Family Acceptance, Faith, and Transgender Youth

Jan 20, 2018

Public conversations about Transgender and nonbinary youth often cite research which identifies transgender youth as being at increased risk for negative outcomes in areas related to mental health, substance abuse, and general well-being. Not merely abstract numbers, these statistics represent of a degree of suffering that no parent wants to see for their child.

Fortunately, families can take actions which can improve the odds for transgender youth.  Research repeatedly shows that family support is the factor most strongly associated with transgender or nonbinary young people experiencing adolescence and young adulthood with no more risks of negative outcomes than their Cisgender peers.  (School and peer support are also contributing factors.)

The groundbreaking Family Acceptance Project (FAP) has conducted research and developed interventions working with diverse families, including socially and religiously conservative families who may believe gender diversity and LGBQT identities are counter to deeply held values and beliefs. FAP’s approach shifts the discourse from morality and religious doctrine to helping families focus on contributing to their children’s health and wellness.

Families’ lack of acceptance of a transgender or nonbinary child can be rooted in strongly held beliefs about gender absorbed from their families, their culture, and their faith communities. They may sincerely believe they are helping their child by discouraging them from being true to who they know themselves to be, whether in relation to their Gender identity or Gender expression.  These beliefs, however, are not necessarily static.

FAP found that when families did not feel judged for their religion or their beliefs, but were met where they were, parents and other caregivers were more likely move toward accepting their childrens’ identity.  Their approach assumes that families love their children and want them to have a good life. This includes acknowledging that a parent or caregiver’s hopes and dreams for their children’s future are shaped by cultural and religious beliefs that may be at odds with their child or adolescent’s Sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

As illustrated by this example from one of FAP’s brochures that quotes a mother talking about her transgender child, shifts in a parent’s beliefs and actions can make all the difference in the world:

When my daughter was little I spent so much time fussing over how she looked. I should have been concerned about how she felt. We didn’t know about transgender – but I know how sad and depressed she got right before middle school. The school helped us and a counselor and that’s when we found out how hopeless she felt. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t rejected by others, but instead, I was the one who was rejecting her. I’m so grateful I could change things before it was too late.

You can find more information about the Family Acceptance Project Resources and Publications, including downloadable Family Education Booklets in Chinese, English, and Spanish, as well as a booklet specifically for Mormon families, here