Parenting for LGBTQ+ kids’ mental health

As I write this, I am thinking about myself as a 10-year-old. I don’t have the words to express my new understandings. Because my queerness is multifaceted, I consider who I am and who was I as plural. It is a combination of multiple identities that I have within me and how I interact with the world around.

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I was far too late to learn this knowledge.

Being a queer child of fat, my way of navigating the world and myself was complicated and lonely. I didn’t have the representation I needed in order to better understand myself, nor did I have people around me who were exposed to my experiences.

This was something I saw as a common experience for hundreds of young people. Nearly every LGBTQ+ person I know has experienced isolation, stigmatization, bullying, and harassment, even within our own families. We have been forced to conform and our identities have been denied.

It should not be surprising that LGBTQ+ youth and children often have low mental health. This is not due to our identities. Insensitivity, prejudice, and oppressive structures that deprive us of our human rights can put our mental health at risk.

One Future Collective, which I founded, helps young LGBTQ+ people to improve their advocacy and knowledge. We offer safe spaces and support for mental health. Many of our young clients are dealing with trauma. LGBTQ+ children feel that they aren’t normal, even from their families.

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For many, this lack of acceptance can manifest as neglect, abuse and violence, abandoned, forced homelessness, poverty, and violence. This makes it harder to access any type of care and worsens mental health. This creates an oppressive spiral that leads to an inexorable quest for independence and freedom from abusive homes.

Family members, particularly parents, can play an important and transformative role for LGBTQ+ children in times of discrimination or marginalization. Sometimes this support is as simple as affirming the identity of children and accepting them as they already are.

Parents and children need to be flexible in providing support. Parents may find it difficult to accept that their children might live differently from what they imagined due to cultural beliefs and social norms.

This is the time parents need to ask themselves if their children are experiencing dissonance out of love or personal discomfort. Children may feel rejected if they are made to see their identity as a phase or something to be treated.

There are many ways that parents can help their children, and provide a safe harbor for them.

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  1. Create a safe environment and have a dialogue with your child to learn what they need.
  2. It is worth your time to learn more about the unique joys of and challenges faced by LGBTQ+ children.
  3. To process your feelings, you can seek peer support and reach out to other parents of LGBTQ+ children.
  4. Advocate for LBGTQ+ issues through difficult conversations with family members and the community
  5. Stand up for your children at school, college, home, and in public spaces. It is important for your children to see that you accept them publicly as well as in private.

You can make a difference in the lives and futures of LGBTQ+ youth and children by being a policymaker or decision maker. You can make sure that LGBTQ+ children and youth are safe and well-informed.

Policy and infrastructure improvements are necessary to ensure the mental well-being and mental health of LGBTQ+ youth and children. We also need educators and parents who can understand us and peer support.

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About the author

Vandita Morarka, founder and CEO of One Future Collective is a feminist non profit dedicated to inclusive justice and compassionate youth leadership. Vandita is a human right lawyer, feminist researcher, and rights-based consultant who has had a positive impact on over 2 million people’s lives. Anvita Walia is an activist, mental healthcare practitioner, social justice educator, and Senior Program Officer at One Future Collective. She supported the research and editing.