Supporting Your LGBTQ+ Teen

by Shelby Albright, MMFT, LMFT

So your kiddo just came out to you as something outside what you expected…and now you’re overwhelmed, confused, and maybe even scared for your child’s future. You want your kid to have an easy life, and you know being considered “different” usually creates more obstacles. Additionally, you are forced to face the expectations and hopes you had for your child and reevaluate how those goals apply now. You can grieve the loss of the child you THOUGHT you were raising and your hopes for the future, while also trying to embrace the person in front of you, recognizing the value and strength in challenging social norms and expectations.

Questioning their newfound gender identity or sexual orientation makes sense to you, since you’ve known them for literally their entire life. You recognize the impact of social pressures from their friends. Several teens report having conversations with their friends about how they identify, which may apply some peer pressure for them to latch onto a label that may not be as accurate as they believe. The process of learning about yourself, however, is never ending, and adolescents need some time to navigate these labels and really assess how applicable they are in each phase of their development. Sexuality and gender may change over time, which makes it even more challenging for folks who do not feel supported. This does not negate the accuracy of their previous attractions or identities; it simply serves as an example of exactly how magnificently complex human beings are throughout their lives.

It can be overwhelming and frustrating for parents to sit back and be patient while teens explore their identities and who they are in our intense world. I’m sure you can look back on some of your own experiences of navigating your identity and immediately recognize when you were right on track versus when you were exploring something new that ultimately did not fit. For you, this could be something as simple as fashion choices and hair styles, or something more complex like religion. Folks in your generation rarely thought about their gender identity because it was assumed that you are cisgender (gender corresponds with birth sex). A million different ways exist to figure out who you are, and exploring your gender identity and sexual attraction is no different than navigating other aspects of personality (e.g., who do I want to be friends with; how do I want to handle conflict or my feelings; what are my values and beliefs?). Many don’t fully understand their identities until well into adulthood, but they still recognize patterns throughout childhood that still exist later in life: talkative or shy, leader or follower, adventurous or laid back. LGBTQ+ folks experience the same patterns throughout their lives, but are often told, “it’s just a phase.”

Here’s some guidance to help you and your teen navigate the never-ending journey of self-love as an LGBTQ+ person.

Step One: Listen to understand; try not to make it about you.

This is not a reflection of your failures. This is not a time to focus on what others will think of your family or your parenting ability. The best way to prove to yourself that you’re a good parent is by paying attention to what your child is trying to express with your arms and heart wide open. Your child’s ability to be honest with you is the best indicator of the health of your relationship, so pay attention and try not to shut them down.

Several research studies suggest that LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender/straight identifying peers. One study shows that LGBQ+ teens who are rejected by their families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide, and these same kids are 5.9 times more likely to experience severe depression when compared to straight/cisgender teens. If you suspect that your child may be having thoughts of self-harm or signs of depression, please seek professional help for them immediately. Speak with your teen about their mental health and encourage them to embrace your willingness to help them find support to navigate the challenges.

Step Two: Learn more about sexuality and gender identity.

Gender identity is your own, internal, personal sense of being a man, a woman, or as someone outside of that gender binary (genderqueer, agender). Sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person (for example: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual).” Here’s a link for some more cool terms:

As our world evolves, societal definitions change, for which gender identity and sexual orientation are no exception. Homosexuality was previously included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a mental illness but was removed as our society became more informed. As we continue exploring new facets of humanity, various measures of sexual attraction have been established, but I personally love the Gender Unicorn ( This helps make distinctions between gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation/attraction, and it shows that these concepts are more complex than our society has previously considered.

