Family Acceptance Project Prevents LGBT Teen Suicide

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Thursday March 20, 2014

The Family Acceptance Project has announced plans to launch the first family-focused program to prevent suicide and homelessness among LGBT youth and young adults. The program will use culturally-grounded research-based approaches that FAP Director Dr. Caitlin Ryan and her team have developed to help families, providers and religious leaders to engage families to reduce their LGBT children's risk for suicide, homelessness and other negative health risks and to promote their well-being.

"Suicide risk is a long-standing problem among LGBT people -- both youth and adults," said Ryan. "Homelessness has exploded among LGBT youth in tandem with increased financial pressures and a significant drop in the age of coming out as access to accurate information enables LGBT young people to understand who they are at earlier ages.

"Unfortunately, parents and families, especially those from conservative backgrounds, have very limited access to accurate information on how to help their LGBT children and their families," she continued. "A cornerstone of our work is to help families understand that they don't have to choose between their LGBT children and their faith."

Ryan has provided education and consultation in Utah on reducing risk and supporting LGBT youth and young adults for more than 25 years. Her new program will focus on ways to help families decrease rejecting behaviors that lead to serious health risks and suicide. Research from the Family Acceptance Project has shown that family rejection contribute to these health risks, while family support is linked with well-being, self-esteem and protection against suicide. The program will be based in Utah to address critical needs in the state and will later be implemented in other parts of the country.

Suicide and homelessness have been identified as serious health concerns for LGBT adolescents by government and public agencies nationally. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Utah youth ages 10-17 and young adults ages 18-24 (higher than the national average).

A range of studies have found that LGBT youth are at least three times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide and about four times more likely to make a medically serious suicide attempt.

During the first four months of 2013, 18 suicide deaths were reported among adolescents, aged 12-17. More than 5,000 youth are estimated to experience homelessness in Utah per year. Of these at least 40 percent are LGBT and the majority are from religious and socially conservative families, with 60 percent from Mormon homes. In recent weeks the number of newly homeless LGBT Mormon youth who sought help from community agencies increased five-fold.

This new family-based prevention program will build on the work that the Family Acceptance Project has done in collaboration with Marian Edmonds Allen, who has served as the Director of OUTreach Resource Centers in Ogden, Utah for the past two years. Allen will join the Family Acceptance Project in a new position as National Program Director to continue and expand FAP's work in Utah in collaboration with community organizations, government agencies and religious institutions. Allen will remain based in Utah and will coordinate this critical new program to prevent suicide and homelessness for LGBT youth while expanding the training, consultation, family intervention and faith-based work developed by Ryan and her team over nearly 14 years.

"LGBT youth and their families in Utah need help, and need it now," said Allen. "The Family Acceptance Project brings the best available research and resources to improve outcomes and to help prevent LGBT youth suicide and homelessness, two pressing concerns in our state. My work in Utah has been based on Dr. Ryan's work, and I've had the privilege of working with her before I joined OUTreach."

Unlike other programs for LGBT youth that aim to provide services or support for homelessness and suicidal adolescents after crises occur, the Family Acceptance Project's new primary prevention program will address the underlying social and environmental issues that contribute to suicide, homelessness and a wide range of other negative outcomes that disproportionately affect LGBT youth by going "upstream" to provide research-based guidance and support before family disruption and health crises occur.

"We have been developing specific evidence-based approaches to support conservative and religious families with LGBT children, as well as faith-based versions of our family education materials," said Ryan. "We have worked with organizational and ecclesiastical leaders in the Mormon Church for several years and we look forward to working more closely with them as we implement this critical new program. Our Utah prevention program will serve as a model to demonstrate an essential aspect of our work which is to go 'upstream' to engage in primary prevention to build healthy futures for LGBT youth and to help keep families together."

These evidence-based approaches are not restricted for use within Mormon religions. The materials can be viewed as a springboard for discussing how to keep LGBT children safe in any conservative religious background.

"It's heartening and energizing to bring our work full circle as we launch the first solution-based program to prevent tragic outcomes for LGBT youth that are rooted in family rejection," said Allen. "As a parent myself, I know how urgently needed this program is, especially in our community."
The Family Acceptance Project (FAP) is a research, intervention, education and policy initiative at San Francisco State University that works to decrease risk and to promote well-being for LGBT children and adolescents in the context of families, culture and faith communities.

FAP's work has been recognized by major health and mental health professional associations, and its multicultural family education materials were designated as the first "Best Practice" resources for suicide prevention for LGBT people by the Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention. These include the only faith-based Best Practice resources for suicide prevention included in the national Registry.

For more information, visit


Related Story

Read More »
Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.