PARENTS’ SUPPORT GROUP
As well as our weekly meet-ups for young people, we also run a monthly group for parents and carers of young LGBT+ people. The group is an opportunity to find community, share experiences and get help and advice.
Currently, the group’s location is changing every month to ensure we can reach as many parts of the county as possible. Here’s the upcoming locations and times of our parents’ support group:
|23 February 2019||10am-12pm||32 Harmer Street, Gravesend DA12 2AX|
|29 March 2019||4-6pm||New House Youth Centre, Chalkwell Road, Sittingbourne ME10 2LP|
We’ll add future groups dates and locations to this page as soon as they are confirmed. To find out more about this group, please email email@example.com.
INFORMATION FOR PARENTS, CARERS AND FRIENDS
If your child, relative or friend has come out to you as LGBT+, or is questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, you may have questions of your own or feel unsure about how to react.
It is important that young people who are coming out for the first time feel supported and safe to do so. It is widely known that young people who identify as LGBT+ are more prone to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, self-harm and even suicide attempts. This is often due to their own fears of coming out to parents and friends, because of bullying from peers, or because of their own internalised homophobia, biphobia or transphobia.
As a parent, carer or friend, you can make a big difference to their lives and to how they feel about themselves and about coming out.
HOW TO RESPOND WHEN A YOUNG PERSON COMES OUT
It is important to note that nothing ‘makes’ somebody LGBT+, just as nothing ‘makes’ someone heterosexual or cisgender. The way someone has been brought up, what toys they played with or who they’ve spent time with are not reasons why somebody is LGBT+. Therefore there is no ‘blame’ to find if your child or friend is LGBT+ or has a fluid sexuality or gender identity.
In fact, all sexualities and gender identities are ‘normal’, and they can also change over time for some people. There have been many debates around ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ in relation to sexuality and gender, but there is no evidence to say that there is such a thing as a ‘gay gene’ or genetic disposition for being LGBT+.
Being part of the LGBT+ community is not a choice and is not something people can change; the only choice people who are LGBT+ make is whether or not to come out and be open with themselves and others. Therefore accepting your child, relative or friend’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is the best thing you can do if you want them to stay in your life.
It can be difficult to know how to react when someone comes out to you. Remember that it has likely taken a lot of internal anxiety and preparation to get to the point of telling you. Take your time, listen to them and show them that you are supportive. Thank them for being honest with you about something so important.
If your child or friend comes out to you as trans and expresses an interest in changing how they present themselves in society (their gender presentation) or in medical transition, it’s very important to remember that the trans experience is a long and difficult process. Don’t assume that they are making a snap decision that they may regret later.
Some parents worry about what being LGBT+ might mean for their child’s future – or, at least, their idea of what this should be. Keep in mind that just because your child is trans or non-binary and/or may have same-sex relationships doesn’t mean that they can’t get married, have children or build a family. You can still be a grandparent, and your child is still the same person.
QUESTIONING SEXUAL ORIENTATION OR GENDER
Young people often experiment with sexuality and gender and this is normal. It is common for people to be unsure about their sexual orientation or gender identity for some time, or to define themselves as ‘questioning’. This could be a short phase or it could go on for years. Some people may never really feel sure about their sexual orientation or gender identity, or just don’t feel the need to give themselves a definitive label.
If your child or friend is questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation it can be a good idea to make sure they know that you would not react negatively should they decide to come out.
It might not be appropriate to have this conversation frankly with them, so another way of doing this could be through checking your own everyday language. Make sure that you do not use any homophobic, biphobic or transphobic language at home. For example, if you are watching TV together and a gay couple or a trans person appears on the screen, do not use slurs or derogatory terms or language when talking about them.
You might not have anything against people who identify as LGBT+, but any comments that mark them out as ‘different’ or ‘not normal’ will put your child off coming out to you. Instead, try speaking positively about LGBT+ people and relationships (just as you would about straight, cisgender people and relationships between them) and making comments about how you think everyone should feel free to be who they are.
Anyone who has withheld their internal thoughts and feelings about their gender or sexual identity for some time is likely to have been affected negatively by doing this. It is very common for LGBT+ young people (and adults) to have mental health issues such as depression or anxiety because they have been struggling with this. Many LGBT+ young people are also – even today – bullied in school or college, which can have an additional detrimental effect on their wellbeing.
- 45% of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils in schools experience bullying because of their sexual orientation
- 64% of trans young people in schools experience bullying
- 3 in 5 lesbian, gay and bisexual young people self-harm
- 4 in 5 trans young people self-harm
- 1 in 5 young lesbian, gay and bisexual students has tried to end their life
- 2 in 5 young trans students have tried to end their life
(Stonewall School Report, 2017)
These numbers are improving, but they are still a major concern. If your child or friend is coming out as LGBT+, or even if they are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, it is very likely that they will experience mental health issues to some degree.
As a parent, carer or friend it is absolutely crucial that you make sure they have appropriate mental health support. For some guidance see, for example, www.mindout.org.uk, go to our resources page or visit your GP for advice.
It’s also very likely that they will not have received adequate information about sexual health. Stonewall (2017) reported that only 1 in 5 young people have been taught about safe sex in LGB relationships at school. For advice around this visit, for example, lgbt.foundation/sexualhealth, go to our resources page or visit your local sexual health clinic.
There is a lot of information online about being LGBT+ and a lot of it is not safe. Safe sources of information can be found on this page and on our resources page.
Talk to your child about where they get their information and online safety. Following someone on Instagram might be fun – even inspirational – but it should not be treated as a main source of information and advice regarding sexual health, transitioning, hormonal therapies or relationships.
It is also common for young people to meet people online who they later on decide to meet in person. This could be a risk to their safety and they need to be aware of the dangers of online dating and speaking to strangers over the internet. This guide is a good place to start: www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/onlinestaysafe.pdf
THE DO’s AND THE DON’Ts
- Do offer opportunities to talk about it, without being forceful
- Do get informed and knowledgeable
- Do let them make their own decisions and find their own place in the LGBT+ community
- Do make sure that they know where to get support
- Do check that their school or college has inclusive policies and actively challenges homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
- Do challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia yourself whenever you can, openly and loudly. Even the most apparently ‘casual’ comment, e.g. the expression ‘that’s so gay’, should be challenged!
- Do remember that they are still the same person. Being LGBT+ is a part of who they are, but it is not what defines them
- Do find support for yourself – your thoughts and feelings are important too
- Don’t tell them it’s a phase or that they will grow out of it
- Don’t assume that because they are trans or non-binary or have a same-sex partner that they won’t have a family or children
- Don’t force your own ideas on them or try to change who they are
Try not to worry about what other people think – your child or friend is the most important person to consider. If you face discrimination through your friends, extended family, colleagues or neighbours it is your job to stand up to prejudice and educate others.