What brings LGBT youth and their families to counselling?
If someone is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or otherwise identifies in the ever-expanding LGBT*TQIA+ acronym set, what issues do they face? And what’s different about those issues, as compared to anyone else who comes to see one of our family counsellors?
While the LGBT (we’ll use this acronym from here on out) community – and their supporters – have fought for the right to be treated equally, their struggle combined with society’s reaction means that we must address the ongoing differences they face. This includes:
- And much more
As an adult, an individual likely faces these issues on his or her own. As a youth, however, it’s something that’s experienced with one’s family. This can be a pro or a con, of course, something which we’ll delve into in this article. And while children and young adults struggle with their identity and how they fit in with their family, their communities and society at large, parents experience pain in watching their son or daughter struggle.
That’s where family counselling in Ottawa can help. Read on to discover how.
The Struggle of LGBT Youth: Trying to Fit In, Trying to Make Great Strides
In eras gone by, LGBT youth largely hid their differences – from family, from friends and classmates, and from society in general. They led lives of confusion, duplicity, even self-deception. That’s no way for anyone to go through life. You can imagine the multitude of emotional and mental health issues they must have been coping with.
We’ve made progress as a society, albeit more so in some places than in others. LGBT youth today are apt to feel less apprehensive about “coming out” to their families or to their friends and classmates. It’s still far from perfect or even ideal, however; we still have a long way to go.
Many youths still live in fear, afraid to live freely in the open as who they really are. They are reticent to “come out” to family, and still have apprehension in doing so with friends, classmates, et al. And understandably so. They get mixed messages, after all, hearing ‘supportive’ words from school and other sources; but also, discriminatory words – ugly, hateful words – from other kids; from music, TV and movies, and (more and more common these days) from online bullying.
And much like their peers, like anyone at that challenging stage of life, they desperately want little more than to fit in, to be understood and to be accepted.
That’s where your role as a parent or other family member comes in.
How Parents and Family Can Help…
We can’t emphasize this enough:
Raising an LGBT son or daughter is, at its essence, no different than raising a heterosexual or cisgender child.
Their biological, physiological and emotional needs are the same. Of course, there are personality differences that vary by individual, but these aren’t to be confused with or blamed on being gay, lesbian, etc. We all have unique characteristics and traits.
Having said that, as stated earlier, the experience and life struggle that an LGBT child or teen has had up to this point are probably quite different from the otherwise ‘routine’ (in no way intended to minimize) struggles and challenges of youth in general. They probably have more questions, more doubts, more fear… and could have less confidence, less coping skills, and less ability to process the added challenges they face due to intolerance.
- Become informed (learn the facts & myths)
- Ask questions (as appropriate)
- Be available (and open-minded)
- Listen (truly)
- Don’t oppose (“conversion” should never be your goal)
- Don’t “label” (it’s not all about being LGBT!)
Let’s take a closer look at each one of these steps.
Become Informed – The Facts & The Myths of LGBT
Here are some (unfortunately still) commonly held MYTHS about LGBT people in general. Remember that youth face these same myths, probably magnified considerably.
“It’s unnatural to be LGBT.” There are people in society who still believe this, but evidence points to the contrary.
“People choose to be homosexual.” More and more evidence shows that it’s a pre-wired phenomenon. Youth are not making decisions to “become” LGBT. Their biggest decisions, rather, are whether to be open and honest with themselves and with others about their identity; or to hide it out of fear.
“There is a distinct LGBT lifestyle.” Homosexuality is neither a choice nor a lifestyle. Lifestyle choices are about music, fashion, how to spend one’s time and money, etc. LGBT people are found in all walks of life, making all sorts of lifestyle choices – none of which having anything to do with their being gay, lesbian, transgender, etc.
“Somehow you’ve caused your child to be LGBT.” No. This is not possible. There’s nothing you ever said or did that caused your son or daughter to make a choice to be gay – or straight. Does he or she have siblings? Did they choose to be straight?
“LGBT people can be ‘converted’ to go straight.” Again, simply not the case. While attempts have been made to do so, one must wonder why. And to be clear, when you come in for family counselling, that is not our objective.
- Nearly 10% of the population is LGBT (you in all likelihood know someone)
- LGBT young adults who experienced family rejection in their youth are far more likely to attempt suicide
- The same group is more than 3x likely to engage in illegal drug use
- 40% of homeless youth are LGBT (4x out of proportion!)
- There is no “cure” for being LGBT; it’s not an “illness”
- Several organizations, including the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, opposesexual orientation change therapy, also known as conversion or reparative therapy
Is the need for acceptance becoming clearer?
Now that you’re armed with information, you can start asking questions.
Delicately. Diplomatically. Discreetly.
First off, we need to ask you something – and this is a big one: Has your son or daughter “come out” to you? Do you know that they are LGBT? Or do you ‘suspect’ this?
If it’s the latter, you’ve got some potentially awkward questions and conversations ahead of you. Books have been written on this subject – quite literally. The best advice we can give is: don’t be confrontational. Make sure your son or daughter doesn’t feel like it’s an ambush or an inquisition. Be open but highly respectful and encouraging.
If they’re already “out,” you can ask questions – again, keeping an attitude of openness and respect. You don’t want to appear to be “prying” (which is always a challenge with any child or teen, a group rather well known for valuing their privacy!). Questions might include:
- “How’s everything going (at school, on the team, etc.)?”
- “Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”
- “Are there any problems or issues that you’re encountering?”
- “How can we help you?” (support you, etc.)
- “Is there anything we can do better?” (something we’re doing/saying that isn’t right…)
Be Available, Be Open-Minded; and Truly Listen
One of your most helpful roles is to be open and receptive. When you’re asking questions, be extra-attentive in listening to what your son or daughter is saying – and isn’t saying. Ask follow-up questions, and make sure these are given in an encouraging, nurturing way (without interrogation or judgment). But most of all, just have an open mind and an open heart; no premature conclusions, just listen. Chances are, they just need to talk it out.
Don’t Oppose, Don’t Try to ‘Convert’ or ‘Scare Straight’
Perhaps the single most counterproductive approach you can take is to stand in opposition of your son’s or daughter’s identity. If they sense that you’re trying to ‘convert’ them or making a ‘scared straight’ attempt, you risk alienating your child even more. In a time where they need support, even though you think you “mean well,” chances are that it will be taken as the opposite.
Avoid Labels – It’s Not All About Being LGBT
As you interact with your LGBT son or daughter, remember that they’re much like you were when you were that age. All the challenges and struggles you faced as a youth, they’re likely facing as well. Not everything will be about being gay, lesbian, transgender, etc. In fact, most of it isn’t. Most of the angst that your child experiences has nothing to do with being anything other than “that age.” Friendships, homework, relationships, school, sports – it’s all pretty universal stuff.
The Path to Acceptance
If you’re doing this:
- Becoming informed
- Asking questions
- Being available
- Not opposing
- Not labeling
… then you’re well on your way to true acceptance of your LGBT family member.
Does this sound easier said than done? It definitely can be.
That’s where our role comes into play. Our practitioners are trained and experience in family counselling with LGBT youth. We know the added challenges you face in keeping your family in balance. That’s why we encourage you to get in touch with Capital Choice Counselling and book a session to talk with a specialist.