Support and acceptance for LGBTQ youth should start at home

By Emily Hecht-McGowan

Photo: Omar Lopez / Unsplash

Young people need to feel safe, supported, and affirmed in order to thrive. But far too many LGBTQ youth experience discrimination, bullying, and harassment every day in their classrooms, communities, and even in their own homes. These challenges increase their risk factors for negative outcomes, the most alarming of which are disproportionately high rates of serious suicidal thoughts (referred to as suicidal ideation) and suicide attempts.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among all young people ages 10 to 24, but lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of their straight peers. And while there are a number of predictive indicators for suicidal ideation, research clearly shows that LGB youth who are rejected by their families or caregivers are more than eight times more likely to attempt suicide than LGB youth who are affirmed and supported by their families when they come out. Unfortunately, we lack good data on transgender youth; however, one national study reported that 40% of transgender adults confirmed having made a suicide attempt, 92% of whom said they’d made an attempt before the age of 25.

These are staggering statistics that should make every parent sit up and pay attention.

This doesn’t have to be the reality for LGBTQ young people. Just as the research illustrates the dangers of family rejection, it also shows us that when parents and families accept their LGBTQ child, that young person experiences not only greater self-esteem and lower rates of depression, but also dramatically reduced instances of suicidal ideation and other self-harming behaviors. And new research specific to transgender youth shows that anxiety and depression are greatly reduced when trans kids are accepted and affirmed at home, in school, and in their communities.

So how do we use this knowledge to make the world more welcoming to our LGBTQ youth, thereby significantly reducing the risk of suicide?

First, and foremost, we must make sure there are resources readily available and accessible to young people who are most at risk. The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people ages 13–24. They provide immediate access to trained professionals through phone, chat, or text, and also manage an online community for LGBTQ young people seeking peer support.

Second, we must work to change the culture so that no young person ever feels as though suicide is their only option. We must work with parents and caregivers, educators and peers, so that no LGBTQ youth is rejected by their family simply for who they are or whom they love.

Parents and families struggling with the idea that they have (or may have) an LGBTQ child need to know that they are not alone. Sharing stories is one way parents can reassure each other that there is a pathway forward. PFLAG is an organization founded on the idea of providing safe and supportive spaces for parents of LGBTQ children, and they have chapters in every state around the country which provide both online and in-person resources.

Regardless of their race, gender, religion, national origin, income level, or where they live, parents across the spectrum love their children and want them to be happy and healthy. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for families struggling to accept their LGBTQ child and the resources available are as diverse as the families they seek to serve. Here is a sampling of some of those resources, many of which can serve as models for new tools to serve additional communities:

In the coming months, the Biden Foundation will continue to highlight new and developing resources, programs, and best practices designed to assist LGBTQ youth and their families. Together we can change the culture to ensure all young people are accepted, supported, and have every opportunity to thrive.

Emily Hecht-McGowan is the Director for LGBTQ Equality at the Biden Foundation.