Resources / For families


child with rainbow pin
Brightline Logo Mark Orange
Brightline team

Jun 5, 2024

Learning about and affirming your LGBTQ+ child can be a lifelong journey. It can also be a life-changing experience — for you and for them. 

Everyone’s path is unique and there are all kinds of different ways for families to understand a child’s gender identity and sexual orientation. There are also countless situations that kids and families have to navigate along the way.

Here, we’ve gathered many commonly-asked questions from parents. Some are more simple and some are complex. Our hope is that you will read through, learn what you didn’t know, get comfortable with concepts, and above all, feel even more empowered to advocate for your child.

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Call 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis line.

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Text 741741 to reach the crisis text line.

Q: What’s the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation?

A: Gender identity is a person’s concept of themselves as male, female, both, or neither. It’s how a person sees themselves and what pronouns they use to refer to themselves. Someone’s gender identity can be the same or different from the sex assigned at birth. Sexual orientation is a person’s emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to another person. Someone’s sexual orientation is separate from their gender identity.

Q: Why do people switch their pronouns? And why do pronouns matter?

A: When a child or teen is exploring who they truly are, they may try on pronouns (or names) that are different from the ones assigned or given at birth. What they are considering may not make sense to you, but what’s important is that you do your best to give them a safe space where they can explore who they are. The pronouns that feel right to them may change over time, so give them some time to get there. You may make mistakes when using a new pronoun and/or name — that’s okay! Simply apologize and use the correct term. We all make mistakes when we are practicing something new. Families are complex and navigating this alongside your child may feel complicated or scary. But if you honor the process, offer them love and acceptance, and ask for help when you need it, it can lessen any challenges you face.

Q: My child is gay, identifies as queer, and/or is transitioning. What are the best ways to advocate for their health and safety at school, at the doctor’s office, and in our extended family? 

School: Talk with your child’s school about their anti-bullying resources and standards for the district. Locate areas of campus where your child can go to feel safe when they are alone and/or being bullied. Ensure there are gender-neutral spaces where your child will feel comfortable doing everyday things like changing clothes for gym and using the restroom. Ask about where your child can find like-minded and open-minded friends, mentors, and staff members on campus, such as through inclusive sports and clubs. See if your child’s school has any Gender & Sexualities Alliances (or GSAs) — these are student-run organizations that create community around LGBTQ+ students on campus. And look for a local PFLAG group you can join to find more resources and alliances to support your child, both on campus and in your community.

Healthcare: Search for care teams and physicians that provide gender-affirming, diverse, and informed healthcare. There are providers who identify themselves as LGBTQ+ friendly or specialized. Some healthcare plans allow you to sort providers/facilities using that parameter. You will want to seek out facilities that have access to appropriate and timely care that fits your situation — this may include things like hormone treatment, gender clinics, and family mental health support. Look for care teams who have expertise supporting the whole health of queer, gay, and transitioning kids from every angle: medically, psychologically, socially, and emotionally. Your child will also need to see providers who understand their LGBTQ+ journey (either from personal or professional experience) and who encourage them to talk openly about their body, sexual health, and overall wellness. 

Family: At home and with family, always keep your child’s emotional and physical safety at the forefront. Consider what your child is comfortable with sharing and follow their lead. Continue to stand up for them and advocate for their right to express themselves safely and authentically. And establish boundaries where necessary — it isn’t your child’s responsibility to defend or explain themselves to family members who challenge them. Model the behavior you want to see from your other family members by using appropriate names and pronouns, openly supporting your child’s appearance, and welcoming their friends into your home.

Q: We are active members of our community. Our child’s gender and sexuality is known in our home, but we fear that if they come out publicly, there will be repercussions. We are worried for their safety but asking them to keep part of themselves a secret feels unfair. How do we encourage them to live their truth with so much fear and potential loss attached to it?

A: Start by talking openly with your child about what makes them feel comfortable and safe. Let them lead you into how, if, or when you let people know. When they’re ready, it might feel right to try taking small steps together as your child is comfortable. Then, if at any point there is a concern about their safety (emotional or physical), talk about whether continuing is a good idea. 

The results that come from being vulnerable with other people is going to look different case by case and from place to place. And there are many real concerns to consider; some of those are based on where you live and what kinds of community involvements your family has. You may need to be open to making some changes or uncomfortable decisions for the good of your family. 

If there are obvious or harmful concerns, consider looking into new social situations that might be safer and more welcoming. Depending on where you live, those safe spaces might be everywhere or they may be much smaller, harder to find communities. Reassure your child along the way that they are never alone and that they are deeply loved, exactly as they are. You’re there to protect and advocate for them.  

Q: I’m supportive of our child transitioning, but my partner does not accept it and has cut off all contact, which has been devastating — to their parent/child relationship, our family, and our marriage. How do we move forward?

A: This difficult situation starts and ends with you being a steadfast advocate for your child. Continue to be a safe space for them to come to and keep the doors of communication open. Staying connected and giving them support will help both of you get through this (and other) incredibly complex, emotional situations. Your whole family will likely need help processing their feelings of grief — everyone is losing something and someone they knew & loved — and making space for what’s new. Lean on experienced therapists, friends, and family members who can offer support.

Q: What are the right (and wrong) things to say to my child as they navigate their identity and sexuality?

