Are more kids coming out as LGBTQ+ or is it just my imagination?

This is part 1 of our 3-part series related to LGBTQ+. Please also check out part 2 (opens new window) and part 3 (opens new window)

As a parent, you might be noticing that your kids have lots of people in their lives who identify as LGBTQ+. Your kids might identify as LGBTQ+ themselves or they might in the future. They might have friends who identify as LGBTQ+. You might identify as LGBTQ+ yourself.

Does it seem like more people are identifying as LGBTQ+ today as compared to years ago? If so, you’re not alone. But, are more people actually identifying as LGBTQ+? If so, why?

Before diving in, let’s start with the basics. What is sexual orientation? What is gender? What is LGBTQ+? We’ll go over some definitions below and you can also check out this glossary (opens new window) for more definitions.

# What are sexual orientation, gender, and LGBTQ+?

Sexual orientation refers to experiences of romantic, physical, emotional, and sexual attraction, behavior, and identity. Sexual orientation may include other types of desire and experiences, too. Some examples of sexual orientations are heterosexual (or straight), homosexual (or gay/lesbian), bisexual, pansexual, queer, and asexual.

Gender refers to a social construct created to organize and group people based on various expectations for how they will do things like interact with others, express their feelings, dress, and talk.

Cisgender refers to people who experience a gender identity traditionally assumed to be associated with the sex that they were assigned at birth. Someone who identifies as cisgender could identify as a cisgender boy or a cisgender girl.

Transgender refers to people who experience gender (identity and/or expression) in a different way than would be traditionally associated with their sex assigned at birth.

Some examples of transgender identities include transgender boys and transgender girls. Some people identify as non-binary, which could mean several different things including that they do not identify with male or female gender, identify as both male and female, or identify their gender differently either within or outside the gender binary.

LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and the “+” refers to other identities that fit under the umbrella of historically marginalized sexual and gender identities. There are many identities under this umbrella. Some estimate there as many as 46 terms that can be used to describe sexual identity and 64 terms that can be used to describe gender identity.

# Back to the overarching question, are more people identifying as LGBTQ+ today and if so, why?

Recent reports suggest that more kids these days are identifying as LGBTQ+. In fact, the number of teens who identify as sexual minorities doubled between 2009 to 2017 from 7.3% to 14.3%.

It seems that this continues into young adulthood, as one out of every six Generation Z adults (adults born after 1997) identifies as LGBT.

# Why the shift? This is an interesting question, and one researchers have wondered about as well!

One possibility is that the same number of kids are identifying as LGBTQ+, but more of these kids who do identify as LGBTQ+ are comfortable being out about their identities to others. This would mean that the number of people identifying as LGBTQ+ hasn’t changed, but the percentage of people who identify as LGBTQ+ and are also out could be increasing.

It is also possible that more people are actually identifying as LGBTQ+. It is also possible that more kids are self-identifying as LGBTQ+. It is likely that both things are happening at once; kids are more likely to be out to themselves and to others. Why?

There are quite a few reasons, and it is likely that many factors combine to explain this increased rate of LGBTQ+ identity. Improved public policy and general attitude, combined with increased representation and connection might relate to kids being more likely to identify as LGBTQ+.

Public policy and general attitude are more accepting of LGBTQ+ rights. Kids in the U.S. today are growing up in a country in which most people support equal rights, including marriage equality, for LGBTQ+ people.

Because public opinion seems to be improving slightly, it may be easier for kids to feel safe exploring and sharing their identities.

Representation matters. Likely due in part to improved public policy and attitude, there are now more out LGBTQ+ identified people in the media. In fact, almost 10% of television characters are LGBTQ+ and this percentage has increased almost every year since 2013.

Representation is increasing in other areas, too. Just this month, the first active NFL player came out publicly! (opens new window)

People report feeling more comfortable with others in their lives identifying as LGBTQ+ when they have been exposed to LGBTQ+ identities in the media. When kids see LGBTQ+ people on TV, they may feel that their own LGBTQ+ identities are being validated.

Connection is key. Connecting with others has been linked to improved mental and physical health across multiple domains. This may be especially important for kids who identify as LGBTQ+ and already feel isolated in their experiences.

Social media is a somewhat recent tool that can be used to increase connection and mitigate isolation, especially for kids who identify as LGBTQ+.

Traditionally, it could be hard for kids who weren’t out to everyone at school or at home to connect with other kids who identified as LGBTQ+. With social media, it can be easier to connect with others with similar identities and experiences. However, the relationship between social media and mental health is complicated, and you can learn more about it here (opens new window) and here (opens new window).

It is possible that increased access to social media and online connection with others with similar identities might give kids the opportunity to explore their identities in a safe and affirming place, and if they feel that affirmation, they may be more likely to come out.

# Now What?

While this article highlights some of the reasons that kids may be more likely to identify or be out as LGBTQ+ these days, there are also many reasons for kids who do self-identify as LGBTQ+ to not want to tell anyone about their identity. If your kid does come out to you as identifying as LGBTQ+, situations may arise in which, usually with your kid’s consent, you come out to others about your kids’ identity.

As a parent, you should know that people who identify as LGBTQ+ still face many discriminatory laws and experiences, are at a heightened risk of being the victims of bullying and violence, and are at a heightened risk of mental health problems. We’ll dig into this more in an upcoming article.

Please remember that it is unlikely that these experiences are linked with LGBTQ+ identities, but rather, they are linked to hatred and discrimination from others (for example, homophobia). As a parent, there are lots of things that you can do to mitigate risks for your LGBTQ+ kid.

# Want to learn more?

Read Part 2: Supporting and Protecting Kids Who Identify as LGBTQ+ (opens new window)


# About the author

Chloe Bryen is a Ph.D. student studying Clinical Psychology at Florida State University. Her research focus is on suicide among marginalized populations, with a specific interest in LGBTQ+ identities.

In addition to research, Chloe is a student therapist providing individual and group therapy. Chloe’s work has been published in multiple academic journals and has been funded by the Association for Psychological Science and the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

You can learn more about and connect with Chloe on Linkedin (opens new window), ResearchGate (opens new window), and Twitter. (opens new window)

# Do you or your child need support right now?

If you or your child are in a crisis situation please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources for you and your loved ones.

If you're not in crisis but would like to connect with an online counselor (through our partnership with Betterhelp), please use one of these links: