A report to be published in this month’s American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal established for the first time the effect of family rejection on LGBT youth health.
“Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes,” authored by Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at the Cesar A. Chavez Institute at San Francisco State University, found that LGB youth whose families are not accepting of their sexuality are at a much higher risk for health complications.
“For the first time, research has established a predictive link between specific, negative family reactions to their child’s sexual orientation and serious health problems for these adolescents in young adulthood,” Ryan said.
The study analyzed 224 white and Latino males and females, ages 21-25, who were recruited from LGBT-service organizations in California.
The young adults completed surveys — which were compiled from previous interviews with LGBT youth and their families — and researchers assessed their health based on nine indicators, such as mental health and sexual risk.
The study found that LGB individuals who experienced higher levels of familial rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide than LGB people who came from accepting families. Such individuals were also 5.9 times more likely to report higher levels of depression; 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs; and 3.9 times more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
The participants who faced greater family rejection scored higher in all nine health categories except for their rate of heavy drinking and sexually transmitted disease diagnoses.
“Because families play such a critical role in child and adolescent development, it is not surprising that adverse, punitive and traumatic reactions from parents and caregivers in response to their children’s LGB identity would have such a negative influence on their risk behaviors and health status as young adults,” the report stated.
In terms of demographics, Latino males reported the highest level of familial rejection and similarly the highest level of negative health outcomes. A little more than 58 percent of Latino males surveyed exhibited symptoms of current depression, while only 43.3 percent of the entire sample population showed signs of depression. Latino males also topped every other health risk, besides illicit substance use in the previous six months; about 63.5 percent of white females reported having used such substances, compared with 62.9 percent of Latino females, 47.3 percent of white males and 43.6 percent of Latino males.
Both white and Latino males were more likely than females to engage in risky sexual behavior. In the previous six months, 45.2 percent of Latino males and 40.4 percent of white males had unprotected sex with a casual partner, while 14.5 percent of Latino females and 7.3 percent of white females reported the same.
Ryan noted that this study and others the Family Acceptance Project is looking to launch will help to raise awareness about the issues that LGBT youth face and the importance of supportive and accepting family environments.
“The new body of research we are generating will help develop resources, tools and interventions to strengthen families, prevent homelessness, reduce the proportion of youth in foster care and significantly improve the lives of LGBT young people and their families.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].