“Supporting your LGBT[Q] child does not mean that parents and other family members must accept behaviors that they consider inappropriate or against their family’s standards; what it does mean is that children who engage in behavior or express an identity that is not approved by the family still need love and acceptance, still need to feel that they are a part of the family, and still need a positive sense of self and hope for the future. As with any behaviors that parents find inappropriate or unacceptable, care should be taken not to send rejecting messages to the child or young person himself.”
~ Family Acceptance Project
Dear homeschooling parent:
Perhaps you are reading this with trepidation, fearful that we’re going to ask you violate your personal beliefs about gender and sexuality. Please know that none of the following seven steps require you to hide, violate, or otherwise sacrifice your own personal beliefs about gender and sexuality if those beliefs are in tension with your child’s.
These are all steps you can take simply to communicate to your child basic love and respect. They are also all steps that are fundamental to reducing the risk factors that come with being LGBTQ. LGBTQ kids face significantly higher rates of physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and mental illness. These higher rates are statistically demonstrated to become exacerbated by family rejection of the child.
Yes, you read that right: if you simply commit to communicating that you still love and respect your child even though you might disapprove of their gender or sexual identity, your child will be 8 times less likely to attempt suicide, 6 times less likely to report high levels of depression, 3 times less likely to abuse substances, and 3 times less likely to be at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
We at Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out understand how intensely controversial the subject of gender and sexual identity is within conservative Christian homes and communities. We all grew up in conservative Christian homes, many of our families are still both conservative and Christian, and many of us are still Christian ourselves. We know that this is a sensitive subject for many. But we believe there is so, so much that conservative Christians, the Church, and Christian homeschooling communities can do to make the lives of their LGBTQ children easier and safer even while maintaining sincerely held beliefs.
We’re asking you to make a simple commitment: do what you can to make the lives of LGBTQ children easier and safer. The following seven steps are good places to start.
1. Don’t ignore your kid’s gender or sexual identity.
If your child tells you they are gay or bisexual or transgender, acknowledge it. It took so much courage for your child to tell you. You probably have no idea just how brave that simple step of honesty took. So no matter what you think about it, honor your child’s courage and honesty. Don’t walk away. Don’t give them the silent treatment. Don’t say, “No, you’re not.” Be in the moment. Sit in the moment. Say, “Thank you for being willing to tell me.” If you make them afraid of sharing something as essential as who they are, they will be afraid to come to you about all sorts of other important issues.
2. Know that your child already knows what you think. But they don’t know — and might be greatly fearing — what you will do.
When your child tells you about their gender or sexual identity, don’t recite Bible verses or preach a sermon. Trust me, if you have religious objections to your child’s gender or sexual identity, your child already knows them. They have known them — and felt the guilt and shame that comes from feeling they are violating your beliefs — for longer than you would guess. Studies show that most LGBTQ kids realize they’re different starting at the age of 10. They could probably recite from memory the exact verses you were going to; they could probably preach a better sermon against their gender or sexual identity than you can. Because they have wrestled with reconciling who they are with what they feel is right (according to what you believe). So don’t tell them what they already know you think.
What they’re likely worrying about in this moment is what are you going to do? Are you going to tell them they’re evil? Are you going to hit them? Scream at them? Are you going to kick them out of the house? Are you going to never let them see their siblings again? Those are all things that parents have done to LGBTQ kids. They are things Christian homeschooling parents have done to their LGBT* kids. Those actions are devastating. Remember the statistics we started with? If you reject your child, those statistics get flipped. Your child will be 8 times more likely to attempt suicide, 6 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3 times more likely to abuse substances, and 3 times more likely to be at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
In this moment, your child is likely worrying you might reject them like so many other LGBTQ kids’ parents have. So instead of telling them what you think, tell them what you’re not going to do. Let them know they still have a home. Let them know they still have a family. Let them know they still have your love.
3. Commit to loving your child.
This is your baby. This is the child you have raised. Never forget that. Even if your child is going down a path you don’t like, even if your child is making decisions that confuse or hurt you, remember that this is still your child. If you believe in God, this is the person God entrusted to your care. Keep loving them.
Don’t get sucked into the lie that “tough love” is anything but destructive. Love should only be tough in the sense that it is enduring. Love should not be “tough” in the sense that it endangers the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of another person. Love isn’t endangering. Love is patient, kind, and protective (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
4. Commit to loving your child authentically.
Don’t love conditionally, with strings attached. Don’t show them love just so you can stay in their lives to guilt trip them with sermons or books you send to try to convince them to change their gender or sexual identity. Don’t act like your love is a privilege that you are bestowing on them that they don’t deserve. You’ll just push them away. Your kid is smart; they know when you are being passive aggressive or manipulative. Just show that you love your child and that will go a really long way. If you want to have a serious, mature conversation with your child about their gender or sexual identity, ask them if they’re up for it. If not now, maybe they’ll be up for it later. (Respect their answer.) If the conversation does happen, commit to engaging in your child in a kind manner.
5. Learn and use accurate language.
It will go a long way if you learn and use accurate language about the gender or sexual identity of your child, even if you completely disagree with them. If your kid is bisexual, don’t say she’s a lesbian. If you’re kid is transgender but straight, don’t say he’s gay.
Above all else, learn what words are hurtful to LGBTQ kids. Don’t use slurs like “homo.” Use the right words like “transgender,” not “transgendered.” It might not make sense to you why accurate language is important. It might be frustrating that the words considered appropriate in a year ago are no longer appropriate now. But it will mean a lot to your child if you commit to using language that is respectful of your child, even if you disagree with your child’s choices and decisions. If you don’t know what language to avoid, here is a good place to start.
Also, respect your child’s pronoun preferences; this is important to their mental health care.
6. If your child has a partner, treat your child’s partner with love and respect.
This might be particularly hard to you because your child’s partner represents the fact that your child is living their life in a way with which you intensely disagree. But your child’s partner is just as human as you are. They’re not a stereotype; they’re not the enemy. If you’re a Christian, you need to realize that your child’s partner is made in the exact same image of God as you are and your child is, and that image deserves love and respect like any other human being.
You don’t have to approve of anything; you don’t have to say you like it. But treat them well. Invite them over for dinner. Have normal conversations. Ask questions about their lives. Get to know them as fellow human beings.
7. Avoid alienating phrases like, “You can’t be a Christian and be ______.”
While you may think you’re making a theological argument, your child can easily interpret (or misinterpret) this phrase as saying God does not love them, that they are not welcome in faith communities, or that they will be ostracized from the support systems their faith community provides them. That’s only going to drive them away from the communities and support systems that can prove vital to their health and well-being.
For additional information:
• Family Acceptance Project, A Practitioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT[Q] Children, link.
• Family Acceptance Project, Supportive Families,Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children, link.
• Child-Friendly Faith Project, “Can Christian parents support their LGBT[Q] children without compromising their faith?”, link.
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.