Supporting your LGBT+ child
Information and support for parents of LGBT+ children
As a parent or carer you may have questions or concerns if you think that your child might be lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or identifies as another gender or sexual orientation (LGBT+).
All young people need support and for LGBT+ young people, getting kind and clear support can be the key to thriving and going on to have happy and healthy lives.
For many parents, trying to get to grips with what it all means can be a real minefield. Society’s views about gender identity and sexual orientation, and the language used to describe people’s identities, are growing and changing all the time – as this BBC article illustrates. If you’re confused about some of the terms and language, take a look at the definitions at the foot of this page.
While we can’t promise to explain everything, we can suggest some ways to help parents to support their children through what can be a sensitive time.
What is sexual orientation?
Sexual orientation is about who we are attracted to: male, female, both, neither. This attraction can be physical but also romantic and emotional. Today there is much more openness about people’s sexual orientation and more ways to describe their identity. However, some of the commonly used terms most are: straight, lesbian, gay and bisexual.
Who we’re attracted to, and what we think, feel and do about sex, doesn’t have to be fixed – it can change over time.
What is gender identity?
Gender is not about our physical sex at birth but rather how we identify or express our gender, regardless of our physical body. People may identify as male, female, non-binary or gender fluid
‘Transgender’ is a broad term for those whose gender identity or expression is different in some way from the gender assigned to them at birth and the ‘norms’ expected by the society they live in. This includes non-binary gender identities.
While gender identity is different to sexual orientation, how parents feel as they try to support their child during sensitive conversations can be similar: emotional, confusing, surprising and rewarding.
Supporting LGBT+ young people: advice for parents
For some parents, our child’s sexual orientation or gender identity may not be surprising and it may even be a relief when they ‘come out’.
It’s becoming much more common for parents to be supportive and very proud when their child comes out. For others, our child’s identity can come as a genuine shock and one which can raise difficult emotions – disappointment, confusion, anxiety, loss or anger.
You may be unsure how you feel or how to respond. It’s okay to be unsure. You may not get everything right, and they may not either: the important thing to remember is that they are still the same person you have always loved and cared for. Listen to your child and allow them to help you to understand their feelings and identity. Showing love and support for your child will help them to feel valued and accepted. .
If you find it hard to come to terms with your child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, you may need some support for yourself before you feel ready to support them. If you live in Scotland and have mixed emotions, or worries about the impact on your child , Children 1st Parentline can help. Contact us for free, confidential support, for as long as you need us.
A helping hand for every family in Scotland
More sources of advice and support
- LGBT Youth Scotland (provides services and resources for LGBT+ young people)
- LGBT Helpline by LGBT+ Health and Wellbeing
- Stonewall Scotland (includes information for parents and carers on their website)
- The Scottish Transgender Alliance
- My Child Is Gay from FFLAG
- A Guide for Parents and Family Members of Trans People in the UK by Gendered Intelligence
Some suggestions that might help
Although it may happen earlier, it’s likely that your child may explore their sexual orientation and gender identity during their teenage years. This is already a time of immense change. Identifying as LGBT+ can add to the pressure and anxiety that young people may feel.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ for every family and every situation, but here are a few tips that may help you and your child if they come out to you:
Try these tips
- Take it seriously. It’s positive that they can place their trust in you and want to be honest with you.
- If possible, give yourself some time to think things through.
- Think about how you felt about them before you knew about their gender identity or sexual orientation.
- Think about their feelings.
- Be aware of your own values and judgements.
- Ask questions and find out what they need from you (if anything).
- Let them educate you: ask questions, be curious. It shows you’re interested and this can really boost their confidence and self-esteem.
- Keep talking to them. They might not open-up fully at first but in time they may want to confide in you.
Try to avoid
- Saying: “It’s just a phase”. While some children and young people may be exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity, phrases like this can dismiss or make light of how they feel.
- Saying: “I thought so”. This could make them anxious that people have been talking about them or they may worry about what they have been doing to make it obvious to others.
- Overly questioning if they are “sure” that they are LGBT+. It’s important to listen to and accept how they feel. Dismissing or disrespecting their feelings could push them away at a difficult time.
- Reacting with confrontation or anger.
- Try to be relaxed, it should become normal to be able to talk about this – and anything else.
- Don’t make it all there is. Their identity isn’t everything they are. They’re still the same person you know and love.
- Thinking “where did I go wrong?” There is nothing you have done or failed to do. They are simply who they are.
Acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender.
A person’s identity based on emotional and/or physical attraction to individuals of a different gender, the same gender, or more than one gender.
How a person expresses themselves as a sexual being.
This includes the type(s) of partner a person is attracted to and the kinds of sexual activities they prefer. Sexual orientation is a part of sexuality and is most commonly used when referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual identities.
A woman who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to other women.
Someone who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to people of the same gender. Some women prefer to refer to themselves as gay women rather than lesbian, although the word gay is commonly used for men.
A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to people of more than one gender or regardless of gender. Historically, definitions of bisexual meant ‘an attraction towards men and women’. However, many bisexual people recognise that there are more than two genders.
A person who does not experience sexual attraction. Asexual people can experience attraction but may have no sexual desire or need within their relationships.
A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to people of more than one gender or regardless of gender. Some people use the term pansexual rather than bisexual to be more inclusive of non-binary gender identities.
An umbrella term used for diverse sexual orientations or gender identities that are not heterosexual and do not fit within a gender binary. It may be used to challenge the idea of labels and categories such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It is important to note that it is an in-group term (used by LGBT people), and may be considered offensive to some people (or misused to cause offence).
A person whose emotional and/ or physical attraction is toward people of the same gender as themselves. Historically this term was used to medically diagnose or criminalise lesbian and gay people. Many experience it as a stigmatising term. It is now considered best practice to avoid it!
An umbrella term for those whose gender identity or expression is different in some way from the gender assigned to them at birth and the ‘norms’ expected by the society they live in. Included in the overall transgender umbrella are non-binary gender identities and cross-dressing people.
Gender identities that are not exclusively male or female.
People can be both male and female, neither, or their gender may be more fluid (i.e. not fixed and changeable over time).
Many view gender as a spectrum with male on one end, female on the other, and non-binary in the middle – but the reality is that gender is often more complex. Among young people the terms ‘genderqueer’ or ‘gender fluid’ are popular alternatives for non-binary.
Our thanks to LGBT Youth Scotland for their invaluable help in reviewing this page, suggesting improvements and for supplying the definitions above.