Kaitlynn Bartley, a writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, feels lucky. When she came out as pansexual to her family, they were amazingly supportive. But that doesn’t mean it was easy.
“Coming out of the closet is stressful, even if your [LGBTQ+] family member knows that you will support them,” Bartley said. “I knew 100% that my family would support me, but my stomach was still in knots.”
Bartley explained that many people who identify as LGBTQ+ don’t have the support she has from her family. But it’s not because families don’t want to be supportive; it’s because they don’t know how to be. If you have an LGBTQ+ loved one, here are four simple ways you can show them love and support.
Three simple words
“I support you.” This small phrase conveys a depth of meaning.
“There’s no right or wrong way to express love,” said Renata Arrington Sanders, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins “Just be present and be open.”
When you don’t know what to say, you don’t have to push yourself to give a speech. A sincere “I support you,” “I love you,” or “I’m here for you” can mean the world to someone who has just bravely bared their soul to you. And these simple words are worth repeating as time goes on. As Dr. Sanders said, being present and open will help you know the right things to say.
Ask questions and give space
When working to understand your family member, start off on the right foot by asking this important question: “What do you feel comfortable sharing?” Doing so “shows that you care about them and want to know more, but only if they want to share that information,” said Bartley. “I know that I can tell my family, ‘I don’t feel comfortable sharing that,’ and they’ll back off.”
As psychology writer Karen Young explained, “Sometimes the best thing you can do for a relationship you care about is to hold steady and give the other person time and space to work out whatever it is they’re going through – while you stand still beside them.”
Your family member may not want to open up to you about their sexuality or gender identity, and that’s OK. It’s important to stay connected in other aspects of your lives. Talk about their school, work, hobbies, and upcoming vacation plans.
“These conversations may seem like no-brainers, but staying connected to your child’s world makes it easier for them to approach you with bigger, more complex issues, like sexuality,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. “The more you communicate with your child, the more comfortable they’ll feel.”
Harness social media
Social media platforms have a lot of untapped potential for showing support to LGBTQ+ family members. Something as simple as posting on Instagram about why you love your family member can help them feel supported. Or you could share an inspiring article about the LGBTQ+ movement on Facebook to help your friends better understand the community and therefore be better able to support your family member. While posting on social media doesn’t necessarily equate to connecting, it can be a good building block to building a stronger relationship with better communication.
“There are few resources in the app industry that cater to the LGBTQ+ community,” said Natasha Ponomaroff, an LGBTQ+ influencer. An app like Made is one of the few. Made is a template app that allows users to create pride-themed posts Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or Messenger Stories. It’s as easy as downloading the app, customizing a template, and then posting the Story.
Simply saying “I support you,” giving space, staying connected, and using social media may not seem to have a huge effect at first. But simple actions add up. Show your support for your LGBTQ+ family member by consistently doing the little things. You’ll soon realize they were the “big things” all along.
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