So you’ve had “the big conversation” — your child or family member’s come out to you — and now what?
(Oh, and in case you missed it, take a moment to check out these recent blog posts, What’s a parent to do? Communication and support for your LGBTQ+ child and What to do when someone comes out to you.)
See if one of these profiles fits:
- You’re a super supporter! Ready to blaze all the trails for your LGBTQ+ child’s success, you’ll email your child’s teachers and coaches, you’ll make darned sure the school bathrooms are accessible and that there’s zero tolerance for bullying.
- You’re supportive and overwhelmed. You want to do right by your child, but where do you even start? Should you tell someone at their school? Is there some sort of to-do list for the parent or guardian of a newly-out LGBTQ+ kid?
Maybe you’re both or neither of these types — who are we to suggest a binary profile anyway?!
Just like there’s no one way to come out, we can’t hand you a neat guidebook or roadmap for parents. We DO have a few best practices for the “What’s next?” phase of this journey with your child or family member.
Give yourself a pat on the back.
You’ve done a great job already. Truly.
If your loved one has come out to you, they love you, trust you, and want to share their authentic self with you.
That’s pretty awesome.
Take pride in the fact that you’ve cultivated this type of relationship with your loved one. You’ve gotten this far, so you can trust your skills as a parent or family member who knows how to be there.
Walk next to them, don’t blaze the trail.
This next bit can be tricky… are you ready?
Your child is the expert on their process and experience.
After they’ve come out, your loved one’s process of self-awareness is still unfolding and evolving. They might try on a new name or explore how different pronouns feel. They might want to be called a different name at home or school. They might want everyone, their favorite teachers, or just you to know.
Let your child lead and walk beside them. Your most important job is to empower your child through their process, to be there to support and facilitate as needed.
For super supporter parents, this can be tough. You want to show your support by doing and fixing and advocating! We love that, and there may come a time when your child needs just that type of advocate.
As much as you can, practice deferring to your loved one as the expert on their own experience, giving them the opportunity to advocate and speak for themselves.
For overwhelmed parents, centering your child as the expert can be a bit of a relief — you don’t need to know the answers and you can ask your child if you’re unsure. If you’re asked a question from a teacher or school counselor, you could respond with, “I’m not sure which bathroom they’d prefer to use at school, what do you think, [name of child]?” or “Hmm, don’t know. Let me check in with [name of child] and get back to you.”
Even very young children are capable of knowing their own minds. With a loving, respectful parent or guardian at their side, LGBTQ+ youth of any age can lead the way.
School Folks 101
When it comes to working with your child’s school, you’ll first need to consult the expert — yup, your child.
Depending on your child’s age the following questions may vary, but these are a few examples:
“Who do you want to share this information with?”
“Do you want to tell/email them yourself?”
“What name/pronouns do you want your teachers to use?”
“Do you want to have that meeting alone, or would you like me there?”
As you work with your child to expand their support network at school, consider informing the following school personnel:
- Classroom or homeroom teacher
- Case manager for special education
- The school nurse
- Your child’s school/guidance counselor — if your child wants the school information system to reflect their pronouns or a preferred name or email change, their counselor can help.
Again, let your child’s preferences guide the way, while also negotiating what you feel comfortable with.
Are there other adults at school that your child has a connection to?
This might not be any of the personnel listed above — it could be the teacher they had last year, a coach, the librarian, an ed tech or tutor, or the secretary in the main office. These folks can be important allies for your child, since their relationship is already built on authenticity as opposed to something arbitrary, like a randomly assigned guidance counselor or homeroom teacher.
Even one adult ally at school can be a game-changer for your child’s feeling of safety and sense of support. Does your child want to communicate with that adult directly? Would they prefer a meeting with the three of you? Or do they want you to communicate with the adult on their behalf?
Just ask them.
It’s BOTH/AND, not EITHER/OR.
Be a loud, proud advocate for LGBTQ+ youth.
And let your child’s voice be heard, let them take ownership of their own experience, and let that guide the way forward.
This might feel tricky, lonely, or hard as a parent or family member, especially as you navigate your own feelings and process.
You’re still the same parent or family member, and your kid is still your kid. Change is still hard — there’s a lot that feels new and overwhelming right now.
That’s what OUT’s parent group is here for. We meet on Zoom and in person several times a month, and it’s free to join us — click here for more information: https://outmaine.org/programs/parents/