As a gay kid growing up in Queens, New York, in the 1970s, nothing terrified me more than the prospect of being rejected by my family if they ever knew the truth about me. And when my mother finally found out, nothing hurt more than her two-word response: “I’m disappointed.” I was devastated and infuriated. For some of my gay friends whose parents reacted as my mother did or responded far more harshly, the resulting toxic mix of emotions led to a cascade of destructive behavior, including suicide attempts.
As much as the world has changed since then, I still routinely receive emails from LGBT youth who desperately want to be embraced by their parents, but are terrified by the possibility of rejection if they come out (kids write to me because I’m the author of a book about gay issues for teens called What If? Answers to Questions About What It Means to Be Gay and Lesbian). More than a few have shared with me their thoughts of suicide. So it came as no surprise yesterday during a presentation by my colleague Laura Hoffman to learn that LGBT youth who experience rejecting behavior on the part of their families attempt suicide at many times the rate of those who are embraced.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that we know from research—some of it funded by AFSP—that we can do a lot more to help save the lives of LGBT youth than simply telling them that “it gets better” with time.
In particular, I’m encouraged by a couple of things we’ve been doing here at AFSP. First, our newly piloted program, done in partnership with the Family Acceptance Project—Involving Families in LGBT Youth Suicide Prevention—is designed to promote family acceptance of LGBT children. Second, we’ve supported through research grants the work of Dr. Gary Diamond, who along with his colleagues has developed a type of therapy for suicidal gay youth that helps families reconnect.
I believe that each step we take in the direction of healing the wounds that divide LGBT youth from their families brings us one step closer to a world without suicide. And while we still have a very long way to go, these steps are worth celebrating on this final weekend of LGBT Pride Month as people gather around the world to mark the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, a key turning point in the LGBT civil rights movement.