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Talking to your kids about LGBTQ+ topics

By The Health News Team | June 20, 2023
Talking to your kids about LGBTQ+ topics

Talking to your kids about relationships and sexual health is no longer just a simple chat about the birds and the bees. It’s important that the information you share with your children is medically accurate, free of judgment and covers a wide range of age-appropriate topics, some of which you may find difficult to discuss.

These topics include consent, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), contraception, and developing healthy attitudes about personal development and sexuality. Your conversation should also include information about sexual and gender identity and expression.

According to a 2021 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, more than 3% of students identify as gay and almost 12% identify as bisexual. A 2022 Williams Institute study reports that among American youth ages 13 to 17, 1.4% — about 300,000 — identify as transgender. They are all part of the community known as LGBTQ+, an abbreviation that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning.

Others included within this group, and represented by the plus sign in the abbreviation, include people who identify as other than heterosexual or cisgender (people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth). This includes intersex and nonbinary — also called genderqueer — people; a spectrum of gender identities not exclusively masculine or feminine; and those who represent a broad spectrum of sexual orientations, such as asexual and pansexual.

Why inclusivity and acceptance matters

While many LGBTQ+ youth report they are happy, the group as a whole are more likely than their cisgender and heterosexual peers to be bullied or homeless. They are also at greater risk for attempting suicide, alcohol abuse and participating in risky sexual behaviors.

This is why it is important you understand that the way you respond to your LGBTQ+ children can have a tremendous impact on your kids’ mental and physical health. Your support plays a crucial role in your LGBTQ+ child’s ability to cope with challenges and thrive.

Dr. Andrew Brown, a board-certified family medicine doctor affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group, knows that talking to your children about LGBTQ+ issues can be challenging or uncomfortable for some parents. However, he believes that in an ideal world, this is not a dedicated conversation that one would need to have.

“The best thing to do is to create a home environment that is inclusive and nondiscriminatory through using gender-inclusive language and avoiding terminology and behaviors that promote a two-gender, heteronormative world,” he says.

Answers to your top questions

According to Dr. Brown, keeping an open mind as a parent can go very far. “Kids will perceive this more than you think,” he says.

Here, Dr. Brown answers some of parents’ top questions about how to welcome new information without judgment; foster an inclusive, nondiscriminatory home; and hold these very important conversations:

When should you start talking to kids about sexual and gender diversity and acceptance?

Have the conversation if your child brings up the topic or something is witnessed that brings it up. This can include your child coming home from preschool talking about seeing another child playing with a toy that is incongruent with “gender norms,” witnessing a same-sex couple walking down the street holding hands or, perhaps, the portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters on television.

Again, in an ideal world, this would be conveyed as a very matter-of-fact and nothing-out-of-the-ordinary manner, but it’s a great time to remind your child that humanity is so diverse in myriad ways, some of which are gender and sexual identity, and to promote an inclusive and equality mentality.

What do you recommend parents do — and do not — say to their children when discussing gender fluidity or differences?

Definitely use gender-inclusive language and avoid terminology that reinforces a two-gender world, such as “opposite sex” or “opposite gender,” which imply there are only two possible genders.

Definitely do not tell your child that they cannot or should not like a specific color, toy, activity or article of clothing — or anything else, for that matter — just because they are a “boy” or “girl” and what they like is not necessarily conforming to society’s defined gender norms. Let your kids choose clothes and costumes without influence when it comes to gender, and let them play around with gender presentation if they want to.

How can parents compassionately talk to a child who may be expressing nonconforming gender or sexual identity?

The best way is to simply create an open and accepting environment from day one. This will allow your child to feel like they can bring up any feelings they may be having without fear of abandonment or negative reactions.

If you find yourself wondering if your child might identify as LGBTQ+, but they are not opening up to you, it is best to let your child be the one to broach the subject. “Coming out” as LGBTQ+ is one of the biggest moments in any LGBTQ+-identifying person’s life, and one that should be on their own terms.

Some ways that you can help to facilitate this could be to unwaveringly demonstrate an open and welcoming attitude and displaying LGBTQ+-supporting reactions when LGBTQ+ persons or situations are portrayed on TV or in the media or when encountering LGBTQ+ persons.

Be careful, though; there is a fine line between conveying support and acceptance and going too far, which can have the opposite of the desired effect. Inauthentically going overboard in your pro-LGBTQ+ demonstrations can push your child away, as they can clearly read into your motives and feel the pressure being put on them to come out, if this is even truly applicable. Remember, what you see and believe may be very different from your child’s true inner reality.

Just be open, caring, compassionate and inclusive in your everyday life. Your child will open up when they are ready and feel safe in doing so.

How can we talk to all children about being allies to the LGBTQ+ community?

This is another lead-by-example kind of thing. However, if your child comes home from school and talks about another member of their class expressing any tendencies toward being LGBTQ+, be sure to encourage your child to be a friend to their classmate. Remind your child that everybody needs a friend and nobody deserves or likes to be excluded or picked on.

Where can parents turn if they have questions about their child’s gender or sexual identity, or to help their children better understand themselves and find support?

The best resources are LGBTQ+ community centers and community groups. There, you can find support groups for families going through similar situations. PFLAG is a great resource for getting connected with support groups and offers independent reading if you aren’t quite ready to talk to others about what you may be feeling. And, as always, your family doctor is a great resource and a starting point not to be forgotten.

Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) about understanding and responding to the needs of LGBTQ+ adolescents.

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