Researchers are struggling to keep up with the quickly evolving social understanding of gender as people feel more comfortable embracing all aspects of their truest selves. For now, it’s most important to allow your child to explore what feels best at the time without judgment or pressure to “pick a label and stick with it.” In my work with LGBTQ+ individuals, I often hear of the pressures they are put under by loved ones to settle on one thing to make it easier for family and friends. While I understand that this is an attempt to show support, it is also setting a time limit on the child’s identity exploration, which (as I mentioned above) is never-ending. Be patient. Follow their lead. When a child feels unconditionally loved and supported, they can safely examine their needs. It’s hard to go with the flow, but save your impatience for your alone time rather than placing that on your child.

Step Three: Ask your kiddo what meaningful changes they hope you can make, and REALLY TRY to implement them.

This could mean using a new name and pronouns (he/she/they), which is usually challenging. Even if you are completely supportive and understanding, it still takes time to reprogram the brain after years of calling them by their legal names (aka: “dead name”). The most important aspect is that you try. You can always correct yourself or encourage your child to correct you and hold you accountable. Talk with your kid about realistic expectations, as being perfect is never a reasonable request. You and your child should anticipate some slip-ups. When that happens, apologize, correct yourself, and move on. You don’t have to apologize profusely, as that usually just draws more attention to your mistake rather than your good-will effort to do better in the future.

This could also mean a new wardrobe or gender-affirming gear. This can get expensive, but you can take it one piece at a time. Go shopping together or get a gift card so they can go with a friend to explore new stuff! If your child requests a chest binder, learn together about using this safely (wearing for a maximum of 8 hours).

At some point, your child is likely to talk about surgeries or hormones (Gender Affirming Hormone Therapy). Whether or not you agree with this course of action, LISTEN to what your child has to say. Help them identify their goals for these major decisions and consult with a medical professional together so you can both learn more about long-term goals. There are age requirements in place for most procedures.

Talk about who in your lives needs to know this information and how to go about coming out to others. You likely know who in your family is safe and who isn’t. Ask your child IF and WHEN they want to tell other people. This may take time and patience (again) on your part. Don’t rush it. Help your kid learn to listen to their gut when considering who is safe. Some people to consider: other parent(s), grandparents, extended family, friends, classmates, teachers, school administrators. Consider ways to prepare for bullying and harsh comments. Set limits with those people who are unwilling or unable to love and accept your child after they learn this information.

Step Four: Get connected.

Learning more about who you are in relation to the world around you can be challenging enough, but when the people around you are all the same, there’s not a ton of opportunity to explore new areas. Find ways your teen can build meaningful relationships with people in similar situations.

Here are a few local resources:

PFLAG can help parents/guardians learn more about specific ways to offer support:

Uplift is a youth center for LGBTQ+ teens:

864 Pride is a non-profit in Greenville dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of local LGBTQ+ folks:

UU Church:

For a list of affirming churches in your area:

You can even help establish a GSA (Gay/Straight Alliance) Program at your teen’s school!

Lambda Legal specializes in protecting and advancing the rights of LGBTQ+ persons. Their website has great information regarding legal rights in each state:

Step Five: Continue being an amazing family.

Continue honoring your teen while also recognizing that they are still just as amazing now as they were before they came out to you. This is only one part of who they are and getting “hung up” in this for an extended period of time can prevent your family from moving forward. Keep spending quality time together. Find new activities you can enjoy together to help you feel connected. Repeatedly affirm your love for them, regardless of their gender or the genders of their future partners. Acknowledge that you want your child to be loved and treated well. You don’t have to talk about sexuality and gender every single day. Prioritize your family’s loving dynamics, and any future changes will flow more easily.

Recommended Reading:

Unconditional: A Guide to Loving and Supporting your LGBTQ Child, by Telaina Eriksen

This I Know: A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians, by Jim Dant

Tomorrow Will Be Different, by Sarah McBride

Amateur, by Thomas Page McBee


Caitlin Ryan, et al., Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults. PEDIATRICS 346 (2009).

di Giacomo E, Krausz M, Colmegna F, Aspesi F, Clerici M. Estimating the Risk of Attempted Suicide Among Sexual Minority Youths: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(12):1145–1152. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2731

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