Every year on National Coming Out Day, which is on Thursday, October 11th, people celebrate coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ), or as an ally. This year will mark 30 years of this celebration! National Coming Out Day is observed annually, not only to celebrate coming out, but also to raise awareness of the LGBTQ community and civil rights movement. It grows and becomes more well-known every single year.
Although, we’ve come a long way with awareness and being “more accepting” of the LGBTQ community, we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for my LGBTQ clients to express hesitation with coming out to their family and friends, due to fear of being accepted. This “fear” is usually heightened, if they come from a religious background, that they may be shuned by their family (or their Church, Mosque, etc.), due to their religious beliefs or told things like, “we need to go to Church more often” or “they will go to hell”, in an attempt to change who they are. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that LGBTQ youth experience a higher incidence of prejudice, bullying, hate, and other biases which can lead to mental health struggles. LGBTQ people are 3 times as likely to experience a mental health condition, such as generalized anxiety disorder and depression, while LGBTQ teens are 6 times likely. Many LGBTQ youth hide their sexuality and mental health conditions from others, due to the stigma surrounding both mental health and LGBTQ people. Many experience “minority stress” because of their feelings of isolation and can be very harmful. Disparities in the LGBTQ community stem from a variety of factors, including social stigma, discrimination, prejudice, denial of civil and human rights, abuse, harassment, victimization, social exclusion, and family rejection. Suicide is one of the highest causes of death in LGBTQ people ages 10-24. Someone who comes out to their family and experience rejection is 8 times more likely to attempt suicide, have suicidal thoughts, or engage in self harm than straight people, while others may suffer from substance abuse.
There is a higher chance for youth that are not out to be/feel isolated or cut off. They are also more likely to be made fun of with use of anti-gay slurs, insults, etc. Youth who are out to their family are twice as likely to come to their family when they are struggling, sad, or looking for support, etc. LGBTQ youth also feel that their peers are crucial supporters. Youth who are out to their immediate family report higher levels of overall happiness, likelihood for achieving goals, and optimism about the future. Majority of youth hesitate to come out to their families because they believe their families will not be accepting or are homo/bi/trans phobic. Others do not come out because of fear of reactions, for religious reasons, say they “don’t or can’t” talk to their family, or that they are just not ready. Family and friends hold a high influence on the support and safety of LGBTQ youth. You should always stand up for your child or friend, even if you are unsure about their experiences. You shouldn’t have to experience discrimination, prejudice, harassment, victimization, and social exclusion, in order to be supportive, show empathy, and be an advocate of a LGBTQ person or any other marginalized group.
Unfortunately, out of all the different reactions families may have to their children coming out, about half of those reactions are a form of rejection. When parents react negatively, the child can perceive that their parents are trying to change who they are and do not love them for who they are. LGBTQ youth who experience rejection from their families are at a significantly higher risk for low self-esteem, mental health issues, drug use, and are 8 times as likely to attempt suicide. Many LGBT youth hide their sexuality out of fear of rejection and this hiding can have negative consequences, as it creates feelings of shame and low self-esteem.
Some helpful behaviors for parents to promote mental health in their children include: talking about their sexuality, express affection when your child comes out, support them even if you feel uncomfortable, advocate for your child when they are mistreated, require respect from other family members, connect your child with a positive LGBTQ role model or adult, and believe your child. Supportive families are key to helping LGBTQ youth feel love and acceptance in their experience.