A new study from the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) finds that though there are a number of sources of support for LGBT youth, none has as big an impact as acceptance by families. Peer support, community support, and being out and open all contributed to life satisfaction, self-esteem, and sense of self-worth for young people, but family support had a significantly stronger influence to overall adjustment and well-being. The article, “Social Support Networks for LGBT Young Adults: Low Cost Strategies for Positive Adjustment,” appears in the July issue of the Family Relations journal.
FAP director Caitlin Ryan, who was also a researcher on the study, told ThinkProgress that research on the impact of families on LGBT youth has long been lacking. “Historically, peers and LGBT community resources were seen as the only sources of support for LGBT youth since the perception was widespread that families would not only reject their LGBT children but were unable to learn to support them,” she explained. “The impact of that perception was several decades of not engaging families as a potential source of support for their LGBT children with the end result of not developing family-based services and not including families in their adolescent’s care.”
Other research from FAP has helped reverse that trend, but this new study demonstrates not only that families are important to LGBT youth’s well-being, but that they are likely one of the most important factors. “In this sample,” the study reads, “family acceptance during the teenage years was the only form of support that significantly predicted all measures of young adult adjustment, and it remained a significant factor when other salient forms of support from friends and the community were considered.” Family support, both generally and specifically in reference to a child’s identity, “is a crucial factor in LGBT youth’s health and well-being.”
According to Ryan, “when families accept and support their LGBT children, this helps build self-esteem and feelings of self-worth,” which she believes then “contributes to positive coping skills and helps increase resilience.” Feeling valued by their parents and families allows these young people to “deal more effectively with challenges and adversity and with the stigma that many LGBT people still experience.” Family acceptance is “like a vaccine that protects their LGBT children with love.”
ThinkProgress asked Ryan what exactly constitutes “acceptance.” For example, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, recently told families that they should not kick their LGBT kids out of the house or be ashamed of them. Is that enough to achieve the positive results?
Ryan said that the first step is to show religiously conservative families that rejection has a negative impact. Research has shown that using religion to condemn an adolescent’s LGBT identity or telling them that God will punish them because they are LGBT can contribute to serious health risks, including suicide, substance abuse, and STDs/HIV. “Most families, including very religious families, are shocked to learn that behaviors they engage in to try to help their LGBT children fit in and be accepted by others instead contribute to serious health risks, such as suicide attempts.”
Ryan hopes that FAP’s resources help families understand “how to care for their LGBT child even if they disagree in ways that promote parent-child connectedness and increase their child’s self-esteem.” Even conservative families can learn specific supportive behaviors, like talking to their LGBT child to learn about their experiences, requiring other family members to treat the child with respect even if they disagree, and standing up for and advocating for their child when others mistreat them for who they are. “These supportive reactions go far beyond not just throwing an LGBT child out of the home to express core values of major religions such as mercy, compassion and love.”
“Historically, many religiously conservative families thought they had to choose between their LGBT child and their faith,” Ryan said. But the increasing research on family acceptance, along with FAP’s growing toolkit of faith-targeted resources, “help families make core connections between their religious values and having an LGBT child. As many very religious families learn to support their LGBT child, this includes helping their congregations learn to support — not just stop rejecting — LGBT people.”
Talking to older adults about your child’s gender identity or transition can be some of the more difficult conversations parents of transgender children face.
Talking to older adults about your child’s gender identity or transition can be some of the more difficult conversations parents of transgender children face. Grandparents and other older relatives and friends often have more conservative ideas about gender roles, and thus may have a more difficult time understanding or accepting your child’s transgender or gender-expansive identity.
Being an advocate for your child can be difficult when the person you are defending them against is your own family, so first and foremost, try to approach these initial conversations with patience and compassion, rather than being confrontational or defensive.
Situations to Prepare For:
Hard time with terminology – People who are not familiar with transgender people or concerns may have a steeper learning curve when it comes to terminology and pronoun use. They may be inclined to use terms that are now considered offensive or derogatory because those terms are more familiar to them, and it may take more time for them to understand the importance of preferred gender pronouns. As long as it’s clear that they are trying to change, be patient but firm in correcting their terminology and pronoun use.
