Sometimes, understanding all the terms included under the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual and other gender/sexual minorities) umbrella can be confusing. Many times, our kids know more than we do.

Our job as parents, caregivers, family members and loved ones is to start conversations with them and learn about how to best support them. To do that, we need to become familiar with LGBTQIA+ topics and terminology

What Does LGBTQIA+ Mean?

The LGBTQIA+ community includes:

  • Anyone who identifies with a minority sexual orientation (who you love or are attracted to) or
  • Gender identity (who you feel you are: boy, girl, neither, both).

The difference between sexual orientation and gender identity is important because who you feel you are does not determine who you love or are attracted to or vice versa. Check out the infographic below, from Trans Student Educational Resources (also available in multiple languages), which helps explain these differences.

The Gender Unicorn

What Is Gender Identity?

Gender identity may be a term you have heard more often in recent years. The concept of gender identity has always existed, and every person has one. As all children grow, they begin to develop a natural sense of their gender as early as age 3. Every child and every adult have a gender identity.

  • For most of the population, gender identity matches a person’s biological sex given at birth.
  • For transgender or nonbinary individuals, their gender identity does not match sex assigned at birth.
  • Gender identity is not limited to a binary or just boy/male and just girl/female. Individuals may have a gender identity that is nonbinary, meaning having traits of both or neither.

Why Discuss Mental Health Concerns for LGBTQIA+ Children?

Unfortunately, discrimination aimed at these individuals because of their gender identity significantly increases risk for physical and mental health challenges.

Research from The Trevor Project showed in the last year 52% of transgender youth report having seriously considered suicide and 20% having made a suicide attempt. While these rates for the general population of youth is 19% and 9%, respectively, according to the CDC.

The good news is, research has also shown providing a supportive environment, in which a child’s gender identity is affirmed and respected, can decrease their risk for negative health outcomes.

In a recent research study from GLSEN, adolescents surveyed who reported having one gender-affirming adult (meaning an adult who accepts and affirms the child’s gender identity by using the correct name, pronouns, etc.) reduced their risk of a suicide attempt by 40%. The Trevor Project found transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having their pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who lacked pronoun-respecting people in their lives. Transgender and nonbinary youth with access to gender-affirming clothing also reported lower rates of attempting suicide.

As Parents and Caregivers, How Can You Help?

1. Check in with yourself.

Before starting a conversation about gender identity with your child, be sure to check in with yourself and your feelings about gender identity.

Ask yourself:

  • What is my gender identity?
  • What expectations do I associate with gender and gender roles?
  • How many words do I use that show a specific gender?
  • How would I feel if my child’s gender identity isn’t what I expect it to be?
  • How have I already encouraged or discouraged a particular gender identity for my child?

Taking the time to reflect on these ideas is important, and starting the conversation prepared and early with your child is essential.

2. Have a Talk with Your Children.

Here are some quick tips to help you and your child connect and engage in positive conversations about gender identity. Make sure to be prepared to confirm it’s okay to explore their gender identity. Use the SECURE acronym below as a guide.

SECURE a safe and helpful conversation

  1. Start safe.
    1. Find a safe physical space where you both feel comfortable talking openly.
    2. Ensure your child knows this conversation is free from judgment or punishment by listening and allowing your child to speak freely about their experience.
  2. Establish a goal.
    1. Set the standard that this conversation is meant to be positive and aimed at strengthening connection between you and your child.
  3. Create a partnership.
    1. You are in this together!
    2. Acknowledge you may not be the expert on gender identity, but you do want to talk, explore and learn with your child.
    3. If your child is questioning their gender, ask who else is aware and who you can share this information with, if anyone.
  4. Use questions.
    1. When you might have trouble trying to think of how to respond to your child, ask them questions to help you understand more. It’s okay not to have all the answers.
      • “I hear you say ______, can you tell me more about that?”
      • “Do you feel like being a boy or girl fits you?”
      • “How do you feel about your body? Are you comfortable in it?”
    2. It’s okay to admit that you might have questions in the future but reassure them you are willing to learn.
  5. Recognize them.
    1. When your child reveals something personal and vulnerable, thank them for sharing.
    2. In continued conversation, your child might want to try using a different name or pronouns than what you are used to. That’s okay! Give it a try; see if that language makes them feel more recognized as who they are.
    3. Acknowledge their courage and strength in being honest and true to who they are.
  6. Empathize and accept.
    1. Frequently express your acceptance of who your child tells you they are.
    2. Remind your child that you love them, and you are there to support them.

Talking about gender identity with our kids can be challenging, but it should not prevent us from starting these conversations. It’s important for the physical and mental health of our youth to talk with them about important issues in their development. Even if you do not suspect your child is exploring or questioning gender identity, this conversation will likely help create a positive, supportive and communicative relationship with your child.

Additional Resources