Caitlin Ryan to receive APA honor

Caitlin Ryan, founder and director of SF State's nationally acclaimed Family Acceptance Project, will be honored May 21 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for her major contributions to the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

A photo of Caitlin Ryan, founder and director of the Family Acceptance Project.

Caitlin Ryan, founder and director of the Family Acceptance Project, will receive the American Psychiatric Association's John E. Fryer Award for her major contributions to the mental health and well-being of LGBT individuals.

Ryan will receive the John E. Fryer Award, named for a gay psychiatrist who played a crucial role in prompting the APA to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, at the association's annual meeting. The award is presented in conjunction with the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists.

The Family Acceptance Project, which Ryan developed in 2002, is the first initiative in the country to study the effects of acceptance and rejection on LGBT adolescents. Its research has shown a clear link between family rejection of LGBT adolescents and health problems in early adulthood, and between family acceptance and well-being. These health problems include depression, illegal drug use, sexually transmitted diseases and suicidal behavior. In 2012, its educational booklet, "Supportive Families, Healthy Children," was designated the first "best practice" resource for preventing suicide among LGBT children, youth and young adults by the national Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention. Ryan and her team have also been developing the first evidence-based family support model to teach providers across all systems of care including schools, primary care, foster care and juvenile justice systems how to help ethnically and religiously diverse families to support their LGBT children.

"I'm honored to receive this recognition from the APA," Ryan said. "Using our research and intervention work to help diverse families support their LGBT children and to decrease risk for serious health problems like suicide, HIV and homelessness has been the most compelling work I've ever done."

Ryan's work with the Family Acceptance Project has also been recognized by such major mental health professional organizations as the American Counseling Association's Counselors for Social Justice division, the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychological Association's Division 44, which awarded her the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award.

The Family Acceptance Project last year published the first faith-based version of "Supportive Families, Healthy Children," targeted toward families in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with LGBT children. That booklet is downloaded an average of once every five minutes, Ryan said. The project is developing materials for Jewish, Catholic and evangelical Christian families and African American clergy members, as well as for families with little formal education and families for whom English is not a first language.

"One of the most exciting things we are doing is our faith-based work," Ryan said. "People in conservative faith traditions have been moved by our approach and how respectful we are toward religious beliefs. We have been very successful in helping religious families support their LGBT children."

Later this year, Ryan and her colleagues will travel to Peru to work with government agencies and to speak at a conference sponsored by Associacion Internacional de Familias por la Diversidad Sexual, an organization that promotes the safety and health of LGBT individuals in Latin America.

To learn more about the Family Acceptance Project, visit

-- Jonathan Morales