Holidays, family gatherings, buying presents – If your child’s transition or gender-expansive expression is something new, it’s best to talk to your extended family before any family gatherings to avoid having potentially contentious conversations about your child’s gender identity while your child is present. If you know a family gathering is coming up, talk to family members one-on-one ahead of time and explain your child’s transition and ask that any new names and pronouns be respected. Cultivate allies among your family members and let them help you facilitate conversations that you anticipate being difficult. For holidays, remind grandparents and other family members to give your child clothing that affirms their gender identity, or if that’s a source of discomfort, give a gender neutral present like books, science kits or art supplies.
Family members who are determined not to accept your child’s identity – Unfortunately, there is often a family member who cannot accept your child’s gender identity. This lack of acceptance can include deliberate misgendering of your child, attempts to “change” your child and make them conform to their gender assigned at birth, to microaggressions that young children might not even notice. In these situations, you have to determine what is best for your child, even if that means keeping your child from having a relationship with that family member. Often people who are initially reluctant to accept LGBTQ people eventually change their minds, so the best practice is to keep supporting and loving your transgender child and hope that others come around.
Talking Points for Conversations With Family Members:
This is the same child you have known and loved, just a different gender – it’s often helpful to be able to explain the basics of things like gender dysphoria and the difference between sex and gender to show that this is something you have educated yourself about and understand thoroughly.
My child is happy living as their affirmed gender – Parents of children who have transitioned and are living openly as their affirmed gender often report that their child seems significantly happier than before transitioning. If that is the case with your child, it’s worth pointing out that you’re being a supportive parent and that your child is happier because of your support.
There is not anything “wrong” with my child or my parenting – Being transgender is not a phase, and trying to dismiss it as such can be harmful during a time when your child most needs support and validation. Trying to change your child’s gender identity – either by denial, punishment, reparative therapy or any other tactic – is not only ineffective; it is dangerous and can do permanent damage to your child’s mental health. So-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapies, which are typically faith-based, have been uniformly condemned as psychologically harmful by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and numerous similar professional organizations.
Straight-from-the-heart advice for parents and grandparents who want to do the right thing.
by Joan Garry, AARP, March 31, 2011 | Comments: 0
En español | My partner Eileen and I have been together for 30 years. We have three kids and have lived in the suburbs of New Jersey since forever. In our town, we are the gay “go-to” people — especially for parents and grandparents of gay kids. Even though some of those moms, dads and grandparents may be having a hard time dealing with it, most of them want to do the right thing; they’re just not sure how. These are the concerns we hear frequently:
All your child or grandchild needs is support.
“I’m not sure how to react.” Being openly gay may be the most courageous choice your son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter will ever make. It is a decision to live with integrity. When you are erasing the picture of the wedding cake with a husband and wife on top from your hard drive, remember that. It takes guts. Admire them as people. Try your best to remember that when you find yourself tempted to drive down Pity Party Lane.
“I don’t know how to tell friends and family about my gay kid or grandkid.” Present it like a five-alarm blaze and it will be received that way. Your comfort with the topic will set the tone. And don’t think for a minute that your friends and neighbors aren’t in the same boat. With more people living openly, it seems that nearly everyone knows someone gay. Strike that. Nearly everyone knows and likes/loves someone gay. And take it from me, never assume a friend or relative will be narrow-minded. I’m here to tell you: I’ve done it and it’s not nice and it’s unfair.
- Movies for Grownups: The Kids are All Right. Read
- Love Children, Don’t Cage Them. Read
“Sometimes it’s hard for me.” I believe that kids want their parents to be honest with them. That was the approach I took when my 16-year-old daughter got a nose ring. “Don’t you like it?” she asked me. “No, actually, I don’t.” I could have gone with “I love it; I think I’ll get me one for Christmas.” But I chose honesty. Choose it here, too. After all, your kid did! It really is OK to say, “This may be hard for me” or “Grandma’s going to need an extra martini tonight.”
