Ep 290: How to Be an Ally to Your LGBTQ Child

Heather Hester, author of Parenting with Pride, joins us to discuss the essential do's and don'ts for parents when their teenager comes out as LGBTQ, offering practical advice on supportive communication, unlearning biases, and addressing mental health and substance use concerns.

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Full Show Notes

Every parent wishes to be a source of unwavering support and love for their children. However, when a teenager comes out as LGBTQ, many parents find themselves unprepared and anxious about how to respond appropriately. Initial reactions can be critical, as negative responses may have lasting repercussions on the teen's mental health and self-esteem.

Introducing Heather Hester

Our guest today is Heather Hester, founder of Chrysalis Mama and the host of the podcast Just Breathe. Heather is also the author of the newly released book, Parenting with Pride: Unlearn Bias and Embrace, Empower, and Love Your LGBTQ+ Teen.

With years of experience providing guidance and education to parents and allies of LGBTQ young adults, Heather is here to help us understand how to navigate this sensitive yet profoundly important process of supporting our LGBTQ teens.

Why Initial Reactions Matter

Coming out is usually the culmination of a long and often painful period of internal conflict for teens. Heather explains that parents must recognize this journey and approach their teen's coming out with an emphatic and supportive response. Contrary to instinctive reactions like "Are you sure?", which can undermine a teen's confidence, parents should focus on affirmations such as "I love you," "Thank you for telling me," and "I've got you."

Heather shares that parents often inadvertently project their own fears and biases into the conversation, which can be damaging. Instead, she advises parents to work through their own uncertainties separately and to avoid placing these burdens on their child.

Understanding the Process and Stages of Coming Out

It's a common misconception that coming out is a single event. Heather clarifies that it’s a process composed of several stages, ranging from internal acknowledgment to public declaration and ongoing self-acceptance. By the time teens come out to their parents, they have typically already gone through significant internal struggles and are well past the initial phases of questioning and doubt.

Recognizing this can help parents offer more meaningful support and understand the continued journey that lies ahead for their teen. This perspective also highlights the importance of ongoing support, as coming out is a recurring event each time a teen enters a new environment, such as changing schools or starting a new job.

Different Identities and Orientations

Heather also emphasizes the importance of understanding the diverse range of identities within the LGBTQ spectrum. These include not just lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations, but also gender identities like transgender and non-binary, as well as terms like intersex and asexual. She encourages parents to ask open-ended questions like, "What does that mean to you?" to foster a supportive and educational conversation.

Addressing Mental Health and Substance Use

Statistics show that LGBTQ teens are at a higher risk for mental health issues and substance use due to societal pressures, bullying, and a lack of affirmation. Heather explains the importance of proactive dialogue about these issues and remaining vigilant for changes in behavior. It's essential for parents to provide a safe and accepting home environment while also being prepared to seek professional help if needed.

Emphasizing Present Acceptance

One of the most impactful ways parents can support their LGBTQ teen is by expressing unconditional love and acceptance for who they are right now. Often, in an attempt to be encouraging, parents may focus on their child's future potential, inadvertently sending the message that who they are currently is not enough. Heather advises celebrating the teen's current strengths and acknowledging their journey to date.

Episode Highlights

- The critical impact of initial reactions when a teen comes out
- The process and stages of coming out for LGBTQ teens
- Distinguishing between sexual orientation and gender identity
- Addressing mental health and substance use concerns in LGBTQ teens
- How to express unconditional love and acceptance for your teen

In the Episode….

Heather's insights are invaluable for any parent navigating the complexities of their teen coming out. On top of the topics covered above, we also discuss: 

- Strategies for unlearning personal biases 
- The role of professional support in addressing mental health 
- How to create an affirming home environment 
- The importance of critical thinking in processing societal messages 

You can find more from Heather Hester on her website, chrysalismama.com, or listen to her podcast, Just Breathe. Don’t forget to share and subscribe to the podcast for more insightful conversations on parenting teens.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Heather Hester
Heather Hester
Heather Hester is the founder of Chrysalis Mama which provides support and education to parents and allies of LGBTQIA adolescents, teenagers, and young adults. She is also the creator and host of the podcast Just Breathe: Parenting your LGBTQ Teen. As an advocate and coach for parents and allies, she believes the coming out process is equal parts beautiful and messy. She works with her clients to let go of fear and feelings of isolation so that they can reconnect with themselves and their children in a meaningful, grounded way. Heather creates a space where growth and shifts can occur through education and empowerment, instilling the confidence that anyone can move through the coming-out process with understanding and love. She is also a speaker and consultant for corporations, teaching how to be better LGBTQ+ allies from the inside out. Heather is a writer and entrepreneur, married to her best friend of 28 years, the mother of four extraordinary kids (two of whom are LGBTQIA), and a student of life who believes in being authentic and embracing the messiness.
Ep 290: How to Be an Ally to Your LGBTQ Child
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