Providing Support to LGBTQ Loved Ones
Being a member of the LGBTQ community is becoming more widely accepted in our Western world. Perhaps you have a family member that is openly gay or a close friend of yours has confided in you that they are bisexual. You want to properly support them, but this is new, confusing territory for you, and you aren’t sure how. You may be wondering if there are certain things you should be doing or avoiding, or maybe this is a first for you and you don’t know where to start! Look no further, today, we will be discussing a few simple methods for showing your loved ones that you care about them.
Support is the best thing that you can give to your LGBTQ loved ones. Studies show that risk of self-harm in LGBTQ individuals can drop drastically by simply having a supportive family by their side. Being there for a person’s exploration of and discovery of themselves is highly important to their wellbeing, so let’s get into how we can give support.
Many times, I see parents worrying that they’ve done something wrong with their reaction to their child coming out. I often hear parents say, “I told him I don’t care if he’s gay,” and are shocked when their child is hurt by this. This may sound like the perfect way to react to your child; you don’t care if they are gay or straight, so what did you do wrong? The reality is that your child has most likely been waiting to come out and share their identity with you and using the words “I don’t care” sounds dismissive. Coming out is a big, scary moment for everyone that has to. Unfortunately, many children are not 100% sure that their parents would still love them if they were LGBTQ. That fear can make coming out very difficult, so when they finally work up the courage to, love and acceptance should be the response.
Let’s try changing the wording of our response. Instead of “I don’t care,” try: “Thank you for telling me, I love you.” This response shows that you see their identity, you understand that this moment was important for them, and you accept them. Similarly, you can say something like “thank you for trusting me enough to tell me” or “I’m so happy that you felt comfortable telling me this.” These responses all show love and care, and do not sound dismissive to the person’s brave moment.
Perhaps you’ve already passed this milestone, and your family member has been openly LGBTQ for a while now. How can you continuously provide support to them?
While being LGBTQ is becoming more accepted in some parts of the world, being openly out anywhere is still brave. Sometimes, friends or family members may accept that someone is LGBTQ initially, and then sweep that fact under the rug and not acknowledge it. You will want to provide a continuous stream of support, which can be done in different ways! Liking posts on social media that show support or getting them a button or sticker with their identity are small but powerful ways to tell them you care.
A big way to show support is by changing your wording. If someone you know comes out as transgender, changing what name you call them and the pronouns they use (he/her/they/etc.) is essential to acknowledging their identity. If your daughter comes out as gay, the next time you ask them about their love life, be conscious about using female-partner based wording, like “how’s the search for a girlfriend going?” These may seem like small things, but they make a huge difference to the LGBTQ person. It shows that you are making an effort!
Stand up for them!
If you witness your friend or family member getting harassed, don’t stand idly by. Show your support and that you will not tolerate homophobic remarks; just make sure you and your friend/family member are physically safe.
Talk with them
This one is pretty straightforward and very helpful! LGBTQ folks may be able to be categorized into the labels like lesbian or bisexual, that does not mean that every lesbian person is the same. Everyone has their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings, so it’s important to listen to the specific person. Ask your friend or family member what you can do to support them, what you should avoid doing, etc.
A good example is the word “queer.” Many LGBTQ people widely accept and use this word, it is even an academic word! Yet at the same time, some folks do not like being called queer as it has been used offensively in the past to hurt them. Both of these groups are valid in their usage or lack thereof; it’s all about personal experience and preference. As such, it’s important to sit down with the LGBTQ people in your life and understand their unique experience. Similarly to this…
Do not assume!
The media of the past (and still today sometimes!) likes to portray LGBTQ people in stereotypical ways. Gay people are not always flamboyant, bisexual people are not sex-hungry beasts!
The most important thing to remember is that supporting LGBTQ folks is a continuous process. They will face hardships throughout their entire lives, so being with them every step of the way is the best thing you can do to show your love. It may be a confusing and difficult time for you and it is important to remember that the person you love is the same person inside as they have always been, but now they have the opportunity to be open with you and happy with the support for their identity.
Marisa Padeletti graduated with her Master's in Counseling from University of Baltimore and currently serves as Administrative Assistant at Cedar Counseling & Wellness. She takes a special interest in feminist-based beliefs and LGBTQIA+ exploration and affirmation.