A: In this (or any!) situation, parents don’t always know what to say to their kids. But if you lead with love, you’ll be off to a good start. Take the time you need to process any difficult feelings that might be coming up for you and give yourself grace. Lean on your support system, or organizations like PFLAG. Talk openly with your child — ask open-ended questions and listen to their feelings and experiences. Recognize that both subtle and overtly negative statements, jokes, questions, or actions are proven to have a lasting harmful impact on kids. Being positive and supportive may not always feel natural, but remember that affirming words are the ones that will boost your child’s self-esteem and their connection to you. 

Reassure them that they are and will always be — no matter what — loved and accepted by you. If you close the door to conversation out of fear you might say the “wrong” thing; you might inadvertently send the message that you don’t want to speak to them at all. Instead, if you need help finding the right words, get advice from someone you trust like a good friend, counselor, or therapist. And remember to apologize when you make mistakes. Your child already knows that no parent is perfect, and they don’t expect you to be! 

Q: My child is not even old enough to date but they told me they’re queer. How do they know if they’ve never had any experience with anyone? 

A: External experiences (like dating) are different from internal identity and self-awareness. Though you might wonder where your child’s statement is coming from, think about what questioning them communicates. It could send a message that you don’t trust them — and that they shouldn’t trust themselves. Rather than challenging them to provide outside proof of how they feel on the inside, consider meeting them with curiosity instead. 

What if you thanked them for sharing with you, reminded them that you love them, and told them you’re willing to keep the conversation going if/when they’re ready? A little validation goes a long way towards keeping the door to communication open. It also gives both of you a safe space (and time) to learn more.

A child learning how to trust their inner knowing or gut feeling is healthy. The feelings they’re exploring may always stay the same or they may change as they grow. Either way, sharing what they’re discovering about themselves with you says a lot about the safe and open connection you’ve built with them. 

Q: Our child — who has always been an attention-seeker — changes their pronouns practically every week. Do we have to just run with the label they choose knowing it might change?

A: A big part of growing up is learning what feels right. For kids, this applies to friends, foods, interests, clothes, and for some, their identity or gender. As parents, you often do “run with it” to an extent, knowing that some things stay constant and others constantly change. Continue to give them a safe space to explore themselves. There’s no need to challenge or question them along the way — they’ll land where it feels right for them. 

Q: Our child is “out” to our immediate family but doesn’t want to share this personal news with anyone else yet. How do we support this part of their life without accidentally outing them to friends and family before they’re ready?

A: Parents often field questions from friends and family about how everyone is, who their kids are dating, etc. So, talk with your child often about what they’re comfortable with you sharing and with whom. Learn how to set boundaries when talking to others (it’s okay to be vague or to say your child asked you not to talk about them!). Try role playing and developing responses to situations that work for everyone involved (what if a neighbor sees you on a date and asks me about it, what if your cousin asks outright if you’re gay, etc.). Your child won’t stay closeted forever, but it’s important that you give them the most power over their coming-out decision and timing. 

Q: Everything my child eats, wears, and listens to has been affected by influencers on social media. Now my child is telling me out of the blue that they are questioning their sexual identity. I can’t help but wonder if this is real, a phase, or just them wanting to fit in with friends. How can I get to the bottom of it without making them feel like I don’t believe or support them?

A: Exploring one’s own identity is complex — it’s also natural. Try leading with curiosity here. This could be a very real part of themselves that they are discovering and sharing with you. Letting your child know you will continue to be a safe space for them to explore themselves helps keep the doors of communication wide open. Start an honest conversation by saying things like, “Tell me more about this” or “Is this new or something you just now feel safe telling me?” Offering your child a listening ear and unwavering support, whether this is temporary or not, affirms to them that you’re their advocate no matter who they are or grow up to be.

Q: My child is transitioning. They want me to somehow flip the switch and treat them as someone with a different identity. I’m confused and hurt. Do I even know my child anymore? 

A: While the parent/child relationship changes over time, the love between them remains. Your child sharing this part of their life with you is a testament to your connection — and an incredible opportunity for you to learn more about the child you gave birth to. Talking with a licensed therapist who has experience in this area can help. Find and lean on other resources, too. Two that might help are the Family Acceptance Project and Gender Spectrum

Processing how you feel about your child transitioning is crucial, not only for your own well-being, but for that of your child. Supporting your child — exactly as they are — can protect them from depression, isolation, and suicidal ideation. Trans kids have a lot to face in the world, and your home can be a safe zone for them. Reassure your child that you love them and your relationship with them. If they ask you to use different pronouns and/or a new name, honor the request. (Making mistakes is okay! Simply apologize and use the new term next time.) And let them know that as you help each other navigate this change, you’re looking forward to learning more about yourself and about them. 

Q: I’m gay and have dealt with a lot of trauma over the years. How do I support my child coming out while managing my own trigger response?

A: Leaning on friends, support groups, and a coach or therapist will help you process and separate your feelings about your experience from your child’s. And the more you work to navigate what you’ve been through, the more skills you have in your toolkit to help your child on their journey. If you can learn what was helpful (or harmful) during your own coming out process and use that knowledge to make your child’s experience different or better, it can be a liberating process for you both. Note that even as you help your child have a more positive experience, it may bring up feelings of grief for what you feel you lost over the years, so talk through those feelings as well. 

Q: I want to surround our LGBTQ+ child with support, but am not sure where to turn. What are the best resources for our family?

A: Brightline has coaches and therapists who have experience (either personally, professionally, or both) working with the LGBTQ+ community. We encourage you to connect with us to surround your child with the personalized, affirming support they need. 

We also recommend the following resources for learning, support, and connection: