by MCF Director of Public Policy Ann Geddes
Some caregivers are upset upon learning that their child is gay or transgender – they may believe that homosexuality and gender non-conformity are wrong, abnormal or harmful. This negative response can manifest itself in a number of ways – caregivers might prohibit their child from having a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning (LBTQ) friend, exploring their LBTQ identity, or participating in a support group for LBTQ youth. They might go so far as to try to find a counselor that can “fix” their child by breaking them of this “lifestyle choice.”
It is understandable that some caregivers might find their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity frightening, because they have not had the experience of knowing someone close to them who is LBTQ. They may lack education about the topic, or they may believe it is a sin. Families must understand, however, that rejecting a child because they are LBTQ can have disastrous consequences.
Suicide and suicidal ideation rates for LBTQ youth are significantly higher than for the general population. This is particularly true if a young person has been rejected by their family during adolescence. The statistics are sobering:
- A young adult is 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide if their family is rejecting of their LBTQ identity.
- LBTQ youth are 120% more likely to become homeless than their straight peers, largely owing to family rejection.
- While 92% of LBTQ adults whose family was accepting of their sexual orientation or gender identity describe themselves as happy, only 35% of those with a rejecting family do so.
What can a caregiver to do if they are having great difficulty accepting their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity? First, educate yourself. There is an excellent publication by the Family Acceptance Project available for download here. The publication is aims to provide guidance to caregivers who may be having trouble accepting their LBTQ child. Second, try a support group. Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) offers support groups across Maryland. They are welcoming and understanding of families that may be struggling. Finally, remember that you love your child and want what is best for them. Unconditional love is the greatest contributor to a young person’s sense of well-being.
If you suspect that your child or any of their friends may be thinking about harming themselves, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 – 800-273-8255.