Monday, September 15, 2014

Who is Caitlin Ryan?

You May Not Know Her Name, But Her Work Has Enlightened Parents

Caitlin Ryan is a clinical social worker with a Ph.D.  She lives in San Francisco and is a lesbian.  If her name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because she, an Irish Catholic, was the focus of an article in the New York Times, September 13, 2014, entitled “ A Social Worker Helps Mormon Families to Accept Gay Children” by Samuel G. Freedman.

Field Work Among LGBT Homeless and Parents of Gay Children

In 2008, she started a program called the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State.  The first of its kind, this project studied the effect of family acceptance and rejection on the mental health and well-being of LGBT youth including HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and suicide. 

The research found that how a parent responds to the coming out of their LGBT children had a profound impact on the child’s psyche, even years later.  What the Family Acceptance Project found that LGBT youths who experience high rejection from their families(when compared with those young people who experienced little or no rejection from their families):
·      Were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide.
·      More than 6 times likely to report high levels of depression.
·      Were more than 3 times likely to use illegal drugs and more than 3 times likely to be at high risk for HIV or other STDs by the time they reach their early 20s. 
·      In addition, 40% of America’s homeless youth are LGBT.

How does a parent avoid all these undesirable outcomes for their LGBT child?  Unconditional love, without it, the hurt lingers.  Ryan and her colleagues spread that message through handbooks, films, research papers, to name a few outlets.

For tips on how you can be more accepting of your child’s sexual orientation, see acceptance project

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Don't Overlook Grandparents' Support

Today is National Grandparents Day.  In terms of supporting a family with a GLBTQ child, grandparents can play a major role.Who better than the experienced and enlightened grandparent whose advancing years have mellowed attitudes about everything: “seen and done it all?”

Parents Too Close For Objectivity?

While the parents, like many, may react with fear, disappointment, confusion, and anger over a child’s coming out, the grandparent can not only offer the approval and unconditional love that the child needs, but be a shoulder for the parent who needs time to readjust his/her expectations for his child as well. The hard-wired notions of the child’s future has suddenly been upended. The parent’s hopes are withered.

Maybe because the grandma or grandpa doesn’t live under the same roof as the bewildered parent and spends less time with the grandchild, he doesn’t get involved with day-to-day slugfests about dress nor does he hear the exasperated phrases in the household  It’s Just a Phase!  You’re Too Young to Know!” – verbal cyanide for any LGBT child who knows his identity better than anyone.

A Calm Presence

Grandma’s house is not full of tension, stress.  It’s a safe haven.  The same woman who may have made clothes for you, baked cakes with you, is the one now who continues to hug you and tells you you’re great just the way you are. (Even if a parent has been accepting of his GLBT child’s sexual orientation from the git-go, grandparents can supplement this attitude).

Modern Family Redefined

Generally, the grandparent doesn’t care to try and change the child’s orientation, an unsuccessful tactic that only incites anger, confusion and makes the child feel unloved. Coming clean is a personal necessity, a release of an internal pressure he/she can no longer hide.  It’s a compliment that she reveals her true identity.

Even though the grandmother and also the parent grew up in a time when a young woman or could not come out of the closet, unlike the parent, the grandparent usually does not go in the closet when the child announces his sexual orientation.

For unconditional love, the relative with no agenda is often the best, particularly for bruised emotions.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tactics to Outwit Cyberbullies

Don’t Let Them Get the Upper Hand!
They’re Everywhere!

No longer relegated to the playground, the bus, the cafeteria, this bully can now work full-time before school, after school at targeting his victim.  With just a few clicks, the humiliation can be witnessed by hundreds, even thousands of people online.

According to research conducted by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network), more than 80% of LGBT kids experience cyberbullying defined as harassment of others using Internet, mobile phones or other types of cyber technology with intention to threaten or humiliate.

Because of modern technology’s ability to reach large audiences, cyberbullying is particularly invasive.  We’ve all read about suicides of youths resulting from this non-stop form of bullying.  In fact, gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

Ways They Can Get To You

Boys tend to bully by “sexting” or with messages that threaten physical harm.  Girls in general spread lies, rumors, expose secrets or exclude the victim from e-mails. The cyberbully can post pictures to embarrass or hurt, send threatening e-mails or text messages, dupes you into revealing personal information, pretends to be you online and can spread rumors, and all these insidious methods can be done anonymously.

