One doesn’t have to search far and wide to find stories which detail the uphill battle our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth face. Even in a society which is growing ever more tolerant, there still exists widespread ignorance which often manifests itself in heartless episodes of bullying. The ridicule and rejection LGBT adolescents face is widely documented, as is the notion that such rejection, be it from peers or from a disapproving family, increases the incidences of depression and even suicide.
But what has not been widely documented is the flip side of that—namely acceptance, particularly when it comes from the family, and what that acceptance is capable of. Until now, that is. Thanks to important research conducted by San Francisco State University’s Dr. Caitlin Ryan via a study appropriately called the Family Acceptance Project.
On the one hand, LGBT lifestyle has never been more embraced by our society. Just Friday, actress Amber Heard officially came out as she walked down the red carpet alongside her girlfriend, Tasya van Ree, at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) 25th anniversary party in Hollywood. I, like the vast majority of Americans, didn’t think twice about it. Except maybe to say, “Hey, good for her.”
And earlier this year, Judge Vaughn Walker decided that Proposition 8, which effectively banned gay marriage in California, was unconstitutional, a ruling which was quickly appealed by backers of Prop 8. Today, attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies will try to convince three appellate judges that the case cannot be appealed. Even if they are unsuccessful, they’ll argue for the upholding of Judge Walker’s original ruling which would once again make gay marriages legal in California.
However, for every pop-culture and political story of acceptance, there are stories like Tyler Clementi’s, the 18 year old freshman at Rutgers University who took his own life after a sexual encounter with another man was allegedly secretly videotaped and broadcast over the internet.
Lost in virtually every story pertaining to LGBT youth, regardless of whether it’s uplifting or tragic, is the crucial role that families play. That is until Dr. Caitlin Ryan and her colleagues conducted the first study to examine the correlation between LGBT teens and family acceptance. The study was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing. In it, four primary findings were highlighted.
- Family acceptance of LGBT teens was shown to protect against suicide, depression and substance abuse.
- Such family support could be traced to higher levels of self esteem as well as higher levels of social support for LGBT teens upon reaching early adulthood.
- Those LGBT teens with lower levels of family support and acceptance were three times as likely to have suicidal thoughts and endure reported attempts of suicide.
- Families with high religious involvement tended to show a lower level of acceptance for LGBT teen family members.
These findings are just the beginning. For the Family Acceptance Project is using them to develop a family model of wellness—an evidence-based approach which focuses on showing families with diverse ethnicities and religious backgrounds how to do something very important: decrease rejection of their LGBT teen and increase support, all while respecting such families’ deeply held values.
“At a time when the media and families are becoming acutely aware of the risk that many LGBT youth experience,” says Dr. Ryan, “our findings that family acceptance protects against suicidal thoughts and behaviors, depression and substance abuse offer a gateway to hope for LGBT youth and families that struggle with how to balance deeply held religious and personal values with love for their LGBT children. I have worked on LGBT health and mental health for 35 years and putting our research into practice by developing a new model to help diverse families support their LGBT children is the most hopeful work I’ve ever done.”
Like Dr. Ryan, I’m hopeful, too. Because I believe that many good families want to embrace their LGBT child, but simply don’t know how given their strong philosophical, ideological and or religious beliefs. The existing approach used to help LGBT teens (employed by social workers, school counselors, etc…) has focused primarily on the LGBT youth alone as well as gaining peer support for that youth. But such an approach does not include the family, and wouldn’t the family seem like a logical place to start? After all, families play the most vital role in determining what kind of adults their children grow into.
It’s about time someone like Dr. Ryan is giving families the tools needed to help ensure that their LGBT teens grow into the very best kind of adults. Happy and healthy ones.
Check out this incredible video the Family Acceptance Project put together which details one family’s journey. I got chills watching their metamorphosis, particularly the father’s.
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