such behavior is okay. Davis expressed this sentiment as well, following up with reminding parents of the importance of leading with love.

“The number one thing is unconditional love and support. [Adjusting] will come in stages, and you will adapt in stages,” she shares. “Do one thing at a time,” she continued. Davis suggested that something as simple as stating how much you love them and that there isn’t anything they could do to make you love them less is an excellent place to begin.

When doing this, you remind your child that they’re safe with you. You also allow yourself to simply show up in your complete identity as a caring parent who can be present with their child in a life-defining moment.

Jeanne Davis, PMHNP-BC

The number one thing is unconditional love and support. [Adjusting] will come in stages, and you will adapt in stages.

— Jeanne Davis, PMHNP-BC

It is also crucial to remember that your child isn’t a different person. They’re simply stepping into their identity and trusting you enough to be on the journey with them. “This is still the same person. The dog or cat isn’t looking at them any differently. They’re just identifying differently,” Davis explains. 

Embrace Their Life

In embracing this evolution in your child’s life, it is okay to ask questions. “What would you like me to call you? What are your pronouns? Can I still call you the name I gave you at birth?” Davis mentioned are helpful places to start. It is also a good idea to learn about who your child has told, Davis continued. For example, you can ask if friends, teachers, or any other family members know about their identity. This is just as important for them as it is for you. “Privacy is important. You don’t want to out your kid without their permission,” Davis explained.

Speaking of embracing your child, it is a good idea to learn the terminology of the LGBTQIA+ community. They may begin exploring concepts you’ve never heard of before—educating yourself further can help increase a sense of connection, trust, and understanding between the two of you. The Human Rights Campaign and The Trevor Project are great places to start learning more. 

The Perils of Fear

You might be scared when your child discloses that they identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, worried about how our current society may treat them. While this fear is warranted, it is crucial to remain part of the movement to make the world a safer and more just place for them. They are already likely holding a lot of fear simply telling you about their identity, so responding with fear may only increase their emotional labor

That being said, you don’t have to stuff your fear. It is incredibly important to seek out your own support; this isn’t just a transition for your child. It is also a transition in your relationship with them and in your identity as a parent.

Davis suggests being mindful of who you share your child’s information with, both for privacy and to receive the best support possible. Some may share this information with others, creating gossip around something that is very tender and sensitive. Others may have their own internalized biases that will prove not only unhelpful but also hurtful. Reaching out to a therapist for support is a great way to ensure you’re caring for yourself and modeling healthy management of emotions for your child.

Normalize the Movement

Learning more about the LGBTQIA+ community so you can meet your child where they’re at is a start. Moving out of your comfort zone to normalize the spectrum of identities that exist in our world is a fantastic next step. “Make a habit of asking people what their pronouns are at work,” stated Davis, explaining that even putting your pronouns in your email signature can do wonders for creating an inclusive culture.

Next, find out what LGBTQIA+ policies your child’s school has. While you’re at it, you may want to explore what policies exist at your own place of work. “The goal is to make your kid’s life better, as well as every LGBTQIA+ kid’s life better,” Davis concludes. The future is here and our kids are leading the way. It is our responsibility to join the movement and leave our world a bit better than we found it.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. UC Davis. LGBTQIA Resource Center Glossary.

  2. Williams Institute. LGBT Youth Population in the United States

  3. Gallup. LGBT Identification in U.S. Ticks Up to 7.1%

  4. Human Rights Campaign. 2021 Officially Becomes Worst Year in Recent History for LGBTQ State Legislative Attacks as Unprecedented Number of States Enact Record-Shattering Number of Anti-LGBTQ Measures Into Law.

  5. The Trevor Project. National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health 2021.

  6. The Williams Institute. Homelessness Among LGBT Adults in the US.