How To Support Our LGBTQIA+ Youth This Holiday Season

Dr. Myeshia Price, director of research science at The Trevor Project, offers firsthand experience and new data on the importance of protecting queer youth from unsupportive people.

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If there’s anything my kid enjoys to the fullest, it’s a holiday. We decorate our home for each major holiday from Halloween to the Fourth of July. With this year’s holiday season upon us, my family and I are well underway with parties, presents, and most importantly: holiday outfits. My 4-year-old, who was assigned male at birth, loves a fun holiday dress—or tutu—with the same vigor as a dress shirt and bow tie.

While I have never worn a tutu, I would never deny my child the joy they feel wearing their favorite outfit to a family party. At the same time, I would also never put them in a situation that could cause this year’s Christmas celebrations to be remembered as the time they got admonished by a family member for simply expressing themselves with an article of clothing. 

I don't know if my child is in any way part of the LGBTQIA+ community, but this experience speaks to a reality that families with LGBTQIA+ young ones face every holiday season. For many queer youth, the upcoming holidays may signal a time of stress and harm, not peace and joy.

Why We Need To Support LGBTQIA+ Youth During the Holidays 

The holidays are often viewed as a time of joy and coming together. However, they can also be stressful for many people, particularly youth and adolescents who may be experiencing significant developments and changes while navigating their identities. Perhaps an upcoming holiday party will be the first time a young person is seeing family since adopting a new look (we’ve all been there during those tween and teen years), name, and/or gender. LGBTQIA+ youth in particular, may experience stressors related to potentially imposing questions about their identity. They may feel anxious as the holidays approach, wondering things like, “Will my family refer to me using the wrong name all day?” and “Will I have to endure hearing hateful comments about being queer?”

The tragic reality is that many LGBTQIA+ young people report living in unsupportive homes. 

The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that only 37% of LGBTQ youth identified home as an LGBTQ-affirming space. As negative LGBTQIA+ political rhetoric and heartbreaking acts of violence have reached a crescendo in recent months, many LGBTQIA+ young people may be feeling particularly stressed or scared about spending time with unaccepting or indifferent family members who support all or some of negative political rhetoric. 

Beyond showing kindness and support, parents should also be prepared to stand up for their LGBTQIA+ children. Oftentimes, parents and caregivers are the first line of defense in setting the tone for the nature of support that their children receive. Whether that means setting boundaries around physical touch, food safety, or ensuring that people do not say harmful things about who they are, parents and caregivers have a responsibility to ensure their child’s safety. If you hear or see something that is harmful to your child, it’s important to confront it head-on.

How To Make A Plan With Your LGBTQIA+ Kids and Family Members Before A Visit 

While we should be prepared to jump in if anyone makes an anti-LGBTQIA+ comment over dinner, it is just as important for us to talk to our queer kids before we enter a potentially unwelcoming environment.

Checklist Before Visiting Family

  • Ask your child how they want to be supported when family members make mistakes.
  • Prepare responses for unsupportive comments.
  • Know your child's signals for when it's time to leave.
  • Set expectations and boundaries with extended family.
  • Be okay with staying home.

See what your child needs before you get to the gathering. 

Since my kid has long hair, they’re often gendered as a girl. When they were 3, I started asking, “If people think you’re a girl, do you want me to correct them?” 

This past Halloween, at 4-and-a-half, my kid dressed up as a princess. While fixing their tiara, I asked, “People might think you are a girl. Are you okay with that, or do you want me to correct them?” Their reply has always been, “Please don’t say anything.” I continue to respect their wishes, instead of forcing my own opinions upon them.

As you start making your plans for holiday festivities, you can also begin having honest conversations with your LGBTQIA+ child to prepare them for the types of questions people may ask and what they think are the best ways to respond. Decide together what they’d like to address with family members, and what they’d prefer to ignore. 

For example, your child may want to have responses prepared for comments like this that directly impact them: “Using they/them pronouns is too confusing for me, so I’m going to keep calling you ‘she.’” But they may opt to ignore more generalized anti-LGBTQIA+ comments such as, “Seems like every year they just come up with even more pronouns and identities.”

It’s also a great idea to predetermine a way for your child to signal they need your support. This can be something as straightforward as your child disengaging from a conversation by saying, “Excuse me one second, I have to use the restroom,” and coming to find you at a party. 

It is also important to recognize signs that your child may be under stress and check in by simply asking if they're okay.

Check in with family members to set clear boundaries. 

