When our oldest child started high school last fall, we prepared her the best we could. She’s brilliant, independent, and level-headed. We trusted her, but we were nervous.
My husband and I both went to tiny schools in the middle of cow pastures in Texas. There are more students in her high school than in our hometowns. We were intimidated. She was ready.
By mid-day of her orientation, she’d met two new friends who are still her closest high school companions. When she came home that evening, we listened as she described every class and teacher, her plan for circumventing the crowded cafeteria, and all about her new friends’ pronouns.
“Stella* just moved here from New York City and she loves Broadway as much as I do! Taylor was born in Austria, and they have an amazing singing voice!” she gushed.
Our daughter has a yen for travel and her trips to NYC remain some of the brightest highlights of her life. We were thrilled she’d already clicked with friends who shared some life experiences. She quickly added, “But Taylor’s parents don’t know they’re nonbinary, so make sure you only use they/them pronouns when their parents are not around.”
I was crushed for Taylor. There are many reasons why an LGBTQ youth may not choose to come out to their parents. I don’t pretend to understand Taylor’s reasons for disclosing their truth to friends but not family. However, moments like this prompt me to reflect on our own parenting choices and to make any adjustments necessary.
According to The Trevor Project:
- 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
- Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all the people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived.
- LGBTQ youth who had access to spaces that affirmed their sexual orientation and gender identity reported lower rates of attempting suicide.
Over 15 years of raising children, our home has become increasingly affirming of LGBTQ folk. When we knew better, we did better. We are committed to wide open lines of communication. We don’t have “the talk”; we have an ongoing conversation that grows along with our kids.
We’ve worked to leave any discussion around future love interests intentionally gender neutral. For example, we don’t say to our son, “One day, your wife will love the way you organize things so neatly.”
Instead, we say, “One day, your partner will love the way you organize things so neatly.” It may sound simple, but it matters. We’re scaffolding norms for our children, and I don’t want to unintentionally layer on my personal preferences.
We have included children’s books with families made up of all combinations of genders. One of our favorites is Over the River and Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman. The book is beautiful, as are all the families included in the holiday tale.
Our choices aren’t about being “woke,” though I have no problem being described as such. We’re not brainwashing our children to be gay, though a mama can dream! By showing, not just telling, our kids we’re a soft place to land on all subjects, they will grow up knowing our love for them is big enough. Turning into a loud and proud ally for a child who comes out is beautiful. Raising them to know every single human is worthy of the love they choose is vital.
Our babies are watching us. They will know if we make a stink face when talking about a person living differently than us. Kids are truth-seekers. They internalize our approval. You cannot fake unconditional love. When they see us judging, they learn what parts of themselves to hide. They feel shame and may not ever feel comfortable enough to live their full lives, or to share those lives with us.
Mark 12:28-31 says:
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.'”
I’ll not debate with scripture. I know folks can twist the Bible to say just about anything they want to hear. But hear this, Jesus said to love. I choose to love.
I hope you’ll do a heart check and make sure your home is truly a safe place for all God’s children. It’s good and holy work, and it could save a precious life.
In Good Faith.
*Names and details have been changed to protect identity.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to June as Pride Month. The other articles in the series are:
On Learning from Queer Kin | C.J. Fowler
You’re LGBTQ Affirming! Now What? | Cody J. Sanders
Celebrating Pride and Pentecost in a Pub | Bert Montgomery
I Am a Woman Because I Do Womanhood | Junia Joplin
An Invitation for Embrace and Resurrection | Kali Cawthon-Freels