Family Acceptance Project earns "best practice" distinction

Caitlin Ryan and her colleagues at SF State's Family Acceptance Project (FAP) have spent more than a decade conducting groundbreaking research on how family support -- or the lack thereof -- can affect gay and transgender youth. Now, one of the results of that work has been designated a "best practice" resource for preventing suicide among LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) children, youth and young adults.

Cover/opening page of the educational booklet FAP's educational booklet, "Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children," received the designation from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The two groups jointly coordinate the peer-reviewed national Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention. Resources in the registry must address the specific aims of the national suicide prevention plan and meet objective criteria based on accuracy, safety, likelihood of meeting prevention objectives and adherence to prevention guidelines.

The best practices designation is a validation of FAP's research and culturally grounded approach, said Ryan, FAP's director.

"For families and communities that are struggling with balancing deeply held values and beliefs with how to support LGBT youth and how to reduce their risk, this is another assurance that our work is high quality and seen as an important resource to help them," she said.

The booklets, published in 2009, are based on years of research by FAP into what happens when LGBT youth from different backgrounds come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to their families. FAP identified 106 specific positive and negative reactions and documented how each one affected the youth's well-being and risk for suicide and other health problems. Many of these actions are outlined in the booklets, which are aimed at helping ethnically and religiously diverse families understand how their reactions to their children's LGBT identity can contribute to or protect against these risks. Supportive behaviors include talking with an adolescent about his or her LGBT identity or welcoming LGBT friends and partners into the home, while negative behaviors include physical and verbal abuse and blocking access to LGBT friends, events and resources.

FAP will begin publishing versions of the booklet for faith-based audiences this summer and is developing versions at third- and fifth-grade reading levels to reach those with lower literacy levels. The goal is to educate families about the outcomes of varying levels of acceptance while respecting cultural and religious sensitivities.

"We meet families where they are. And we can show now with our research that family reactions have consequences,” Ryan said. "It's revolutionary to have an approach to educating, informing and guiding parents and families that's based on research, not opinion."

One key finding is that a little acceptance can go a long way toward preventing risky behavior. LGBT youth who experienced high levels of rejection from their families were eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those who experienced low levels of rejection, but youth who experienced moderate levels of rejection were only twice as likely to try to take their own life. Similar trends played out when examining rates of illegal drug use and risks of HIV infection.

More than 100,000 copies of the booklets have been sent throughout California, the U.S. and other countries to schools, health care providers, clergy, parents and families and others. Ryan says the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

"At a critical time in history when people are searching for answers, we have an answer," she said. "We have a solution that is evidence-based and supports LGBT youth in the context of families, culture and faith traditions."

To learn more about the Family Acceptance Project and to download "Supportive Families, Healthy Children," visit http://familyproject.sfsu.edu.

--Jonathan Morales