A força dos dados e informações
Após trinta anos trabalhando efetivamente como assistente social, Caitlin Ryan, assessora nacional em políticas sobre a AIDS e especialista em questões de saúde de lésbicas, gays e bissexuais, conta que sua maior conquista se deu na área da pesquisa. Seus estudos sobre jovens lésbicas, gays, bissexuais e transexuais (GLBT) e suas famílias têm o potencial de salvar e reorientar vidas.
Sometimes data can be a powerful agent for change.
After thirty years working in the trenches as a social worker, Caitlin Ryan, a national AIDS policy advisor and expert on lesbian, gay and bisexual health issues, says her greatest achievements have been in research. Her studies of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people and their families have the potential to save and redirect lives.
Since 2001, Ryan has been collecting interviews with LGBT teens and young adults as part of The Family Acceptance Project, a research, intervention and education effort aimed at LGBT youth and their families. Recently, a study published in the journal Pediatrics that demonstrates the importance of family acceptance has drawn the attention of health leaders around the country and around the world.
The study of 224 LGBT young adults found a clear link between parents’ rejecting behavior toward their LGBT children and negative health effects in adulthood. LGBT young people whose parents show highly rejecting behavior, for instance, are 8.4 times as likely to attempt suicide, 5.9 times as likely to be severely depressed and 3.4 times as likely to use drugs and engage in risky sexual behavior.
It may seem obvious that verbally abusing an LGBT son or daughter or excluding them from family events can set the stage for trouble in their later lives. But until the numbers were in, it was difficult to draw conclusions that health professionals could use or families could understand.
Awareness of the clear impact parental behavior has on their LGBT clients will change the way social workers, educators and counselors provide support. Instead of treating LGBT young people individually, for instance, professionals are beginning to see the importance of the family dynamic. Helping the family is helping the patient.
More directly, the study offers a real opportunity for parents to better understand and help their children. In her extensive interviews with 13 to 18- year -old LGBT youth and their families, Ryan witnessed countless sad stories where families might have been shown how to alter behavior to prevent a young person from running away or being thrown out of the house. She also learned that most families had no one they could talk to about LGBT issues – they were lacking support too. As the families spoke about their children, she says, it became clear that many were hungry for information, support and education about how to help their child.
Sometimes the rejecting behaviors were a result of family religious beliefs or a desire to protect their child. Blocking access to a child’s friends or excluding them from family events, says Ryan, “are behaviors by some parents who believe that trying to change their child would give them a better life.”
“But now we can say to a parent that punishing your child because of their sexual orientation -- either verbally or physically -- actually increases the risk that they will attempt suicide,” she explains. Once she is able to show them the research, parents are often powerfully moved.
“One of the most exciting moments is when you observe a parent grow or change when they see these findings.” In one instance, a despondent mother of a teenage Latina lesbian came around to advocacy for her daughter. In another, an illiterate Chinese father pronounced his support for his son, whatever his sexuality.
With the help of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ryan is developing educational brochures for families in three languages that target varying levels of literacy. She plans to develop training programs for health and mental health professionals on how to view the LGBT adolescent within a family context.
Her work has sparked interest outside the U.S. in 14 Spanish speaking countries throughout Central and Latin America. “As agents of change, we have to work on the family,” says Ryan, “the family is the primary unit of the world.”
See video and article on 365 http://www.365gay.com/video/behind-the-research-caitlin-ryan/
Reporter’s Take: As this first wave of research focuses on the cost of rejecting behaviors and troubled LGBT youth, look for future studies devoted to ways that accepting families can help increase or strengthen existing coping skills for the well-being of LGBT youth. This new information should spark some great ideas for building programs that support LGBT youth and their families.