Study Measures Effect of Family Acceptance on Gay Teens

A newly released mental health study says parents must accept the lifestyles and gender expressions of their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents to prevent against suicide, drug abuse and depression.

But Christian family groups refute the notion that religious and traditional values lead to teen suicides and say Christians can prevent against depression and bullying without condoning sin.

In the study "Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults," published by the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, researchers assert that LGBT teens whose parents are supportive and accepting of their sexuality fare better in avoiding suicide and substance abuse and having higher self esteem.

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Parents that are highly religious tend not accept their LBGT children, the study noted.

"With this new groundbreaking study, Ryan and her colleagues have provided the strongest evidence to date that acceptance and support from parents and caregivers promote well-being among LGBT youth and help protect them from depression and suicidal behavior, " Ann Haas, director of Prevention Projects for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said in a statement about the study.

According to the study, accepting behaviors toward LGBT youth during adolescence protect against suicide, depression and substance abuse. Also, LGBT adolescents who reported high levels of family acceptance during adolescence had significantly higher levels of self-esteem, social support and general health, compared to peers with low levels of family acceptance.

LBGT teens who reported low family acceptance are over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and report having attempted suicide compared to accepted LBGT youths.

The report also shows that families with high religious involvement were strongly associated with low acceptance levels of LGBT children.

Pro-family leaders agree that it is important that children feel loved and accepted, but say that Christians should not accept social pressure to stray from their traditional values for fear of driving their children to suicide.

"Activist adults essentially are saying that American parents who want their kids to avoid high risk homosexual sex acts and remain abstinent until traditional marriage, are harming kids. This is preposterous, and local parents and communities need to resist enforced political correctness," said Buddy Smith, executive vice president of American Family Association.

In a November commentary, Christopher Doyle of the support group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX)calls efforts to scare parents into embracing their children's sexual behavior for fear of suicide "minority stress" theory propagated by gay activists.

Even in gay-tolerant cultures, the occurrence of suicidal behavior is much higher among homosexuals than heterosexuals," he explained.

Doyle, an ex-gay and PFOX board member, cited a 2006 study of homosexuals in the Netherlands, which was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. Gay men were five times and lesbian women were 10 times more likely to contemplate suicide than heterosexuals. Another study found that a lower level of social hostility toward homosexuals in the Netherlands and Denmark compared with the U.S. was not associated with a lower level of psychiatric problems among homosexuals in these European countries.

Pastor Bob Perdue of the Exodus Church Association told Religion & Ethics Newsweekly earlier this year that he advises adolescents and young adults that same-sex attraction is "against the creative order of God."

"It violates the way God has set it up, and so while I understand that you have that attraction and that it developed maybe by no fault of your own, you're not free to act upon that of homosexuality."

While Perdue believes Christian parents must acknowledge that practicing homosexuality is a sin, he stressed it is no worse than any other sin.

"A lot of times the church will quote Leviticus 18:22 and say, you know, man lying with man is an abomination. What we forget is that Proverbs also says pride and lying and gossip are also abominations to God," he said.

Perdue's beliefs evolved out of his personal experiences with homosexuality. He shared that he was sexually abuse at age 10 or 11and struggled with same-sex attraction at a young age and attempted suicide. He is now married with five children.

Homosexuality, Perdue said, is a choice and those who struggle with those urges must choose not to act on them as he had done.

"I can't say that my attraction has completely changed. I liken it to my fellow ministers who are married. Their attraction for other women hasn't gone away, but they're choosing not to act on that action because they made a vow and a commitment in a certain direction," he explained.

The research in the recent study came from a survey which sampled 245 white and Latino LGBT young adults, ages 21 to 25 in California, who were open about their sexual orientation to at least one parent or primary caregiver during adolescence. The teens were recruited from 249 LGBT venues. The survey is part of a larger body of research. The research will be used to inform a new evidence-based family model of wellness, prevention and care for LGBT adolescents, in collaboration with Child and Adolescent Services at the University of California, San Francisco.

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