While this is a time to celebrate, it is also important to remember Pride’s roots. June became Pride month to commemorate the Stonewall riots in New York City in June 1969.
Many of the early Pride leaders were people of color and transgender or gender-nonconforming activists whose identities were criminalized and faced disproportionate violence. Without the actions of these leaders, LGBTQIA+ rights and visibility would not exist as they are today.
Fast forward to today, and LGBTQIA+ youth still experience a disproportionate amount of harassment, mistreatment, and stigmatization from their communities or families.
Not only is this hurtful, but 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 continue to trend upward. However, LGBTQIA+ youth who live in a community that is accepting of LGBTQIA+ people reported significantly lower rates of attempted suicide than those who do not.
Take a minute to let that sink in. Those statistics are heartbreaking.
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. As LGBTQIA+ youth think about opening up to their families and loved ones for the first time, it is critical to create a safe and open space for them to be express their authentic selves.
As a parent, caregiver or trusted adult, it may seem daunting to navigate this critical moment and there could be anxiety or fear about “messing up” with the youth in your life. It is important to lead from a place of love. Coming out requires trust and psychological safety. Creating a safe space where they feel supportive and loved is crucial. Other critical tips to help support the LGBTQIA+ kids in your life include:
- Be present and actively listen. Your mind may be spinning in different directions but do your best to sit with your child and let them share what they came to share. Keep the focus on them and give enough space for them to share as much as they are ready to.
- If your child is finding it difficult to find the right words, you can show support by gentle open-ended questions. “Tell me more about that”… “or I’d love to hear more about that if you are comfortable sharing … “
- Reassure them you love them, either verbally, or through a hug if it’s hard for you to find your voice in the moment.
- Avoid questioning their identity. Refrain from asking “are you sure,” or suggesting they may “just be confused.”
- If you are worried about saying the wrong thing, owning this may be a way to go with your child. Let them know that you love them, and you acknowledge that coming out was hard for them, and you are struggling to find the right words. And again, something as simple as “I love you and I’ll support you no matter what,” can be powerful.
- If the conversation didn’t go as well as you had hoped, talk to your child about it. You can say something like, “I was so touched that you trusted me enough to come out to me, and I wish I would have said”… or “I wish I wouldn’t have said…” “I’m sorry.”
- Understand that they need to come out on their terms. Just because they have come out to you, doesn’t mean that they are ready for other family members to know, or people at their school to know. Let them choose how and when they take these steps.
- Continue to support them beyond coming out. Use their pronouns and be mindful of the language you use. Keep open communication so they feel comfortable sharing with you throughout their journey. Be curious about their life and check in with them regularly.
- You may need to work through your own feelings or beliefs, so finding support for yourself is important too.
Finally, take the time to educate yourself and find support for you and the child in your life. There are several good organizations across Puget Sound that offer support. A great resource is PFLAG, the nation’s largest family and ally organization, which has chapters all across the country offering resources and support. This includes chapters across Washington.
The most important thing is for your youth to feel loved, safe and heard. The impact will be long-lasting and helps to reinforce the Pride they will feel toward who they are.
By Andrea Donovan-DuPont, LICSW, CCM, Personal Health Support Clinician, Premera Blue Cross