8 Simple Ways to Support LGBTQ+ Youth in Your Life
Updated: Aug 17
This June marks Pride Month which means more rainbow flags and equality stickers may show up in your newsfeeds and new vocabulary may come up in your conversations. You may feel awkward having these conversations, but they are absolutely essential.
There are concerning statistics on bullying and suicide rates for LGBTQ+ youth, which are alarming. However, there is also emerging research on protective factors for LGBTQ+ youth and things you can do to support the LGBTQ+ youth in your life. Protective factors include social support, LGBTQ+ role models, and advocating for inclusive policies. By being a supportive ally, you can protect LGBTQ+ youth and help save lives!
As a child and adolescent therapist and former gender and sexuality club sponsor, here are some of my favorite tips for interacting with the LGBTQ+ youth in your life:
It’s okay to just listen. Many parents and teachers have asked me, “What do I say if someone comes out to me?!” It’s okay to not have the right words. Being a mindful, present listener is a good start! A simple, “Thank you for sharing this with me” or “Thank you for trusting me- I am here to support you” is typically a good move. By asking “What is this like for you?” and “How can I support you?” and then really listening, you are being a good ally.
Stay calm and supportive. For some parents and caregivers it can be really surprising when a child “comes out” to them. There may be feelings of shock, denial, or grief. Sometimes parents get very worried about their child’s safety or how they will be viewed by others. It’s okay to feel your feelings and get support for this. Call a friend and vent away. However, the important thing is to remain calm and supportive when interacting with your child.
Meet the child where they are. I often hear things like, “How would my child even know about their sexual orientation if they are so young!” or “My child keeps changing genders- is this just a fad?!” The most important thing to do if you are confused is to just meet your child where they are. If you dismiss the child’s perceptions, they may start hiding things from you, and open communication is what you need. It’s okay to say, “I don’t understand all of these things right now, but I am here for you and I love you.”
Believe your child. Think about it like someone who is balding. One day they had hair, and the next they didn’t. That’s because of gene expression. The person was born with the “balding” gene, and they were always going to be this way, but the gene didn’t “turn on” until later. Sexual orientation can be like this. With puberty and hormones, things can change over time, and your child needs you to be present with them and believe their experiences.
Mirror the person’s language. If a student tells me that they are “pansexual” I will call them that. I won’t call them bisexual or gay or anything else. I will use the terms that the student uses. If Jenny introduces you to “her wife” Kimmy, then don’t say, “Jane’s partner is here.” Use the term she uses instead. By being a mirror, you are letting that person know that there is no shame in how they identify. It’s all pretty simple, yet sometimes people get uncomfortable with language, which brings us to our next tip!
Learn the vocab. After serving for years as a club sponsor for LGBTQ+ high school students, you may think that I know all the current terms, and yet I still learn new things every week. It’s okay to ask someone for more information by saying, “I haven’t heard of that term, can you tell me what that means to you?” There are a lot of glossaries online, and this is a good one if you are just getting started.
Learn the acronym. The LGBTQ+ acronym is an umbrella term with just some of the ways people identify. Let’s break it down!
The LGB stands for lesbian, bisexual, and gay. These are terms for sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is who you are attracted to or want to be in relationships with.
The T in LGBTQ+ stands for transgender. Gender is not the same as sexual orientation. Gender is your internal sense of yourself as male, female, neither, or both. If the sex you were given at birth (based on your body parts) matches your gender (your internal sense of male/female) then you are “cisgender.” If your gender is different than your sex assigned at birth, then you may consider yourself transgender, non-binary, or something else. Gender is complex, and you can learn more here!
The Q in LGBTQ+ usually stands for Queer, and is a broad term that means not heterosexual. Queer used to be a slur, and it has been reclaimed by some people. Sometimes the Q stands for Questioning as well.
The + in LGBTQ+ is there to show that there are MANY more terms that people may use! If you aren’t sure what term to use, just ask.
Be a VISIBLE Ally. If you are thinking, “Well of course I am an ally” then go ahead and show it. LGBTQ+ youth cannot read your mind, and many of them are looking for safe anchors in their world. Wearing a rainbow sticker or an ally pin can help them know that you are there to listen and support them. We once had an “ally” event at a high school, and teachers were invited to wear stickers and the students were SHOCKED at how many people were supportive. It made a huge difference for the students and helped improve attendance!
Now that you’ve learned a few tips and some vocabulary, share what you’ve learned with friends, family and caring adults who want to be supportive allies for youth. Pride Month is more than a display of rainbows. It’s a great opportunity to create safe space for the young people in your life.
Meagan Butler, M.Ed., is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Austin, TX, with 17 years of experience as an educator and mental health professional. She was named Austin ISD’s District-wide Counselor of the Year in 2015 and later supervised hundreds of school counselors as Counseling Coordinator. Meagan is currently a PhD student in School Improvement at Texas State, an Educational Consultant, and a Senior Therapist at Ensemble Therapy in Austin. She specializes in neuroscience-based interventions, trauma-informed practices, and support for LGBTQ+ children and youth. Meagan practices mindfulness every day.
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