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Parents, Please Don’t Become Your Child’s First Bully

One of the biggest concerns expressed by parents about their LGBTQ kiddos is safety. Threats, slurs, and pressure to hide themselves are very real risks for queer people walking through the world. Considering the influence of early support, parents and family members play a major role in developing resilience.

Here’s the thing – LGBTQ youth are typically not struggling with their identities. They might be exploring or trying to put words to an extremely complex experience, but this isn’t necessarily the same as ‘struggling’ with an identity.

The internal conflict is more often due to a child trying to reconcile their sense of self with everything the world has told them it means to be queer. Or trans. Or bisexual. Or whichever gender identity, attraction, etc. belonging to that child.

Parents who reject a child’s emerging orientation or gender identity may feel that they are somehow preventing future difficulties and a higher risk of negative outcomes. Quite the opposite, they are becoming that child’s first bully.

Humans are wired to develop and maintain secure connections with their primary caregivers. It’s a survival thing – tiny humans need older humans to protect, guide, and provide. If you react negatively to a child’s expression, that child has a huge investment in keeping things stable. Even if that means altering, or fracturing, their innate sense of self.

One of the more difficult things for people to understand about supporting queer kids is that parental redirection, however well-intended, is extremely damaging. This is true for everything from telling your son to put away his pink shoes before Grandma comes over, to excluding your non-binary child from family photos if they don’t wear a dress.

Whether it comes from parents, family members, or others with whom the child has a close relationship, re-direction sends a message to the child that they are inherently wrong (or evil, or broken). It’s devastating and can manifest later in the child’s life through suicidal ideation, self-harm, or other negative outcomes.

Walking through the world as a queer kid means listening to the public debate over your basic human rights. Can you get married? Can you adopt? Can you expect reasonable privacy when using public facilities? Can you travel safely? What happens if you get pulled over and the officer doesn’t recognize an “X” gender indicator on your driver’s license?

Support in their immediate environment is one of the most influential factors on a child’s capacity for resiliency. This includes not only the home and family, but also peers, school systems, and larger community. Kids need enthusiastic affirmation and validation. More importantly, they need to be seen and valued as themselves. This is especially relevant for queer kids because of the profound degree of negative responses they will encounter.

This binary perspective of ‘gender assigned at birth’ is so deeply ingrained, people respond with violence.

Last month, adults in Oklahoma posted threats on social media against a 12-year-old student because she wanted to use the bathroom. Some of these posts incited other children to attack this one until she stopped attending school.

Think about that for a minute. These same parents who claim to be afraid for their child’s safety in bathrooms are actively encouraging violence against someone else’s child. Because she’s “different”. Every day, transgender people are at significantly higher risk of being victimized in the same culture that promotes them as a threat to other people’s safety.

So, keeping your queer kiddo safe starts with supporting them at home. Model behaviors that demonstrate inclusion even before your child comes out. Other kids, and their parents, are watching.


Originally published at on September 18, 2018

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