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Study Links Gay Teens' Parental Rejection to Future Health Risks

Parents who reject their lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) teens may increase the odds that their offspring will experience depression, engage in risky sexual practices and even attempt suicide according to a study published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers led by Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at the Cesar E. Chavez Institute at San Francisco State University, asked 224 LGB young adults (ages 21 to 25) whether they'd experienced any of 106 treatments (51 of them defined as "rejecting," the others as "accepting") from their parents.

Those who reported that they'd experienced high levels of family rejection as adolescents were 8.4 times more likely to say they'd attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to say they'd suffered depression, 3.4 times more likely to say they'd used illegal drugs and 3.4 times more likely to say they'd engaged in unprotected sex.

Ryan says this is the first study to establish such links, which she repeatedly notes don't constitute a cause-and-effect relationship. Instead, the study identifies specific parental reactions to kids' sexual identities that are strongly predictive of negative health behaviors in those kids' young adulthood.

Behaviors that LGB teens perceived as expressions of rejection of their LGB identity included everything from trying to change that identity to refusing to sit on the same church pew with their child. Ryan says much of what the teens saw as rejection was likely borne of parents' care and concern. "They want to protect their children, help them fit in, help them live a good life," she says.

In discussing the study's findings during "briefings" with families, Ryan observed that "Once the parents saw that these behaviors were viewed by their children as rejecting and that they directly increased the risk of suicide" and other negative outcomes, "they were shocked. People around them had told them these behaviors would help their child. Many parents were very distress at the high level of attempted suicide" in particular, she notes.

Ryan and her fellow researchers are using their findings to develop means of counseling families of LGB children and teens, helping them identify ways of interacting with those children that are likely to promote healthful behaviors. Allowing LGB children access to LGB friends and partners, allowing those friends and partners into the family home, and permitting access to information and resources about LGB status are viewed by LGB teens as supportive, Ryan explains.

"Many of the parents' behaviors are shame-based," Ryan explains. "They think they're teaching their kids a lesson." Many parents base their actions on inaccurate information from friends and family, and even from physicians, many of whom aren't adequately trained in dealing with LGB children.

And many are just at a loss, Ryan adds. "They have this adolescent who is very sad, very depressed," she says, "and they remember that he once was a happy little boy."

Have your own parents' reaction to your sexual identity steered you toward unhealthy behaviors? Or the other way around? Please share your stories.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  December 29, 2008; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health  
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Perhaps instead of blaming the parents, blame the weak-minded gays who are apparently strong-willed enough to live as gay people, but not strong enough to live like that without their mommy and daddy telling them its alright...

Give me a break and stop citing studies sponsored from sympathetic homosexual institutions if you expect readers to actually believe or care about the statistic.

Posted by: indep2 | December 29, 2008 10:58 AM | Report abuse

indep2, I'll see your anger and raise you a curse. I hope you experience what it's like to belittle your child and see him grow up to hate you.

To all of you who read this: Treat your child with love, or else.

Posted by: jcovey | December 29, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

"Perhaps instead of blaming the parents, blame the weak-minded gays who are apparently strong-willed enough to live as gay people, but not strong enough to live like that without their mommy and daddy telling them its alright..."

Spoken like a true Christian.

Posted by: cgzcci | December 29, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Sorry jcovey and cgzcci.... I harbor no ill will towards gays... Just dont try and blame something on parents when its not their fault someone cannot deal with their lives.

But I guess I am not a fan of the nanny state and think that everyone is responsible for their own life... regardless of how your mommy or daddy treated you.

Grow up already and take responsibility for your lives instead of looking to blame someone..

Posted by: indep2 | December 29, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

"Perhaps instead of blaming the parents, blame the weak-minded gays who are apparently strong-willed enough to live as gay people, but not strong enough to live like that without their mommy and daddy telling them its alright..."
Wow -- talk about kicking a kid when he (or she!) is down... Kids frequently take parents to places they may not want to go. That's why parental love has to be unconditional. Thank God for parents who can offer that kind of love!

Posted by: JefffromMinneapolis | December 29, 2008 11:40 AM | Report abuse

"Thank God for parents who can offer that kind of love!"
And my point was that if they don't, I would hope that the rejected child sucks it up and takes responsibility for themselves just like every other productive person I know that was rejected in one form or another growing up...

