04/20/2012 07:57 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

An Outreach to Parents of LGBT Students

No one is more important to a child than his or her parents. Having open and accepting parents can set LGBT children on a positive course through life. Unfortunately, not all parents accept their children when they come out. This rejection can have negative effects on an LGBT child's future.

Gay and transgender teens who were highly rejected by their parents and caregivers are at very high risk for health and mental health problems when they become young adults (ages 21 to 25). Highly rejected young people are:

  • More than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide

  • Nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression
  • More than three times as likely to use illegal drugs
  • More than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Schools can play a vital role in the road to acceptance between a parent and their LGBT child. Of course, this is a very sensitive subject among schools and parents. According to Michael Sadowski, an assistant professor in the Master of Arts in Teaching Program at Bard College, "Obviously, educators need to exercise care when discussing LGBT students -- some may not be 'out' to family members, or some parents and caregivers may not be supportive of their children's LGBT identities."

    How do educators know when they are overstepping their boundaries with parents? When does the school go too far in its advocacy for an LGBT student? Typically, when a student who is questioning whether they are gay or straight seeks the help of an adult, a school counselor should step in as a reference for the teacher in order to best help the student.

    Many LGBT students feel more comfortable disclosing their sexuality to a teacher if they do not have a supportive home life. The teacher could bridge the gap between the parent and the child. However, some parents still may not feel comfortable with their child coming out, and school staff members can choose to find resources for the child in case that happens. As educators, we try to be there for our students, and there are times that the best thing we can do is give them the resources they need so that they can learn how to best deal with their feelings and advocate for themselves.

    Parents of LGBT children go through a variety of stages when their children come out to them. Just like stages of grief that people go through when a loved one dies, parents go through stages where they are shocked, angry, saddened, and finally learn to accept their LGBT children. However, the Family Acceptance Program (FAP) at San Francisco State University has found in a study (2002) that 42 percent of LGBT students have families that reject them. Rejection can take place for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest factors is a lack of understanding of what being gay really means.

    Groups like FAP offer services to families to increase the level of understanding and therefore the level of acceptance. Parents are the adults that offer the largest impact on children, but sometimes kids do not feel as though the can confide in their parents, because they feel they may be rejected. Being rejected is hard enough, but being rejected by one's own parents can have devastating results.

    Parents have choices. They can choose to ignore the fact that their child is gay. They can choose to have their child pulled from a class that includes LGBT topics. They can even choose to keep their children home on days when schools participate in the Day of Silence or other events that focus on LGBT issues. Our job as educators is to educate those who walk in our doors, and sometimes that includes parents, as well.

    This piece is excerpted from Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (Corwin Press).