The What We Know Project at Columbia Law School has released a new research analysis on what scholarly research says about the link between family acceptance and LGBT youth wellbeing. Family rejection, and the fear of family rejection, has always been a major concern for LGBT Youth, particularly transgender and gender non-conforming youth. And it’s a valid concern considering that in the District of Columbia, for example, 43% of homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Clearly families that engage in rejecting behavior raise the risk of significant harms for their LGBT children.
There is however, another side to this story. Research shows that on the flip side, parents and families can have a profoundly positive influence when they exhibit affirming behaviors. The important take home message is that even parents that have neutral or negative views about LGBT people can change their ways and exhibit these affirming behaviors when they truly understand how devastating their rejection is.
LGBT Youth are coming out at even younger ages these days and therefore spending more time living with their families. One very important role we can play in supporting LGBT Youth is to reach their parents. Clearly, the work of PFLAG and other organizations that support family members is more important than ever. It also presents a challenge to all of us who work with LGBT Youth to not give up on parents who initially present negative views of LGBT people, and to push for more research on effective interventions to help these parents make the right choices.
Below are some key findings from the Study. Be sure to check out the complete report here. For more information on this topic be sure to check out the amazing work of my friend Caitlin Ryan at the Family Acceptance Project.
Key Findings from the Study
- LGBT youth face heightened risks of numerous mental and physical health dangers including depression, suicidality, substance abuse, psychological distress, low self-esteem, HIV/AIDS infection, and others.
- Research shows that rejecting behaviors by parents can increase these risks, including contributing to far higher levels of suicidal behavior and depression.
- Family can play a key protective role against these physical and mental health risks. Several studies confirmed the importance of sexuality-specific acceptance (over generalized support), and of parental support over peer support.
- Research shows that LGBT youth are coming out at younger ages than in the past, which can mean longer periods of time when they are in the home and “out,” and hence a greater chance of both family-related stress and the possibility of positive interventions.
- More research is needed on the factors that best predict rejecting family behaviors, the factors that contribute to positive family climates, and intervention approaches with records of evidence-based success; however, a great deal is already known about the information and support that families and LGBT youth need, and parents, practitioners, policymakers and funders should act on this knowledge if they wish to minimize the health risks for the LGBT population.