Everyone has sob stories, not just gay people you know....

If rejects are looking for sympathy, hire a violinist to play them a tune while the world continues to turn without them...

Posted by: indep2 | December 29, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Hopefully Obama will come up with a health plan as part of the stimulus that treats the root cause of gayness. He has shown great promise in this area with his selection of Rev Warren and his fans clearly get the picture as seen in prop 8's defeat

Posted by: georgejones5 | December 29, 2008 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Interestingly enough, a competent therapist with training in clinical psych is almost certain to agree with indep2. The first thing a therapist would do to help a client with "mommy and daddy issues" to understand is that "mommy and daddy" will *never* approve of them, no matter what they do. Then they'd help them to thrive in spite of that, and part of thriving involves learning how to take responsibility for one's own life, and one's own actions, and the course of one's own life and not to constantly rely on or be seeking parental approval that isn't coming, ever. Which seems to be what indep2 is suggesting.

However, indep2's contention that a child should just "suck it up" flies in the face of what is understood about developmental psychology. Children need their parents' approval; it's one of the things that makes them children. Some people who can't get it *are* able to learn on their own that they'll never get it, and to take responsibility for themselves on their own. Some people aren't. It's not weakness; different people are different in how they react to and handle such things.

Posted by: dibee | December 29, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Interesting, dibee. I'd thought indep2 was suggesting that he/she is a twit who is promoting homophobia under the guise of independence and tough-mindedness. I guess you learn something new every day.

Posted by: dcd1 | December 29, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

indep2, I dont know if your post is a joke, serious or just plain stupid!

Here is the problem that gay people face growing up:
The nuclear family, which is supposed to be your safe haven is suddenly disposing of you like used garbage. Extended family follows suit.

You go to school, where you don't have any frame of reference. Nobody to talk to when you have a crush on someone, nobody to tell you about having proper safe sex and what to expect of the world as a gay man/woman, etc. Being gay is an uphill battle and having the support of your family can be very tough on someone, and understandibly so.

For you to say just suck it up shows how backwards your thinking is and how perhaps you too had bad parents.

The bottom line is that it is the PARENTS RESPONSIBILITY to provide UNCONDITIONAL support to their children and help them integrate themselves in a useful, productive and healthy way to society. They decided to have children and therefore must be held responsible for their physical and emotional well-being. It is very very irresponsible for parents to turn their back on their children when they don't agree with something they do.

For anyone to say these teens to "suck it up" is just ignorant and makes me wonder if they were ever teenagers. "Sucking it up" and moving on takes a great deal of strength that only comes with being a confident well-raised person.

Parents that disown their children (gay or not) should be held criminally responsible if something should happen to them, such as suicide. In this day and age there are a lot of resources to help parents learn to help their kids adjust to the world.

Posted by: truji999 | December 29, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Hey truji999...I'm not being deliberately difficult, or trolling or being silly. And I agree with you, absolutely and 100% that it takes tremendous strength, and time to move on, and that it cannot be done at the snap of one's fingers. But I'm curious as to why you think the only way to have that strength is to be raised with it. My personal opinion is that that strength can be developed.

To dcd1: I agree that indep2 seems to have some issue with gayness, and also with independence. But don't automatically decide he/she is a twit; you don't know that.

Posted by: dibee | December 29, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

You see indep2 (and all others who think like this creature), you fail to understand that society has no resource for gay teens. As a gay teen you are already growing up hearing the stigma that gays will rot in hell and that they are deviants. They can't ever aspire to a normal life. This can be pretty stressful to a child that knows that he or she is gay. This is why prop 8 is so hurtful to gays everywhere. Besides the obvious, it sends a message to everyone that gay is bad and not "normal". Even if you live an otherwise "normal" life (as in WORK and PAYING TAXES) and aspire to create a family of your own, you are growing up knowing you will face a life of being cast aside by your family and society. A heterosexual teen has plenty of support and most definitely doesn't have to worry about not being able to marry and form a family with someone they love. I guess its easy for heterosexuals to just brush it off as teenage "drama". Well, no, it is not. Coming to terms with being gay is a very difficult thing, especially for a teen. Depending on your family the coming out process may require alienating yourself from everyone you know (you have no other choice most of the time. Its a lot to think about for a 16-17 year old. This is why so many men and women go on to lead double lives, because this is the only way to keep the family they love.

