Can you have a healthy relationship with your LGBTQ kid if you don’t “affirm” them?
The short answer is no.
Evidence shows that when parents do not accept and affirm their LGBTQ children, LGBTQ children are at increased risk for mental, physical, and emotional harm.
As we will show in this article, the evidence is clear and we cannot silence the truth.
Studies show that LGBTQ children with unaffirming parents are at higher risk for negative physical & mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, sexual risk behaviors, substance use, suicidal thinking, and more
A recently published study found that transgender youth who are not accepted by their family have higher rates of depression and anxiety than those who are accepted. In fact, trans youth with accepting families do not have elevated rates of mental health issues at all. (sources: Vice, NBC News)
This extends to both transgender and cisgender LGBQ youth, too.
A 2017 study by Sabra L. Katz-Wise, PhD, Margaret Rosario, PhD, and Michael Tsappis, MD found,
Family rejection may have serious consequences for LGBT youth’s physical and mental health. Studies have found that parental rejection is associated with health risk behaviors and poor mental and physical health outcomes among LGBT individuals. Sexual minority emerging adults with higher levels of family rejection were more likely to report attempted suicide, high levels of depression, and illegal drug use, and engagement in unprotected sexual intercourse.67 Parental rejection negatively affects health among both transgender and cisgender adolescents. In the Thai study referenced earlier, family rejection predicted adolescents’ level of depression, suicidal thinking, and sexual risk behaviors among both transgender and cisgender youth.
Conversely, family acceptance may be protective for LGBT youth’s health. Among sexual minority youth, adolescents whose mothers responded positively to their sexual orientation disclosure were less likely to use substances compared to those who had not disclosed their orientation to their parents or whose mothers and fathers did not react positively. In addition, family support and acceptance is associated with greater self-esteem, social support, general health status, less depression, less substance abuse, and less suicidal ideation and behaviors among LGBT youth. Family support is also associated with less substance use among LGBT youth. Among transgender youth specifically, parental support is protective against depression and associated with having a higher quality of life.
In all of these studies, it is clear that family acceptance or rejection plays a critical role in the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth. It is also clear that “acceptance” is more than just saying “I love you” and rejection does not have to be as severe as being kicked out of a home.
For instance, the supportive examples from the study cited by NBC News demonstrate an active, on-going, and enthusiastic support of their child’s gender transition (they advocated for him at camp, they actively supported him through transition related medical decisions, etc).
Maintaining that your child’s LGBTQ identity is sinful is not accepting.
We know many parents who want to love their LGBTQ child and have a healthy relationship but are unwilling to change their own personal beliefs about LGBTQ people and relationships. In the 2017 study, the researchers specifically include a case study that lines up perfectly with how a parent who believes being LGBTQ is a sin might react.
“The patient also chose to come out to her mother in the office with the physician present. Her mother was able to express an interest in understanding what was being explained to her but anticipated a slow process. The patient left the office indicating that the mother’s response was consistent with her expectations.
The next scheduled appointment occurred two weeks later. By that time the patient had told her father who did not attend the visit. Her father’s response was experienced as reserved and without clear acceptance or rejection.”
The studies authors explain,
“Acceptance was achieved within a broader social network, but peer and other community support could not replace the desired parental reaction. Without the support of the parents, the patient regressed and acquiesced to the sex assigned at birth, followed by depression that required pharmacological treatment.”
The study also explicitly states that “traditional values” contribute to LGBTQ youths’ perception of their families being less accepting of them.
We understand that it’s important to “meet people where they are” but we at Queer Theology believe that it’s vital we not leave them there. We have seen that people are willing to do the work to change their beliefs when they are held to a higher standard around their actions.
Our history of decades-long activism has shown this to be true over and over and our work continues to be rooted in this experience: When you demand people to rise to the occasion and do their work, they will but coddling them does nothing but further injure already marginalized people.
It doesn’t matter if you’re kind or smile or give your kids lots of hugs or say sweet things about LGBTQ people: Unaffirming theology is destructive and deadly. We must speak that truth.