Talking about Sexual Orientation
LGBTQ relationships are more accepted than they ever have been.
One in six Generation Z people, born between 1997 and 2002 identify as LGBTQ. According to researchers, this isn't an increase in LGBTQ people, this is a reflection of Americans becoming more supportive of equal rights.
Today, families are more diverse than they ever have been. It’s not unusual for someone to have two or more mommies, daddies or to not fit the traditional heterosexual family dynamic.
Our Boys are Curious
If your kids are curious — like most children are — they may ask you about it. These questions are a great opportunity to share information with your child about important topics like sexual orientation and healthy relationships.
Talking to your child about LGBTQ people and relationships will not increase their chances of being LGBTQ - rather, it will increase their empathy toward others, themselves and potentially prevent years of harm many LGBTQ people face.
Talking about LGBTQ issues isn’t easy, there are a lot of terms and our understanding of LGBTQ people is rapidly changing.
Why it matters
LGBTQ youth face extreme challenges growing up. According to the CDC, LGBTQ youth are more likely to be bullied, threatened, and injured on school grounds. They are also more than three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
Research tells us family support is vital. Parental communication is a protective factor against depression, suicide and harm to self and others. With a little help, we can grow as parents and humans, to be what our children need us to be. Talking to your child about LGBTQ issues will help them, whether they are LGBTQ or not, because it will help teach them to value people and kindness.
Here are some important terms to refer back to before you talk to your child.
Lesbian - A woman who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to other women. Women and non-binary people may use this term to describe themselves.
Gay - A person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to members of the same gender. Men, women and non-binary people may use this term to describe themselves.
Bisexual - A person emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree. Sometimes used interchangeably with pansexual.
Transgender - An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.
Queer - A term people often use to express a spectrum of identities and orientations that are counter to the mainstream. Queer is often used as a catch-all to include many people, including those who do not identify as exclusively straight and/or folks who have non-binary or gender-expansive identities. This term was previously used as a slur, but has been reclaimed by many parts of the LGBTQ movement.
Questioning - A term used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Intersex - Intersex people are born with a variety of differences in their sex traits and reproductive anatomy. There is a wide variety of difference among intersex variations, including differences in genitalia, chromosomes, gonads, internal sex organs, hormone production, hormone response, and/or secondary sex traits.
Asexual - The lack of a sexual attraction or desire for other people.
Pansexual - Describes someone who has the potential for emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to people of any gender though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree. Sometimes used interchangeably with bisexual.
Polyamorous - Someone who is interested in engaging in relationships with multiple romantic or sexual partners, with the consent and trust of all people involved
Talking regularly with boys about sexual orientation can normalize and de-stigmatize the LGBTQIA+ community. Boys are more likely to be made fun of for their sexuality, due to harmful stereotypes about what it means to be a man. Learn More
Talk to children about why insults like “that’s so gay”, “you throw like a girl” and “he’s a sissy/p*ssy/f*ggot” are not okay. Talk to them about the difference between a harmless joke and these phrases, explaining they put down an entire group of people and can make some people feel justified in bullying LGBTQ people.
Assuming your child will grow up to be straight can convey expectations to your child that don’t fit their experience. Talking to your son only about having girlfriends or marrying a woman sends the message that anything other than heterosexual relationships is not normal, even if that’s not what you mean. While young kids generally don’t know their sexual orientation yet, assuming they’re straight could make them scared to come to you later. This can lead to mental health issues, unhealthy relationships, and health risks as they reach their teenage years.
A great way to leave the door open for your child to understand LGBTQ relationships is by using the term “partner” instead of boyfriend or girlfriend. When you explain what a partner means, use it as an opportunity to talk about respect and intimacy in relationships.
Teachable moments are everywhere. From song lyrics and TV to meeting new people. There are lots of chances to start a conversation with your kids. A great place to start is, “what do you think about that?” That can open the next step in the conversation.
What isn't said is sometimes as important as what is said and children make assumptions when they don’t have clear messages. It can be extremely powerful to explicitly tell your child that you will love them, no matter who they choose to love.
For example, imagine you see two men kiss and a family member shows anger about it or makes a rude joke. Rather than letting the moment pass you by, step in and tell your family member you are not okay with putting other people down. Actions are louder than words. Watching you stand up for others will help show your child how to stand up when you’re not around.
Be prepared for when your child asks you about LGBTQ people or relationships. Maybe one of their friends has gay parents or someone they know just came out. It’s okay to not know all of the answers on the spot. The most simple message you can give your child is that people have a right to be who they are, and that respect and kindness toward others is the most important thing we can give.
If you don’t know the answer to your child’s question right away or aren’t in a space to speak about it thoughtfully, Tell them it’s an important topic and you’re happy they brought it up. Ask if you can talk about it another time, perhaps when you’re able to carve out some time alone. Read some trusted online resources, take a few deep breaths and then come back feeling a bit more prepared mentally. Just don’t forget to actually follow up.