Diverse young friends supporting their loved ones who are LGBTQIA+
Ba Bunansa - Online Therapist in Dallas TX

Ba Bunansa, MS, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
I am an LGBTQIA+-affirming therapist for Texas teens, adults, and the AAPI community. I work with teens and adults online throughout Texas and in person for residents of Plano and surrounding areas.

Content Warning: This blog addresses common misconceptions about the LGBTQIA+ community. These might be upsetting for those who identify as LGBTQIA+ to read.

If you have a loved one who identifies as LGBTQIA+ or is currently exploring their sexuality or gender identity, you might be wondering how to best support them. 

And wondering, genuinely,  is the best way to start this journey—so congratulations! The hardest part is behind you.

Keep reading to find out where to go from here!

Your First Steps…

It’s critical to understand what it actually means to identify as LGBTQIA+. If you aren’t part of this community yourself or haven’t had much exposure to folks who are, you might have a lot of questions or misconceptions. 

These can cause you to act in harmful ways toward your loved one—even without realizing it!

Learn the Terms

First, familiarize yourself with the LGBTQIA+ alphabet, or the variety of terms you may come across. This can help you understand what your loved one is experiencing, and will be a foundation for you as you learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community.

And if you find this learning process overwhelming, that’s okay! It can feel like a lot to take in, if it’s new to you. Take the time and space you need to understand and grow.

Identify Your Questions

Next, make a list of the questions you have. Really investigate your motivations behind each one. Is this question coming from a place of love and seeking to understand—or is it rooted in judgment? 

Do Your Research

Expecting your loved one to serve as an ambassador for the LGBTQIA+ community and answer all of your questions can put a lot of pressure on them! So before you bring any of these questions to your loved one, you’ll want to consult trusted resources (like those listed next) to see what you can find out on your own. 

For this, you’ll need to identify reliable sources of information. The internet is full of stuff, and the information we find online isn’t always vetted or truthful.

The following websites are great places to start doing your research:

PFLAG: Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is a national organization that provides support, education, and advocacy for LGBTQIA+ people and their families. Their website has a wealth of information and resources for allies and supporters.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC): HRC is the largest national LGBTQIA+ civil rights organization in the United States. Their website offers information on LGBTQIA+ issues and resources for allies and supporters.

GLAAD: GLAAD is a media advocacy organization that works to accelerate LGBTQIA+ acceptance through media. Their website has resources for allies and supporters, including a glossary of terms and a guide to being a trans ally.

The Trevor Project: The Trevor Project is a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQIA+ youth. Their website has information on how to support LGBTQIA+ youth, as well as resources for allies and supporters.

Transgender Law Center (TLC): TLC is a national organization that advocates for transgender rights and works to create a more just and equitable society for all. Their website offers resources for allies and supporters, including a guide to being a transgender ally.

These websites provide a wealth of information and resources for those looking to support their LGBTQIA+ loved ones.

Make Sense of Common Myths & Misconceptions

Supporting your loved one’s experience means having a clear understanding of what their reality is—and what it isn’t. 

Harmful myths and stereotypes abound. Most have been debunked by years of study and research. Here are a few common myths to know the truth about right off the bat:

Myth: Sexuality is a choice.

Humans are born with lots of traits and characteristics—and they’re also born somewhere on the broad spectrum of gender identity and sexuality. Someone’s sexual orientation is not a choice, and it’s not a defect. It’s an inherent part of who they are from birth, and it cannot be changed.

Myth: If a child is LGBTQIA+, it’s because of something a parent did or didn’t do.

Just like sexual orientation is not a choice, it’s also not a result of external factors like parenting. Research has suggested it’s likely a combination of biological, social, genetic, and psychological factors. Nothing parents do or don’t do can change their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

What parents can do is support their child’s mental health and wellbeing by creating an accepting environment for their child’s identity—no matter what that is.

Myth: Being straight is normal. Being LGBTQIA+ is a mental illness.

The misconception that LGBTQIA+ people have a mental illness stems from outdated diagnostic manuals that have a history of classifying homosexuality as a “disorder.” 

But research overwhelmingly shows that LGBTQIA+ people do not have mental health disorders simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Negative mental health outcomes experienced by LGBTQIA+ individuals are often due to social and societal factors, such as discrimination and prejudice. If you’re here, reading about how to support your LGBTQIA+ loved ones, you’re doing the right thing to help prevent this!

