Today, as director of the Family Acceptance Project at SF State, Ryan has channeled her pain into hope for healthier futures for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. Based on the findings of a groundbreaking study, she and her intervention team help families understand the powerful impact of their words and actions on their children's health and well-being.
Published in the January issue of Pediatrics, the first research paper on the Family Acceptance Project's findings shows that negative family reactions to a child's sexual orientation could not only lead to serious health problems, but could also mean the difference between life and death. Ryan authored the paper with Senior Quantitative Researcher Rafael Diaz, Project Coordinator Jorge Sanchez and University of Utah Psychology Professor David Huebner.
The California Endowment-funded study surveyed young people about family acceptance and rejection related to their LGBT identity during adolescence. White or Latino, rich or poor, young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were over eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression, and over three times more likely to report illegal drug use or unprotected sex.
"There is an incredible dearth and lack of awareness about the needs of these families," says Ryan, pointing out that only two groups in the entire state of California offer support services specifically for families with LGBT youth. The Family Acceptance Project is aiming to change that by developing an entirely new family-related model of prevention and care for ethnically diverse LGBT adolescents.
Education and early intervention are crucial, Ryan says, pointing out that homosexuality has long been viewed by health care professionals as "a phenomenon of adulthood," even though her study found that today's youth are coming out at an average age of 13.4. Supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the project has already led to the creation of a short questionnaire for medical, school-based and social service providers to quickly determine an LGBT adolescent's risk for family rejection and related health and mental health problems. Read complete article - SF State Magazine