For teenagers, school is typically the focal point of their lives, and -- between bullying and other uncertainties -- the academic arena can be enormously difficult to navigate as a transgender youth. Issues for a transgender youth can be as seemingly small as deciding which bathroom to use, but to the individual involved, much is at stake in this decision. According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, school-based support for the transgender child is crucial. Educators, adult advocates and administrators should help make the school zone more welcoming to the transgender teen, including creating a safe space where she can navigate practical issues while feeling affirmed.
Several national organizations are dedicated to helping transgender youths, and they are no more than a phone call or click away. Many organizations, such as the Peer Listening Line for GLBT Youth and The Trevor Project, provide hot lines that teenagers can call to talk to someone who understands what they're going through. Support is also provide by allied organizations, such as the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. On the legal side, the American Civil Liberties Union has released a guide for LGBT high school students.
School administrators and other trusted authorities can help put transgender teens in touch with allies in the community who can help them, whether that be LGBT-friendly therapists, peer allies or organizations. They might also be helpful in find support groups, not only for the transgender youth but also for his family. Transgender youths also need access to the appropriate health care in their community. According to Lambda Legal, when transgender youths don't have access to certain medications, they often resort to the dangerous practice of buying them illegally.
Family is perhaps one of the most important resources for teens struggling to understand and make sense of their identity. Being supportive of your teen gives her the power to advocate for herself and better succeed in the world beyond the teenage years. If a transgender youth's family is confused about their child's identity, they should not blame themselves, but can take steps to better understand and be a source of support. Family counseling is available for the families of gender-nonconforming youths. Helpful literature also is available on the subject, which the transgender teen and her family can explore together.
Let your teen approach you about his homosexuality, according to the National Institute of Health. He might not be ready to inform you that he is gay, and approaching him about your suspicions might embarrass him, anger him or make him excessively self-conscious.
Use homosexual comic strips or story lines on TV and in movies to approach the subject of homosexuality with your teen, advises the National Institute of Health. If you suspect your teen is gay, ensure that he knows you are open to him approaching you about his feelings. He might want to tell you about his homosexuality but is terrified of your reaction or worries that you will reject him. By demonstrating your acceptance of homosexuality, your teen will know that you will love him no matter who he is attracted to.
Don't ask your teen whether you did something wrong or if you caused his homosexuality, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s not your fault -- being gay is not a health problem. You didn’t cause it by exposing your teen to chemicals or secondhand smoke when you were pregnant. Even if you feel that having a gay son is not an ideal situation, questions like that do not help foster a continuing relationship with your son.
Accept your teen. His sexual orientation is not a choice he made to get back at you for not letting him stay out later on the weekends. His sexual orientation does not fundamentally change who he is -- no more than being heterosexual would fundamentally change who he is. He is who he is. Accept it.
Chances are a youth knows he is gay long before the parents do. He has probably struggled with his own feelings of shame, guilt or confusion. Gay youth might feel isolated from their peers or suffer from the social stigma associated with his sexual orientation. He might have found sources of information and support. Parents should ask their child questions about his experience, listen when he talks and be a source of support. If he is in a loving relationship, parents should accept his partner and be proud their child is able to experience romantic love.
Parents of gay teens should educate themselves on sexual orientation. This can involve changing established ideas and going beyond stereotypes. According to Advocates for Youth, sexual orientation and gender identity are two terms that are often misunderstood. Sexual orientation refers to who a person is attracted to, whether it be male, female or both. Gender identity refers to one's personal identity as male or female. Parents sometimes find it informative and comforting to talk to others who have been in their shoes. They can connect with other parents of gay youth through organizations such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
Life is not easy for gay youth. Parents can better his odds by finding support at school and in the community. Advocates for Youth advises parents to ask school district officials if they have a nondiscrimination policy in place. Other sources for community support are Gay/Straight alliances at school or at a community center. Bookstores that sell GLBT literature are places for groups to post their meetings.
Show Love and Respect
Above all, parents of gay youth should tell their children they love them. Being gay isn’t the whole of their being. It is one part. Although it may be different than what parents had imagined for their child, the child still needs the unconditional love and respect of his parents. Respect requires parents not to criticize their child for his choices, and to ask him before “outing” him to anyone else.