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Lesbian/Gay/Bi Teens Punished More

Study Shows LGB Teens, Particularly Girls, Punished More for Same Behavior as Straight Teens

Lesbian/Gay/Bi Health and Family Acceptance

For nearly a decade, Ryan's Family Acceptance Project has been conducting extensive interviews with the entire families of ethnically diverse LGB youth and their families. They identified more than 100 ways in which families express acceptance or rejection of an LGB family member.

Regardless of how it is expressed, family acceptance and rejection each have powerful effects on an LGB youth's health.

"In our [2009] paper we looked at specific rejecting behaviors and got dramatic findings," Ryan says. "With high family rejection the teens were more than eight times more likely to try suicide, six times more likely to be depressed, and more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs or to put themselves at risk of HIV infection."

But rejection isn't a family's only reaction to an LGB teen. In a new study, Ryan and colleagues find that family acceptance during the teen years protects LGB youth against suicide, depression, and substance abuse and gives youths' significantly higher levels of self-esteem, social support, and general health.

Perhaps the best news is that supportive families don't always start out that way. Even families initially hostile to homosexuality due to religious beliefs or prejudice can become supportive of their LGB loved ones.

"The moral is that families can grow and change and can support LGB youth and can integrate this with their faith," Ryan says. "We work with families of all traditions. Underneath all these attitudes toward nonconforming sexual identity, they love their children and want them to have a good life. Our aim is not to make them do anything against their beliefs, but to do things for their family to protect their child's health."

In consultation with the families they studied, the Family Acceptance Project has developed educational brochures, videos, and other materials for other families. These materials are freely available at the familyproject.sfsu.edu web site.

The Himmelstein study appears in the January 2011 issue of Pediatrics. The Ryan study appears in the November issue of the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing.

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