Dear parents of transgender youth...

In the wake of the Orlando massacre many people, including politicians and media heads are saying that discussing LGBT issues is an irresponsible act of politicizing and exploitation. But the truth is, the Orlando shooting is an integral part of a very important political issue. LGBT rights and the coinciding discrimination that is consistently disregarded, have always been political, and now is no different. Sadly it is only a matter of time before the horrible massacre will become yesterday’s news. Soon enough your Twitter feed will settle down and you will have deleted a few more insensitive “friends” from your Facebook account. But right now, due to heartbreaking circumstances, this is a unique moment. A moment where people who don’t regularly consider LGBT issues might be paying attention – for a second. Seize this moment and politicize, lobby, debate and discuss. The air is ripe for raising awareness about your child’s right to lead a happy, free and unencumbered life. Right now it’s easy to get lost in the anger and succumb to the overwhelming sadness. Be kind to yourself but also stay engaged. It is in moments of shared vulnerability that people have more capacity to feel deeply and even change their minds. You can take part in this.

The Leadership Lab, part of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, laid the groundwork and created a model for engagement that helps people understand and support LGBT rights, specifically transgender rights. Their research found that vulnerable, honest and connected interactions with people who opposed LGBT rights, led to a shift in perception toward transgender individuals. For some, it even led to a complete change of heart. Summarized below are three core components you can use to have these critical conversations, (and the full report is right here).

 1. Build Rapport

This needs to be a real conversation where both people are willing to be open about each other’s perspective. Stay confident in your stance. Be willing to hear the other person’s perspective. Focus on their lived experience rather than their opinion. This may be challenging but will create rapport and an opportunity to take the conversation to the next level.

2. Focus on real lived experiences through listening and curiosity

Sharing real lived experiences is an inroad to connection, vulnerability and change. Not all people have real lived experience with transgender individuals. They may be able to draw on experiences with Lesbian or Gay individuals. If not, they have at the very least experienced being judged for who they are in some capacity. When individuals can connect with others and be curious about each other’s experience, it creates empathy, self-reflection and an opportunity to challenge thinking, dispel myths and gain wisdom.

3. Be vulnerable and share your own stories

Possibly the most important component, share your own story in an open and non-defensive way. Share your experience of being judged and misunderstood, gender related or not. Shared moments awaken self-reflection and carry opportunities for empathic connection.  

However, it is important to note that it is never a good idea to put yourself in a physically or emotionally dangerous situation. If you don’t feel safe in the midst of a conversation, it is perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself.

Perhaps now more than ever you will need to be a strong advocate for your child. Advocate loudly or quietly, whatever suits your personality and path, as long as you advocate. Be the army behind your child. Be the eyes. Be the ears. Be the voice. Be the razor wire. Be the soft place to land. Be the bullhorn. Be the Tweet. Be the backbone. Be the Facebook comment. Be the candlelight vigil. And then ask your child what else they need you to be.