Parent’s Role

So, what can a parent do?
  • ·      Keep all computers in a common area of your house so you can see what’s going on.  Monitor its use.  Try to find out whom your child communicates with.
  • ·      Have your child tell you if he/she receives a harassing message. She/he should not respond to any message or post.  The cyberbully wants you to respond. 
  • ·      Online services can block or ban options. You can prevent communication by blocking the bully’s e-mail address, cell phone number, and deleting them from social media contacts.
  • ·      Talk to your phone and internet provider.  They can provide additional privacy settings.
  • ·      Report activities to their internet service provider (ISP) or to any websites they use to target your child.

It’s Important to:

·      Save evidence of cyberbullying such as a screenshot of a web page.  Report them to a teacher or school counselor
·      Report threats of harm and inappropriate sexual messages to the police.  In many cases, the cyberbully’s actions can be prosecuted by law.
·      Keep reporting every bullying incident.  Although this is time-consuming, it’s a necessary step to stop the cyberbully.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bullyproof Your Child Before School

  •       9 out of GLBT teens are victims of anti-gay bullying. (Gay, Straight Education Network)
  • ·      More than 50% of GLBT students who took a P.E. class were bullied or harassed during that class. (Gay, Straight Education Network)
  • ·      28% of GLBT students will drop out of school. ( GLBT Teens)
  • ·      Victims of bullying may suffer mental and general health consequences after bullying occurs. (Mental Health guidelines) 

No wonder your GLBT child is dreading school.  Here it is mid-August and that unsettled feeling has already invaded your household.  He/she knows that anyone can be bullied, but chances are he will be targeted because he is perceived as “different” or vulnerable.

As parents, you want to protect your children from bullying.  How can you help?

            Here are some Tips:
  • ·      Start now before school starts to practice anti-bullying strategies.  Teach resilience!
  • ·      It’s important to be specific in defining what bullying is: physical abuse, verbal taunting, online harassment or even passing along a hurtful message or rumor.  (This is different from drama which is short-lived and over-reaction.)
  • ·      Bullying is done on purpose.
  • ·      Encourage friendships.  If your child has many friends and appears to be popular, he’d be less apt to be targeted.
  • ·      Promote self-confidence rather than self-pity.  A humorous line such as “I don’t care what you’re saying about me.  I have better things to do with my time” is off-putting to the bully.  You child can then walk away with confidence.
  • ·      Rehearse hypothetical situations in which a bully can taunt your child.  Help your child come out with solutions in which she can stand up for herself.
  • ·      Your child should know where to go for help at school – a trusted teacher, guidance counselor, principal.  Role play on what she should say. Emphasize that this is not tattling.
  • ·      Learn how bullying is handled in your child’s classroom, but don’t assume the teacher will “stick his neck out” for your child, particularly if he/she may be GLBT and worried about job safety.
  • ·      Know your child’s school policies on bullying.
  • ·      Be a good role model.  How do you retaliate when you’re offended by someone?  Be careful about what you say about people who are “different.”
  • For more anti-bullying tactics, see my former blog post: Bullying

Next week, I’ll write about ways to combat insidious cyberbullying.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to Find a Gay-Friendly Therapist

You’re worried.  Your gay child seems more than moody.  Or your lesbian daughter seems more withdrawn and her weight is fluctuating.  Your LGBT child is dreading  school– another year of bullying.

Beware of Conversion Therapy

You think he/she may need a therapist, but you’re read that some mental health professionals try to convert their LGBT patients and make them straight.

You want to help but you don’t want your kid to feel badly about himself because the expert is making him feel guilty about being “different” and is trying to make him switch his sexual orientation. This is called reparative therapy. The American Psychiatric Association shuns reparative therapy and in 1973 declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.

 So, what’s a parent to do?  How do you know if the therapist is gay-friendly before you hire him?  There are ways to gauge if a therapist has had adequate training in this area (most therapists don’t).  So how do you find a GLBT-friendly therapist?