“My son is bringing a date to Thanksgiving. I may have a bird.” In some ways, it is just as weird when your daughter brings home a boyfriend for the first time. You are hardwired to turn into an awkward idiot. Extended family get-togethers add another layer of nosiness: “Is he a friend or a friend friend?” Get input from your kid on how to handle such kitchen buzz. And if your strategy can include some humor, all the better.
“Now that I know my kid is gay, I’m concerned about same-sex sleepovers.” Be a good parent. You don’t get some special dispensation because you are traveling in uncharted waters. Don’t be shy, ask the question: “What kind of sleepover is this?” If the idea of your daughter sleeping with her boyfriend under your own roof at the age of 16 sets off every bad parenting bell in the universe for you, hold your gay son or daughter to the same standards.
“I want to be sooo supportive — I’ve even got the date for Pride Parade on my calendar!” I joke with my partner about a teen we know. We’re sure he would come out if only he didn’t think his mom hadn’t already submitted her résumé for an open position at PFLAG, which stands for Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Exuberance can be well intentioned, but teenagers kind of hate it in general.
“I was just settling into the gay thing and now she tells me she likes a boy.” Teenagers are unpredictable and live in the world in a much more fluid way than we did at their age. I recently checked in with a friend about her gay high school senior. “How’s she doing?” “Oh, I didn’t tell you?” She put her head in her hands. “She’s straight now.” Sexuality is a pretty darned complex issue for teens to tackle. Just fasten your seatbelt and make sure your kid knows you are along for the ride.
“I really want him to meet some other nice gay people.” It’s time for a quick math lesson. Let’s say it’s a high school class of 250 kids. Let’s assume 1 in 10 is gay. That’s two dozen gay kids (25 less your own). Assume not all of them are out. Your kid is fishing in a very small pond. Gently nudge toward other ponds. Not just the Gay-Straight Alliance, although this is a great start. What about volunteering for a gay teen hotline or homeless shelter? There are options galore.
“My fear for her safety keeps me up at night.” So no one is likely to harass Neil Patrick Harris or Cynthia Nixon and their partners and new babies. But don’t think for one solitary moment that your child or grandchild won’t be a target tomorrow or a year from now. Yes, gay people are more visible than ever before. But it is equally true that homophobia runs rampant and deep in this country. Help them think through and prepare for this. Traveling is a big area of concern. Remember: Your job as a parent or grandparent is to advocate for your kid every step of the way. Gay kids need lots of it.
“I just want him to be happy.” This is the best comment of all. Isn’t this what we all want for our kids? I remember coming out like it was yesterday (it so wasn’t). My father’s first words were powerful and instinctual: “I always thought this was a tough row to hoe and I will not make it any tougher. I want you to be happy.” Now, later that day, he expressed concern that St. Peter’s pearly gates would be closed unto me. But at least he was honest. And yes, it got better. Because time (and love) were on our side.
There is one common theme in all the advice I offer. We want our kids to talk to us, to be honest, to live with integrity. Coming out and living openly is all of that. Congratulations. You raised a great kid. Now it’s your turn. Great kids need great parents. Be honest, supportive and open. Be a fierce advocate. And stop worrying that they won’t be happy. Start assuming they will be.
Who me? Marry?
Psychologists weigh in on how the changing landscape of same-sex marriage may be affecting lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals.
Monitor on Psychology ® , May 2014
Answers to Your Questions About Same-Sex Marriage
With so much attention to marriage for same-sex couples playing out in the public policy arena, as well as around water coolers, kitchen tables and in classrooms, what does the science have to say about such relationships? Who is affected and how? And why is it so important? This resource is an introduction to these common questions.
Lesbian and Gay Parenting
Includes a summary of research findings on lesbian mothers, gay fathers and their children; an annotated bibliography of the published psychological literature; and additional resources relevant to lesbian and gay parenting.
