Disclaimer: This is not only for parents. It is really just a how to be an ally post, but I wanted to bring in that specific audience because I think it’s really important.
I hate telling people want to do because I think everyone should be able to make their own choices and decide what is best for their own lives. However, I decided to do that here in a DO’s and DON’Ts post.
I’m not a parent, but I have two. My mom just followed this blog recently, so shout out to her! I think parents are a demographic that don’t get addressed specifically enough, especially in ways to support LGBTQ+ folks.
Here are tips for family member(s) of queer people (or advice on being an ally)
DON’T think you know everything
There is a lot to know about the LGBTQ+ Community. I’ve been writing about it for over a year now. However, sometimes individual identities like lesbian, gay, or bisexual, can seem to be pretty self-explanatory. Think again though. Remember that identity labels are for the person to claim and experiences differ from person to person.
DO remember your role
As a parent of a queer person reading this, I am going to assume you are supportive of the LGBTQ+ Community, and may even consider yourself an ally. Remember what this means in staying educated, creating safe spaces, and doing your best to stop the discrimination and mistreatment of others.
DON’T try and relate your experiences if you are not marginalized
In the same way that it’s best not to assume that all gay people have the same experiences, it’s especially important to not make it seem like you understand. I think the only exception to this is if you are also marginalized, such as talking about the similar experiences of POC, disabled folks, or an identity that makes you walk through the world differently. It is a very unique experience to be marginalized and to relate with similar experiences, and can create great conversation. However, it you don’t fall into that category, I suggest not trying to facilitate those types of discussions with a queer person.
DO get involved (if you want to)
There are plenty of ways to learn about the LGBTQ+ Community without even involving your queer family member. Or, maybe y’all can do something together. I’m thinking about things like watching LGBTQ+ television shows or movies, reading the same book and talking about it, or going to a local LGBTQ Center. These could be things you do together or on your own as an ally.
DON’T try and “understand” in an intrusive way
I came out as a lesbian, which I think in most of society’s minds means a cisgender woman attracted to other cisgender women. So when I found myself attracted to nonbinary folks, this was a little bit of an identity question for myself. I can imagine folks outside of the community being a little confused about this as well. However, there’s no need to ask people about their identity to understand them. While it may be well-meaning, I think a lot of LGBTQ+ folks find this to be tiring and even tokenizing because it can be very personal, and may even be confusing for them as well. I think many folks will just remind you that Google and places like my blog are places to learn more.
DO educate yourself
Speaking of learning, you should totally educate yourself. No one is asking you to be an expert or know all about HIV/AIDS, bathrooms, or stereotypes, but it would be great if you knew about the broader concepts. I like to this of this site as a great place to learn because I try to put things in easy-to-read language, and always hyperlink to learn more about things I talk about. I recommend this, this, and this piece of mine if you’re just starting to learn about the LGBTQ+ Community. You may also google the identity that your family member(s) holds to read personal stories or struggles they may face.
DON’T be the identity police
As I mentioned, identity labels are personal. In a similar fashion to sexual attraction, gender identity may be a place where outsiders want to label another person’s gender identity. Sometimes gender expression doesn’t match what gender identity folks’ label themselves as. Remember that it’s not your place to police the words folks’ use to describe themselves or try and “figure them out” because they’re just being themselves.
DO seek support (if you want)
I think sometimes parents and folks who may be older have a hard time accepting their queer family members. This may be due to worrying about their safety, quality of life, or maybe it’s internalized fear. Maybe it’s the lack of knowledge I’ve been talking about. Luckily, there are support forums online, resources for parents, and even support groups in person. See the bottom for resources!
I think when parents have a hard time with queer family members, there may be this feeling of a need to overcompensate for a lack of support or allyship. This can come in forms of saying how you watched an LGBTQ+ documentary, talked about LGBTQ identities with friends (maybe talking about that family member), or went to a workshop or training. While these are all great things, in my experiences, they can come off as trying to overcompensate to just being an ally and supportive family member. My advice would be to lead by the queer family member(s) vibes around doing LGBTQ-related things together (like the ones I mentioned above) instead of feeling like you have some responsibility to do them.
DO keep communication open
I almost put this one at the top, in that it is most important, but I realized that in my experience, oftentimes I don’t really want to explain my identity. I personally don’t mind talking about the LGBTQ+ Community (I love it), but my personal identity is mine and since it really doesn’t involve you, I have no responsibility to explain it to you. It would be great if you understood gender identity and sexual orientation, but there’s no need for you to know my attractions and expression. In my experience, it feels kind of tokenizing, and that’s not the responsibility of an ally. In fact, it would be great if you could stop the conversations you here that I may get myself into that are tokenizing my oppressed identity.
I hope this helps you with allyship and being supportive to folks in the LGBTQ+ Community! This was written from personal experiences, but feel free to check out the additional resources below!