What It Means to Be an LGBTQ+ Ally—And How to Raise One
It is incredibly affirming to have LGBTQ+ allies in our lives, and even more incredible when it comes from a non-LGBTQ+ family. Here's how to encourage your family to be allies.
"Which of you moms had him in your belly?" our toddler's friend politely and curiously asked my wife during a recent play date.
It was a really thoughtful question for a small child. It was clear she had talked with her parents about why her friend had two moms instead of one mom and one dad. It was also clear that the parent who answered her questions said a lot of the right things because this child wasn't judgmental or confused. She was genuinely just curious, while also carrying the baseline knowledge that my wife and I were both equal parents to our child, one just happened to carry him before he joined the outside world. (For reference, I carried our child to term and my wife has carried him ever since he emerged from the womb.)
As a parent, not only don't you need to have an LGBTQ+ household or family member in order to create a family of allies, you don't even have to know anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+. The truth is, you may not know whether you know someone who might be LGBTQ+. It shouldn't matter. What matters is that you focus on creating welcoming and inclusive environments wherever you go and teaching your kids to do the same.
So how do you encourage your family to be LGBTQ+ allies? Here's are few simple tips.
Set the Tone as an Ally
Becoming an LGBTQ+ ally yourself is akin to securing your oxygen mask first before putting one on your child's face. You must first acquire the knowledge about how to be a good ally before you can teach your kids how to follow suit.
"If you are a parent seeking to learn more about how to support your LGBTQ child or raise your kids to be LGBTQ allies, start by educating yourself on the basics of LGBTQ identities and the challenges our community faces," said Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth. "It can be tough for LGBTQ people to bear the burden of educating others about our lived experiences—and the clear lack of public education around sexual orientation and gender identity allows misinformation to run rampant. Learning more about LGBTQ identities will help you better understand and support the LGBTQ young people in your life," he said.
Look to the many existing resources like the ones provided by LGBTQ+ organizations like PFLAG, GLSEN, or the Trevor Project for foundational knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community, the right terms to use, and additional tips for how to talk to your kids.
Meet Your Kids Where They Are
Your kids may have questions that you didn't anticipate. They may also be younger than you guessed they would be when they ask them. Answer all their questions honestly and in language that they will understand. You will be surprised how much kids can grasp. The concept of sexual identity is pretty comprehensible if you break it down into its simplest form—it's about who you love and want to marry or make a home with. When it comes to gender identity or expression and being transgender or nonbinary, it's about how people feel, regardless of what body parts they have or what they look like. There are so many ways that we can be ourselves and love others, a rainbow of beautiful colors that makes us different and unique.
In fact, the best thing you can do is to be proactive and not wait for questions to come your way because that means your kids have already had opportunities to be allies and not been equipped with the knowledge in order to do so well. The more your family are all unofficially-trained LGBTQ+ allies, the more you will be of great value to LGBTQ+ friends and family, your children's classmates, and others you may encounter along your paths.
Find books and movies that are LGBTQ+ inclusive and read and watch them together as a family. Create teaching moments that you can leverage to have open and honest conversations. It's OK if you don't know all the answers. You can look things up and learn together.
Don't Overthink What It Means to Be an Ally
"It seems so intuitive. Part of me is like, 'Do we really need to tell people don't be jerks, don't be mean to people?'" says Sung Tse, parent to a transgender young adult and president of the San Gabriel Valley chapter of PFLAG, the first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, their parents and families, and allies.
Teach your children to create space for all different kinds of people and perspectives, and to extend the same values to LGBTQ+ people as they would to anyone else. "Be loving. Be encouraging. Be positive. Be complimentary," says Tse.
Know the Difference Between Affirming and Accepting
Whether you know someone who is LGBTQ+ or not, the benefits of allyship are clear. One survey out of the Trevor Project found that LGBTQ+ kids who have just one affirming adult in their lives are 40 percent less likely to attempt suicide than those who don't. Social support from friends and family significantly reduces the chances that an LGBTQ+ young person will attempt suicide.
"There is a difference between accepting and affirming," said Tse. "Accepting is, OK, I accept what you tell me. Affirming is, I am 100 percent behind you. I totally affirm you and who you are, how you express yourself and your whole being," she said.
It is never too late or too soon to become an LGBTQ+ ally. The most powerful approach is to consider your family a unit of LGBTQ+ allies and work together to learn and create an affirmative space where you are prepared to stand up on behalf of LGBTQ+ people and rights. It doesn't matter how old your children are; there are age-appropriate ways starting from birth to explain what makes an authentic person or family no matter what their identity or experience might be. The answer is always "love." That is something we can all wrap our heads around.