Helping the Straight Spouse When a Wife or Husband Comes Out as LGB or T
Resources for students and psychologists to gain a better understanding of issues that may affect the straight spouse when a wife or husband comes out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Marriage Equality and LGBT Health (PDF, 100KB)
This fact sheet highlights empirical evidence that illustrates the harmful psychological effect of policies restricting marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
U.S. Health and Human Services
Child Welfare Information Gateway connects child welfare and related professionals to comprehensive information and resources to help protect children and strengthen families.
Research and Reports
What does the scholarly research say about the well-being of children with gay or lesbian parents? A compilation of 75 scholarly studies addressing the well-being of children with gay or lesbian parents.
Protecting the Rights of Transgender Parents and their Children: A Guide for Parents and Lawyers
A Joint Publication of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Transgender Equality
All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families
Released by the Movement Advancement Project, the Center for American Progress and the Family Equality Council. A groundbreaking report about the 2 million children being raised by LGBT parents in the United States. Summary.
LGBT Families of Color: Facts at a Glance
A brief based on All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families that examines how the intersection of inequitable laws, social stigma and race-based discrimination collide in ways that create significant challenges for LGBT families of color.
Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples
The APA calls on state governments to repeal all measures that deny same-sex couples the right to civil marriage and to enact laws to provide full marriage equality to same-sex couples. The APA also calls on the federal government to extend full recognition to legally married same-sex couples, and to accord them all of the rights, benefits and responsibilities that it provides to legally married different-sex couples. Adopted by the APA Council of Representatives on Aug. 3-5, 2011.
Resolution on sexual orientation, gender identity (SOGI), parents and their children (PDF, 99KB)
APA is committed to ending the minority stress, social stigma, prejudice, discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals through our leadership, practice, research, education and training. Adopted by the APA Council of Representatives February, 2020.
Child Custody or Placement
The sex, gender identity or sexual orientation of natural, or prospective adoptive or foster parents should not be the sole or primary variable considered in custody or placement cases. Adopted by the APA Council of Representatives on Sept. 2 & 5, 1976.
Transgender, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Nondiscrimination
APA is committed to ending the prejudice and discrimination based on demographic characteristics including gender identity and expression and urges the repeal of discriminatory laws through our leadership, practice, research, education, training and collaboration with other organizations. Adopted by the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives August 2008.
American Academy of Pediatrics
Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents are Gay or Lesbian
The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement in support of same-sex marriage says that allowing gay and lesbian parents to marry if they so choose is in the best interests of their children. March 2013.
APA has filed a number of briefs in contested child custody cases involving lesbian or gay parents, in second parent adoption cases for same-sex couples and in cases related to marriage rights for same-sex couples.
APA cited in Michigan same-sex marriage ruling (PDF, 65KB)
Michigan District Court judge overturns voter approved Michigan Marriage Amendment on March 21, 2014.
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It’s difficult to deal with homophobic strangers, but it can be even more difficult dealing with relatives who reject homosexuality. These “loved ones” should love you no matter what and not judge you based on your sexual preferences. Even though that’s the way it should be, it’s not always the way it is. Since you can’t change the way people feel, the only thing you can do is change the way you feel and the way you react in response to what they do by learning how to understand your relatives’ homophobia and what to do to make family relations much more bearable.
Tips for Dealing with Homophobic Families
Whether you are gay, straight, or bisexual, you may find homophobia in your family to be confronting. Consider these ideas for responding to and dealing with family members who do not understand sexuality beyond traditional male/female couples.
Tips for Everyone
Almost everyone has at least one relative, immediate or distant, who has some form of prejudice, whether it comes in the form of racism, sexism or homophobia. When your family doesn’t share your beliefs, it can be frustrating and complicated. Listening to people you love say things that make you angry can be hard. However, you don’t have to sit silently when a relative says offensive things.
- Remain calm and patient, even in the face of hurtful insults and name-calling.
- Remind yourself that homophobia is typically based on lack of knowledge on the topic, and that your relatives are only repeating stereotypes and opinions they have been exposed to in their environment. This is especially true if you were raised in a conservative or religious family.
