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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gay Kids Thrive With Family Support, Acceptance

By Kilian Melloy -

Kids need the love, support, and acceptance of their parents. Without it, they may not flourish. But for some kids--GLBT youth in particular--family acceptance is not always guaranteed.

That could have serious consequences for their futures, or even their lives, research suggests--and families are starting to heed that advice, a March 22 article in Colorado newspaper the Longmont Times-Call says.

One organization devoted to researching the issue of how family support--or the lack of it--impacts GLBT youth is the Family Acceptance Project.

"Our team is putting research into practice by developing the first evidence-based family model of wellness, prevention and care to strengthen families and promote positive development and healthy futures for LGBT children and youth," text at the group’s website says. "Once developed, we will disseminate our model across the U.S. and to groups we work with in other countries."

The site’s text also noted that the Family Acceptance Project "is the only community research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to decrease major health and related risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, such as suicide, substance abuse, HIV and homelessness--in the context of their families.

"We use a research-based, culturally grounded approach to help ethnically, socially and religiously diverse families decrease rejection and increase support for their LGBT children," the text adds.

One early research paper, published in November of 2010, documented a "direct link between school victimization of gender-nonconforming LGBT youth with depression and quality of life in adulthood"--that is to say, a correlation between GLBT youths who are bullied at school and sexual minorities who suffer later in life.

Other studies documented how family acceptance and support acts as to shield gay kids from problems such as substance abuse--whereas family rejection leaves youths especially vulnerable to problems such as alcoholism and drug abuse.

The group’s director, Caitlan Ryan, told the Longmont Times-Call that GLBT youths who experience familial rejection are as much as eight times more likely to engage in suicidal behavior as kids who are embraced by their families.

Rejected kids are also much more prone to depression and risky behavior that can increase their chances of contracting HIV or suffering other health consequences.

"Society has become very polarized around issues like this. But we’re just really trying to help families help their child by understanding how much their behaviors matter," Ryan told the newspaper.

Neurological research has shown that the developing brains of children and teens can be affected by traumatic experiences of abuse and rejection. Sexually and physically abused children exhibit many of the same physical and emotional health issues as bullied kids do. Traumatized children and teens can grow into adults afflicted by depression and substance abuse problems.

Familial rejection--which can include bullying and abusive behavior toward a gay or transgender child--is just as damaging, the group’s research indicates.

The research suggests an answer for parents who wonder what they did wrong when their son or daughter comes out as gay: nothing. Not yet, anyway. But what they do next--in response to the news--is crucial for a child’s long-term well-being.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.


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