Supportive adults provide hope

Supportive adults provide hope, can make difference for LGBTQ youths 

While marriage equality now exists, and trans rights are more often talked about in the media and news outlets, there are still daily struggles faced by queer, trans, and non-binary individuals everywhere.

As a community reflecting on LGBT History Month in 2021, many of us have heard the studies and statistics reporting that LGBTQ youths and adults are more likely to experience rejection from family members, more likely to experience discrimination in the workplace, experience bullying in schools, and as a result have negative health outcomes, and are more likely to experience episodes of depression and suicidal ideation.

What is often lacking from these reports and studies are what allies can do to assist the members of the LGBTQ community; what does it mean to be a supportive and affirming therapist or healthcare provider; and what are the small changes I can make today.

During my 8 years at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, what I remember most was hearing about how one supportive and affirming teacher, adult, or parent could make all the difference in a young person’s life. That unconditional acceptance and affirmation provided hope that things could and would get better.

So, when straight and cisgender colleagues find out that I specialize in working with LGBTQ families and individuals, they often ask what they can do to better support the members of this community. I point them in the direction of research done by the Family Acceptance Project in San Francisco. Led by researcher and advocate Dr. Caitlin Ryan, The Family Acceptance Project has done extensive research over 15 years on what acceptance and rejection behaviors look like in family and social settings, and the positive and negative impacts on young adults. The research points to a spectrum of behaviors that directly impact the emotional, social and physical health outcomes of these young adults. The website contains a great deal of information – videos, publications, posters and more – about helping families of all backgrounds (and in several languages) support their LGBTQ kids.

Family behavior can be key

Educating parents and family members about specific behaviors that are known to be harmful or affirming for LGBTQ youths can be a key factor in changing the trajectory of a young person’s life.

To just give a few examples of acceptance behaviors:

  • Allowing a young adult to invite a LGBTQ friend over for a family dinner.
  • Speak openly about your child’s LGBTQ identity.
  • Stand up for your child when others mistreat them because of their identity.

A clear example of a rejecting behavior could be:

  • Pressuring your child to be more masculine or feminine.
  • Asking your child to “tone down” how they look, dress or behave.
  • Tell your child that this is “just a phase.”

For me as a health care provider, a simple affirming behavior can be to ask for preferred names and pronouns, or to ask for parent/guardian 1 and parent/guardian 2 on intake and consent forms. These minor adjustments signal to families that you don’t assume all families include a mother and a father, and that everyone’s preferred name may not current match their legal name. These indicate openness and concrete opportunities for expression and clarification.

Again, while so much progress has been made over the past 10 years in the United States, we are still dealing with discrimination in the workplace, health care disparities and bullying at schools. Any small change you feel comfortable making as an individual, parent, or health care provider can make a big impact. The St. Louis Wellness Center is here to help support you!

Jen Durham Austin, LCSW is a mental health therapist with the St. Louis Wellness Center and is open to free consultations and conversations about how you can best support your parent, friend, child or client. Contact her at 314-323-4775 or jen@openaircounseling.com.

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