UNICEF advocates for the rights of LGBTQ children and adolescents to grow up free from discrimination and abuse.

Parenting: 5 Ways to Support Your LGBTQ+ Child

There are many ways in which parents and caregivers can support LGBTQ+ children's mental health. Learn more.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer children commonly face isolation, stigma, bullying and harassment — including within their own families, and all at great risk to their mental health.

At home, at school or in their communities, LGBTQ+ kids might deal with insensitivity, prejudice and pressure to deny their identities and to conform, making them feel undeserving of love and care. 

Support from parents and caregivers — something as simple as affirming a child's identity and accepting them as they are — can make a big difference.

What parents and caregivers can do to support LBGTQ+ children's mental health

Providing support is an evolving process for parents and children. Oftentimes, due to widely held cultural beliefs or conflicting social norms, it may be difficult for some parents to get used to the idea that their children may live a lifestyle that is different from what they had envisioned.

For parents, this is where it becomes important to question whether this dissonance is coming out of love and concern for your children or because of your own personal discomfort. Dismissing children’s identity as a phase or something that needs to be cured can lead to children feeling rejected and add to their distress.

If you are struggling, reach out for help. Pediatricians, school counselors, family members and community organizations like Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) can all be sources of support.

It is important to realize this is not an end to your dreams for your child, or the end of your relationship. In fact, this is an opportunity for your relationship to become even stronger, because you know more about your child now than you did before. Coming out is a sign of trust.

Sharing their authentic selves with you is a sign your child wants you to truly know them.

And remember: you are not alone. The Williams Institute, an LGBTQ+ research think tank, reports that as of 2020 there are nearly 11.4 million LGBT adults in the United States. Other research shows that eight in 10 people in the U.S. know someone who is LGB, and one in three know someone who is transgender.

Though it may not seem like it, LGBTQ+ people are everywhere, and individuals and families who support them are everywhere too.

Here are some ways parents and caregivers can support and build a safe harbor for LGBTQ+ children:

1. Learn what your child needs by creating a safe space and having a two-way dialogue with them to understand their experiences and concerns.

Give your child ample opportunity to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. The prospects for open discussions are endless. They could include talking about their hopes for the future, or recounting something that happened in school that day.

If you have a sense that your child might want to talk, but isn’t doing so on their own, gentle open-ended questions, such as, “How did things go at school today,” can open the door to dialogue. Be curious, but don’t push, and, when they talk, really listen. 

And if you misstep — whether by asking a too-personal question or misusing a pronoun — apologize. Nobody’s perfect. Making the attempt, and striving to do better when needed, shows your love and support. Showing an interest in their life, inclusive of their whole self, is a powerful way to show you care.

2. Make efforts to educate yourselves more about the unique joys and challenges that LGBTQ+ children face.

Learn about the realities, struggles and issues affecting the lives of people who are LGBTQ+ through news stories, social media, websites, books, documentaries, and educational materials. Statistics around LGBTQ+ youth can often be depressing and seem dire. Seeking out positive stories and role models can help both you and your child feel optimistic and less alone. 

3. Seek peer support. Reach out to communities of other parents who have LGBTQ+ children to process your experiences.

PFLAG offers a wealth of resources, including virtual meetings a tool to find local chapters by zip codeConsider connecting with a local LGBTQ+ center. Find one near you here.

4. Keeping a child’s LGBTQ+ identity a secret from other family members or friends can cause harm. Advocate for LBGTQ+ issues by initiating difficult conversations with family and the community.

According to PFLAG, actively engaging at school is a good place to start. Some ideas include:

  • Advocating for a gay-straight alliance: GSAs have been shown to make schools safer and boost academic performance among LGBTQ students
  • Maintaining frequent contact with teachers: this way, you will know if issues arise
  • Pushing for more inclusive sex education: very few states allow schools to provide LGBTQ students with the information they need to be safe and healthy; become aware of these knowledge gaps so that you can fill them yourself

Above all, don’t hesitate to speak up. Parents have a real voice in the school system. You do have power. If there’s a problem and the school isn’t taking your concerns seriously, go to the principal or even the school board.

5. Take a stand for your children, whether at school, in college, in a family setting, or even in a public space. It's important that they see you not only accept them in private but that you do so publicly.

Policymakers and decision makers can also make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ children and young people by prioritizing the safety and mental well-being of LGBTQ+ children and young people, building knowledge about LGBTQ+ identities through outreach to families, communities and in school curriculums, and banning conversion therapies.

Maintaining the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ children and young people requires policy and infrastructure changes, understanding families, accepting educators, and respectful peers.

You don’t need to be an expert in all things LGBTQ+ to let your child know you care. Experts say there is no right or wrong way to express love: just be present and be open. Even something as simple as, “I'm here for you. I love you, and I will support you no matter what” can make all the difference for, and mean the world to, your child.

Related reading

Protecting Your Child's Mental Health at Every Age

5 Steps for Helping Someone in Emotional Pain

TOP PHOTO: UNICEF advocates for the rights of LGBTQ children and adolescents to grow up free from discrimination and abuse. © UNICEF