Your LGBT child many not be the only one in the family who is getting bullied at school. If your LGBT son or daughter is out at school and bullied as a result, chances are their sibling is being harassed as well. As a parent, you want to find out what the sibling endures at school. Give him/her a voice, to share his or her experiences.
When a child comes out, it changes the family dynamic. If YOU are not accepting of your LGBT's child's sexual orientation, your heterosexual child may feel uncomfortable living in a house that is always in conflict. Pressure builds. Anger, fear, criticism run rampant.
The following can happen to the heterosexual sibling:
- If the heterosexual child is ignored and the LGBT child receives all the attention, the heterosexual child may act out and spread the news (without permission) to her community, school, church and friends.
- If the sibling is used as a pawn between the parent and his LGBT brother/sister, the heterosexual child may be consumed with guilt, particularly if he is told not to tell his parents and keep the secret.
- The secret can create a lot of needless pressure. A child shouldn't be put in the position of an adult arbitrator. Just like a parent, a sibling may need some time to reflect, to process the situation before he/she accepts the sibling's sexual orientation.
Some feelings of the "straight" Sibling:
- Will I be LGBT too?
- Do I have to be concerned to look "feminine" or "masculine" to compensate for the sibling's same-sex attraction, to be the "normal" one?
- Fear of attending school where I face bias due to association with LGBT sibling.
- Feels pressure to defend LGBT sibling after hearing derogatory remarks at home and in school.
As a parent, here's what you can do to bring the house back to equilibrium:
- It is important that the sibling know that the LGBT child is still the same person, just with a different sexual orientation.
- When you speak to your child about the sibling's coming out, make the information age-appropriate, at their maturity level, and take into account the sibling's relationship with his brother and sister.
- Remember that all feelings are valid, but how we respond to feelings, has real impact.
- Practice treating your LGBT child as an equal to your heterosexual child. Don't play favorites.
How to Create a Safer Space for Family Members to acknowledge all of the feelings that may Come up:
- Watch for signs of harassment, bullying and discrimination.
- Require that family members respect your LGBT child's identity.
- Support your LGBT child's identity, even if you're still working to understand or be comfortable with it.
- Seek out LGBT-specific community resources such as PFLAG and supports for yourself such as therapy. Seek out LGBT-specific community.
For your Straight Sibling:
- Acknowledge and accept if your sibling is struggling. Offer support.
- Encourage sibling to attend family/group therapy if needed.
- Help sibling come up with strategies for addressing homophobic/transphobic remarks.
- Require they respect your LGBT child's privacy as any other family member.
- Suggestions from Caitlin Ryan, Family Acceptance Project. Also from Power Point Presentation "When A Loved One Comes Out," Mental Health of America Conference, 6-15-17, by Wesley Davidson, co-author of When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know ( Sterling, 2016) and Nicole Avallone, LCSW.