- Educate yourself on why someone may be homophobic. For example, some people have never knowingly had a friendship with a gay person and simply do not understand homosexuality, while others may be secretly ashamed of their own homosexual desires. In families where one or more person is homosexual, sibling rivalry may play a role.
- Be realistic and realize that homophobia will not disappear overnight, or in one conversation.
- Use logic, statistics and facts when defending gay rights. For example, if you believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, visit pro-gay marriage websites that have information about the issue, such as Why Marriage Matters or Marriage Equality USA.
- Join an online group that supports gay rights and offers friendly support and advice for people who are dealing with homophobic families. Some examples include GLAAD (Gay and Lesbians Alliance Against Defamation) and The Trevor Project.
- Check out a support website with your family such as PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for information and ways to understand each other.
Tips for Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals
If you are gay, lesbian or bisexual and your family members have trouble with your sexual orientation, or even flat out reject you, there are many ways to deal with the conflict. You don’t have to put up with any kind of abuse.
- Remind yourself that you are not alone, and that the problem is with the homophobic family member, not you. It is not your fault that your relative doesn’t understand you.
- Remain hopeful that the homophobic attitude will change after your relative has had time to get used to the out-of-the-closet you. Some family members really aren’t homophobic deep down, they just don’t know what to say or how to say it, and comments may come out awkwardly.
- Stand up for yourself and be honest. If someone says something offensive, correct him politely with a joke. For example, some people really believe that all gay men love to decorate or are cross-dressers. Help these individuals learn that stereotypes aren’t always accurate.
- Turn down family-event invitations, such as holidays or weddings, if your partner is not invited. If a family member introduces your girlfriend as “a friend,” correct him and say, “You mean my partner (or girlfriend).”
- Spend time with loving, open-minded family members during holidays or celebrations. For example, you, your brother and your cousin can start a new Thanksgiving tradition this year if you’re not welcomed at the extended-family event. You may even have a better time than usual, as you can try new recipes, splurge on more expensive wine, and have a pleasant, drama-free family holiday.
Dealing With Rejection and Abuse
Unfortunately, some people are in homophobic families that will never change. In fact, some of these family members physically or emotionally abuse their gay relatives. Many parents even kick out their teenage son or daughter for simply coming out. In addition to following general advice for dealing with difficult family members, take these additional steps:
- Seek counseling to deal with the pain associated with not receiving unconditional love from your family.
- Ask extended relatives if you can stay with them if you get kicked out of your own home.
- Report any type of physical abuse to local law enforcement authorities. There are hate crime laws in place for this purpose.
- According to the Ali Forney Center, 25% of teens are rejected by their families and many of them end up homeless because of it. The Ali Forney Center has set up an enviornment for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual) homeless community to give them support and safety. You can learn more about it in this short video:
Moving Past Homophobia
Living with or being related to homophobic family members can be a challenging situation. Your home is supposed to be a refuge from the hostile, outside world, and it is painful when you realize that family members are so different than you. Whether they reject you or learn to accept the real you, remember that the most important thing is that you live your life freely and that you stay true to yourself.
Many of us know someone who identifies as gay, lesbian or bisexual, whether a co-worker, neighbor, or friend. We are often asked, “How do I witness to this person?”
Many of us know someone who identifies as gay, lesbian or bisexual, whether a co-worker, neighbor, or friend. We are often asked, “How do I witness to this person?”
The answer is simple: The same way you share God’s truth with anyone else.
9 Helpful Guidelines
- See A Person, Not A Homosexual.
Your friend is a man or woman with complex fears, hopes and needs. Look beyond the “gay” or “lesbian” label to the whole person inside. Rather than seeing your friend as a homosexual, think of him or her as a person who struggles with sexual brokenness/sexual wholeness. Be willing to listen. Many of those involved in homosexuality have been wounded by well-meaning but ignorant Christians. Imagine attending a gay pride parade and hearing insults shouted by church people standing on the sidelines. Would you want to follow a God like the one they’re displaying? Or imagine attending church and hearing derogatory language from the pulpit. Would you want to develop relationships with those people?
