Homophobic families harm gay teenagers, study claims

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

For the first time ever, researchers have claimed that there is a direct link between homophobic rejection of LGB adolescents by their families and mental health problems.

A peer-reviewed article entitled “Family Rejection as a Predator of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Young Adults” summarising the research will appear in a January edition of Pediatrics.

Author of the paper and Director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University Dr Caitlin Ryan said:

“For the first time, research has established a predictive link between specific, negative family reactions to their child’s sexual orientation and serious health problems for these adolescents in young adulthood—such as depression, illegal drug use, risk for HIV infection, and suicide attempts.

“The new body of research we are generating will help develop resources, tools and interventions to strengthen families, prevent homelessness, reduce the proportion of youth in foster care and significantly improve the lives of LGBT young people and their families.”

The researchers claim that parents’ rejection of their children over issues of sexuality dramatically compromises their health.

The study found that LGB young people who had experienced higher levels of rejection from their family were 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide, and almost 6 times more likely to become depressed, than young people who experienced no rejection from their families.

Rejected LGB teenagers were also found to be 3.4 times more likely to use drugs and 3.4 times more likely to engage in unprotected sex than other young people.

Dr Ryan went on to say: “We are using our research to develop a new model of family-related care to decrease the high levels of risk for LGBT young people that restrict life chances and full participation in society.

“Our easy-to-use behavioral approach will help families increase supportive behaviors and modify behaviors their LGBT children experience as rejecting that significantly increase their children’s risk.

“However, redirecting practice and professional training, from not asking about family reactions to a young person’s LGBT identity to engaging families in promoting their LGBT children’s well-being, requires a substantial shift on the part of both mainstream and LGBT providers, health systems and community programs.”

Commenting on the new study, Dr Sten Vermund, Chair of Global Health at Vanderbilt University, said:

“In today’s often hostile climate for LGBT youth, it is especially important to note that both mental health issues like depression and suicide and HIV risk behaviours were greatly increased by rejection.

“Given the ongoing HIV epidemic in America, in which half of all new cases of HIV are found in men who have sex with men and there is growing concern about prevention messages reaching young people, it is vital that we share these findings with parents and service providers who work with youth in every way.

“When put to practical, day-to-day use and shared with families and those who serve LGBT youth, these findings will lead to healthier, more supportive family dynamics and better lives for LGBT young people.”