That, I am sorry indep2, is not at all some sob story. Most gays end up "sucking it up" by moving to the big city where they can form some sort of normality and surround themselves with people like them. But not all can do this. It makes me really sad that people comment on these pages without the slightest clue of what being gay in America is all about.

Posted by: truji999 | December 29, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

truji999: Fair enough; you make some points that I hadn't considered. I *was* tossed aside like used Kleenex by my family at a young age, however there were a lot of resources that were helpful. (FWIW, I dealt with the whole "going to hell" thing, the whole "you'll never be right/normal" thing, and all that, coming to terms with my own identity). I was lucky in a way, because of those resources. I have never before wondered if perhaps there should be public resources for gay teens in the same way there are for teens with behavioral or emotional problems, or foster kids, or what have you. (Also FWIW, being a gay foster kid was, from what I saw, but not experienced, a living nightmare).
Hmmmm...I have to think about that. I'm interested in this discussion because activism in the area of public resources interests me but I don't like what I perceive to be the militant stance you often find among activists of all stripes--gay, straight, republican, democrat, black, white, female, male, so on and so forth. I understand where what I perceive to be the militance comes from (do I ever!) but I think if the goal of activism, any activism is to achieve a political objective, then militance is probably not the best means to that end.

Posted by: dibee | December 29, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

dibee, I don't think that the only way to have strength is to be raised with it. Trust me, if that was the case, I would be in so much trouble right now. Yes, of course you can find strength on your own, its called survival instinct, but that is not how you raise the average teenager in this country. You don't give your child all these things growing up and then just take it all away because they are gay or whatever reason you chose. That is irresponsible. When you make the decision to have a child you must know that anything may happen and it is your responsibility to be there to help and support the child YOU brought into the world. You can't return them or throw them away as if they are rotten or something. If you don't want a nanny state then take care of your own children! And by take care I mean get to know them and protect and nurture them, not just feed them until they are old enough to feed themselves.

And I am sorry, indep2 IS a twit, don't try to defend him. Only a real idiot would just say "suck it up" to a child. Teenagers are not really equipped with the ability to deal with parental rejection or anything of emotional depth. This is why we don't let them drink until they are 21, at least that is the excuse. that is why we call them minors until they are 18.

Posted by: truji999 | December 29, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

dibee, thank for considering my points. I think people dont really understand what the day to day of gay people really is about. Even in the most "liberal" cities. I live in los angeles with my boyfriend and I have been yelled profanities when I am walking with my man to the car with groceries in my hand, or given the meanest stares at the mall. heterosexuals dont have to think twice before holding their partners hands on the street or giving them a hug or a kiss. People think they have the right to just come up to you and tell you that you are going to hell or what not. Even in west hollywood or san francisco you get yelled at by drunk people passing by. Prop 8 fuels this sense of entitlement that some people have against gays and you wills ee that violence against gays will continue to rise because people feel that prop 8 supports their bigoted beliefs and that we are indeed second class citizens worthy of nothing but mistreatment.

I have always been of the belief that there aren't enough resources for gay teenagers out there. The first resource, family, is usually not there or even if it is, they are really not equipped to handle the questions of a gay teenager. Inner america society does not seek to address this, rather, it bans or seeks to dissolve any effort to help this group.

Posted by: truji999 | December 29, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

I had a friend who had been in similar situations as me for similar reasons who used to say that there should be licensing exams before you can be a parent, because some people are just bad at it. But the only point I was making to indep2, and where I feel he *does* have a point is that if your parents aren't going to give you the approval you need, then you kind of have to root hog or die on your own, as a practical matter in the real world. Do I *like* that? Of course not. See my comments about licensing exams. And I understand that it is true and why it is true that can't do it, and they die, not always completely on their own hook, of their own volition.

I do believe thought that more people could root instead of dying. I understand that I'm taking indep2's comment in a way that he didn't mean it, but I rarely see the point brought up that sometimes it is possible to root instead of dying, if the person wants to badly enough, and is willing to do what it takes to do that, none of which is easy. At least that's how I view it.

Posted by: dibee | December 29, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse you have any training in law? I have some knowledge although I *definetely* am not a lawyer. Laws get made for political reasons, not so much moral ones. That's another reason that activism interests me.

