Coming Out Day commemorates the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, on 11th October 1987. It followed the First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979 which brought together an unprecedented 100,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies to demand civil rights for the LGBT community in America.
Since then, Coming Out Day has become recognised internationally as a day on which LGBT people and their stories are seen and celebrated.
At LGBT Youth Scotland we’ve provided quality youth work for LGBT young people for over 30 years and over that time we’ve heard countless stories from young people about their experiences of coming out to their families. We’re honoured to be part of the journey of a young person getting to know themselves and growing into their own identity with confidence. Through our work with young people we know that their families and carers are often looking for advice on how to best support their journey as well. This Coming Out Day we have answered some of the most common questions we get asked by families around coming out.
Advice for parents and carers: supporting a young person
A parent/carer might tell us “my child has started to act really reserved at home and I’m not sure why”, whilst a young person might tell us “I don’t want to tell my family; I’m worried about their reaction”.
It’s not uncommon for an LGBT young person to feel anxious about coming out to their close family and answering all the questions or comments that might come up. They may not yet have all the answers themselves.
Young people might test the waters first to try and learn what your reaction might be. For this reason, it’s important to show kindness towards LGBT people in all aspects of life, through stories and world events. Showing hints about ‘how you might react’ can be a small way to create a safe space, for instance, ‘I saw a TV show the other day with a transgender actor - it’s nice to see times changing for the better’ or ‘I saw that your school is doing the LGBT Charter - that’s so great to see’.
Remember to keep the lines of communication open so that when the time is right for them, they know you are there and always will be. If you are worried for their well-being, you can reach out for support by contacting a support service or talking to someone who might be able to help. Remember, just as your child is not alone, neither are you. If you need more support, you can check out Children 1st Parentline and chat to them 7 days a week. Find out more here.
A parent/carer might tell us, “I think my child is LGBT and I don’t know how to get them to talk to me”. However, a young person might tell us, “I’m LGBT, but I’m not ready to tell my family just yet”.
It’s okay for young people not to share some information with you. No one should ever feel pressured to come out – it’s a personal choice of when and how they feel comfortable to do so. It’s not uncommon for young people to tell youth work services, friends or teachers they are LGBT before a family member; this isn’t a reflection on you as a parent or carer. Sometimes young people are just not ready to share with those closest to them or they don’t have the right words yet.
There are many reasons a young person might not be ready to tell their family, so what you can do is ensure your home is a place where one day they feel comfortable and safe to do so. Do you have open conversations that will help your child realise you will be accepting of their identity? You could also make space for them to talk about their feelings and let them know you are there if they need to talk.
Young people will come out at their own pace and in their own time and that is important; having a welcoming home can help make that process feel safer.
A parent/carer might tell us “My child has come out and I don’t know where to start” and a young person might tell us “My family don’t really get it, I’m not sure what to do”.
Remember, you’re not expected to know everything! Even if you are having trouble understanding, staying supportive and open as a parent/carer is one of the most important things you can do. If your child sees you love them unconditionally, that can make a positive difference to their well-being. Statistically, LGBT young people who have families who are supportive of their identity are more likely to thrive than those who do not. It’s okay to have questions and having an open and honest relationship is important. It can help to do your own research, getting advice from reputable organisations or charities and going on your own journey of understanding.
Families can play an important role in advocating for safer spaces for their LGBT child. With permission from your child, you might want to chat to a trusted teacher at school to ensure there is support in place. Schools in Scotland are doing more work than ever to ensure prejudice and discrimination are not tolerated. It can be helpful to give the school positive feedback if they are doing work around LGBT inclusion, it’s important that teachers know that you value and respect their hard work.
Top Tips for when a family member comes out to you
If you’re a young person reading this, please remember you deserve to feel loved and supported by those closest to you. We support young people aged 13 to 25 in a few different ways, click here to find out how. You can also check out our LGBT Coming Out Guides in the resource section of our website.