Program helping LGBT families find acceptance
January 28, 2009 11:42 AM
Gay and lesbian youth are now able to receive support and protection through a campus organization, which reconciles lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adolescents with their families.
The SF State Family Acceptance Project (FAP), a research, education and intervention program for LGBT youths, received $500,000 towards funding this past October.
It is the biggest grant the program has received since starting the project in 2002.
"This grant was very important and took about 14 months to get," said Caitlin Ryan, adolescent health initiatives director at the Cesar E. Chavez Institute and co-founder of FAP.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded FAP the grant, leaving it with $100,000 left to raise out of the $600,000 it needs to fund the project for a year.
The project, which was co-founded by Rafael Diaz, a professor for the College of Ethnic Studies at SF State, studies the impact of family acceptance and rejection on the health, mental health and well-being of LGBT youths.
According to the group's research, young lesbian, gay and bisexual (not including transgendered) adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were more than eight times likely to report having attempted suicide.
They are almost six times more likely to have high levels of depression, compared to peers who received little family rejection.
"We're the first organization of our kind," Ryan said. "The parents are willing to change their behavior once they understand how their actions negatively affect their child."
FAP came about when Ryan and Diaz realized that there weren't any programs helping families adapt to their children's sexual identity.
The project studies parents' reactions to their children's sexual identity using interviews.
FAP then helps parents become more accepting of their gay children using the information gathered.
"They have no idea that by rejecting their children's [sexual orientation], they are rejecting them as a person," Ryan said.
"This sounds like a really great program," said Melodie Barr, 19, an English and Native American studies major and member of Queer Alliance. "[Adolescents'] minds are easily affected at that time in their lives."
Barr talked about a friend she knew throughout Catholic school who was a lesbian, but forced herself to marry a man, in fear of how her parents would feel about her true identity.
But the couple divorced soon after the wedding.
Today, the friend's family claims their daughter's sexual orientation as the reason for the divorce, according to Barr.
Ryan began her work as a clinical social worker after obtaining her bachelor's degree at Hunter College, her master's degree from Smith College School for Social Work and her doctorate from Virginia Commonwealth University.
In the early 1980s, Ryan created and directed a community-based AIDS service in Atlanta called AID Atlanta.
Through AID Atlanta she recognized a need for more family acceptance and openness with parents and their gay sons.
Ryan saw how many gay men affected by the AIDS epidemic could not come out to their parents in fear of rejection.
"People died really quickly," Ryan said. "I had to support and comfort the parents when they realized that their child was dying of AIDS."
The work in Atlanta had a personal impact on Ryan, which is what prompted her to create a program that would help LGBT adolescents feel more accepted within their families.
In the past, FAP has trained over 50 students to work on the project. Many were undergraduate and graduate students with majors spanning from social work to religion to nursing to ethnic studies.
The project is currently looking for two people to work as counselors who are bilingual with English and Spanish, and English and Cantonese and/or Mandarin.
FAP is always accepting volunteers who are interested in its research. To contact them send an e-mail to email@example.com.
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