All children deserve to feel safe, supported, and accepted. These positive experiences are an important part of development and play a significant role in a child’s ability to thrive. Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ youth still experience a disproportionate amount of harassment, mistreatment, and stigmatization from their communities or families.
Not only is this hurtful, it can also be dangerous. A recent survey from the Trevor Project on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that rates of suicidal thoughts among young people trended upward over the past three years. However, LGBTQ+ youth who live in a community that is accepting of LGBTQ+ people reported significantly lower rates of attempted suicide than those who do not.
At Cocoon House, feelings of fear, anxiety, shame and depression are all too familiar. Of the youth they support in their community programs to end homelessness, 28-37% identify as LGBTQ+. “When a teen feels unheard or unsupported, feelings of being alone or an outcast can set in,” said Joseph Alonzo, CEO of Cocoon House. “In our work, these are major indicators of a pathway to homelessness.”
As we get ready to celebrate Pride during the month of June, some LGBTQ+ youth may feel inspired to open up to their family for the first time. For parents in these families, Alonzo and the Cocoon House team shared tips and resources to help facilitate a positive experience. Afterall, how parents respond in this critical moment is not only important to their child’s overall well-being – it may also save lives.
Q: What is the most important thing for parents and adults to remember when their child or another young person is coming out to them?
Coming out requires trust and psychological safety. Creating an environment of acceptance and celebration of coming out is crucial for trust and communication moving forward, regardless of parent’s initial and reaction. This is a very big moment of courage, and parents should thank the child for having their trust in sharing such personal information.
At Cocoon House, we try to encourage parents to lead with love. As parents sometimes need to process this new information and explore their own feelings and responses, most times the love of the child never waivers and we try to encourage parents not to lose sight of that. And, if a parent has a strong or moral objection to this coming out, the youth doesn’t need to know your opinion in that moment. This is a time for listening.
Q: How can parents show empathy during the coming out conversation?
Show interest, exhibit unconditional love. Not all LBGTQ+ individuals have the same experiences – genuinely learn what is happening in the life of your loved one and find ways to get involved. Be sure to show that you are committed to learn the language by letting your youth lead the language.
Q: What are some ways parents can show tangible support to their children after they come out?
Participate. Gain knowledge if it is lacking. Don’t be afraid to ask your child, “How can I best support?” The resources are out there – go and do your own research on ways to be an ally. As a parent, even subtle support when personally struggling can be impactful and negate harm.
Q: Are there any resources for families navigating the emotions of the coming out process?
Yes. Often, a parent’s response can be fear or anger – simply because it doesn’t match the ideological future they had in mind for their child. However, when parents realize that there are resources available for them too, and parenting LGBTQ+ young people is a common phenomenon, they can look for ways to play the supporting role in the lives of their young person. Don’t wait or require your young person to do your work for you. There are books, trainings, allyship groups, websites, and more all geared toward parenting LGBTQ+ young people.
Q: Where would you recommend sending parents to do research about the LGBTQ+ community?
A resource we find helpful in our work at Cocoon House is True Colors United. They offer many useful toolkits on the intersection of LGBTQ+ youth and homelessness. PFLAG, the nation’s largest family and ally organization, has chapters all across the country offering resources and support. Other resources to help parents and caregivers learn to support their LGBTQ+ children include San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project, Mama Dragons, and It’s Pronounced Metrosexual.
Q: How can parents show allyship to the LGBTQ+ community?
Become an advocate. Be proud of your young people. If your young person is supported, find out how to support their LGBTQ friends. Cultivate and support “safe” people.