- Be Patient And Forgiving.
Many men and women with same-sex attractions have been wounded — by family members, peers and sometimes by Christians. In response, they may develop a protective shell or push people away — anticipating future rejection. You may need extra grace, forbearance and persistence to build relationship with your friend.
- Don’t Over-Focus On Homosexuality.
The main issue is their relationship with God, not their sexuality. Of course our relationship with God includes our sexuality, but it isn’t the totality. Learn about the whole person, and remember that all people struggle with relationships, identity and sexuality. However they label themselves, view your friend as a man or woman made in the image of God, not as a “homosexual” or a “project.”
- Point Your Friend To Jesus, Not To Heterosexuality.
Women or men caught in homosexuality cannot change on their own; they need the power of Jesus Christ working in their lives before the change will occur. Often, they have little motivation to change until God opens their eyes to His truths. As He begins the healing work in them, He will highlight areas in their life which must be surrendered to Him.
- Don’t Expect To Know All The Answers.
You don’t have to become an expert on all aspects of homosexuality before you can be a godly influence on your gay loved one. When discussing the issue, it’s okay to say you don’t know, but you will find out and get back to them later. (Then do it!) God’s love working through you will change his or her mind, not winning an argument.
- Be Open About Your Own Needs And Struggles.
Jesus was able to begin developing a connection with the Samaritan woman at the well because He asked her for a drink. He needed something she could give — a drink of water. Then He could offer something even better back to her — living water.
- Give Hope For Something Better.
Be the bearer of good tidings, not just the announcement that a certain lifestyle is sinful. Talk about what God has done in your own life. That “something better” isn’t just forgiveness of sins (although that in itself is an unfathomable gift) — it’s following Jesus Christ, learning to be like Him, being filled with His Spirit, and a life eternal with the Father — a life that starts today, if they put their confidence in Christ.
- Healthy Same-Sex Relationships Are A Key For Growth And Healing. Certainly men can help lesbian-identified women, and women can help gay-identified men to leave homosexuality and follow Christ. But a great deal of growth and restoration will occur as men and women with same-sex attractions learn to develop healthy attachments and healthy boundaries. See, for example, Dr. Henry Cloud, Changes that Heal, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, rev., 2003).
Much of this will come through healthy same-sex mentors, counselors, encouragers and friends. See Anita Worthen and Bob Davies, Someone I Love Is Gay, ( Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), ch. 10.
- Pray (Pray, Pray)!
There are thousands of men and women — who used to identify as gay — who now bear testimony to the power of prayer and a loving witness for Christ in their lives.
For the first time, researchers have established a clear link between accepting family attitudes and behaviors towards their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and significantly decreased risk and better overall health in adulthood. The study shows that specific parental and caregiver behaviors — such as advocating for their children when they are mistreated because of their LGBT identity or supporting their gender expression — protect against depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in early adulthood. In addition, LGBT youth with highly accepting families have significantly higher levels of self-esteem and social support in young adulthood.
The study is published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing.
Despite all the recent attention to health risks and disparities for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, prior to this study, little was known about how families express acceptance and support for their LGBT children. Moreover, no prior research had examined the relationship between family acceptance of LGBT adolescents and health and mental health concerns in emerging adulthood.
“At a time when the media and families are becoming acutely aware of the risk that many LGBT youth experience, 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,” said Dr. Caitlin Ryan, PhD, Director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. “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.”
Ann P. Haas, Ph.D., Director of Prevention Projects for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, noted, “With this new groundbreaking study, Ryan and her colleagues have provided the strongest evidence to date that acceptance and support from parents and caregivers promote well-being among LGBT youth and help protect them from depression and suicidal behavior. These findings open the door to a whole new focus on how families can be helped to more fully engage in the kind of behaviors that reduce suicide risk in LGBT adolescents and young adults.”
