7 Practical Ways Straight Parents Can Support Their Queer Children

An adult stands smiling with their arms wrapped around a teen, who is also smiling.

An adult stands smiling with their arms wrapped around a teen, who is also smiling.

Read the Slovak translation here.

On many occasions, I’ve been approached by well-intended straight parents who want to know how to support their queer kids.

I hear a lot of things like “I accept them fully – but I don’t know how to show them that” or “I know my child became depressed after coming out. How can I comfort and support them?”

I’ve also been on the other side. I’ve spoken to so many of my queer friends who have straight parents who don’t know how to support them.

Queer teenagers are a high risk for suicide. They’re more likely to be abused and bullied. They’re also more likely to experience difficulties like drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, poverty, and mental health issues.

For this reason, parental support can be a lifeline to young queer people.

Whether your child is a preteen, a teenager, or a young adult, here are a few ways you can support your queer kids.

1. Recognize Your Privilege

Privilege is a concept that’s central to current discussions on social justice. In order to support your child, I really recommend that you learn about what privilege is.

When explaining privilege in a previous article, I said the following:

We can define privilege as a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group. Society grants privilege to people because of certain aspects of their identity. Aspects of a person’s identity can include race, class, gender, sexual orientation, language, geographical location, ability, and religion, to name a few.”

Privilege doesn’t mean your life is easy. It doesn’t mean you, personally, are bigoted. It doesn’t mean you need to feel guilty.

What it means is that society treats you better than your child, because society is unfair.

It means we need to work together to make society a little less unfair.

If you’re a straight parent who has a queer child, you have at least two kinds of privilege which they don’t have: You’re straight, and you’re an adult. For this reason, they have less socio-political power than you.

We live in a world that is heterosexist, meaning that heterosexual people are given privileges that queer people don’t have.

We also live in a world where adultism exists, meaning that adulthood is given power and privilege over youth. Children are often viewed as extensions of their parents and not people in their own right.

Because of these two power structures, you have privilege over your child.

Understanding the concept of privilege will enable you to engage better with queer issues. Which leads me to my following point…

2. Educate Yourself About Queer Issues

Information is a great defense against bigotry. By educating yourself on queer issues, you’ll learn how to be more supportive of your children. You’ll also learn how to avoid saying unintentionally hurtful things.

If you’ve gotten this far in this article, you’re clearly willing to educate yourself on queer issues, which is a good start!

Follow the news online, connect with other supportive parents of queer kids, and read articles like this one.

If you’re religious, you might struggle reconciling your faith with your desire to support your child. The good news is that religion and acceptance of queerness aren’t mutually exclusive – in fact, there are plenty of useful resources out there that can help you connect with queer-inclusive communities of your faith.

Bring up queer issues occasionally. Say things like “Hey! I hear there’s a queer character in this new series” or “Have you heard that same-gender marriage is now legal in this country?”

Taking an interest in queer issues can make them feel that you’re taking an interest in them.

This said, remember that your child might not want to discuss these issues. This might especially be true if you’re discussing a difficult and painful issue, like the recent Orlando massacre or anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda.

If they don’t want to discuss that, don’t press them – but make sure you stay informed about these issues. It’s possible that your child is internalizing the impact of living in a world with bigotry, and staying informed will help you be prepared to support their mental wellness.

3. Validate Their Feelings

In my experience, it’s incredibly common for adults to invalidate children’s feelings on a number of things.

When expressing a political opinion, they’re often told they’re too young to have an opinion. When explaining the career they’d like to have, they’re told they’ll change their minds.

And when we come out as queer, we’re often told that it’s “just a phase.”

This sort of attitude isn’t okay. It implies that children don’t know themselves. It also implies that children shouldn’t trust their own feelings and thoughts.

We also tend to tell queer kids that they’re going through a phase, but we don’t tell straight kids the same thing – which implies that being straight is “correct” and “normal.”

The world is going to invalidate your child’s feelings a lot. This can be incredibly hurtful and can result in them struggling to feel accepted and loved.

Counter these harmful messages by validating your child’s feelings. When your child tells you they’re queer, believe them. Don’t dismiss it, don’t ignore it, and don’t act like it’s a phase.

And even if it is a phase and your child’s feelings change over time, it still doesn’t mean it’s not real. Feeling something temporarily doesn’t make the feeling any less real.

By listening to your child and validating their feelings, you’ll show that you accept and support them.

4. Defend Them Against Bigoted Friends and Family

This is really, really important.

When it comes to supporting queer people, the best thing straight allies can do is defend us against other straight people.

Don’t let other family members and friends degrade your child – or any of us, for that matter.

Call out your co-workers when they make homophobic remarks. Educate your parents on why same-gender marriage is not abominable.

Do these things even when your child is not around.

If your child doesn’t want to see certain family members because of their bigotry, support them in that.

It can feel hard to set those boundaries, especially if it means standing up to your own family and friends. But the more you learn about queer people’s lives, the more you’ll realize how imperative it is for your child to know that you’re willing to take that stand.

5. Take a Healthy Interest in Their Relationships

Too often, I notice that parents don’t want to hear about their queer children’s relationships. Sometimes, parents do this as a denial of their children’s queerness. Sometimes, they just feel a bit too awkward to ask about how their kids’ love lives are going.

But taking a healthy interest in their relationships is key to making them feel supported and accepted. It might also help them feel like they can turn to you for advice on relationships and friends.

Show the same level of interest as what you would if your kid was straight.

If you’d invite your straight daughter’s boyfriend for dinner, do the same for your queer daughter’s girlfriend.

Ask about their friends – how they’re doing, what they enjoy, what their aspirations are. Share funny anecdotes about friendships and romantic relationships from your past, and encourage them to do the same.

I’m not just talking about romantic relationships, especially since not all queer people want romantic relationships. Take an interest in their friends, in queerplatonic relationships, and so on.

Let them know you support the healthy relationships in their lives.

6. Encourage Them to Find a Queer Support Network

Even if you’re incredibly supportive, your child will ultimately need more support. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child.

While it’s great to have straight parents that love and accept you, queer kids need something more than that: We need to connect with other queer people so that we don’t feel alone.

Encourage them to connect with other queer people to form friendships and a support network.

This could include finding online support groups, attending local queer-centered events, or supporting political rallies. If they’re religious, they might want to find inclusive religious gatherings.

7. Listen to Your Child

This is the last on my list, but it’s certainly not the least.

The easiest way to know how to support someone is to ask them how they’d like to be supported. More often than not, your child knows what they need from you – they just need to be given the opportunity and encouragement to voice their needs.

To fully listen to your child, you need to accept that you don’t always know what’s best for them – especially when your privilege, as mentioned in point 1, makes it difficult for you to understand what life is like for queer people.

When you listen to them, you honor their autonomy and you show them that you respect what they have to say. This can help them feel validated, accepted and loved.

***

Straight parents, I know it can be tough knowing how to show support to your queer kids.

But do you know what’s tougher? Being queer in a world where we’re hurt and shunned just for being who we are – especially when we feel unsupported by our parents.

With this in mind, try the above to demonstrate support and acceptance to your kid. Trust me – it can mean the world to us.

Sian Ferguson is a full-time freelance writer based in South Africa. Her work has been featured on various sites, including Ravishly, MassRoots, Matador Network and more. She’s particularly interested in writing about queer issues, misogyny, healing after sexual trauma and rape culture. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Read her articles here.