I was in Atlantic City with my best friends when a table of women nearby — moms in their late 30s to early 40s — decided to join in on our Friday night out.
They were getting away from their kids and husbands for the weekend, as we were getting away from the hustle and bustle of New York City. They immediately clocked us as gay, while we immediately clocked them as tipsy.
After we warmed up to another, one mom anxiously said: "I have a question: I am pretty sure my son is gay, but I don't know what to do. He hasn't come out yet, but I wanna make sure he knows I'll be OK with it."
Most LGBTQ youth are aware of their sexual orientation or gender identity by the start of adolescence. But still, the real and perceived fear of rejection still deters many children from coming out.
What can parents do?
From responding to Neil Patrick Harris on "The Tonight Show" to spending some time with Google, here are six things a parent can do before their child comes out.
1. Respond to an LGBTQ character in the media
With LGBTQ visibility continuing to rise in the media, there are plenty of opportunities to breach the topic in your household.
"If you’re watching TV or a movie together and an LGBTQ character comes on, seize the opportunity to affirm to your child that you are accepting and supportive of LGBTQ people," Kristina Furia, the founder and executive director of Emerge Wellness and Philadelphia LGBTQ Counseling, tells TODAY Parents.
"It may seem counter-intuitive but the best thing to do is to wait for your child to open up to you."
2. Stop any and all hate speech
This may seem like an obvious one, but microaggressions are a great opportunity for you to demonstrate to your child that you are an ally.
A 2018 report from the Human Rights Campaign shows that 78% of LGBTQ youth who are not out at home hear their families make negative comments about LGBTQ people.
Furia says, "It is crucial that your child feel that your home and ultimately you are a safe space. You must not allow hateful speech, whether subtle or overt, of any kind to be tolerated."
For example, if someone uses the word "gay" in place of "stupid," remind them that the two are not interchangeable, and suggest they should say what they actually mean instead.
3. Educate yourself
Start educating yourself about the LGBTQ community: You don't have to wait for the big "coming out" moment to start learning.
"Consider increasing your understanding of the LGBTQ experience and brushing up on appropriate language," Furia says. "There is an array of vocabulary relevant to the community that you very well might not know yet."
4. Seek your own network
You're also part of your child's LGBTQ experience, so make sure you take care of yourself in the process.
"Consider getting involved with an organization for additional support and resources," Furia says. "PFLAG is a great place to start."
PFLAG is the nation's first and largest organization for LGBTQ people, their families and allies.
"Self-care is crucial, which means that even as you are learning how best to support your child or loved one, you must also find support for you," Liz Owen, director of communications for PFLAG National, told TODAY.
"This is especially true if your emotions are less positive, as you’ll need a safe place to work through those feelings. PFLAG meetings are a great and confidential way to find people who have gone through similar experiences. You can find a chapter near you by visiting here."
Another group specifically for dads is Dragon Dads, an online network and resource for religious fathers who shower their LGBTQ children with love and support.
5. Ask open-ended questions
Facilitating healthy dialogue can begin with the parent.
"Give your child ample opportunity to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. Whether they want to talk about their hopes for the future, or a situation that happened in school or at work that day, the prospect for open discussion is endless," Owen says.
"If you have a sense that your loved one might want to talk, but isn’t doing so on their own, a gentle open-ended question, such as, 'How did things go at school/work/church today?' can open the door to dialogue."
6. Don't push
Furia and Owen both stress the importance of not jumping the gun. Let your child take the lead.
"It is important that you address this subject with great care," Furia explains. "It may seem counter-intuitive but the best thing to do is to wait for your child to open up to you. If asked about their sexual orientation or gender identity before they’re ready to discuss it, your child might shell up, or worse, experience feelings of embarrassment or even shame. The best thing you can do is to make the conversation welcome by creating a warm and safe environment where open communication is the norm."
And when they finally are ready to talk, Owen adds, "Really listen."
These resources can help:
- PFLAG: The country’s largest organization uniting parents, families, and allies with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.
- Gender Spectrum: Offers groups, training, and resources promoting gender sensitivity and inclusion for all youth
- GLBT National Resource Database: LGBTQ+ digital directory of resources
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network: Directory of therapists/counselors who are people of color
- National LGBTQ Task Force: The progressive advocacy arm of the LGBTQ+ movement
During LGBTQ Pride Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and what’s next for the movement. We will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the entire month of June. For more, head here.
This story was published in 2019 and has been updated.