“Times have changed,” said Stephen Russell, PhD, President Elect of the Society for Research on Adolescence and a consultant to the Family Acceptance Project. “More and more families want to be accepting of their children. Yet, many families still struggle when a child comes out as LGBT. It’s essential to have research like this to deeply understand the ways that families show their acceptance, so that we can identify how to support families.”
The study, authored by Dr. Caitlin Ryan and her team from the Family Acceptance Project, which shows that accepting behaviors of parents and caregivers towards their LGBT children are protective against mental health risks — including suicidal behaviors — has critical implications for changing how families relate to their LGBT children and how LGBT youth are served by a wide range of providers across disciplines and systems of care, including custodial care systems such as foster care. The study was funded by The California Endowment, a health foundation dedicated to expanding access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities.
Major Research Findings:
- Family accepting behaviors towards LGBT youth during adolescence protect against suicide, depression and substance abuse.
- LGBT young adults who reported high levels of family acceptance during adolescence had significantly higher levels of self-esteem, social support and general health, compared to peers with low levels of family acceptance.
- LGBT young adults who reported low levels of family rejection during adolescence were over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to report suicide attempts, compared to those with high levels of family acceptance.
- High religious involvement in families was strongly associated with low acceptance of LGBT children.
Dr. Ryan and her team at the Family Acceptance Project are currently developing a new evidence-based family model of wellness, prevention and care for LGBT adolescents, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This model uses a behavioral approach to help ethnically and religiously diverse families decrease rejection and increase support for their LGBT children to reduce risk for suicide, depression, substance abuse, and HIV, to promote well-being and to prevent homelessness and placement in custodial care. This systems-level approach helps communities and providers to engage diverse families as allies in decreasing their LGBT children’s risk and increasing their well-being while respecting the family’s deeply held values. This work is being conducted in English, Spanish and Chinese with families from all ethnic backgrounds, including immigrant and very low income families, and those whose children are out-of-home in foster care and juvenile justice facilities.
The existing approach to serving LGBT adolescents by pediatricians, nurses, social workers, school counselors and others has focused almost exclusively on serving LGBT youth alone and through peer support, rather than in the context of their families, and does not consider the impact of family reactions on the adolescent’s health and well-being.
In addition to providing direct services for families with LGBT children and working with communities in the U.S., the Family Acceptance Project is collaborating with organizations, providers, advocates and families to develop an international movement of family acceptance to promote wellness and healthy futures for LGBT children, youth and young adults.
“Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults” is the third in a series of research papers on outcomes related to family acceptance and rejection of LGBT adolescents, supporting positive LGBT youth development, school experiences and providing family-related care to be released by the Family Acceptance Project.
These studies will be published in peer-reviewed journals designed for providers, caregivers and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines and practice settings.
Materials provided by San Francisco State University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
- Caitlin Ryan et al. Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, in press)
As a Christian, how should I relate to a gay-identified friend or family member? I have several relationships that involve this dynamic, including both non-Christians and those who claim to be followers of Christ. Any suggestions?
The simple answer is that you relate to a gay-identified individual as you would relate to anybody else. Every person is a human being and deserves to be treated as such, regardless of his or her lifestyle or belief system. Every person you meet is your neighbor, and Jesus commands you to love your neighbor as yourself.
But you already knew this. What you want to understand now is how to talk with the person in question as the relationship progresses and differences of opinion on topics such as sexuality and sexual morality become an issue. It’s at this point that his or her identification as Christian or non-Christian becomes critical. Your conversations with this friend or family member will look very different depending on whether you do or do not claim the same faith and whether you each view the Bible as authoritative.
