As parents, when our kids express a strong desire to participate in competitive school activities like organized sports, it's common for warning bells to sound because we are at the ready to protect our children. Some of the worries most often felt by the parents with kids in athletics are the fear of physical injuries, a dip in confidence from disappointing results, or added stress from time management issues. However, the parents of LGBTQ+ kids have additional worries, especially as their kids move toward sharing their sexual orientation or gender identity with a broader circle of people.
Parents worry about,
- Will they be subjected to teasing or harassment— or worse?
- Will they be discriminated against or lose the opportunity for scholarships?
- Will they be rejected by their teammates, coaches, or teachers?
How can parents protect their LGBTQ+ child without undermining their confidence or pulling the management of their child's story away from them?
Coming Out isn't a confession; it's an invitation to celebrate a person's self-acceptance. But, for many athletes in competitive sports, it can often be one of the most challenging invitations to write. While some LGBTQ+ kids may disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to a parent or small circle of family members or friends, they may wait to discuss it with their teachers, coaches, school, and teammates.
Coming Out is a process for many, but managing that process should be kept in our children's hands, shared on their terms, and in their own time.
Protect their privacy! We must remember as parents, their disclosures are not our disclosures to share. When parents encourage their LGBTQ+ kids to hold control of their own story and protect their privacy, they empower them. Keeping your child's story private is challenging but necessary to maintain a loving and trusting relationship. I know this firsthand as the mother of a gay athlete who climbed to the Olympics' highest competitive stage in the sports world. I understand the awkward questions from gossipy parents and the pressures from others seeking confirmation for their assumptions. Regardless of the cloudy interactions with the narrowminded, one thing is very clear: every child wants to feel unconditionally accepted by their parents. We shouldn't ask our LGBTQ+ kids to act differently in hopes of being more widely accepted. When we ask someone to behave inauthentically, we suggest they aren't good enough.
Build a support network from the get-go. It is vital to surround yourself with decent people from the start who care more about their kids than the results of their kid's performance. Find a positive training environment with professional, inclusive coaches that can offer the best opportunity to your young athlete. This due diligence can make a significant difference in connecting to a thriving training environment.
Don't wait until your child Comes Out to become an ally.
Educate yourself. Since my college years, I have been an LGBTQ+ ally, and I learned that the best teachers are objective outsiders and not close friends or family. Don't rely on your LGBTQ+ child to be your teacher. Seek out trusted organizations that connect parents with educational resources and support networks. In addition to providing support, these agencies offer information and tools that you can use to promote a more inclusive community.
In addition to educating themselves, there are more ways parents can offer support to their LGBTQ+ kids. Most importantly, parents should provide a trusting relationship that respects their child's privacy, extends acceptance and unconditional love. Parents should encourage autonomy to empower their child's confidence. Parents should remember to do their due diligence, build the best support network possible, and gain the tools that promote inclusive environments.
The best gift you can give your LGBTQ+ child is the space to tell their own story.
My son came out publicly in 2015. I had concerns that something he worked for his entire life may no longer be possible after his disclosure. He discussed it with me before his decision. For more than fifteen years, I thought my primary responsibility was to facilitate the best opportunity for him to reach his Olympic dream. But through our conversation, I understood that his dream could not be fully realized without him feeling comfortable in his own skin. A little over two years later, my son, Adam Rippon, would become the first openly gay athlete to medal at the Winter Olympics— a dream come true. His Olympic medal would prove to be just the beginning, and his journey of Coming Out in his own voice, on his own terms, in his own time of choosing gave him the confidence to create an authentic life beyond his wildest dreams. Likewise, as a parent, witnessing your child's self-acceptance makes a prouder celebratory moment than any medal or award ever could.