Creating an inclusive environment
From supporting young children to express their gender identity to including your young person’s partner and friends in family events, there are lots of practical things you can do to create an inclusive and supportive environment.
If they’re not comfortable talking directly about it, you can help by being open and available – if and when they do feel ready. Carry on as normal – make time to hang out, have chats and keep doing the things that you’ve always enjoyed together.
The most important thing to remember is that your child or young person is asking fundamental questions about who they are. It’s crucial that you remind them repeatedly that you love them and are proud of them, and that your relationship will stay the same.
Part of being a parent or guardian is encouraging your child or young person to be who they are and helping them on their journey.
- Some young people may not have had close contact with another person who is like them, so it may be important to them to meet other young people. Families can play a key role by asking how they can support young people to connect with their peers.
- Act the same around them as you always have – keep telling them you love them, show affection in the same ways you have before.
- Recognise this is not likely to be a single conversation, but a continual process. Make sure you leave the door open for further conversations.
- Ask questions and acknowledge where your own level of knowledge is limited. Be honest if you don’t understand.
- Find articles or personal stories about other young people going through similar experiences to help your understanding and also to help with conversations with your child or young person – these stories can work as great prompts and conversation starters.
- Respect your child or young person’s need to look online or meet with others in support groups as this may be a vital way to connect with other young people on a similar journey.
- Be respectful about how you talk about your child or young person being LGBTI. Let them take the lead on this. Some young people may want you to tell everybody so that they don’t have to continue to have the ‘coming out’ conversation. Other young people will not want you to tell anyone. It’s important to respect their decision.
- Remember that your child may be learning as much about their identity as you are, so don’t assume they will be able to answer all of your questions. This can be a good opportunity to learn more together.
If you feel you need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, be honest with your child or young person about this. Discuss with them who you could talk with, so they know who else is aware and they have some control over the situation. It can be useful to talk with a health professional, counsellor or support group.
Supporting a gender diverse child or young person
- Letting a young child choose their own clothes or toys without questioning if they are ‘appropriate’ to the child’s assigned gender gives them space to figure things out for themselves.
- Affirm your young person’s gender identity by calling them by their new name (or assisting them to choose a new name), taking them shopping for the clothes they want and ensuring you use the pronoun they want people to use (i.e. ‘he’, ‘she’ or by their name). You can also help by encouraging other family members to use appropriate pronouns and inclusive language.
- Help your child or loved one research the steps they need to take to affirm their gender identity. You may need to find an appropriate doctor or counsellor who is experienced with the needs of gender-questioning or gender-diverse young people (or who is LGBTIQ friendly) to explain what is involved and who can help.
- If your child wants, consider talking to supportive teachers and other school staff.
- Take down photos of your child or loved one as their old gender if they want you to.
Tips for talking about gender and sexuality
By the time many young people feel ready to talk about their sexuality or gender identity, it is likely that they will have had a long time to think about what they’ll say and how they’ll handle the situation. They may even have had professional or peer support. This is usually not the case for parents and family members.
You may not know what to say or what questions to ask. It’s OK to take your time, do some reading, talk to people and allow the conversations to happen over time.
Some parents may have a feeling that a young person is sexuality or gender diverse. If that is the case, parents can gently create an environment that is more likely to make a young person feel like they will be accepted when they are ready to come out. Examples may include talking about LGBTI people in a positive way and having LGBTI information in the home alongside other information.
When initiating conversations
- Pick a suitable time and place. If the house isn’t suitable, find a neutral calm place such as a park or quiet café.
- Make sure you have time. If you start to open up to each other, it would be a shame to have to cut it short.
- Understand that after coming out, your young person may need some time alone and may not be ready to talk. Let them know that when they’re ready, you will be there. You may need to try again gently at a later date.
- Don’t initiate conversations when you are feeling upset or anxious. Try to find time when you’re feeling calm.
- Encourage your young person to talk freely. Try and stay quiet, listen, and let them direct the conversation.
“It was not something we ‘announced’ to others, but it was not hidden and if it raised its head it was just discussed and we moved on. If no big deal is made by us then others seemed to not see it as a big deal.” John, 66, VIC
Questions to get the conversation going
- Sometimes, asking about others’ experiences is less confronting than asking your child or young person about themselves. You could ask questions such as, “Do you know other young people who are LGBTI? How has it been for them?” or “Have you read any books about LGBTI young people or their parents? What do they talk about?”
- “Is there anything I can do to help you or make things easier for you?”
- “Do you have any friends you would like me or the rest of our family to meet? They are always welcome to come over to our place.”
- “Are there any books or websites you would like me to read?” Or perhaps tell your child or loved one about books or resources you have read and what you thought.
- “Is there anything you’d like me to know that I don’t already know?”