By MARY ELLEN and CASEY LOPATA
After attending PFLAG (Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, www.pflag.com) meetings when our son came out, we realized that if a parent, in the early stages of fear, confusion, anger and grief, could say, “I love my son” or “I love my daughter,” it was a good bet that, in time, those parents, that son or daughter, that family would be just fine. Over time, parents who put that love above all their doubts and anxieties will find joy in having an LGBT daughter or son. Indeed, many of these parents will proudly march in Gay Pride parades, speak up for equal rights, and work tirelessly for justice for all LGBT persons.
We have seen this phenomenon time and again in our work with Catholic parents across the country through Fortunate Families
, a national network of parents with LGBT children.
Today many more parents, including Catholic parents, are accepting and affirming of their LGBT children. Those children are coming out in greater numbers and younger ages than before. Frequently, however, parents – even those who say, “I love my daughter/son” are not at all prepared when a child comes out to them as LGBT. Few really know what is best for their LGBT child. Many are consumed by fear for their child’s safety: physical, emotional and spiritual; some are grieving their lost (heterosexual) expectations for their child; and others agonize over how society will treat their child.
Fortunately, there is now a resource that all parents—those who know their child is gay and those who don’t—can use to help make decisions that will help insure a healthier, happier child now and for the future.
The booklet, Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children, is the result of a 2009 study by the Family Acceptance Project (FAP)—a research, intervention, education and policy initiative, directed by Dr. Caitlin Ryan at San Francisco State University. FAP’s research “focused on family behaviors in response to sexual orientation and gender expression during adolescence as predictors of current health problems”. The study’s results were published in the January, 2009 issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and can be accessed by clicking here. The results show a strong correlation between parental accepting or rejecting speech and behavior toward a child who reveals he or she is LGB or T, and the physical and mental health outcomes for that child.
The study found that “gay and transgender teen who were highly rejected
by their parents and caregivers were at very high risks for health and mental health problems when they become young adults. Highly rejected young people were:
1) More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide.
2) Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression.
3) More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and
4) More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
Evidence clearly showed that the less rejection by parents, the lower the risk in all these categories. For example:
“Gay and transgender youth from highly rejecting families were more than 8 times as likely to try to take their own lives by the time they were young adults. In families that were moderately rejecting (had some negative reactions to their gay or transgender child—but also had some
positive reactions) those young people were only about twice as likely to try to kill themselves.”
The booklet also lists rejecting behaviors that are very harmful to LGBT youth such as physical and verbal abuse, exclusion from family events, blocking access to LGBT friends, events and resources, saying God will punish her/him, saying you are shamed by or ashamed of your LGBT child, and making your child keep their sexual identity a secret in the family.
The Family Acceptance Project stresses that “families need to create a nurturing and supportive environment long before they know who their children will become. This is critically important information for every parent to have—whether or not they know they have an LGBT child.
Information like this can go a long way in helping parents be the best parents possible to their LGBT daughters and sons in a world not yet able to see those children as God’s loving gift to the world.
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Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata have been active in LGBT ministry since the early 1990s, and they are the co-founders of Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents and family members of LGBT people.
NOTE: The Family Acceptance Projects’s multi-lingual, multi-cultural series of educational family booklets–Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children–was recently designated as the first “Best Practice” resource for suicide prevention for LGBT youth and young adults by the national Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention.
This publication is available in specific cultural versions in English, Spanish and Chinese. A faith-based version is available for Mormon families with LGBT children. Other versions are planned, including one for Catholic families.
Print copies are available by contacting: email@example.com. Downloads are available at: www.family project.sfsu.edu/publications.