Do you remember when Spitzer got busted? I remember one of the prostitutes they interviewed, I think it was the NY Daily News or the NY Post said that they knew when they heard about it that "Client #9" had to be Democrat, because if he'd been a Republican, the prostitute would have been a man. Laws get made for all kinds of reasons, and public resources that could pay for programs for gay teens (or anyone else who might need a leg up, as everyone eventually does) get allocated for all kinds of reasons.

Posted by: dibee | December 29, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

For those of you who prefer an example on the Democratic side of laws that get made for political reasons, the Democrats view immigration issues as a political issue, far more than they do a personal or moral or patriotic or legal one. That's why they call them "politicians". The point of view of a politician is that all issues are political issues. They practice politics. Look up the definition of politics. If the art were "doing what's right by everybody" they'd call it that. Thank God they don't. It's a rare politician these days or indeed ever who has personal moral convictions and acts on them. I respect Billy Graham (who is not a politician) even though I disagree with him. Reason: He has the courage of his convictions. He doesn't just talk about being Christian, he lives that way.

Posted by: dibee | December 29, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Colleges love funding their studies. To bad there all useless or only tell us what we already know. Maybe they should get back to doing what there suppose to. TEACHING.

Posted by: askgees | December 29, 2008 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps indep2 ought to suck it up and avoid getting information from gay-friendly media outlets such as the Washington Post. The Dallas Morning News might be more palatable to indep2's tastes and worldview.

Posted by: jlandmcclure | December 29, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

"Perhaps instead of blaming the parents, blame the weak-minded gays who are apparently strong-willed enough to live as gay people, but not strong enough to live like that without their mommy and daddy telling them its alright...

Give me a break and stop citing studies sponsored from sympathetic homosexual institutions if you expect readers to actually believe or care about the statistic."
dibee, my friend, lets see where this idiot makes a point. Look at the first paragraph. Apparently this jerk thinks that you just wake up some day and chose to be gay like you would chose to wear a white shrit or a gray shirt to school that day. Strong-willed enough to be gay? I guess we can just not be gay and marry and have children. I am sorry but whatever this dumb @ss says after that is completely irrelevant. He clearly does not seek to understand the issue but rather dismiss it like some teenage rant. But just for giggles, lets look at the second paragraph. Studies sponsoredby sympathetic homosexual institutions, he says. Do I even need to respond to this? This just exemplifies one of the many things we have going against us. Somehow when science is used to explain the emotional reckage we are put through we still don't get any slack cut. This is really wha the "majority" thinks. They think that we gays are just supposed to run away and "suck up" all the mistreatment we might get from people. To some people. what mommy and daddy think is very important, mostly because most of them had lived their lives based on mommy and daddies approval.

This is the kind of thinking that lets Dan White assasinate harvey milk and get away with the minimum charge (that, and eating too much junk food the night before).

Posted by: truji999 | December 29, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Dan White did not use the "twinkie defense". There is no "twinkie defense". What actually happened was that Dan White became psychotically depressed, shot Harvey Milk, and went to trial, was found guilty--and during the sentencing phase, his defense lawyer (correctly) used the fact that previously he had been someone who was very into fitness, very proud of his physical abilities and physical health, and now he was eating a diet of twinkies and junk food, as evidence of his depression ("diminished capacity"). Interestingly, there are no longer diminished capacity laws in California, largely because of the White case. But the so-called Twinkie defense is an urban myth, changed in the retelling by being stripped of the legal nuances.

And yes, the minimum sentence happened because the judge didn't like gays and didn't like Harvey Milk.

I'm sorry; I simply don't agree with you that because one part of something someone says is wrong, or silly, that all of it is.

This is exactly what I am talking about. Activism needs to be done rationally and logically. You cannot rally people to your side by spreading propaganda or fictions such as the "twinkie defense" when the truth is much more highly nuanced. You might get people on your side, but how long will they stay there? Just a thought.

And no, I do not condone homophobia, or the shooting of Harvey Milk, or any of that kind of hatred of other people based on rage--be it Democrats hating Republicans, vice versa, straights hating gays, gays raging at straights. The world is a big place, no? And a very small one...I do not believe that Dan White had a right to shoot Harvey Milk, I do not believe that he should have gotten the minimum sentence, but, I'm not certain that from a logistics of activism standpoint, gays have handled things in the best way they can. Without opening another can of worms, look for a moment dispassionately at how Obama became President. The Repubs tried everything they knew to turn him into the stereotypical angry black man. He won because he didn't bite, he didn't take the bait. He acheived his ultimate goal, which is what I think (and what I thought activists thought) matters.

