Let’s Talk About … Being the Parent of an LGBTQ Child

The following guest post comes to us from Planned Parenthood Arizona’s education staff. Contact them at education@ppaz.org.

father-and-son-thumbnailOctober is Let’s Talk month, when Planned Parenthood advocates for better parent-child communication around sexuality. Last year we wrote about why it’s so important for any parent to talk to their child about sexuality — early and often. Parents are the primary sexuality educators of their children, and children who can talk to their parents about sexuality wait longer to have sex, and are more likely to use protection.

Planned Parenthood has great resources to help parents talk to their kids. Advocates for Youth also has a comprehensive guide to help parents through difficult conversations. Planned Parenthood also has resources for parents of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) youth. You might also ask your friendly local librarian about one of these books recommended by PFLAG, a national organization for families, friends, and allies of LGBTQ people.

Demand LGBTQ inclusivity and comprehensive sex education in your school district.

On November 2, Planned Parenthood will host an interactive workshop in Phoenix for parents of LGBTQ youth, where they can practice being an “askable” parent. Parents of LGBTQ kids may find it a little more difficult to be an “askable” adult. But it’s even more important because your children are at particular risk. LGBTQ youth face significant obstacles in their schools, in the world, and, sometimes, unfortunately, in their own homes. LGBTQ youth experience high rates of homelessness, depression/anxiety, and astronomically high rates of suicides — 3 times higher than straight youth. Study after study has shown that, in schools, LGBTQ youth face much higher levels of bullying, harassment, intimidation, threats, and physical assault than their peers. Stopbullying.gov reports that bullied LGBTQ youth (or youth perceived as LGBTQ) are more likely to skip school, smoke, use alcohol and drugs, and to engage in other risky behaviors.

If your child is transgender, their risks are exponentially higher. Almost all transgender students report being harassed at school about their sexual orientation and/or gender. More than half of transgender students report being physically harassed (pushed, shoved) in school. And about a third report being physically assaulted (punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon). For more information on transgender discrimination in schools, please see Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools, available online here.

How to Help

The data is alarming, but you can help your child avoid many of these risks. Communicating with your child is key. If they feel ashamed they may not want to report being bullied. They may feel less comfortable seeking help from teachers and administrators — but you can advocate for your child. Simple things like going to the bathroom, joining a sports team, or having to change clothes in gym class can be traumatic, unsafe experiences. Your loving guidance can support your child through such difficult situations. If your child feels safe confiding in you, you will know when you need to step in to help keep them safe.

Being accepting of your child will make a big difference. LGBTQ youth who are rejected by their families are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide than those from supportive families. They are more than 3 times more likely to abuse drugs, and more than 3 times more likely to contract HIV and other STDs. Parents, this shows you how important you are to your children — youth from connected, accepting families are more protected from these risks. Starting at home, by talking to your child, you can make the most important first step in supporting them to respect themselves and make healthy, informed choices. If you have read this far, you’re probably doing a good job of being a loving, concerned, askable adult!

Supporting Your Child in School

It is likely that the curricula they learn in school is not inclusive. Sex education can be an awkward or embarrassing experience for many students, but for LGBTQ youth, this may create an environment where they are teased, feel singled out, or are unable to ask questions. Where non-inclusive curricula might provide inaccurate information, or ignore or stigmatize LGBTQ relationships, medically accurate, comprehensive sex ed curricula help youth learn to make healthy choices, avoid risky situations, and stand up for themselves assertively. Comprehensive sex education supports LGBTQ youth to make healthy, informed choices, and will encourage them, if they engage in sexual activity, to protect themselves.

“No Promo Homo” Laws

Here in Arizona, LGBTQ students face some hurdles. Whereas 18 states (and Washington, D.C.) have passed anti-bullying laws that prohibit harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Arizona has not. Whereas 14 states (and Washington, D.C.) have passed nondiscrimination laws protecting students based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, Arizona has not. And, along with seven other states, Arizona has enacted “No Promo Homo” laws that, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reports, “expressly forbid teachers from discussing gay and transgender issues (including sexual health and HIV/AIDS awareness) in a positive light — if at all. Some laws even require that teachers actively portray LGBT people in a negative or inaccurate way. These statutes only serve to further stigmatize LGBT students by providing K-12 students false, misleading, or incomplete information about LGBT people.” Find more information about “No Promo Homo” laws in Arizona here, here, and here.

What Can I Do?

Attend our parent workshop on Wednesday, November 2! We’ll be holding the workshop from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the board room at Fresh Start, located at 1130 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix AZ 85006. The workshop is free, and food will be served. Please RSVP to education@ppaz.org.

Contact your principal, superintendent, and local school board to demand LGBTQ inclusivity and comprehensive sex education.

Vote in your local election on November 8. Almost all districts have three positions for school boards up for election — three seats are enough for a voting majority. Do your research, and vote for candidates who are as committed to your child as you are.

Teachers, administrators, and youth-serving professionals: You also have the power to intervene. Safe schools and access to trusted, caring adults are protective factors for LGBTQ youth. There are some good online trainings, curricula, and lesson plans on LGBTQ inclusivity here, here, and here.

… And, of course, talk to your child. Give them a hug, and tell them you love them.

More Resources:

The It Gets Better movement was founded to shed light on the rampant bullying of LGBTQ youth in schools, and to encourage LGBTQ youth not to succumb to depression and anxiety.

For more information on LGBTQ mental health and suicide, please see the Trevor Project — the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.

For more information on advocating for LGBTQ rights in schools, please see GLSEN, the national organization dedicated to ensuring safe and equitable schools for LGBTQ youth.

Find your local chapter of PFLAG (for family, friends, and allies of LGBTQ people) here.

Answer has a professional development workshop, LGBTQ Issues in Schools.

For more ideas on creating inclusive classrooms, consult GLSEN’s LGBTQ-inclusive Curriculum Guide for Educators and lesson plans on bullying, bias, and diversity.