A planned series of powerful, short award-winning documentary films that show how ethnically and religiously diverse families learn to support and accept their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children – informed by the Family Acceptance Project’s groundbreaking research.
Middle school student Zay Crawford vividly remembers the moment she learned about the puberty-suppressing treatment available at the transgender health clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “I felt like somebody with a key just came and opened my cage and said, ‘You’re free to go,’” Zay says. Born Isaiah, Zay had long insisted to her family that she was a girl, not a boy; their story was featured in a widely shared article and video (above) in the Cincinnati Enquirer. After starting with reversible drugs to suppress puberty, Zay has now opted to begin estrogen hormone treatment.
Lee Ann Conard, DO, RPh, MPH, leads the transgender health clinic where Zay is receiving treatment; the clinic has treated more than 600 patients since Dr. Conard founded it in 2013. Dr. Conard also helped develop a new guide for health care professionals on caring for transgender children, which was jointly produced by the Human Rights Campaign, the American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Osteopathic physicians are well-positioned to work with—and positively impact the lives of—transgender children, Dr. Conard says. “DOs are known for practicing in rural areas, where there may not be anybody else caring for these kids,” she says.
Though many children go through periods of being “gender-expansive”—for example, a preschool boy who prefers princess outfits—parents should pay attention if kids consistently, persistently and insistently express distress about their birth gender. “One child might say, ‘I wish I were a boy so I could play on the football team,’” Dr. Conard explains. “It’s the child who says, ‘I am a boy’ who is more likely to be a transgender child.”
Ideally, pediatricians caring for transgender children should connect the family with supportive counseling. For children younger than 10, gender transition unfolds in social, rather than medical ways: choosing a new name, for example, or wearing clothing that matches the child’s gender identity. Pediatricians can educate early adolescents and their families about puberty-suppressing medication, which delays puberty and allows the child more time to consider whether to begin hormone therapy.
Puberty-suppressing medications are fully reversible. Hormone therapy—testosterone for patients born female, estrogen with an androgen inhibitor for patients born male—is used with older adolescents and is partially reversible. However, the long-term effects of these treatments in young patients aren’t fully known. Clinicians, parents and patients must weigh the risks of treatment against the benefits of transitioning, which, as Zay’s experience illustrates, can be significant.
“As physicians, we are not pushing families to do anything they’re uncomfortable with,” Dr. Conard says. Instead, she says, the physician’s role is to educate, provide supportive resources and monitor kids for signs of bullying and psychological distress, which are common among transgender individuals.
Creating a safe space
Physicians can help transgender kids and their families feel more at ease with a few simple changes, Dr. Conard says.
- Intake forms: Allow patients a line in which to write their gender, rather than limiting the choices to “male” or “female.” Forms should also include lines for patients to write the name and pronoun they prefer to use.
- Provide resources: In-person LGBT support groups such as PFLAG and GLSEN can help families with the transition, as can online groups such as the Trevor Project, which offers 24/7 email and chat for young people in crisis.
Transgender individuals are especially vulnerable to mental health problems, with one study of 6,400 transgender and non-gender-conforming adults finding that 41% had attempted suicide. “Statistics like this just break your heart,” Dr. Conard says. “Being transgender affects the whole person. Because of that mind-body-spirit connection, DOs are in the perfect position to care for these patients.”
Tips for Supporting Your LGBTQ Child or Loved One:
- Lead with love. For some, this will be the natural response. For others, long-held beliefs may get in the way of being able to respond positively and supportively. As best as you can, however, remember this: No matter how easy or difficult learning about your child’s sexual orientation or gender identity is for you, it probably was difficult for them to come out to you. And, while saying “I love you” is one obvious way to express your love for your child, if you find yourself at a loss for words, as many of us do sometimes, a hug can speak volumes.
- Listen with intention. Give your child ample opportunity to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. Whether they want to talk about their hopes for the future, or a situation that happened in school or at work that day, the prospect for open discussion is endless. If you have a sense that your loved one might want to talk, but isn’t doing so on their own, a gentle open-ended question, such as, “How did things go at school/work/church” today, can open the door to dialogue.
- Show subtle support. If overt support is a stretch at first, remember that subtle support can also make a difference. Whether it’s speaking positively about an LGBTQ person you know, or a character from a movie or television show; reflecting out loud about gender or sexuality issues surfacing in the news; or openly reading and sharing new learning about gender or sexual diversity, these small hints let kids know that you are supportive and understanding.
