Family acceptance and same-sex attracted teens

A study in Pediatrics about family reactions to same-sex attracted kids is getting some media coverage over the past few days. There appears to be an effort to get the message out via LGB media. Here is a news release from Cathy Renna’s group.

San Francisco, CA -­ For the first time, researchers have established a clear link between rejecting behaviors of families towards lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adolescents and negative health outcomes in early adulthood. The findings will be published in the January issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a peer-reviewed article titled “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Young Adults.” The paper, authored by Dr. Caitlin Ryan and her team at the César E. Chávez Institute at San Francisco State University, which shows that parents’ rejecting behaviors towards their LGB children dramatically compromises their health, has far reaching implications for changing how families relate to their LGB children and how LGB youth are served by a wide range of providers across systems of care. The study and development of resource materials was funded by The California Endowment, a health foundation dedicated to expanding access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities. For the first time, research has established a predictive link between specific, negative family reactions to their child’s sexual orientation and serious health problems for these adolescents in young adulthood “such as depression, illegal drug use, risk for HIV infection, and suicide attempts,” said Caitlin Ryan, PhD, Director of the Family Acceptance Project at the César E. Chávez Institute at SF State and lead author of the paper. “The new body of research we are generating will help develop resources, tools and interventions to strengthen families, prevent homelessness, reduce the proportion of youth in foster care and significantly improve the lives of LGBT young people and their families.”
Major Research Findings:
Higher rates of family rejection during adolescence were significantly associated with poorer health outcomes for LGB young adults.
LGB young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse, compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.
Latino males reported the highest number of negative family reactions to their sexual orientation in adolescence.
“This study clearly shows the tremendous harm of family rejection, even if parents think they are well-intentioned, following deeply held beliefs or even protecting their children,” said Dr. Sten Vermund, a pediatrician and Amos Christie Chair of Global Health at Vanderbilt University.
“In today’s often hostile climate for LGBT youth, it is especially important to note that both mental health issues like depression and suicide and HIV risk behaviors were greatly increased by rejection. Given the ongoing HIV epidemic in America, in which half of all new cases of HIV are found in men who have sex with men and there is growing concern about prevention messages reaching young people, it is vital that we share these findings with parents and service providers who work with youth in every way” Vermund continued.
“When put to practical, day-to-day use and shared with families and those who serve LGBT youth, these findings will lead to healthier, more supportive family dynamics and better lives for LGBT young people,” Vermund concluded.
The prevailing approach by pediatricians, nurses, social workers, school counselors, peer advocates and community providers has focused almost exclusively on directly serving LGBT youth, and does not consider the impact of family reactions on the adolescent’s health and well-being.
Subsequent work with ethnically diverse families by the Family Acceptance Project indicates that parents and caregivers can modify rejecting behavior once they understand the serious impact of their words and actions on their LGBT children¹s health. In addition, even a little change in parental behavior appears to have a clear impact on decreasing LGBT young people’s risk. This new family-related approach to working with LGBT youth being developed by the Family Acceptance Project engages families as allies in decreasing the adolescent’s risk and increasing their well-being while respecting the family’s deeply held values.
“The new family-related behavioral approach to care being developed by the Family Acceptance Project offers great promise to change the future for LGBT youth and their families by helping parents and caregivers learn how to support their LGBT children and to prevent these extremely high levels of risk related to family rejection,” said Erica Monasterio, MN, FNP, in the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Family Health Care Nursing at UCSF.
“Rather than seeing families as part of the problem, this approach engages them as an essential resource in promoting healthy outcomes for their LGBT children.”
“We are using our research to develop a new model of family-related care to decrease the high levels of risk for LGBT young people that restrict life chances and full participation in society,” said Dr. Ryan.
“Our easy-to-use behavioral approach will help families increase supportive behaviors and modify behaviors their LGBT children experience as rejecting that significantly increase their children’s risk. However, redirecting practice and professional training ­ from not asking about family reactions to a young person’s LGBT identity to engaging families in promoting their LGBT children’s well-being – requires a substantial shift on the part of both mainstream and LGBT providers, health systems and community programs.”
“Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Young Adults” is the first of many research papers on outcomes related to family acceptance and rejection of LGBT adolescents, supporting positive LGBT youth development and providing family-related care to be released by the Family Acceptance Project.
The Family Acceptance Project uses a participatory research approach. The research sample included 224 LGB young non-Latino white and Latino adults, ages 21-25, who were open about their sexual orientation to at least one parent or primary caregiver during adolescence. These youth were recruited within California from 249 LGBT-related venues. Family rejection measures in the survey were developed based on a prior in-depth qualitative study of LGBT adolescents and families throughout California from 2002-2004.
About the Family Acceptance Project
The Family Acceptance Project is a community research, intervention and education initiative that studies the impact of family acceptance and rejection on the health, mental health and well being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. Results are being used to help families provide support for LGBT youth; to improve their health and mental health outcomes; to strengthen families and help maintain LGBT youth in their homes; to develop appropriate programs and policies; and train providers to improve the quality of services and care these youth receive in a wide range of settings.
For more information, please visit: Family Acceptance Project