Let’s begin with the non-believer. Since you and this person are coming together from very different backgrounds and worldviews, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to set your philosophical, theological, and moral assumptions aside at the beginning. Think in terms of something bigger than mere sexuality. Try to appreciate your friend as a whole person. Don’t turn him or her into a “project” – if you do, your motives and the exclusive nature of your focus will become distastefully obvious and will almost certainly inspire resentment. Instead, look deep enough to discern his or her essential humanity and to understand how it reflects the Image of God. Form a connection on the basis of common concerns and interests. Remember that God loves this individual even more than you do. When challenged or asked to explain your own beliefs, use I-based language to give a positive and winsome personal testimony (see 1 Peter 3:15). In doing so, you will be creating a context for the development of a meaningful relationship. And as that relationship grows and blossoms, the Holy Spirit will grant you opportunities for genuine Christian witness that you could never have devised on your own.
While moving through this process, keep Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well (John Chapter 4) in mind. Remember that, according to the social mores and religious dictates of first-century Judaism, this woman was the sort of person – a female, a Samaritan, and a sexual sinner – with whom Jesus was not supposed to have any interaction whatsoever. Remind yourself that, in spite of these taboos, He entered into dialogue with her, connected with her at the level of their shared humanity (“Give me something to drink”), matter-of-factly acknowledged the realities of her situation, and addressed her at the point of her personal need. As a result, an entire Samaritan village was converted to faith in Christ.
The challenge of relating to a gay-identified friend or family member assumes a very different aspect when he or she already claims to be a follower of Jesus. There are some important similarities, of course: with this person, as with the non-believer, you will want to exhibit kindness, gentleness, grace, and love while reflecting the Spirit of Christ in everything you say and do. But you will also have some ground for referencing scriptural teaching and appealing to a common understanding of moral and spiritual truth. In this connection, bear in mind that there’s a crucial distinction to be made between a Christian who experiences same-sex attractions but does not act out those inclinations, and an active homosexual who claims to be a believer. A Christian who is currently involved in any form of sexual intimacy with individuals of the same sex (or any sexual activity outside of God’s design for marriage) requires a very different response from the one who experiences same-sex attractions but refrains from acting on them as a matter of conscience and Christian discipline.
In either case, we suggest you begin by listening very carefully to what the other person has to say. Instead of launching straight into a discussion of Bible doctrine, try to get a sense of what your friend or family member is going through. Bear in mind that this experience is very real and deeply personal for him or her. Be empathetic and understanding. Remain in this mode for as long as it takes to establish a relationship of mutual fidelity and trust.
When you’ve reached this point, you may then be in a position to take things a step further by inviting this person into conversation at a deeper level. You can invite greater depth by asking, “Are you open to talk with me further about what the Bible has to say on the subject of homosexuality and sexual morality? Would you be willing to learn how other Christians have walked away from gay self-identification or homosexual sex? Could we read a couple of different viewpoints on this topic together and then meet to discuss our findings?”
Strive to keep the dialogue as congenial and objective as possible. If you discover that this individual is theologically muddled or subscribes to false doctrine, you will need to answer his or her objections and address his or her concerns in the clearest possible terms. A biblically based argument deserves a biblically based response. But don’t fall into the trap of shaming, blaming, or condemning your friend. Instead, do everything you can to preserve the relationship and thus maintain your influence in his or her life.
If your friend or family member has been diligent about remaining sexually inactive in obedience to God’s commands, encourage him to continue on this path and make yourself available to support him in his needs and in his pledge to biblical sexual morality. If, on the other hand, he continues to be sexually active in spite of his claim to be a follower of Jesus, urge him to examine his faith convictions with great care and to give them priority over every other consideration. Make it clear that, as far as you are concerned, it would be wise to give greater weight to biblical values than to feelings of same-sex attraction. Underscore the thought that attraction, behavior, and identity are three separate areas; that one need not be determined by the others; and that behavior and identity, unlike attraction, are matters of conscious, willful choice. End by saying, “I want you to know that I will be reading and learning more about this topic because I care about you. If you’re willing, maybe we could read and learn together.” You might also encourage him to pursue Christian counseling if there seem to be compulsive or sexually addictive cycles occurring in your friend’s behavior.
We have a staff of trained family therapists available to speak with you by phone for a free consultation. They can also refer you to reputable and qualified family counselors working in your area.
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