Supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered teens

Support for youth revealing their sexual orientation is critical

The process by which a child comes out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or questioning is a personal one, and it is harder for some to do than others.

There is a myriad of reasons for kids to worry about telling others about their sexual orientation — a friend’s and/or parent’s rejection, lack of social support, or internal debate to whether they are truly experiencing these feelings.

I work with many kids on the continuum of coming out. Some are just beginning to think about their sexual orientation and some are working very hard to keep it a secret. Others come out with an explosion of confidence and show the entire world who they truly are.

The act of someone revealing themselves is a process filled with self-doubt, fear, excitement and a sense of freedom. This process can also include excessive sadness, increased anxiety and suicidal thoughts in worst-case scenarios.

For one kid, the coming-out process might be freeing and joyful. For another, the process can involve rejection by peers and/or abandonment by parents. The latter is often times why we see kids “couch surfing,” or even homeless.

Rejection, abandonment and bullying are not uncommon for kids who are coming out, and it is these issues that cause our LGBTQ youth to have one of the highest rates of suicide among adolescents and young adults. If you couple that with the segment of society voicing their disapproval of homosexuality, sometimes this environment can feel unsafe.

Therapy and support groups are critical for LGBTQ youth. They need to feel validated, supported and accepted. Research suggests that even with a few supportive connections, kids who are coming out or transitioning can have positive, successful lives.

Kids that are LGBTQ have fewer peers that share their same orientation. Think about how hard it is to date as a heterosexual then add on the fact that there are fewer LGBTQ youth with whom to connect.

In addition, some LGBTQ youth experience varying levels of coming out with their peers and struggle to be at the same place. For those kids that are completely comfortable with being who they are, trying to be in a relationship with another LGBTQ youth who is not “out” can be frustrating and difficult as they have to hide their identity.

To provide the most support, parents and professionals should realize that although the world in general has become more accepting, the process is still difficult and scary.

Knowing what resources, other professionals or friends that can help youth navigate the process is important, as many youth and parents of youth who are coming out don’t know what is available to them for guidance.

Working with therapy professionals, educators and other members in the LGBTQ community can often be a saving grace for youth struggling to come out. If youth know they are supported by peers, and have adults who care about them and accept them unconditionally, they will have a greater chance of finding out who they truly are and feeling good about it.

June is National PRIDE month. Please consider donating to organizations that support LGBTQ youth such as Seacoast Outright, Concord Outright and PFLAG of New Hampshire. 

Tracey Tucker is Executive Director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.

More Parenting in the Moment columns by Tracey Tucker

Making sleep a priority

Adequate sleep time is critical for adolescents

At the finish line

Senior year is perilous for both students and parents

The push and pull of letting go

Managing the many emotions you will have when your child leaves home

Transitioning from teen to adult

How to navigate the changes ahead
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