- Learn the terms. What is sexual orientation? What does it mean to be “bisexual”? Learning the language is a great way to start having important and sometimes challenging conversations. Of course, like every other human on the planet, you will likely make a few mistakes along the way–and that’s okay! Own it, apologize, move on, and work to do better next time. Visit pflag.org/glossary to get started.
Tips for self-support:
- Remember that you’re not alone. According to the Williams Institute, there are more than eight million self-identified LGB people in the U.S., and approximately 1.4 million people who identify as transgender. Other research shows that eight in ten people in the U.S. personally know someone who is LGB, and one in three people know someone who is transgender. In other words, although it may not appear so, there are LGBTQ people everywhere, and there are supportive families and allies everywhere, too. You are not alone in this process.
- Remember that your feelings are valid. There is no one way to react to learning that your child or a loved one is LGBTQ. Some feel happy that their child opened up to them, relief that they know more about their child and can support them, or joy that their child is confident in their self-awareness. Others may have more difficult or complex emotions, such as fear, guilt, sadness, or even anger. These are all normal feelings…and you may experience some or all of them simultaneously.
- Remember that this is a journey. While you want to express your love for your child as quickly as you can (see Tip 1 at the top!), remember that you are in a process; addressing your reaction and moving forward will take time. It is okay to be okay immediately, or okay not to be okay overnight. Take the time you need to explore these feelings.
- Remember that you’re important. Self-care is crucial, which means that even as you are learning how best to support your child or loved one, you must also find support for YOU. Whether you feel isolated or nervous—or interested and excited to connect with other families—it’s important not only to find and talk to people who have gone through what you’re going through, but to have information and resources at your fingertips right when you need them. Visit pflag.org to find a local meeting and helpful resources.
In the past, it could be said that talking to your teens about sexuality was relatively straightforward. These discussions normally centred on the average heterosexual relationships without any reference to alternative sexualities such as homosexual and bisexual orientations. However, it is imperative in modern society to teach our children about alternative sexual orientations and tolerance of those differences.
Gay teens are one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society, facing the pressure and dangers of gay bashing’ and other forms of homophobic bullying. There is a threefold likelihood of lesbian or gay teens being bullied than other youth.
These pressures in turn lead to a higher incidence of social isolation,alcohol and drug abuse, family problems, and low self esteem than their peers.
There is a relatively common belief that someone who is gay must have suffered some sexual trauma or has been influenced to make this decision by a gay adult. This is a myth as neither of these things influences sexuality. In the past, many have felt the need to hide their homosexuality and have lived their life feeling as though they are living a lie. However, in more recent times, teens are coming out’ much more often and at a younger age.
Talking to parents about their sexuality can sometimes be difficult, if not seemingly impossible. If they have heard anti-gay conversations between their parents or others close to them, this may contribute to their fear. In some situations, these youth run away from home because they feel that they cannot deal with the reaction of their parents.
There are also many gay teens that are forced out of their homes by parents who are unable to deal with their teen’s sexuality. Even for those who remain at home, the tension that occurs when the teen comes out’ can push relationships between the parents and the child beyond breaking point. This can lead to verbal or even physical violent eruptions between both parties, leading to severe relational breakdown. The trauma of this resistance to the teen’s sexual identity can be emotionally devastating. This resistance may be particularly high in parents who have been raised with the conviction that homosexuality is always wrong.
Becoming a teenager is already a big deal regardless of whether the person is heterosexual or homosexual but for the gay teen, the issues are far more frightening. Often, the teen is already having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that he or she is homosexual and is already fearful of peoples’ intolerance of them. The ultimate rejection by their parents on the basis of gender issues leaves the person feeling totally confused and isolated.
The incidence of suicide among gay teens is around three times that of their heterosexual counterparts though sexuality and gender issues are not in themselves, seen as a risk factor for suicide. However, the feelings of isolation and of being different can drive many to suicidal behaviour.
Perhaps the difference in acceptance of homosexuals could begin in what we teach children in earlier years. After all, bigotry is something that is learned from a young age. Make your children aware that any form of hatred and discrimination is unacceptable and instil these values as early as possible.When discussing sexuality with your children, explain that homosexuals have not choice and that they need to be respected as people just as anyone else does.
Let’s do what we can to stop contaminating the minds of our young and causing the discrimination against other people, whether based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.