Myth: No one needs to know someone else’s sexual orientation. LGBTQIA+ people should just keep it to themselves.

On today’s episode of Things We Never Say to Straight People… 

The idea that anyone should keep such a fundamental part of their life such as who they are or who they love is incredibly damaging. We see depictions of heterosexual love and male/female binary gender norms everywhere, everyday. There’s no reason to believe one is okay while the other isn’t. 

The coming-out process is really important for LGBTQIA+ folks, and it should be respected and handled sensitively. Freedom of expression and the absence of shame can lead to more happiness and better health in the long run.

How to Support Your LGBTQIA+ Loved One

Being supportive of someone who identifies as LGBTQIA+ or is questioning their identity can have a huge impact on their wellbeing and overall sense of self. 

Here are some ways you can support and affirm your LGBTQIA+ loved ones, if you are not part of the community yourself.

Be a Good Listener

If someone is sharing thoughts and feelings about their sexuality or gender identity, it’s important to listen without judging or interrupting. Allow them to express themselves fully, and take the time to affirm and validate their feelings.

Educate Yourself 

Spend some time on the websites listed above, and learn about the LGBTQIA+ community—including the language and terminology most commonly used. This can help you understand your loved one’s experiences better and avoid making assumptions or stereotyping.

Respect Their Privacy

If someone is questioning their identity, they may not be ready to share their thoughts with everyone. Don’t pump them for information—respect their privacy, and let them come to you when they’re ready.

Use the Name and Pronouns They Identify With 

If someone has shared their name and pronouns with you, use them. It might be difficult at first, especially if you’ve known them for a long time. But don’t stop trying! This can show that you respect their identity and support them—they’ll appreciate your genuine effort.

And eventually, you will find it easy to use the name and pronouns they identify with. Our brains are great at evolving that way!

Note that, sometimes, pronouns and even names can be context-specific. Someone may not feel safe or comfortable being open about their gender identity in certain environments, for a variety of reasons. Always take their lead on how to refer to them in any given situation.

Be A Real Ally

Support the rights of the  LGBTQIA+ community, and speak out against discrimination everywhere you see it. This can help create a safer and more inclusive environment for everyone—and your loved ones will see that you aren’t afraid to stand up for them.

Offer to Help Them Connect with Resources & Support

It’s not always easy to send an email or pick up the phone to connect with the help and guidance we need. Offer to connect your loved one with resources such as LGBTQIA+ organizations, therapists, or support groups if they need or want it.

Avoid Using Labels Unless They Do

Always follow your loved one’s lead when it comes to the way they describe themselves. Avoid using labels or terminology they haven’t directly told you they identify with. 

Supporting your LGBTQIA+ loved one is going to be an ongoing process. Check in regularly, and stay in tune with their changing needs over time.

If You Also Identify as LGBTQIA+…

If you do identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, it can be tempting to jump right in to help a friend or family member who might be struggling with an experience you can relate to. 

And while that instinct is, of course, an admirable one, there are a few things important for us to remember, as well. 

Everyone Has a Unique Experience

Their experience won’t necessarily reflect yours. The path they take to uncovering their identity may be direct—or it might be long and winding. And either way is perfectly okay. 

Remember that everyone’s unique lived experiences, backgrounds, and internal beliefs will play a large role in their process. Affirm whatever path they choose!

Wait for Them To Tell You How They Feel

Ask open-ended questions that let them talk freely. Don’t try to lead them to one conclusion or another. And try your best not to assume or suggest how they may feel—let them tell you!

Don’t Give Advice Unless They Ask

This is such a broadly-applicable guideline, but it’s true: avoiding giving advice unless you’re directly asked! Or, at the very least, ask if you can share some thoughts with them. Only proceed if they give enthusiastic encouragement. 

But first, listen. It’s the best and most effective way to show support.

Affirming Care is Available

If a loved one is really struggling, your support will be vital—but they’ll be best served seeing a professional, too. Things like discrimination, harassment, rejection from family or friends, and religious trauma require appropriate support and guidance.  

A therapist or medical professional who is LGBTQIA+-affirming can best help them navigate the unique challenges and stressors related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Share this story!
Ba Bunansa - Online Therapist in Dallas TX

Ba Bunansa, MS, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
I am an LGBTQIA+-affirming therapist for Texas teens, adults, and the AAPI community. I work with teens and adults online throughout Texas and in person for residents of Plano and surrounding areas.

Ready to get started?