Places to Look
·      Check with your local gay and lesbian center in your area. It may have counseling on-site and usually maintains lists of gay-friendly businesses and health care providers.
·      Get recommendations from a nearby chapter of PFLAG (Parents for Lesbians and Gays).
·      The psychology department of a neighboring  university may have an on-site clinic with mental health professionals.
·      Gay publications such as Out and lesbian magazines such as Curves may have ads for therapists.
·      Ask your family doctor (if she or he is gay-friendly) for a referral.
·      The Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists has an online referral system of participating members. See

What to Look For In a Therapist
·      You need a therapist who does not view being gay as a “problem.”  One who has additional training on what it means to be gay would be ideal.
·      Before you begin as a patient, ask the therapist his or her opinions of LGBT people and lifestyles.  What is the therapist’s views on LGBTQ issues most relevant to you?  What type of approach does he/she take?  Is it gay affirmative therapy?

What To Look For In The Office

·      Ellen Friedrichs of About.Com recommends that you peruse the magazines in the waiting room. Do any of them pertain to the gay and lesbian population or are they right-wing Christian publications?
·      On the informational intake form, does it just say “single” or “married?”  Or does it also have a box marked “sexual orientation?”

Do your homework and you’ll be more likely to find a compatible match for your child, resulting in a happier and healthier state of mind.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tolerance Begins At Home

Homelessness A Big Problem For LGBTQ Kids

Next time you’re in a big city like New York and you see kids as young as 12 living on the street, in the subways, you may think they’re penniless, drop-outs from school or e.) all of the above.  Chances are they are “throwaways,” GLBTQ kids (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning ) kids whose parents disapprove of their sexual orientation and have made it so unwelcoming in their own homes, that these “different” kids would rather live a hand-to-mouth existence on the streets than be bullied at home.

GLBTQ children who hear “no son of mine is going to be gay!” or “you’re going to hell!” or “you can’t be!” would rather leave home, even if it means turning to prostitution, selling drugs, being turned away from a shelter due to lack of beds.

Studies of LGBTQ Youth’s Runaways

The National Alliance to End Homelessness roughly estimates that 550, 000 people up to twenty-four years old are homeless over a year’s time.  A survey of shelters nationwide from 2011 to 2012 found that up to 40% of homeless young adults identified as LGBT, according to the study conducted by three human rights groups.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducted its annual homeless assessment and found that 22,000 youths were on the streets nationwide one night last year!

With gay celebrities coming out, it seems every day, and more GLBTQ being more open about their orientation, this “no holds barred approach” has had a direct effect on the homelessness state.  “”We see more and more homeless, “ according to Caitlin Ryan, Director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University.  Ryan has seen more youth first disclosing their sexual orientation between the ages of seven and thirteen.

The Family Acceptance Project’s study found that GLBTQ kids are more than 8 x more likely to have attempted suicide, and nearly 6 x as likely to report high levels of depression, 3 x more likely to use illegal drugs and to be at high risk for HIV & sexually transmitted diseases.

A recent study by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educational Network)shows that LGBT youth report bullying and harassment online 3 x greater than their non-LGBT peers.  They are also twice as likely to report being harassed via text message.

Odds Are Against LGBTQ

With the likelihood of a more difficult struggle for an LGBTQ child given the statistics, the child needs a secure loving home where he is loved unconditionally. If you are having trouble accepting your child’s sexual orientation, please remember:

  • ·      He/she is the same person you’ve always loved and deserves your unwavering support.
  • ·      With the outside world not always embracing his sexuality, he needs your home to be a haven from outsider’s prejudice.
  • ·      If you disapprove of his LGBTQ behavior, remember you can love the “sinner, but not the sin.”
  • ·      Do you really want to worry about the safety of your child living on the street, possibly contracting HIV, being mugged?
  • ·      Your rejection may sting forever.

What’s a Parent to Do?

