Every year on October 11 we celebrate National Coming Out Day — a day dedicated to lifting up the LGBTQ community and highlighting the visibility of millions of people who make up this vibrant group.
The first National Coming Out Day was celebrated in 1988 with the belief that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia exist in a culture of silence, and that hearts and minds are opened when loved ones come out as LGBTQ.
In the words of Texas State Rep. Julie Johnson, “It’s hard to hate up close.”
But for transgender and non-binary youth, coming out can often feel scary, especially when they fear they won’t be supported by their family members. Sixty-four percent of gender-expansive youth report that their families make them feel bad about their identities, and only 22% are out to their parents at all.
Yet medical and psychological organizations across the country state definitively that loving, supporting and affirming trans and non-binary kids in their identities is the very best thing that any person can do. And we believe that parents want what is best for their children.
HRC Foundation’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council is here to offer some advice that can make the transition a little easier for everyone.
Open the Door to the Conversation
“We always tried to create an environment for our family where we could talk and listen. Our kids could feel safe enough to come to us about anything. The best advice I have is to actively listen to your kids and to follow their lead with respect and love.” —Jess Girven
“It was apparent at a very early age that our child was not conforming to gender stereotypes. I had an inkling that she might be transgender, but I waited for her to articulate her identity more clearly. It wasn’t until she read the children’s book ‘George’ by Alex Gino that she first learned the word ‘transgender.’ She lit up like a Christmas tree and exclaimed, ‘Mama! That’s like me!’ If I could do one thing differently, I would have given my daughter more language to better articulate her identity sooner.” —Joy Wilson
Listen to What Your Child is Trying to Tell You
“When my husband and I discussed what we wanted for our children, we agreed that it was more important to teach our children to feel confident and to love who they are, rather than bend into society’s demands. Did we want to make our children feel ‘less’ or to feel like something was so wrong with them? Absolutely and unquestionably, no.” —Jen Slipakoff
“Believe your child’s experience and trust that your love will carry you forward.” —Lizette Trujillo
“As a family on this journey, it felt like an awakening and that we hadn’t really been seeing the world in all its diversity and beauty. We always tell people that it took our son to see what it means to truly live authentically. We hope others can learn from our experience and understand the great joy that comes with being who you are. Learning this truth empowered not only our children, but everyone in our family..” —Peter Tchoryk
“It’s statistically impossible, but sometimes it feels like you might be the only person in the world with a transgender child. Finding other parents of other gender expansive kids can really be empowering, reassuring and beneficial. I often have questions about school, doctors and sports teams. Other parents who share a similar journey have been incredibly helpful in pointing me in the right direction.” —Amber Briggle
Give Your Child Time to Explore
“Frequently parents who call us for advice seem to want a ‘definitive’ answer with what to do with a young child who is presenting as either possibly trans, or whose expression is all over the map. I often recommend taking a step back and allowing this exploration to unfold in its own time and space.” —Mimi Lemay
“Our child has come out to us twice in the past three years. The first time they were 10 and told us that they were transgender. They did not know that there were other people like them and they were afraid of rejection. We all had a steep learning curve, but we knew that we needed to support our child no matter what. Now my child identifies as non-binary and I am so proud of our kiddo!” —Sarah Watson
Talking with Other family Members is Important, Too
“Take extra care to be mindful of siblings. Explain to them what is happening, so they are on the same page. It’s important that they are included in all family decisions and discussions regarding appropriate ways to respect and treat their trans sibling. In addition, be aware that they may be jealous of the extra attention that is given to their sibling. When our daughter, Jazz, transitioned at five, her older sister was upset that she’d no longer be the only princess in the house, but after explaining the challenges Jazz would face she completely turned around and exclaimed, ‘I’m going to be the best big sister ever.’ If other family members refuse to embrace, support and accept your child, then keep them at bay and let them know that all contact will cease until they are ready to love your child unconditionally.” —Jeanette Jennings
Understand That Coming Out Isn’t a One-Time Thing
“Trans people will have to or may want to come out again and again to a variety of people and in a variety of settings. You can’t assume once your child gives permission to tell someone that that means permission to out them in any situation. Ask your child each time it needs to happen about what messaging they would like given.” —Amy D’Arpino
Remind Them that your Love is Unconditional
“I would tell my child ‘what you are in your heart and mind is more important than what people think of you based on some other body parts.’ At the end of the day, this journey is your child’s, and as a parent, the best answer at any given time is ‘I love you and support you: today, tomorrow, unconditionally.’” —Mimi Lemay
“I told Z that Dad’s love comes with a lifetime guarantee.” —Louis Porter
Know That You Are Not Alone
“We found that there were so many more families like ours out there than we had ever imagined.” —Ea Porter
“Connect with other parents and introduce your child to other trans youth. There is nothing more empowering for a child than to see themselves in another, and nothing more reassuring for you and your family than knowing that you are NOT ALONE. Together we can make this world safer and more inclusive for our trans and gender non-conforming kids.” —Lizette Trujillo
Thank you to the parents who submitted their stories and advice for this piece. For more information and resources, visit the Parents for Transgender Equality National Council page.
This essay was written for the Human Rights Campaign and can also be found here