Growing up gay, transgender, or anywhere else in the “rainbow” can be difficult. As the LGBTQ community becomes more open and accepted, we’ve put a lot of thought into how to help kids deal with the challenges of being a part of that community.

But the most significant challenge, finding acceptance, can be hard not just on the kids, but on their parents.

It may seem weird to focus on the needs of parents who have kids within the rainbow but are not a part of it, but that focus is needed. All the advice in the world for a young gay man isn’t going to help his parents come to terms with something with which, thanks to various social issues, they might not be comfortable.

It’s easy to say they need to simply deal with it, but that’s easier said than done.

Simply telling those parents, from a distance, that they shouldn’t be worried and that the kid is still their kid, isn’t enough. Some parents are supportive, but don’t know how to show it. Some parents want to be supportive but have to deal with their own baggage in order to be supportive.

“Sometimes, people simply don’t have the words to show they understand,” says Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG, an organization that supports education and advocacy of friends, family, and allies of the LGBTQ community. “To help overcome these and other challenges, we train volunteers to meet the individual where they are and, as a critical piece of our philosophy, do not push them to walk too quickly but walk with them in their journey.”

Educators are a key part of the support system for LGBTQ students and their parents.

First and foremost, you can make your classroom a safe space for LGBTQ youth by including LGBTQ-positive materials and assignments in your classroom to the extent possible.

Be aware of signs of physical assault and mental health issues. Don’t assume you know which of your students is LGBTQ based on the way they look or behave.

It’s especially important to be mindful of interactions with parents or guardians of LGBTQ students. They may not be safe being “out” at home and may actually be more open about their sexual orientation or gender at school. Be careful of outing your student to their parents. If possible, ask your student if they’re out at home, and if they’re not, don’t disclose. When in doubt, be discreet.

On the other hand, if your student is out at home, feel free to let their parents or guardians know you’re a supportive faculty member. It might be a relief for parents to know their child has a safe teacher to turn to if they have a need or problem during school hours.

What other tips do you have for helping your LGBTQ students and their parents? Please share them in the comments.

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