So Your Child Came Out to You – Now What?
When Angélique Gravely was a young adult, she had known for some time that she identified as bisexual but held off on telling her mom. She wasn’t sure how her mom would react to the news. Growing up, she picked up on mixed messages about her mom’s feelings toward LGBTQ+ individuals, as well as her mother’s conservative religious beliefs.
“I was terrified she would have an extreme negative reaction, like no longer supporting me financially,” Gravely, who holds an MEd in counselor education and human sexuality studies and serves as an LGBTQ+ educator, advocate, and school counselor at Angel Gravely Education, tells POPSUGAR. But when she shared her sexual identity with her mom through an email, her fears about how the conversation could go weren’t what played out. Her mom’s reaction was “neutral,” she explains.
“Her response was that she already knew because she had been reading blogs I’d written online for years and that I could always talk to her if I wanted,” Gravely shares. While her reaction may seem positive, since there was no “extreme negative reaction,” the conversation hit differently for Gravely.
“We ended up having a huge argument that left me feeling like my coming out had been worthless because I still didn’t feel emotionally safe discussing my identity with her.”
“I discovered through our conversation, however, that even a neutral reaction could still hurt in some ways,” Gravely says. “I came out to her because I wanted to be able to discuss my LGBTQ+ identity with her, but the lack of any kind of real emotional affirmation in her response left me feeling like I still couldn’t do that. We didn’t discuss my identity again for two years.”
When she brought it up the next time, Gravely sent her mom another email – this time, “addressing the fact we hadn’t talked about my identity once since I came out,” she explains. In that email, Gravely expressed her hopes to get to a place in their relationship where the two could openly talk about it.
Unfortunately, her mom didn’t respond well to the message. “She got angry with me for my perspective on our relationship, which differed from hers,” she recalls. “We ended up having a huge argument that left me feeling like my coming out had been worthless because I still didn’t feel emotionally safe discussing my identity with her.”
Their relationship remained strained, and another seven years would go by before Gravely was able to have that important and necessary talk with her mom about her bisexuality. As parents, it’s important to understand that how we react to our kids’ coming out can shape our relationship with them for years to come. Supporting our kids who come out goes beyond that initial conversation. POPSUGAR spoke with experts and people who have lived experience navigating the intricacies of supporting their own LGBTQ+ kids to get their best pieces of advice.
How to Respond When Your Child Comes Out
The advice on how to react to your child when they initially come out is rooted in the same best practices for offering any kind of support.
“First and foremost, listen. Listen to what they are trying to tell you. Don’t interrupt. Good eye contact and a gentle and caring facial expression and body language communicate you are there and OK with this,” Folx Health clinician Dr. Michelle Forcier, MD, MPH, FAAP, suggests. “If it feels right to you, reach to hold their hand. If space feels more appropriate, keep space but use tone, words, eyes, face, and body to express that this is a safe and respectful space and that you are listening carefully and with love.”
Dr. Forcier emphasizes the importance of creating a safe, joyful, and respectful environment for your child. Remind them (and yourself!) that you love and support them no matter what.
From there, Dr. Forcier suggests “asking [your] child (youth or adult) what they want or need after disclosing.” A good starting point for parents is to ask how to make their home and surroundings feel safe, respectful, and loving” and then expand your questions from there.
“Questions to consider include whether the child needs specific resources, whether their pediatrician is LGBTQIA+ knowledgeable and friendly, whether they require additional mental health support, and if they need any accommodations at work or school,” she offers.
In addition to these insights, Dr. Forcier offers practical advice for parents to support their children, such as:
- Stop, listen, be quiet, and give them space to talk.
- When they take a pause or break, start with, “I love you.”
- Ask them to share whatever they feel comfortable with.
- Ask them what they think is important for you to know.
- Tell them you will support them and help them in whatever ways you can.
- Ask them what they need.
- Tell them how brave, wonderful, and loved they are – as is.
- Tell them that as their parent or caregiver, you love them unconditionally and with a full heart.
Gender specialist Rebecca Minor, LICSW, tells POPSUGAR that responding when your child comes out is more than a one-and-done conversation, it’s a process.
“Keep communication lines open and maintain regular check-ins to discuss their feelings and experiences,” she suggests. “There might be struggles ahead, but your support can make a huge difference. It’s OK not to know everything; willingness to learn and understand is what counts the most.”
Supporting your LGBTQ+ child, whether they are a minor or an adult, requires love, understanding, and continued open communication. And showing up for them by offering unconditional support looks the same no matter their age. However, some of the actionable steps in supporting them might look different depending on your child’s age and stage of life.
For example, supporting your young child might look like educating their school community on gender identity and reading age-appropriate books as they continue to discover who they are. Supporting your adult child might look more like attending rallies and challenging discrimination and inequality in governmental bills and policies.
What Not to Say When Your Child Comes Out
Minor says parents should avoid using common and dismissive clichés when their child comes out. A few that she hears most often:
- It’s just a phase.
- Are you sure?
- This is too hard for me.
- What did I do wrong?
“These phrases can feel dismissive, disbelieving, or self-centered, and they could harm your child,” Minor explains. Gravely agrees, adding that these examples can “feel dismissive of the emotional journey LGBTQ+ youth often have been through to figure out their own identity and to express it.” Thinking of her own coming out experience, Gravely also notes that the phrase “This doesn’t change anything” falls under the same umbrella.
