Hand in hand

Parents Diversity Fastn
16 February 2022
Sarah Furley
Sarah Furley is the mum of a trans young person who came out six years ago when they were 19. She’s now a trustee of FFLAG. 
FFLAG is a charity that supports families and their LGBT+ children. If you contact FFLAG support (via the helpline, email or local parents’ groups), you’ll be speaking to another parent.

Parentkind and FFLAG partner with Fastn, a charity dedicated to increasing relationship ambition and attainment to help all families thrive. Alongside eighteen other organisations, they re-launched The Principles of excellence in relationships education’, a tool for schools to embed healthy relationships in their settings.

Late one night my teenage child came into my bedroom and said they had something to tell me. I’d known for weeks that something was wrong and had been trying to encourage them to open up, but without success. Now I knew that something big was going to be revealed, but I wasn’t expecting what followed at all.

Very hesitantly my child explained that, over a period of about five years, they had been coming to terms with the realisation that they were transgender. They held my hand and broke the news very gently. But their discomfort had become too much to bear, and they needed the support of their family to do something about this. They asked whether I had any questions.

I was enormously shocked. In that moment I didn’t have any questions. The only thing going through my head was This is not happening!’ I managed to hug them and say that I might have more questions later, but the whole thing felt so unreal that the next day I wasn’t sure whether it had even happened.

I wanted to support my child, but I didn’t have the knowledge and information to do this. Aside from the lack of understanding of what being transgender meant and the feelings of loss and grief for the life I thought my child was going to have, I felt enormous guilt that they had been struggling with this for several years – and we had had no idea.

My child had just left school when they broke the news to me. But that meant they had struggled alone throughout most of secondary school. We’ve talked a lot in the years since we held hands that night and I wanted to understand why they hadn’t felt able to share this.

What had inhibited them? Shouldn’t I have guessed? But their response was I didn’t know what it was Mum, so how could you have known?’ But I knew that my own lack of knowledge and awareness meant that it was a topic we had never discussed as a family.

What could we have done differently? Why hadn’t we talked about Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT+) lives together? Regardless of whether we thought any of our own children were LGBT+, it’s part of ordinary life, so why hadn’t we prepared our children for this? I’ve since learned that far more young people will tell a friend that they think they may be LGBT+ rather than share this with their parents. This means it’s important for schools to create an inclusive environment, so that pupils can be good allies to each other.

My child said that they had tried to raise the topic tentatively a few times in class discussions but had been shut down and this had discouraged them from opening up further.

So what could have gone better? February is LGBT+ History month and it’s a great opportunity for schools to celebrate the lives of LGBT+ people. Having representation in schools sends a clear positive message to children who may be questioning their own sexuality or gender identity. Seeing this representation of their own experience is beneficial to their wellbeing. It signals to all pupils, whatever their sexuality or gender identity, that diversity is something to be celebrated. Perhaps if my child had felt informed and supported at school, they would have felt more confident to raise the issue at home.

Partnership working between schools and parents can really benefit all families. PTAs can check that they’re inclusive and welcoming to all types of family, whatever their circumstances or composition. Diverse family experience can be a real asset in making the school environment a good one for all children. We know that family support is one of the biggest indicators of positive outcomes for LGBT+ young people. FFLAG, the national umbrella organisation for affiliated parents’ groups, supports families with LGBT+ members. About a third of schools now have LGBT+ lunchtime clubs for pupils. FFLAG has seen increasing requests from schools wanting to set up parents’ groups alongside that, so that parents of LGBT+ youngsters can also support each other. 

Here’s what FFLAG means to parents:

As a parent I want to know that school is inclusive and supportive for all children, helping their wellbeing and their attainment. There are great resources for schools on the LGBT+ History Month website. Pupils who receive positive messaging about being LGBT+ feel considerably safer at school, regardless of whether they’re LGBT+ or not.

Knowing that schools can help to fill in the gaps to support LGBT+ children provides huge assistance to families, like mine, who don’t have the knowledge themselves. It all contributes to building healthy relationships within families and between families and schools.