Family support key to LGBT youths' well-being

LGBT children and adolescents may have a variety of supports, including friends or community groups, but the support of their family is most important to contribute to their well-being as young adults, according to a new study from SF State's Family Acceptance Project published this month.

Caitlin Ryan, founder and director of the Family Acceptance Project

Caitlin Ryan, founder and director of the Family Acceptance Project

While other support networks play a role in contributing to  positive life satisfaction, self-esteem and a sense of self-worth for LGBT young people, having supportive parents and families has the biggest impact, said Family Acceptance Project Founder and Director Caitlin Ryan.

"For a long time, the assumption has been that families would reject their LGBT children and be unable to learn how to support them, and as a result, the focus has been on turning to peer and community networks to provide primary support for LGBT children and adolescents," Ryan said. "Our research, however, highlights how critically important it is to ensure that families are engaged with supporting their LGBT children."

The study was published in the July issue of the journal Family Relations.

Previous research from the Family Acceptance Project has shown that when families reject their LGBT children, those children are at greater risk for negative health problems such as illegal drug use, HIV/AIDS and suicide. Moreover, their research also found that family acceptance helps protect against suicidal behavior, depression and substance abuse and helps promote well-being. But there had been little study into the relationships between various forms of support networks and LGBT youths' well being.

To assess those relationships, Ryan and her colleagues surveyed 245 Latino and non-Latino white LGBT young adults ages 21 to 25. They found that those who were open about being LGBT reported feeling more positively about their life and LGBT identity, and that these feelings were strongest among those whose family members were accepting of them.

"These findings underscore the need for the research-based family intervention and support model and multicultural family education materials and videos we have developed to train providers and clergy and to help families learn to support their LGBT children," Ryan said.

The Family Acceptance Project has, for the past 10 years, been developing research-based resources to help ethnically and religiously diverse families to accept and support LGBT youth. The project's educational multilingual booklet, "Supportive Families, Healthy Children," has been designated a "best practice" resource for preventing suicide among LGBT children, youth and young adults by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

For more information about the Family Acceptance Project, visit

-- Jonathan Morales