When my 12-year-old son came out as gay, it was an exciting time. But it was also a little stressful. I wasn’t totally sure how to support him, or even what questions to ask.
A few years later, he’s doing great! I thought it would be a good time to put together a guide that I could have shared with him with advice from other LGBTQ+ kids, professionals who work with LGBTQ+ kids, and LGBTQ+ adults who understand what it’s like to figure things out as a kid.
Soon after my son came out, we were very lucky to meet Jim Obergefell, who went to the Supreme Court in 2015 with his husband John Arthur to help make same-sex marriage legal. He had some advice for my son for times when things feel difficult:
“I’ll be out there doing everything in my power to fight for marriage. To fight for you. Because I didn’t go to the Supreme Court just for my marriage to John, I went to the Supreme Court so that kids like you could grow up in a better world than the one I grew up in. That’s what so many others have done, people like Harvey Milk, Frank Kameny, Edie Windsor, Marsha P. Johnson, and so many others. We stood up to say this isn’t right, and we’re not going to take it anymore. We stood up to create a better world, better lives, for those who come after us...”
Some kids and teens are lucky — like my son. They know that their parents and community will support them no matter what. Others aren’t as fortunate. My hope is that whatever your situation, you’ll find helpful advice and some words of encouragement in this guide.
Remember: It’s OK to be who you really are, and it’s OK to keep figuring out who you are as you go through life. We all change and grow.
Advice from a professional counselor
Jennifer Schwartz, a professional counselor with Corner Health in Ypsilanti, Michigan, works with many LGBTQ+ kids and teens (and, often, their families). They are also non-binary and use they/them pronouns.
Jennifer says it’s important to find someone who you believe is open to hearing what your concerns are and can listen without immediately making you declare an identity before you feel ready. “Try to find someone who will really listen to what matters to you,” they say.
Jennifer also says it can be helpful to find safe places where other people around your age hang out. In their Ypsilanti community, Ozone House is a good example. They describe this facility as a “community GSA” (Gay/Straight Alliance) where younger LGBTQ+ people and allies can relax together in a positive, fun place. In the Detroit area, Affirmations in Ferndale and Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park also offer youth programs for LGBTQ+ people.
Other supportive resources could include:
- An LGBTQ-friendly church family
- A therapist who has experience working with LGBTQ+ clients
- Trusted family members
- Your school counselor
- Positive LGBTQ+ social media creators on TikTok and Instagram
Jennifer also says it’s important to remember that it’s up to you to decide how open you want to be — and that you can always change your mind. When they were younger, they remember times when they were in a “rainbow phase,” where their LGBTQ+ identity was something they wanted to share with everyone.
“It’s a time when we’re figuring out what it means to transition from adolescence to adulthood,” Jennifer says. “And that felt really good. It felt so good to have a name for what I’d been feeling.” Over time, their “rainbow phase” became less obvious, but they have always remained proud of who they are.
Advice from an LGBTQ+ community center
Megh Hollowell, development associate and Jenna Mares, Director of Education, Outreach and Welcoming, work for Ozone House in Ypsilanti, a community center for LGBTQ+ young people and allies. We asked Megh and Jenna a few questions:
What advice would you give to someone who is starting to explore their sexuality or gender identity?
First, there is nothing wrong with exploring your sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression. Take the time to feel what you’re feeling. You can try to reach out to someone who has gone through something similar — there are many ways to meet other LGBTQ+ people in person and virtually.
Note: Be sure to practice safety when you interact with people online who you don’t know in real life — never share personal information. What if you don’t have an adult in your life who you trust?
Many schools have GSA clubs or something similar. These are great places for people to connect and ask questions. You can also contact Ozone House if you need someone to talk to:
- To talk by phone (any time, day or night), call 734-662-2222
- For a text conversation, text the word “Ozone” to 734-662-2222 (available Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.)
- To chat online, visit ozonehouse.org/help/ (available Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.)
The Trevor Project is another great resource (visit thetrevorproject.org/get-help/ to learn about this LGBTQ+ support organization and the ways you can connect with someone who can help).
How can it help to connect with other kids and teens who are queer or questioning?
The young people at Ozone House really learn from each other. They are not afraid to ask questions and get support, and when someone makes a mistake, they are corrected in a way that is a learning opportunity and a time to provide support. Each young person has a different experience when it comes to figuring out their identity — but it is through conversation and support of their peers that they are able to figure out how they want to identity and where they find community.
Is it a big deal to come out one way, but realize you actually prefer different labels later?
For teenagers, it is really important to acknowledge that identity changes with time. The young people we interact with have taken time to figure out their identity, and sometimes, that changes. Young people sometimes worry about being locked into a certain label because the adults around them don’t understand what is happening. Hopefully, adults will be accepting when you go through changes like wanting to try a new name (even if you decide on another name later). It’s OK if things change!
Advice from LGBTQ+ adults
Many LGBTQ+ adults remember how they felt when they were growing up and realized they might not be straight. Here’s what they said when asked “What should someone do if they feel like no one around them really understands what they are going through?”
"You are not alone. Affirmations is here for you. Always remember, you are a part of the queer rights movement. There is an army of support and people just like you across the entire world. The queer rights movement is bigger than any single one of us and in those moments you feel alone or attacked remember our enimies would like nothing more than for you to take yourself out of the fight. We need you. The next generation needs you. The movement needs you."- Dave Garcia, Executive Director, Affirmations community center in Ferndale
“Talk about it, write about it, sing about it, paint about it, dance about it. Get it all out in a way that you aren’t alone with your feelings in your own mind and heart. Sharing what’s going on inside makes the feeling less debilitating, and often, sharing those feelings leads to profound creativity. I often share the challenges I’m going through and find that other people are going through the same thing, and that helps me identify allies and build community.”
- Zachary James, Grammy award-winning singer and performer (Instagram @theOfficialZacharyJames)
“Reach out today to someone you trust — a friend, teacher, coach, counselor or your LGBTQ+ community center. Don’t stay silent with your pain, and don't keep it all to yourself. There is no need to suffer! As queer people, we often feel invisible or alienated, so it’s times like these where you need a supportive environment to remind you to be proud of your accomplishments and your unique identity.”
- Jane Greenwood, an architect, mentor and advocate
“If you're asking yourself this question then you're on the path to making it better. You just have to take the first step, which can be scary because you're likely feeling alone. There have been countless queer humans that have felt, and at this very moment, are feeling what you are feeling. If you can reach out to the queer community around you and find a place where you’re able to express yourself freely, you can discover what works for you and how you want to identify. And how you want people to identify you. My advice to the parents is to stand by your child and make sure to allow them to figure things out in a safe, loving and supportive environment.”
“Please know that there are thousands of people that understand what you are going through and have been through your exact circumstances. YOU ARE NOT ALONE and you should not go through these hardships alone. Community is KEY and is the only way to get through this life journey as a LGBTQIA person. If you don't have a support group and can't talk to a parent, a school counselor or a trusted friend, find your community through the internet and/or social media. A great starting point is thetrevorproject.org”
- Cedric Leiba, Jr., actor, singer, dancer, poet, producer, advocate and co-founder of DominiRican Productions (Cedric is Pierre’s husband)
“Don't come out to your family if it isn't safe. Build a support system with friends, teachers, a therapist, anyone who will be on your side. Take your time to get to know yourself, until you're in a place where you are in full control of your life.”
- Oliver F., a trans college student