SF State News {University Communications}

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Family support key to LGB health, study shows

January 14, 2009 -- Family Acceptance Project (FAP) researchers at the Cesar Chavez Institute (CCI) have established a clear link between family rejection of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adolescents and health problems in early adulthood.

Logo of Family Acceptance Project, San Francisco State University's Chavez Institute.

Published in the January issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the findings show that negative family reactions to a child's sexual orientation can lead to such serious health problems as depression, illegal drug use, risk for HIV infection and suicide attempts. Director of the Family Acceptance Project Caitlin Ryan authored the paper with CCI Founding Director Rafael Diaz, FAP Coordinator Jorge Sanchez and University of Utah Psychology Professor David Huebner. The California Endowment funded the study.

To date, the prevailing approach to health risks by medical and social service professionals and other providers has focused almost exclusively on serving lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, without consideration of the impact of family reactions and behaviors or their involvement in the adolescent's care.

"Our research shows that families are critical in promoting the well-being of their LGBT children and that is why we are using our findings to develop resources, tools and interventions to strengthen families," Ryan said. "These efforts in turn can help to reduce or prevent youth homelessness and the proportion of youth in foster care while significantly improving the lives of LGBT young people and their families."

Researchers interviewed white and Latino LGBT young adults and family members from diverse economic backgrounds. Young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse.

"Our broader research and work with ethnically diverse families indicates that parents and caregivers can modify rejecting behaviors once they understand the serious impact of their words and actions," Ryan said.

Based on their findings, FAP is developing a new family-related approach to reduce risk and support well being of LGBT youth.  FAP and community partners are providing free services to help families increase support for their LGBT children in English, Spanish and Chinese.
Based at the Cesar E. Chavez Institute in the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University, the Family Acceptance Project is a community research, intervention and education initiative that studies the impact of family acceptance and rejection on the health, mental health and well being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.

-- Denize Springer


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