In addition to planning ahead with your LGBTQIA+ child, you should also be clear with your other family members about what you expect from them. Setting clear and firm boundaries before gathering for the holidays can help avoid uncomfortable situations. If your sibling or parent is hosting a family event, consider reaching out to them ahead of time and saying something along the lines of, “It’s really important that my kid feels safe and comfortable showing up to your house as their true self. I don’t want them to be worried about hearing a harmful comment about their identity. Do you think I can count on you to help make sure that happens?”

Family members should want to respect the ground rules and boundaries you are setting to keep your child safe during the holidays. If they are not open to working with you to ensure that your child feels comfortable, then you may need to reconsider bringing your child to their house.

Of course, some family members may want to support your child but feel like they don’t have the tools or the know-how to do so. Luckily for them, many resources exist to help them learn basics and best practices for supporting LGBTQIA+ young people. The Trevor Project has a number of guides available, including the Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Young People.

You May Need To Reconsider Family Gatherings 

Parents often reach out to The Trevor Project to ask if they should take their child to a family event if they know a family member will disrespect their identity or say harmful things about LGBTQIA+ people. While that is an individual choice that each parent and family needs to make for themselves, people should understand that these types of behaviors—even if they seem insignificant—do cause real harm to LGBTQIA+ youth. 

Research consistently shows that queer youth who are not affirmed and supported in their identities report higher rates of poor mental health outcomes, including suicide risk. 

Conversely, The Trevor Project’s research found that LGBTQ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt low or moderate social support.

All parents should strive to protect the full health of their child—even if that means skipping out on the usual holiday party to create joy with supportive or chosen family members instead. 

Your child’s mental health should be the most important factor.

I also encourage parents and families to ask themselves how they would approach a situation like this if it were about physical harm. If you were being asked to expose your child to a family member who would likely harm them physically, what would you do? 

For many folks, that decision might feel much easier to make. As our society continues to get better at destigmatizing and addressing mental health needs of young people, parents should treat the risk of physical harm and the risk of mental harm as equally problematic for their children. Physical and mental health are critical to a child’s well-being, and they’re intrinsically linked to one another. All parents should strive to protect the full health of their child—even if that means skipping out on the usual holiday party to create joy with supportive or chosen family members instead. 

Your actions do have an impact—make them count. 

It is always important to consider how your actions impact your child’s wellbeing, as well as their trust in you as a safe and supportive parent. If you know you’re taking your child into a potentially harmful environment and you dig your heels in because you want to honor holiday tradition or force more time with extended family, also know that can have long-lasting impacts on the relationship with your child. They may see you as someone who won’t put their wellbeing and safety first, which can cause significant strain to your relationship. 

If you know you’re taking your child into a potentially harmful environment and you dig your heels in because you want to honor holiday tradition or force more time with extended family, also know that can have long-lasting impacts on the relationship with your child.

It's also important to consider that not showing up to a family party—because of known or implied knowledge of bigoted family members—can impact your relationship with extended family members. There isn’t one, correct or easy way to navigate these types of situations because everyone has their own, unique dynamics at play. As a parent and caregiver, though, you should start by asking yourself, “What decision is best for ensuring my child's health, safety, and joy?” Let that answer be your guide.

How you can show up for your queer family members.

Figuring out how to support your LGBTQIA+ children or loved ones can seem daunting, especially if you don’t have much experience interacting with queer people. You may be overwhelmed by the vast identities and terminologies that exist in our community. But the good news is this: You don’t have to be an expert to offer impactful support to your LGBTQIA+ loved ones. You just have to guide your actions with empathy and respect. And unconditional love and acceptance.

Research has found that LGBTQIA+ youth feel supported when parents and caregivers talk respectfully about their queer identities, are welcoming and kind toward their queer friends or partners, and educate themselves about issues that impact them.

These actions are as simple as they sound and can have lasting positive impacts. They have shown associations with better mental health outcomes for queer youth. Talking with youth respectfully about their LGBTQIA+ identity was associated with more than 40% lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year. These data add to a large body of research which finds that affirming youth in their identities supports their mental health.

Long gone are the days when I had full control over what my kid would wear, or how their hair would be styled. While, admittedly that came a little too soon for me, I can’t wait to see what my kid decides to wear to our family’s Christmas party. I am not concerned about how they choose to dress, or ultimately, how they will identify in terms of their gender identity or sexual orientation. All I care about is making sure my child is happy and healthy and that they can one day look back at our holiday celebrations with fondness and not as something they had to suffer through.

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