Gay teenagers need empathy from those around them and from their healthcare provider. Otherwise, they may feel isolated and worthless, thus pressuring them into taking risks with their sexual health. Having sex with someone of the same gender does not eliminate the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and gay teens need to be aware of this and comfortable enough to discuss these problems with their doctor without fear of prejudice.
Becoming a teenager is a huge milestone for both teenagers and parents and it is particularly so when the teenager is gay. As parents, it is important to reassure the teenager that being gay really is okay and that, regardless of their sexual identity, you love them anyway.
Though the gay community has gained some civil rights over the years, it is important to continue the fight to erode the conservative views on gay issues. Only then can the gay community have the same freedoms as their heterosexual counterparts.
Author: Anne Wolski
Anne is the owner of http://www.softwaremegastore.net and http://www.annabellescheapies.com and http://www.travellintunes.com and has been involved in internet marketing for several years. She is both a mother and a doting grandmother. She has a wide variety of interests and loves to write
The coming out process for a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) adolescent can be a challenging moment for not only the teenager, but also their family and friends. It is a time of high emotions that can run the gamut from confusion, shock, disbelief, rejection, and anger, to acceptance, calmness, understanding, and concern. It is important at this potentially fragile time for parents and teens to be kind to each other and create room for this new information and identity to be processed.
Adolescence is a time when feelings and thoughts of sexuality become intense and confusing. For many gay teens, feeling different from their friends creates a pressure to fit in and keep their sexual orientation secret. They can fear rejection, discrimination and even violence. It is important to create a space of safety and acceptance for them to better understand their feelings.
The process of coming out usually starts with the sharing of feelings with a close friend or family member. Although coming out is a normal step in the development of a gay or lesbian adolescent, many different issues can come to the forefront for your child including:
• Questioning their sexual identity. Am I gay, lesbian, or bisexual?
• Who can I trust in this process?
• Will my family and friends accept this new information?
• Am I ready to be sexually active?
• Will I be safe sharing this information with others?
With all of these questions and others filling a gay teen’s thoughts, it may be challenging to come out in a well thought out and structured manner. The coming out conversation may be a reaction to other issues or may be presented in a confrontational manner.
As parents it is important to create a supportive environment for your gay or lesbian teen to speak about what’s going on with them. It is just as hard for them to share this new identity with you as they are still often questioning their own perspectives. When your teenager shares that they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual:
• Try to stay calm. This is probably a moment of shock for all of you. Leave space for it to sink in without having to react immediately.
• Let them know that you understand how hard this conversation is for them.
• Don’t expect them to have all the answers about what it means to be gay for them.
• Know that your own personal beliefs may be challenged in this moment but it is still the same child whom you love sitting across from you.
• Consider family therapy or individual therapy with a qualified counselor who works with gay teens and their families during the coming out process.
• If you have questions about their sexuality, educate yourself. The Internet is a great source of information on the subject. There are also many books available on the subject. Most cities also have a local chapter of PFLAG (Parents & Friends of Lesbians And Gays), which offers a variety of resources and information.
A challenge for parents in being available for their gay teens coming out process is being able to express and address their own fears, concerns, and emotional experience. Parents have often projected a future dream of weddings, grandchildren and traditional development for their child. Realizing that this dream may not come about in the manner they anticipated can shake parents up and bring many questions to the forefront.
Parents may need help for themselves while going through the coming out process with their gay or lesbian teenager. Working with a therapist who specializes in assisting gay teens and their families can be of benefit in relieving parent’s fears and stress. Therapy also provides a forum for parents to ask questions and gather information, while easing their emotional distress.
One of the biggest concerns of any teen in the process of coming out is whether their parents will accept them for who they are. Listen to their feelings as they share this new part of themselves. Although it may feel uncomfortable for all of you at first, an acceptance of their newly shared identity can develop over time creating a stronger family and a more open relationship based on truth and understanding.
Author: John Sovec
John Sovec is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices located in Pasadena, California. John specializes in working with adolescents , people experiencing the challenges associated with loss and grief, as well as assisting clients from all walks of life to face the complications that can arise in our daily experience. His approach to therapy focuses clients on uncovering their personal strengths, building upon those strengths, and encouraging clients to live the best life they are capable of living. John Sovec is a respected trainer and presenter in both the corporate and non-profit sectors with over twenty years experience. To learn more visit www.JohnSovec.com