How to be the best advocate for your LGBTQIA+ child
As a parent, you want what’s best for your child. Yet knowing how to provide the kind of support your LGBTQIA+ child or teen needs is not always easy to navigate. And, of course, you’re going to make mistakes along the way, but we’re here to help you on how to be the best advocate you can be.
Why is it so important to be an advocate for your child or teen? For starters, your child faces unique challenges and obstacles simply by existing in the world. For transgender and non-binary people, it can be even harder. But as their greatest advocate, you can help ensure your child’s protection by practicing patience, leading with compassion, seeking community, and speaking up on their behalf.
Practicing radical acceptance around identity
Oftentimes, parents think of their children as an extension of themselves. It’s possible that you envision a future for them that you would want, whether that’s having their own children, buying a beautiful home, going to medical school, or becoming a professional athlete.
Yet your child is their own person — with their own hopes, dreams, and fears. That level of acceptance can be tough for a lot of parents to come to terms with. You might feel pain, disappointment, sadness, loss, and grief at times. That’s normal! But if you only focus on the expectations and motivations you have for your child, you may miss out on opportunities for joy and new experiences with them.
Radical acceptance is a mindset where you choose to accept life and circumstances as they are, in this moment. It’s a gentler way to be, as it asks you to make the active decision to stop resisting the way things are, let go of what you cannot control, and do your best to embrace your present truth in a non-judgmental way.
In other words, radical acceptance requires setting aside your own motivations and expectations for your child, and embracing them for who they are, right now. We know it’s not always easy, but it can make a big difference when it comes to connecting with your child.
Nearly all young adults who reported high levels of family acceptance believed they could have a good life as an LGBTQIA+ young adult, compared with only about 1 in 3 of their peers who reported no acceptance from their family or caregiver during adolescence.
Talking to family and friends about your child’s identity
Generational, cultural, and religious differences can impact how your family members, friends, and community regard your child’s identity. When talking to older adults, it can be a difficult conversation, since oftentimes these relatives or friends have more conservative ideas about gender roles. They might have a harder time understanding or accepting your child’s transition, gender-expansive identity, or sexual orientation.
That’s why being an advocate for your child – especially in defending them against your own family – requires patience and compassion. Getting confrontational or defensive won’t help, particularly in the initial conversations.
Be prepared for people to have a hard time understanding terminology like pronoun use. Some folks might even use terms that are now considered derogatory or offensive because those terms are familiar to them. Be patient but firm in correcting their language.
Likewise, speak with your family before large gatherings like the holidays to avoid contentious conversations while your child is around. You know your family best, but consider talking to relatives one-on-one ahead of family events and ask for your child’s name, pronouns, and identity to be respected.
Unfortunately, not everyone in your family will be accepting of your child’s identity. This could look like deliberately misgendering your child, calling them the wrong name, or trying to change your child so they conform to what they believe is best.
Check in with your child while navigating these types of relationships, letting them lead the way on what information is shared and what is private. Trust your instincts on how you need to protect them from harm – even if that means keeping them from having a relationship with that family member.
Navigating personal mistakes with your LGBTQIA+ child or teen
So, what do you do if you mess up? For instance, what if you use the wrong pronouns? It’s okay! Really. Feeling bad about it means you care and want to do better. It might seem like a good idea to wax poetic about how bad you feel, or how hard this is for you to get right, but there is no need to do this. Especially because it could lead to your child feeling awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is not their job.
The truth is, most folks slip up from time to time. (Hey, remember all those times your parents called you by your siblings' name instead of yours? It happens!) The best thing you can do if you use the wrong pronoun is to apologize and correct yourself right away. If you realize you made a mistake but it’s past the moment where you can quickly correct yourself, apologize later, and move on.
If someone else misgenders your child, take an active role by gently correcting their mistake without embarrassment, berating, or shame. Something like, “Kayla’s pronoun is she,” will suffice, and then move on.
We know it can feel awkward or intimidating, but do your best to stick up for your child and not ignore a situation where someone you know constantly dismisses their identity. It’s not only important in advocating for your child’s rights, but also further proves to them that you are a true ally.
That said, your child is the one being misgendered, so check in with them. Ask them, “I noticed our neighbor keeps referring to you as the wrong pronoun, and I know that can be hurtful. Are you okay with me reminding them about your pronouns?” This is about their comfort level, so follow their cues.
Advocating within your community
Your child spends just as much time at school as they do at home, or out doing extracurricular activities like sports or music, so it’s important that they feel safe and comfortable. Sure in those environments you have less control over their comfort level, but you can still be an advocate even when you’re not physically there.
Talk to your child’s teachers frequently so you can stay in the know on issues like bullying. If your child’s school doesn't already have one, champion a gay-straight alliance, which helps make schools safer and improves academic performance among LGBTQIA+ students. You can go further and speak to your principal or school board about inclusive sex education, as few states allow schools to provide LGBTQIA+ students with the information they need to maintain safe and healthy intimate relationships.
Most of all, do not hesitate to speak up! As the saying goes, “if you see something, say something.” Parents have a voice within the school system, too! Use your power for good and take your concerns to the top, especially if your child’s school isn’t taking them seriously. The same goes for other community activities.
The best way to support and love your child is by affirming their existence, practicing radical acceptance, preparing yourself for others, and advocating for their best possible education and environment. Remember, people who are initially unaccepting often come around, so keep loving, supporting, and uplifting your child, no matter what else is going on in the world around them. You’re doing a wonderful job and we’re here if your family could use some extra support.