What to Do (and Not Do) When Your Child Comes Out to You

Despite all the progress our world seems to have made in recent years (and decades) around LGBTQ rights and equality, coming out can still be an intensely emotional and personal experience for many. Whether it’s with a parent, a friend, or your mailman, coming out means making yourself vulnerable and facing the potential of rejection. Even years after coming out, LGBTQ parents often still experience these challenges, like when their own children come out or someone they know comes out to them. Even the out, queer family on the block needs resources and support sometimes.

My Kid Is Gay is a website dedicated to supporting parents, families, and teachers of LGBTQIA young people by answering their questions and providing resources and education around queer and trans issues. Unfortunately, LGBTQ youth are at an increased risk for various physical and mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse. However, we also know that LGBTQ kids who are supported by their families and communities are more likely to have physical and mental health outcomes on par with their straight and cisgender peers, which is exactly where our work comes in! We aim to educate parents so they can, in turn, provide their child with the care, support, and validation they need to thrive.

Coming out to your parents is usually a pretty monumental moment for most LGBTQ people. Though the risk of rejection may be less if your parents also identify as LGBTQ, the potential is still there. So if your child comes out to you, or a friend’s child comes out to them, there are plenty of things you can do (and some things you should definitely not do) to best support your child.

DON’T Ignore it.

Even if you feel objectively fine about your kid coming out, ignoring it can send the exact opposite message to your kid—or make them think that you zoned out for the whole conversation and didn’t actually hear what they said. Remember that coming out is a process and should entail more than one conversation. You’re bound to think of more questions later on, so it’s totally ok to respectfully return to the conversation when you and your kid have the mental space to do so

DON’T Say you “knew all along.”

Our society has successfully crafted many powerful stereotypes around what LGBTQ people look like, talk like, or are interested in. However, it’s important to remember that everyone goes through their own unique journey to understanding themselves and their identity, and saying that you knew since they could walk diminishes that journey. Instead, you can respectfully ask them about this journey, and learn a little something new about your kid in the process.

DON’T Tell them “this is just a phase.”

This is a common last-ditch effort for parents who don’t want to accept what their kid is telling them, but telling your kid that they’re going through a phase invalidates their feelings and shuts down the potential for further conversation. On the flip side, we are all constantly gaining new understandings of ourselves, so if in the future your kid identifies in a different way, that doesn’t diminish or negate how they identified previously. Instead, be proud that you have an introspective and inquisitive kid who is capable of opening themselves up to new truths as they grow!

DON’T Use religion to shame them.

If your family is religious, chances are your kid is already carrying some shame and conflict between their identity and their religious upbringing. Prove them wrong by learning about the world of LGBTQ religious followers and leaders who welcome people with all different sexualities and gender identities.

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DO Tell them you believe and love them, and thank them for telling you.

If you do nothing else, tell your kid you love them. Trust me, you cannot say these words enough right now. The fear of parental rejection is very real for most kids, so anything you can say to show them that you believe what they are telling you, and that it doesn’t change your love for them, is truly the best gift you can give them. Thank them for being vulnerable and trusting you with this information, and assure them that they are safe and loved. Yes, they may roll their eyes or hide under a blanket, but trust me: they need to hear you say these words.

DO Ask about what kind of support they need.

There are lots of questions you can ask your kid to gauge what kind of support they need right now. Are they ready to come out to anyone else in your family, or do they want to keep this between the two of you right now? Do they feel comfortable being out at school, or is there a bullying situation that needs to be addressed? Is there a GSA or LGBTQ youth program that they want to try out to meet other LGBTQ kids in their area?

DO Commit to being an ally to the evolving LGBTQ community.

LGBTQ terminology and understanding of identities is always evolving. If you child comes out as asexual, biromantic, and gender expansive, take the opportunity to learn more! Learn about the history of the LGBTQ rights movement and discover LGBTQ icons that you and your kid can look up to. Support organizations that are working to make the world a better place for your kid and other kids like them.

DO Get support for yourself.

Remember that it’s totally ok to have questions and maybe even some fears after your child has come out. This is a big deal for you, too, and finding support for yourself will equip you with the tools and knowledge to better support your kid. Head over to My Kid Is Gay to read more about being the parent of an LGBTQ kid, and also pick up a copy of This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids. You can also sign up for Coming Out with Care, our free e-care package for parents of newly-out LGBTQ kids, which contains a welcome video from our founder, Kristin Russo, answers to all your most pressing questions, a free excerpt from This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, a guided journaling page, a self-care music playlist, and more! Finally, if you don’t see your question answer on the site, you can always ask us anonymously by clicking here.

By Grace Manger, Senior Managing Editor of My Kid Is Gay and is based in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @gracemanger.