Posted by: dibee | December 29, 2008 6:14 PM | Report abuse

I understand the whole twinkie defense thing, it was meant for more of a joke. I understand and applaud your view of activism, but let's be honest. I feel that you view the whole gay movement as some kind of angry movement. Gays have been very passive with their pursuit of equality. We have been murdered maliciously, condemened to hell, kicked out of our homes and towns, you get the picture. Most recently, the right to marry was taken from us right after we got it. Sorry if we start showing a little teeth.

I do feel that gays lack the organization that would make their statement a bit louder and with broader impact but we are still at the bottom of society when it comes to rights and it seems as soon as we a foot up we get knocked down again. And I am sorry but the proponents of prop 8 did use plenty of propaganda and blatant lies (i.e children safety church losing tax exemptions) to instill fear in people and rally them to their side. Twinkie defense is nothing compared to the other bull prop 8 put on us.

I for one couldn't care less if anyone accepts me or tolerates me, and the sooner people realized that is not their business to decide what 2 hard-working law abiding citizens do with their private life the sooner we can get ALL our rights and move on with our lives. I don't see why we should be convincing anyone to let us do something that we are very much entitled to.

This whole sense that we can only have full rights until we convince the majority to vote on our behalf is ludicrous.

Posted by: truji999 | December 29, 2008 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't there supposed to be an attempt to get Prop 8 invalidated by the courts? The original decision "giving" y'all the right to marry (and I agree with you from a moral and spiritual perspective: You've always had it) was based on the fact that disallowing that right violated Equal Protection. And then the appeal to the courts to invalidate Prop 8 was based on the fact that whether it has force of law or not, denying gays that right *still* violates Equal Protection (ie the law is not valid even if it is the law, because it violates a major legal principle, that of equal protection under law.)

Do you have any idea how that appeal went/is going/will go? What court/panel of judges was it argued before?

Posted by: dibee | December 29, 2008 6:58 PM | Report abuse

I was not born in the US, so I needed to check a diccionary to learn exactly what "gay" means to you, American people.So I learned that "gay" means "homosexual" but also "happy". It is funny to learn that American homosexual people call themselves "gay" = happy, although the weird sexual habits they are addict to... If they are the "gay", what are we, the heterosexual people?

Posted by: jmoura | December 29, 2008 9:20 PM | Report abuse

If either of my children ever even hinted at being gay, I’d ship them off to a straight farm so fast that it would make their heads spin. I won’t have it in my family. They would be rehabilitated and allowed to live a healthy, happy heterosexual life.

Posted by: laurenbran | December 30, 2008 12:00 AM | Report abuse

To all those that don't like what I have to say, I think Dibee summarized my point well.

I have nothing against gays, but what I DO have a problem with is people who ARE gay thinking that have it worse off than anyone else.

So yes, I will continue to say to you "suck it up" if you didnt get your parents approval. The same way I would respond to a heart-bleed article about a group of people who are inflicting self-starvation tactics to gain attention because mommy and daddy didnt hug them enough.

Sorry... I guess what you can say is I lack empathy for those who do not take charge of their own lives... regardless of their sexual affiliation.

So sorry to disappoint all you gays out there who thought I didnt like you... Its quite the opposite. I just question the "whiners" aspect of this article.

Posted by: indep2 | December 30, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

"...blame the weak-minded gays who are apparently strong-willed enough to live as gay people, but not strong enough to live like that without their mommy and daddy telling them its alright..."

What a disgusting, hateful, cruel thing to say. What an ignorant thing to say.

Read about the statistics on gay teenage suicide and then hang your head in shame.

"Strong enough to live as gay people..." WTH are you TALKING about? Did you even read the article? It's about gay TEENS who've just come out. Obviously they haven't been "living as gay people"--they've just come out!

And your belittling the need for identity acceptance and unconditional love that every child has, that every child *deserves* is truly inhuman. Your agenda and fear are on display, writ large.

Posted by: NYC123 | December 31, 2008 5:30 PM | Report abuse

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