When a study came
out last week noting that gay children rejected by
their parents have higher rates of suicide, depression,
risky sex, and drug use than those embraced by their
family, the collective response was, "Well,
But the study,
conducted by San Francisco State University researchers,
says and does a lot more than people may realize, says
Caitlin Ryan, principal investigator on the study and
director of SFSU's Family Acceptance Project.
[the results] do come as a surprise," Ryan says.
"We can assume family rejection would
contribute to health problems and distress in your
life, but before this study no one identified the specific
behaviors that parents and caregivers express acceptance or
rejection and measured them in young people."
previously studying this subject asked gay children
whether their parents were simply accepting or not, Ryan
says her study -- to be published in the January issue
of Pediatrics in an article titled
"Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health
Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Young
Adults" -- digs deeper.
identified 108 behaviors that parents and caregivers use to
express acceptance or rejection," Ryan says.
"For example, when you exclude [gay] kids from
family activities, their odds of attempting suicide are nine
results came after interviewing 53 California parents with
gay teenagers to identify those 108 behaviors that
could be considered "accepting" or
"rejecting." Hiding a child from another
relative, criticizing a gay child for their
gender-nonconforming appearance, or blaming a child
for being bullied were considered "rejecting"
Next, 224 white
and Latino gay people in their early to mid 20s were
asked which of the behaviors they experienced in their
adolescence and how they now dealt with depression,
suicidal feelings, and drug use. It was found that
parents who took baby steps toward acceptance -- such
as ending pressure for gay kids to date opposite-sex
peers -- can make huge differences in the future
mental health of their children.
Ryan hopes the
research will be used by school counselors and
pediatricians to demonstrate how everything they do has an
effect on their children.
"I have a
matching grant to develop interventions with ethnically
diverse families to decrease rejection and increase
support for their LGBT kids," she says.
parents exhibited "rejecting" behaviors in the
study, Ryan was hesitant to criticize them.
very common behaviors that parents do out of habit, or
behaviors they think will help their children, like
expressing disappointment and shame," Ryan
says. "Parents are not their behaviors; at
their base they love their children and want the best for