By: Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., SAMHSA Administrator, and Brian Altman, SAMHSA Legislative Director
We both grew up in a time and a place where coming out of the closet, for many people, was a risky proposition. While we were both lucky enough to have the support of many of our loved ones, others in our communities were not so fortunate. Despite the great progress Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals in our nation have made in recent years in achieving equality and acceptance, not all families embrace their loved one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Coming out can still be a frightening, difficult, and in some cases dangerous thing to do. Coming out was then, and is now, brave. And, even months or years later, some families still struggle accepting their relative is LGBT.
That’s why it’s so amazing and inspiring to see young people identifying as LGB, and more recently as transgender. More widespread access to information about sexual orientation, gender identity, and LGBT resources through the internet has contributed to significant changes in how young people learn about LGBT people and their lives. And increasingly, this has helped young people recognize and acknowledge their sexual orientation at much earlier ages than prior generations of LGBT adults.
Even so, coming out as an adolescent or young adult is an especially courageous thing to do—particularly in places where friends, family, peers and even care providers might react negatively to the news. That’s why we’re so pleased to announce SAMHSA’s new resource, “A Practitioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children.”
This resource guide, developed by SAMHSA and the Family Acceptance Project, is intended to help practitioners who work in a wide range of settings understand the critical role of family acceptance and rejection in contributing to the health and well-being of individuals who identify as LGBT. This includes people who work in primary care, behavioral health, school-based services, family service agencies, homeless and run-away programs, and foster care and juvenile justice settings. We hope the guide will help practitioners implement best practices in engaging and helping families and caregivers to support their LGBT youth and adult family members.
Research shows that families of LGBT adolescents contribute significantly to their children’s health and well-being. Consider these stunning statistics. Compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection, LGBT young adults who reported high levels of family rejection during adolescence were:
• 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide;
• 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression;
• 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs; and
• 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse
It is obvious that LGBT individuals are happier, healthier, and have a brighter future in general when they are accepted for who they are by their families. It is our sincere hope that this new resource guide helps practitioners implement best practices in engaging and helping families and caregivers to support their LGBT family members. Coming out can be difficult, but with the love and support of family, LGBT individuals achieve better health outcomes and lead happier lives.