By Alessa Keener.
We live in unprecedented times, where many Americans can proudly and safely live as out lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. One measure of progress is in the number of states that have marriage equality–15 states as of today and the District of Columbia.
Despite the many positive steps our country continues to take to overcome discrimination and crimes against LGBTQ people, concerns still exist about the safety of our young people and their coming out process. Substance abuse, self-injury, homelessness, and suicide affect a disproportionate number of youth who identify as LGBT.
When children grow up both gifted and LGBT, they oftentimes experience a double whammy of differences in the way they experience the world and the way they attempt to fit into the world. In an effort to simply be accepted, or to even have a friend, many of these kids may wish away their giftedness, their sexual orientation, or their gender identity for the hope of just being “normal.”
Even in today’s more welcoming social landscape, coming out as gifted and LGBT is a complex process fraught with many emotionally charged concerns. No matter how safe and supportive a family may be, a young person may still struggle with these questions:
· “Is my family still going to love me?”
· “Will I be kicked out of the house?”
· “How will I ever go to college if my parents disown me?”
· “Will I get beat up at school?”
· “Do I take a risk and tell my crush I like him or her?”
The social-emotional turmoil that comes with struggling with these questions can cause the most confident and intelligent of kids to just freak out. The overwhelming feelings of fear and self-doubt can lead to depression. Trying to make sense of their new feelings and self-awareness may lead to less energy available for schoolwork. Teasing and bullying in school can result in skipping classes, an all-around drop in grades, or even dropping out of school.
Family support is an important factor for helping any LGBT person safely come out and not fall prey to the sad series of statistics. A supportive school environment also plays an important role in helping to provide physical and social-emotional safety to LGBT youth.
How you support your gifted LGBT child will be guided, in part, by family dynamics; personal, cultural, and/or religious affiliations; the geographic region you live in; as well as local and state laws that support equality and anti-discrimination against LGBT people.
The following suggestions may be helpful in guiding some of the choices you may need to make.
Sharing news about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a very personal decision, often made carefully after considering issues about physical and emotional safety. This is especially true in the early stages of a coming out process. Thanking your child for trusting you is the first step you can take in affirming your acceptance.
Don’t assume that just because you’ve been told the news that someone is LGBT that you have permission to tell other people or to talk about the news with your friends. Ask your child who already knows and if there are safe people you can talk to. Remember, you out your child every time you confide in someone about your child’s sexual orientation or gender identity– and your child might not be ready for all that attention, even if it’s coming from within your own family or a trusted teacher.
Be Patient About Grades
More than ever before, teenagers are coming out LGBT while still in high school. Many supportive families report a drop in grades shortly before and shortly after their child begins the coming out process. While no research exists to explain this phenomenon, we can speculate how the role of anxiety that accompanies coming out affects gifted LGBTQ teens. No one wants to see a student ruin future academic opportunities because of stress. However, being patient and understanding with a temporary drop in grades sends a loving message of acceptance, which may help your child academically bounce back faster.
Championing Your Cause
Many gifted kids have a passion for justice and will work hard to promote a cause that they hold dear to their heart. But, before you put on your rainbow t-shirt so you can march in the next Gay Pride Parade, check in with your child, who may not be ready for your enthusiastic public support. Likewise, teachers should refrain from using an out-LGBT student to act as a spokesperson for gay-rights issues. Sure, the student may be very informed on the topic but may not yet be comfortable being put in the spotlight to talk about a topic so closely linked to emerging sexual identity.
Finding Your Own Support
Many parents of gifted LGBT children find themselves scrambling to do research on local gay community resources and how to support their child’s coming out. Use the links below to find national organizations that may have local affiliate groups near you.
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Provides support, education, and advocacy for parents, siblings, and friends of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) youth and adults.
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
GSA Network Connects school-based Gay-Straight Alliances to each other and community resources through peer support, leadership development, and training.
Safe Schools Coalition Oﬀers resources as a starting point for educators, parents/guardians, and youth.
Understanding what initiatives a college is taking to provide LGBTQ assistance can prove difficult. AffordableColleges.com has provided resources to include guidance on assessing a school’s support systems for its LGBTQ community.
Alessa Giampaolo Keener, MEd, conducts psycho-educational assessments and works with private clients to develop individualized learning plans that nurture a child’s social-emotional and academic needs. A longtime advocate for at-risk and underserved student groups, Alessa serves on SENG’s Diversity Committee, as well as NAGC’s GLBTQ Special Interest Group.