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“With a targeted strategy, and a lot of attention, we can build a child welfare system that addresses the needs of the LGBTQ population,” said Bryan Samuels at a CAP event February 7 on the importance of family support of LGBT youth. Samuels, commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, was joined on a panel by Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, or FAP, and Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Jeff Krehely, CAP’s Director of LGBT Research and Communications, gave welcoming remarks. Immediately following, David Hansell, the assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families, spoke about the role of government in ensuring acceptance and equality for LGBT youth.
A series of highly publicized suicides by LGBT youth last fall punctuated the need to address bullying in schools, a problem endemic in communities across the country. “Ostracism is one of the worst thing kids can experience,” Hansell said in his remarks. “It eats away at their self-esteem, and they become less able to resist bullying. And that’s why there is a coordinated effort going on across government to try to prevent the coercive effects of bullying, and to imbue young people with the self-confidence to stand up against those who try to intimidate them.” Evidence of the government’s resolve can be found in the Affordable Care Act, which makes it easier for LGBT individuals and same-sex couples to access healthcare, as well as in efforts to make adoption viable for same-sex couples, Hansell argued.
For many LGBT youth, bullying doesn’t stop in the schoolyard. These youth find themselves equally vulnerable to humiliation, intolerance, and even violence in the one space that at the very least ought to offer refuge: the home.
No one denies the horrible effects that bullying from peers can have on the mental health and self-esteem of young people, but recent research conducted by FAP suggests that the effects of intolerance in the home may be even worse.
Typically, Dr. Ryan explained, families are removed from the care equation: “The inclination is not to engage the family, but automatically to exclude the family because families are seen as unsupportive at best and volatile or potentially dangerous at worst.” The work of FAP, however, offers a new framework for family engagement and looks to ways in which families can be educated about the consequences of rejecting their child.
Indeed, FAP research demonstrates the alarming consequences of family intolerance of LGBT youth. Dr. Ryan stated that, for instance, HIV incidence increases drastically with higher family intolerance levels: “LGBT young people who experience a high level of family rejection … during adolescence are more than three-and-a-half times more likely to be at high risk for HIV infection as a young adult. That risk is about cut in half for families that express moderate levels of rejection.”
The research found similar trends with respect to depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and suicidality. In each of those categories, LGBT youth who experienced high levels of rejection were considerably more prone to self-destructive behavior. Engaging family in the discussion, and educating them about the consequences of rejecting their child, is therefore paramount to ensuring the mental and physical well being of LGBT children.
On the panel discussion, both Minter and Samuels stressed that Dr. Ryan’s research should inform policy decisions regarding LGBT youth.
“If we really want to address the problems facing LGBT youth, we also need resources and policies that are focused on keeping these young people in their families [and] in their communities. … that’s the way we’re going truly protect future generations,” Minter stated.
He continued, “I think the most hopeful and inspiring aspect of Dr. Ryan’s research, to me, is that they’ve developed family intervention programs that really work, and that have shown us that the goal is eminently achievable.”
More funding for research efforts such as those undertaken by FAP and the increased availability of materials and programs to educate families about the importance of accepting LGBT children can help make substantial improvements in the lives of LGBT children across the country.
Those interested in learning more about FAP’s findings can access their research here.
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