“For some children, they are coming out because they want their relationship with their parents to change,” she explains. “They want to feel freer to be themselves, and that sometimes requires being given more space within the relationship to do that.
Supporting Your Child Isn’t About Not Making Mistakes
No parent is perfect, and navigating new experiences as parents, especially ones that feel big, doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, and that’s OK.
“It’s important to remember that this is new for you and your child, and mistakes will be made.”
“Like most parents, our journey has been a mix of emotions with a through line of love and support for our child,” Brad Nations, FOLX Health’s chief commercial officer and father of a trans daughter, tells POPSUGAR. “When she first came out, our initial reaction was mostly surprise, followed immediately by concerns for her safety, health, and an unknown future.”
He shares that initially, he expressed doubt, thinking it was just a phase, as many parents do, and he had to let go of many preconceived notions.
“We made plenty of mistakes along the way, ranging from using a deadname, wrong pronouns, and even many non-verbal reactions to situations that our child picked up on,” Nations says. “It’s important to remember that this is new for you and your child, and mistakes will be made.”
Minor says it’s not unusual for parents to struggle with their child coming out, but it’s important to “process elsewhere,” she says. “If you experience any grief, sadness, or anger, process that with a trusted friend, therapist, or parent coach.”
Nations agrees, saying, “You are going to have a range of emotions, and keeping them inside is not healthy for you, nor will it create a good mindset when supporting your child. Seek out relationships, mental health resources, or anything else you might need to ensure you are taking care of yourself so you can best take care of your child.”
Coming Out to the Other Parent, Extended Family, Friends, and Community
“If your child comes out to only one parent in a two-parent household, it’s important to respect their trust,” Minor shares. “Ask if they are planning to share this with their other parent if they have concerns about doing so, or how you can best support them in the process.”
Minor notes that it’s important you don’t pressure your child or share the information without their consent. The goal is to “create a supportive environment where they feel safe to express themselves,” particularly on their own terms.
If, ultimately, your child decides they don’t wish to come out to another parent or members of their family, it can be “a very challenging aspect of the coming out process,” for your child and yourself, Nations says.
“The first thing I would recommend is for you and your child to come up with a plan,” he suggests. “If they do not feel comfortable sharing with another parent or family member, ask them how you can support them as they continue to consider what, when, how they might feel more comfortable sharing – or not – now and in the future,” Nations continues.
“Ultimately, it is their story to tell, so understanding how and when they want it told is important. We found that our child wanted us to share the news with certain friends and family members while others felt she should be the one.”
Navigating Name Changes and Pronouns
Supporting your non-binary or trans child sometimes means navigating name changes and new pronouns, and the first thing for parents to understand is that respecting both is important.
“For parents of trans or non-binary youth, it’s essential to respect their chosen pronouns and name changes,” Minor says. “This can take some practice, but it’s a vital part of affirming their identity and supports their mental health.”
Minor offers the following guidance for parents:
- Practice: Use their chosen name and pronouns even when they’re not around. It helps normalize the changes for you.
- Correct mistakes: If you make a mistake, apologize briefly, correct yourself, and move on.
- Advocate for them: Help them navigate social, academic, or professional settings where they may need parental reinforcement.
“I have found that most parents only have a vague understanding of what being transgender means, which is often informed by political or religious leanings or what they have seen in the media,” Nations says. “It’s important to set all of that aside and remember that this is still your child, and the number one factor for their future success is your complete and total support.”
It took time for him and his partner to adjust to their trans daughter’s new pronouns and names. “We worked hard to adjust to new pronouns and names, not only in the presence of our child but also when we were home alone,” he shares. “At the beginning, we found it emotionally soothing to continue to use her birth name and pronouns but over time realized that we weren’t honoring her by doing so.”
He suggests that parents keep an “open dialogue with your child as well as your friends and family” to continue to affirm your support for their name and pronouns. “The faster you show public support, the faster the public will support your child,” Nations says.
When We Know Better, We Do Better
For a while, Gravely wasn’t sure her parents would ever come around to accepting her, but she found that when she gave them space and instead took care of herself by building her own community of support, her relationship with her parents did eventually improve.
“About seven years after I came out, I was interviewed for a podcast about the experience of Black LGBTQ+ Christians. By that point, my mom and I still didn’t talk about my identity a lot but we had begun talking about my work doing LGBTQ+ education and advocacy, which encouraged me to share the podcast episode with her,” Gravely says.
“Our conversation afterward wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t antagonistic either. We had a pretty pleasant conversation about it during which we both learned some things about different parts of our journey from each other’s perspectives,” she continued. “I never imagined that we would ever get to a point where we could talk about that.”
Where Can Parents Get Additional Support?
“For parents struggling with accepting their child’s LGBTQIA+ identity, PFLAG is a community resource that supports Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays,” Dr. Forcier says. “Individual therapy and or counseling can help a parent who is struggling with internal or external homophobia and trans bias.”
Additional resources include:
- Gender Spectrum: Offers online support, groups, training, and resources that promote inclusion and gender sensitivity for all youth.
- Equality Federation: Works to better the lives of LGBTQ+ via leadership and legislation.
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network: Directory of counselors and therapists who are people of color.
- The Trevor Project: Offers trained counselors, resources, and a connected international community for LGBTQ young people.