I will comment more after I see the study methods and sampling. Given what the news release says about the study group, I am not sure I would generalize these results to other parts of the country. On the face of it, the write up seems to be a confrontation of religious parents and communitites who disapprove of homosexuality. On the other hand, I know some reactions from disapproving parents go so far overboard that real harm is done.

8 thoughts on “Family acceptance and same-sex attracted teens”

  1. Mary,
    I will add a bit of an extension to what you are expressing – “Christian who follows the traditional teachings of the scripture”.

  2. “I hope they will recognize and address all ‘intolerance of difference’ not just the sexual identity difference.”

    Good luck with that one. “Intolerance of difference” is a key component of socialization, not just parenting. Peer pressure, stigma, taboo, are all related to getting along successfully with our neighbors. Obviously, those who go against the common wisdom of their family and peers will suffer the consequences of social rejection. This is true whether you are gay, alcoholic, fat, albino, or prone to tattoos and piercings, etc etc etc.

  3. What kind of an impact does it make on a person who is rejected by their family – irregardless of their inclinations.

    I’m not sure if this is where Mary was going with that but I wonder about the distinction of being rejected ‘for being gay’ and of being rejected for other reasons. My brothers were rejecting me for my non-athleticism and my hippie/peace freak life preference before any of us were sure I was gay. I appreciate where this study is going but I hope they will recognize and address all ‘intolerance of difference’ not just the sexual identity difference.

  4. Mary,
    I think you make an interesting point–about ex-gays. I have had family members who love me despite my history, but nevertheless are extremely uncomfortable with the topic. They cannot talk about it. Even when I do ministry related to helping those who want to leave homosexuality, certain relatives don’t even acknowledge my prayer requests. This is a challenge for me. I try to be open and transparent because I believe that is healthy, but it can be disheartening when its simply the idea–whether or not I am engaging–that can cause alienation. I feel the stigma. The reproach I sometimes feel from certain Christians makes me want to go hang out in the gay community more often where I don’t have to feel like a freak.

    1. Karen,
      I hear ya! For Thanksgiving, I was seated across from two lesbians, it was no coincidence (if you new my step mother.) The hatred I felt from them and the no recognition I get from my whole family (step or otherwise) is tremendous. My onw mother’s eyes stop blinking if I bring up the subject and she (an very talkative person) becomes quiet. It took me over seven years before I even told about my change.
      In my bible study, I opened up to one woman and am not really sure how it will go from here on out but the estrangement one feels and the awkwardness that others feel can drive one back to the gay community just to feel accepted. Sad thing is … after awhile, that doesn’t feel right either. I came home this evening and had that awful feeling of belonging to the third kind of person. Not gay, not straight like others are straight and an outcast hiding in plain sight.
      Ex gays just don’t talk about it. We are an outcast in many ways – from both groups. We are not accpeted for having been there, done that and no one wants us to talk about it. To the gays – it is fictitious, to most of our families – it is gross.
      The message is very clear – we are not supposed to exist as we do.

  5. According to the numbers, it looks like bisexual boys were the most effected. What’s said to those kids are probably some of the worst stuff. When I admitted it to my family, the VERY first thing my dad said was “You’re the reason F**KING AIDS has gotten into the straight population!”

  6. Warren,
    I’d like to know about those who are ex gay and their families have rejected them? What kind of an impact does it make on aperson who is rejected by their family – irregardless of their inclinations.

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