Here’s some positive news: The average age of coming out as LGBTQ+ has rapidly plummeted. Kids are coming out earlier than ever, with some reports even found the average age moved recently, from 18 to 14.
A recent 2020 Gallup poll also found that, among American adults, about 5.6% identify as LGBTQ+, another rapid increase from 2017, when it was at 4.5%.
“At a time when Americans are increasingly supportive of equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people, a growing percentage of Americans identify themselves as LGBT. With younger generations far more likely than older generations to consider themselves LGBT, that growth should continue,” Gallup stated.
Why Are Kids Coming Out Earlier?
There are many contributing factors to these societal changes. The US has undergone a dramatic cultural shift over the last decade in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance. These shifts include both far more representation in pop culture (Modern Family and RuPaul’s Drag Race, anyone?), plus a host of equal rights fights won and settled.
Mikel Wadewitz, Director of AIDS Project Rhode Island, points to the dramatic gains as a sea change for LGBTQ+ prominence.
“There are so many different factors, I think, depending on the part of the country you live in, the state, etcetera. But overall it seems clear that some of the cultural shifts have made such a huge difference, such as legalizing same-sex marriage, more and more legislative victories for LGBTQ+ individuals, organizations and groups that guarantee people equal rights and give people equal treatment in terms of medical care or federal benefits,” Wadewitz tells Parentology. “Those are all things that trickle down over time, and while it’s hard to quantify, I think that leads to a much more accepting environment overall for queer kids.”
A Big Change: School Curriculums
Not so long ago, LGBTQ+ history was non-existent in elementary, middle and high school curriculums, but that, too, has undergone a rapid transformation. While there is plenty of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation presented in various states, the changes occurred regardless.
Recent legislation in Nevada is a good example. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reported on Assembly Bill (AB) 261, which creates inclusive curricular standards for K-12 education. This law requires Nevada’s education agencies to ensure students are instructed on the history and contributions to the arts, humanities, and sciences of LGBTQ+ individuals, as well as people who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, and religious minorities.
“This year, we’ve seen record numbers of harmful anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced across the country. But Nevada’s new law offers a powerful contrast and shows us that a better way is not only possible, but already in motion,” GLSEN Interim Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers said in a press release. “At GLSEN, we’ve been honored to partner with local advocates like the Transgender Allies Group and Silver State Equality as well as the bill’s primary sponsor, Assemblywoman Natha Anderson, to accomplish this victory. We’ve testified in support of the bill in the state’s Assembly and Senate, and we commend the legislators who took action to bring Nevada school standards in line with values of inclusion, representation, and respect.”
Nevada joins California, New Jersey, Colorado and Illinois in requiring LGBTQ+ history be taught in public school. And, if the Senate passes the Equality Act, it would be required nationally.
Increased Family Support
One giant change: Recent polling indicates over 70% of Americans support marriage equality, a statistic that even crosses political party lines. Our society has undergone a massive shift, and that means more families are supportive of LGBTQ+ youth than ever before.
Social media has been a powerful driving force for these changes. LGBTQ+ visibility, along with ample representation of the broad range of cultural concerns, issues, and expression, has increased awareness and understanding worldwide.
“Social media opened up so many other avenues for people to create space for themselves, share things in creative ways, and really build communities. I think that all totally contributes,” Wadewitz comments.
Sometimes, if complete parental understanding isn’t in the cards, acceptance can be. One mother, quoted anonymously in the Washington Post, said that her family therapist gave her excellent advice about her transgender child.
“The therapist told me when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, parents don’t affect the outcome at all, they just affect how their children feel about themselves,” the mother says. “When it came to haircuts, clothing, whatever, we tried to be as supportive as we could. It can be difficult not to push or pull, just to be there, but we have a happy teen as a result.”