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Learning to Support LGBT Children’s Mental Health & Well-Being: The Family Acceptance Project

Posted: May 07, 2012

While there are a range of support services for LGBT youth, few services have focused on the role or needs of families of LGBT adolescents, particularly families that are Spanish-speaking. This prompted Dr. Caitlin Ryan and Dr. Rafael Diaz to start the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) in 2002—the first research, education, family intervention and policy project to help ethnically and religiously diverse families support their LGBT children. FAP is affiliated with San Francisco State University. Their team has conducted the first in-depth research on what happens in Latino families when LGBT young people come out during adolescence. 

This research, conducted in English and Spanish with LGBT youth, young adults and families, identified more than 100 ways that families express acceptance and rejection of their LGBT children. This includes rejecting behaviors such as telling an adolescent that they shame the family or not letting the youth talk about their LGBT identity. It also includes accepting or supportive behaviors such as expressing affection, advocating for a gay or transgender youth when they are discriminated against by others or helping an LGBT youth get accurate information about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

For the first time research shows that families and caregivers have a dramatic and compelling impact on their LGBT children’s physical health, mental health and well-being. It was found that LGBT young people whose parents and caregivers reject them report high rates of depression, substance abuse, suicide attempts and risk for HIV infection. It was also discovered that LGBT young people whose parents support them show much higher rates of self-esteem and greater well-being, with better overall health and lower rates of health and mental health problems. 

Using this research, the FAP team has been working with Latino and other families with LGBT children for the past decade to develop a new family model to help families support their LGBT children. This new approach shows ethnically and religiously diverse families how to reduce their gay or transgender children’s risk for mental health problems and how to promote their well-being by engaging in supportive behaviors. By empowering Latino and other families with this new info, FAP has been able to show that parents and caregivers can learn to support their LGBT children once they learn how their reactions affect their LGBT children. This approach helps increase family support for young people with underlying mental health concerns. It also prevents homelessness and placement in foster care and juvenile justice programs that include high rates of LGBT out-of-home youth.

Read more on the National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Read more about the Family Acceptance Project. Download the Supportive Families, Healthy Children Booklet in English | Spanish | Chinese.

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