Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gay Children: Treating their families as allies not enemies

An article today at the website, 365gay (, makes an important point: “When families reject their lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) adolescents by telling them the way they act is shameful, excluding them from family activities, or similar behaviors, the young people are more likely to have health and mental health problems in early adulthood.” This point has now been quantified in a paper published this month in the journal “Pediatrics” by Dr. Caitlin Ryan and her team at the César E. Chávez Institute of San Francisco State University. They report that LGB 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, compared with peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. The study was based on a survey of white and Latino young adults, ages 21-25, recruited from diverse venues in and around San Francisco.

Carolyn Laub, executive director of California’s Gay-Straight Alliance Network, explained why Ryan’s research breaks new ground. “For too long, we’ve served LGBT youth without involving their parents, often because we have feared the parents would reject their child. But to insure that LGBT youth develop into healthy adults, we need to involve parents, teaching them how their acceptance of their child impacts their health outcomes,” she said. She added, “Caitlin Ryan’s research changes the paradigm for how we think about serving LGBT youth in the context of their families, and will have a profound impact on the safety and health of LGBT youth. These findings need to be shared with everyone who works with youth and their families.”

This, of course, includes churches: their members and their clergy. For too long churches have acted as if sex doesn’t exist, and if it does exist, it’s bad, at least until heterosexual marriage. Church people must begin to talk about sex with each other, including sex practiced by the sexual minorities in their midst. This means that sermons should discuss sex and that discussion groups should work with sexual issues. As the 365 gay article points out, “Dr. Ryan realized early on that the very process of being interviewed was therapeutic for the families, very few of whom had ever talked about having LGBT children before. Even parents who were rejecting of their LGBT children and reluctant to participate would end up talking for hours. After completing the research, she also went back to the families that had participated in the qualitative study, as well as families from other ethnic groups, to share the findings. “We were having a dramatic impact on their behavior,” Ryan observed. “For the very first time, they could see how their specific words, actions, and behaviors were affecting their LGBT child.”

So the lesson for churches is clear: Recognize that LGBT people are in your congregations; talk to them; let them talk with the people of the congregations. Maybe together as we talk, we’ll hear the Gospel.

1 comment:

Franklyn said...

The results of this research are not unexpected. What is suprising is the ease with which these parents spoke to the researcher. Christians have great difficulty talking about sex, much less gay sex. Perhaps being in San Francisco has something to do with it. Until Christians relax a little about talking about sex (and other normal human functions) they will continue to damage their children as well as themselves.