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”One of our most important findings is families make a difference,” says Ryan, adding that the level of rejection kids are subjected to has a dramatic effect on depression, suicide rates and even HIV-transmission risk.
For many, families are still perceived as the enemy, with the view for decades being that parents are ”unsupportive at best and toxic at worst,” according to Ryan. However, by teaching parents how to modify their behavior Ryan has started to change decades’ worth of preconceptions.
Recently, Ryan has turned her focus to religious families. In a pamphlet published earlier this year, Ryan and her colleagues have offered a resource to help Mormon households with LGBT kids. Similar guides are planned for Jewish families and African-American ministers.
Ryan says that many religious parents feel forced to choose between their child and their faith.
”This is a terrible problem,” Ryan says. ”For many of these families, they may have chosen their faith. But it shattered their family.”
Perhaps the most important point advanced by Ryan’s research is that, despite how negative their initial reactions may be, parents often reject their child’s sexuality because they want to protect them. They are not intentionally trying to hurt the child, but are acting out of care and concern.
”Our message is a very powerful one: We cannot continue to exclude families or see them as the enemy. We may be angry, but this is an opportunity to change that and to engage families in a way that feels comfortable to them,” says Ryan.
As more and more parents seek out Ryan’s guidance, change appears within reach.
”We see families can change and grow when they understand how to help that LGBT child that they love,” Ryan says. ”This work is making a difference. It’s keeping families together.”