Ask Lambda Legal: My Child Just Came Out To Me, Now What?

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May 11, 2016
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Currey Cook, Senior Attorney and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project National Director

Q: My daughter recently came out as lesbian, and while I was shocked at first, I want to be there for her and be supportive. But to be honest, I don’t know where to start, or what the best resources are for more information. There is so much online, and I’m not sure what to trust. What do you recommend?

A: It’s likely that it took a lot of strength and courage for your daughter to come out to you, and now it’s important for her safety and well-being that you demonstrate your love and support. As the National Director of Lambda Legal’s Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project, I have seen firsthand the damage that can come from parents’ rejection their lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) children. LGBT youth are overrepresented in foster care, juvenile justice systems, and among youth experiencing homelessness. In fact, it’s estimated that a staggering 40% of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBT, and many of those youth have been kicked out by or run away from parents who did not accept them for who they are. I commend you for expressing your love for your daughter by accepting and affirming her.

As you may know, it’s not unusual for a person to identify as LGBT—approximately one in every four families in this country has a family member who does. This means that not only are you not alone, but also that you’ve got a huge, supportive community around you and lots of resources at your disposal. The best place to start is your local LGBT community center. You can check Centerlink for the one closest to you. These centers can provide you and your daughter with educational resources and social events with a group of people who identify with your experience. Another excellent resource is an organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). They offer a volunteer-based peer support network and have chapters all over the country.

You might have questions, you might feel uncomfortable, or you might just not know what to say. Please know that your reactions are normal and your feelings are absolutely OK. The important thing is that your daughter knows that you love her even if you may need some time to gain understanding about this aspect of her identity.

There is actually a project dedicated to this very concept called the Family Acceptance Project. The Project’s research has shown a clear link between family rejection and negative health outcomes for LGB youth. Conversely, the Project has found that family acceptance can actually lead to positive outcomes for LGBT youth, protecting them from suicide, depression, and substance abuse. The Project does a lot of work with families of faith who have difficulty reconciling their child’s LGBT identity with their religious beliefs, and has assisted in connecting families of faith with affirming religious groups. They have helped families of many faiths learn to accept and affirm their children’s identities.  Many other programs exist within organizations around the country such as The Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit and CAMBA in Brooklyn. 

It’s important to recognize that while a person’s identity as LGBT can sometimes evolve over time, it is not something that can be changed at will. You might hear about “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, which claim to make gay people straight or transgender people identify with their sex assigned at birth. These therapies are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. In fact, every major medical and psychological association has spoken out against conversion therapy, citing its use as leading to higher levels of depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviors. Being LGBT is a normal part of human development and supporting your daughter means accepting her for who she is, rather than trying to make her into someone else.

I commend you for wanting to support you daughter, and I think that with time, you’ll find that her sexual orientation is an aspect of her identity just as yours is and she’s still that awesome daughter you raised and love. By letting her know you love and support her, you’ll help guarantee she is healthy and successful.  

If you have any questions, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 1-866-542-8336, or see www.lambdalegal.org/help.