Young people are beginning to feel more able to express their sexuality and/or gender, with the proportion of young people who identify as heterosexual in the UK steadily decreasing.
Yet, despite the progress that has been made in recent years around LGBT+ rights, visibility and equality, coming out can still be an intensely stressful and vulnerable experience for many. Coming out means embracing yourself fully, while also facing potential rejection from people who are not supportive of you.
All coming out stories are different. If your child comes out to you, it can be surprising and sometimes unexpected. However, it’s important for parents of LGBT+ youth to recognise that the reaction they have to their child coming out to them matters. The LGBT+ coming out conversation is likely one your child will remember for the rest of their life, so it is important to respond in a manner that is supportive and sensitive to your child’s needs.
If your child comes out to you, there are a few things you can say to make the conversation an easier, more positive experience for the both of you.
‘I love you.’
When your child first comes out to you, the most important thing you can do is remind them of your unconditional love.
One of the most common fears that people have when coming out is that people will no longer love them because of their revelation. Verbally reaffirming your love for your child lets them know that you still love and care for them regardless, strengthening your relationship and their confidence.
‘I accept you.’
Alongside the fear that they won’t be loved, many LGBT+ young people also fear they won’t be accepted when coming out. There are still many harmful stigmas surrounding the LGBT+ community, and these can affect how people from the LGBT+ community are perceived and treated.
Reassuring your young person that you still accept them, regardless of how they identify, will help to ease these worries. It will also set the foundation for the rest of the coming-out conversation, ensuring your young person feels safe and able to express themselves however they please.
‘You are very brave for telling me.’
As aforementioned, coming out can be an intensely stressful experience. Many young people have been holding their secret in a long time. It takes a lot of bravery to finally admit the truth about who they are to both themselves and others around them.
Acknowledging their bravery will validate their experience, as well as helping them to understand and appreciate their own strength and resilience.
‘Thank you for trusting me.’
As well as bravery, there is also a lot of trust involved in coming out to someone. If your child has come out to you, it’s likely that they view you as someone they can trust with their secret.
Taking time to recognise the trust they are placing in you will strengthen your relationship with your child. The trust you have with your child is something that should be celebrated, and will no doubt be something you continue to build upon with your child following their coming out.
‘I’m so pleased you have discovered this about yourself.’
The path to understanding your own sexuality or identity can be a rocky one. If your child is coming out to you, it’s likely that they have been thinking about this for a long time. They may have even been in denial or felt too ashamed to accept who they really are.
If your child is coming out to you, it’s a good sign that they’re on the right path to accepting themselves. Part of validating your child and helping them to feel understood is recognising how important this discovery is for them, as well as how pleased you are that they have made it.
However, we recommend you avoid telling them you ‘knew all along’ as this might downplay the significance of their sharing with you.
‘Would you like me to call you by a different name, or use different pronouns?’
Coming out as LGBT+ means your child may feel different about their gender identity and how they want to be addressed by other people.
If your child is coming out transgender or non-binary, they may wish to use a new name or new set of pronouns that they feel better reflects their sense of self. Although this can be challenging for parents and caregivers to come to terms with, respecting any changes in name or pronouns is necessary for helping your child feel accepted.
You can find out more about supporting transgender young people here.
‘How do you feel now that you’ve told me?’
Every child is different: some may feel relieved after coming out to you, while others still may have certain fears or concerns that are worrying them.
Part of supporting LGBT+ youth once they have come out involves actively trying to understand their experience and feelings. Help them explore any feelings they may have, whether these are feelings of excitement, relief, fear or worry.
‘What can I do to support you?’
Because of the additional challenges and barriers that the LGBTQ+ community face, its important to make sure your child knows that you support them. For people who are LGBTQ+, coming out is a lifelong process; LGBTQ+ people must navigate the coming out process each time they enter a new setting.
From telling other family members, teachers, friends or classmates – coming out takes time, and young people will need support from their parents and family throughout.
Ask your child if there are any ways you can support them proactively. What kinds of changes can be made around the house to make them feel more comfortable? Is there anything they would like you to do differently? Have they come out to any other family and friends, or would they like to keep this a secret for now?
Asking your child how you can support them is better than making assumptions and will help both you and them better navigate the future.
‘Is there anything else you would like to tell me?’
Be open to learning about your child’s experience. Sometimes, LGBT+ youth may withhold the full truth initially to gage your reaction first. By asking if there is anything else they want to share with you, you are offering them the space to elaborate or go into more detail about how they’re feeling.
They may be in a relationship or have a crush that they are yet to disclose to you. They may also have some other thoughts or feelings about their sexuality or identity that they want to share with you.
The important thing here is to not force your young person to talk unless they are ready. You are simply offering the space and freedom for them to talk in further detail if they wish to do so.
‘I will always be here for you.’
Now that your child has come out to you, they need to know you will be an ally for them. Allyship involves advocating for your child and for the LGBT+ community.
This means speaking out against discrimination and working toward making life easier for your child by listening to them, supporting them and being sensitive to their needs. Letting your child know that you will always be there for them will go a long way in helping them feel less alone.
You can find out more about supporting your LGBTQ+ youth here.
It’s completely normal to have questions (and maybe even some fears) after your child has come out. Being LGBT+ comes with its own unique challenges and barriers, which is why your child will need your ongoing support and encouragement.
Compass understands that every young person in our care has their own individual challenges and experiences. That’s why we provide 24/7 support, resources, and relevant training for all our foster carers to ensure they can provide excellent care for our young people.
If you’d like some more information about fostering with us you can request a digital brochure here.