  • ·      Keep your disapproval to yourself.  You can talk to a supportive friend, especially one who has been in similar circumstances.
  • ·      Attend a PFLAG (Parents for Lesbians and Gays) meeting in your area and receive support from parents who’ve “been there.”
  • ·      Seek therapy one-on-one to resolve issues that prevent you from accepting your child.
  • ·      Open up an on-going dialogue with your child.  Ask him how he/she feels about being “different.”  Tell him you want to understand.
  • ·      Get support on-line for parents of gay and lesbian children.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bird Cage Still Relevant, 8 Years Later

Last week, I watched the hilarious “The Bird Cage” for the umpteenth time.  Based on the play, “La Cage Aux Folles,” it’s a screwball comedy of gay characters trying to pass as straight for a dinner meeting with an Ohio Senator who finds Billy Graham too liberal and is a Vice –President of the Coalition for Moral Order.

The Setting
Senator Keeley (Gene Hackman), his wife Louise (Diane Wiest) and daughter Barbara (Calista Flockhart) come to South Beach, Miami, Florida to divert the public at home from the news that another Ohio senator died in bed with an underage prostitute.  Keely believes that maybe meeting his new in-laws in Florida will appease his right wing constituents by promoting family values.  Little does he and his wife know that the in-laws Robin Williams(Armand Goldman) and Nathan Lane(Albert) are gay, live over and operate a popular drag nightclub in S. Miami Beach and have a Guatemalan shoeless housekeeper (Agador Spartacus) (Hank Azaria) who is flamboyantly gay. (My son finds the gay characters stereotypical and won’t watch the movie.  They are stereotypical, but their orientation advances the plot ).

For this meeting, the straight son, Val (Dan Futterman), is engaged to Barbara Keely. He is the son of Armand and Katherine Archer (Christine Baranski), now divorced, and wants his father to rid himself of all gay ambience in his home, including Armand’s partner Albert.  The house, within a day, goes from splashy with male fertility figures to monastic, complete with crucifix and austere furniture.

At this request, Armand and his lover of twenty years, the more dramatic and insecure of the two, Albert, are insulted.  Not only do they have to hide their belongings, but also their identity.  Williams does not ad-lib as much in this movie and is restrained, but nevertheless has the most poignant line in the whole movie that always brings a tear to my eye: “Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. I’m a middle-aged fag.  But I know who I am, Val.  It took me twenty years to get here, and I’m not gonna’ let some idiot senator destroy that.  F—k the senator, I don’t give a damn what he thinks.”

Albert wants to pretend he’s Val’s uncle, Uncle Al, but Armand quips: “What’s the point?  You’d be Val’s gay Uncle Al.”  Of course, Armand and Albert acquiesce and pretend to be straight to please Val.  Even Agador puts clothes  and shoes on for a change and asquerades as a cook in the house.
The Plot Thickens
Mayhem ensues as in Some Like It Hot when the identities that are trying to be under wraps are exposed. While the year of the movie is 1996 when President Clinton banned gays in the military and Albert, who is trying to pass himself off as Val’s mother, “the old-fashioned girl from Corners Grove” says to his dinner guests: “You know, I used to feel that way too until I found out that Alexander the Great was a fag.  Talk about gays in the military!”  Typical clever funny line brought to you by Mike Nicholas and Elaine May.
Issues Still Hot Today
While the comment about gays in the military may seem dated, the fact that some straight children are still embarrassed and teased about having gay parents still holds true today.  Armand even refers to the fact that he told Val’s kindergarten teacher that he had a different profession so Val wouldn’t be teased. 
Like any parent, Armand and Albert are concerned that Val is getting married too young, at age 20. 

Barbara knows her Republican parents so well and like Republicans under the age of 30, approves of same-sex marriage.  (The latest Pew Research Council poll, May 31, 2014, showed that 61% of Republicans under age 30 favored gay marriage while only 22% of Republicans over the age of 65, approved. )  So, Barbara Keeley who “gets it” and knows her audience (parents) says to her parents that the Coldeman’s (pronounced so not Jewish) South Beach residence is about 2 minutes from Fisher Island where Jeb Bush lives.” Senator Keeley, while portrayed a bit too right-wing is on target with his party’s stance.  Says Armand:  “Albert, these people are right-wing conservatives.  They don’t care if you’re a pig, they just care if you’re a fag.”

Sad, but true.  While the one-liners are great and the charade raucous, there is an undercurrent of truth that gay people are masking themselves, hiding their true sexual orientation to try to please the moral majority, who are in effect, trying to appear self-righteous.