We've officially landed in the holiday season, and for many people, reconnecting and spending time with family is something they look forward to. Others, however, struggle with this time of year, as they find themselves forced to navigate complicated family relationships, where their identity is questioned, criticized, and attacked.
This year has been particularly heavy for the LGBTQ+ community, which has been hit with a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ bills, the majority of which have targeted trans and nonbinary youth, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. Support from parents and other family members is more critical now than ever, and Sharing Space — a roundtable series from the suicide prevention nonprofit The Trevor Project — tackles this essential and timely topic head on, by letting young people tell us in their own words what they need from the adults in their lives.
The newest episode of the docuseries features six LGBTQ+ teenagers who have an open and impactful discussion of how parents have shown up — and failed to show up — for them. The discussion, led by the Trevor Project's head of Internal Training, Nova Bright-Williams, is full of insightful, actionable steps and is a must-watch for all parents.
“Supporting your own LGBTQ+ kids doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. And you don’t have to be an expert in LGBTQ+ topics and identities to show up for them,” Nova tells Fatherly. “You’ll notice that so much of what the young people I spoke with for this Sharing Space episode focuses on a need for parents and loved ones to simply be encouraging of who these young people say they are. They want their parents to accept them, and to foster safe and shame-free home environments where they can feel comfortable living as their true selves. After all, they know themselves better than anyone else in the world.”
Parents should only have one expectation for their kids: love
"As a parent, what I have seen is that folks can thrive when they are given space to be themselves, but not just given space but given affirmation and love," Nova shares during the episode. "I know that I'll miss the mark on that sometimes, and I know that people in your lives have probably missed the mark on that, and I want to name those times."
Logan responds that there should only be one expectation parents place on their kids: “I think as long as you have an expectation your child is going to be loved by you, that's the only expectation you really need.” And that love should not come with conditions. “Parents need to make their kids feel like they are worthy of love no matter who they are or what they do,” he adds.
Let your kids be themselves
“I think the biggest thing for me has been encouragement,” Anya shares. “That sounds so simple, but anything you want to do, having encouragement from your loved ones will take you so far.” She adds, “Just having that encouragement from family or friends to just be more like ‘you should be doing this, this is who you are,’ instead of shaming me for loving who I love.”
Ricky echoes the idea that acceptance and connection from loved ones is essential to showing support. “Not shaming somebody for things that they like and allowing them to lean into that,” he offers. Ricky shares that when he was younger, his dad would try to encourage him away from things that were “more for girls” and wishes that instead, he’d been allowed the space to “lean into those things.”
Kymon’s advice to parents who want to support their kids is to allow them to be who they are and to do what feels most natural. “Expressing yourself as a kid is so important, and whenever parents try to limit what their kids do or mold them into the person they think they should be, it ends up limiting them.” He explains that when kids are told how they’re expressing themselves is wrong, it can have deep consequences that “go far beyond identity” and instead tells kids that “their voice isn't valid and that their personality isn't valid, and that their dreams and goals aren't valid.”
Affirmation and acceptance start at birth
Alicia, who is intersex, says, “From the second you're born, you're told your body is inherently a problem simply for existing, and it's really hard to unlearn that.” Kids should be able to grow up in a community where they “don't have to unlearn hate, stigma, and shame. They can just be loved from day one.”
But acceptance means living that fully and not just saying it with words, Kaylee points out. “There are even parents that say like, “Oh, I don't really accept this part of you, but I still love you,” they share. “Okay, you don't love all of me because that is who I am; that's me. So saying I don't accept you, but I still love you contradicts itself.”
Here are some actionable steps and key takeaways on how parents can support their LGBTQ+ kids, according to the roundtable:
- Community and friendship are important.
- Let kids express who they truly are, without expectations.
- Allow your child the time and space to express their identity in their own time.
- Affirm! Affirm your love, their lived experience, their identity.
- Inclusive language matters.
- Stop trying to fit people into boxes.
“These seemingly simple displays of support and affirmation can have life-changing impacts,” Nova Bright-Williams says. “Our research at the Trevor Project confirms that much of what these young people hint at is also associated with lower suicide risk for LGBTQ+ young people.”
Nova highlights data that shows how much of an impact having a supportive family can have for an LGBTQ+ youth — it literally saves lives.
“Data demonstrates that supportive behaviors from parents, such as talking with young people respectfully about their LGBTQ+ identity, openly and respectfully discussing LGBTQ+ issues with them, or standing up for them when they were being mistreated because of their identity were all associated with more than 40% lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year,” Nova shares. “Everyday affirming actions from parents can make a world of difference for LGBTQ+ young people.”