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Parental rejection of gay teens worsens health

Parents' intolerance of their gay and lesbian teens increases the chance that they will suffer health problems in young adulthood, including increased risk of suicide, depression, drug abuse and unsafe sex, new research shows.

Those whose parents reacted negatively to their sexual orientation were more than eight times more likely to have attempted suicide than those whose families accepted them, according to a study in the January issue of Pediatrics. They were also nearly six times as likely to report depression, three times as likely to use drugs and three times as likely to have unprotected sex.

The findings are based on surveys of 224 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults in California who ranged in age from 21 to 25. Gay Latinos were most likely to experience a poor reception from their parents, and had the highest rates of risk factors for HIV and mental health problems, according to the research.

The reason for the link isn’t entirely clear, but how a parent treats a gay teen may affect how likely the child is to engage in risky behaviors, write the authors, from San Francisco State University and the University of Utah. Rejected gay teens are also disproportionately represented among the homeless, in foster care and in juvenile detention, they note.

Previous research has shown that HIV is on the rise among young gay men, who may be inclined to engage in unprotected sex. Other studies have demonstrated health disparities between gay and straight teens, including elevated risks of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and mental health problems, including suicide. But this study specifically looked at the health differences among gay youth, based on their perception of how their parents treated them.

The finding comes on the heels of passage of Proposition 8 in California, which defines marriage in that state as being between a man and a woman. (The California Supreme Court has said it will consider lawsuits calling for the measure to be rejected.)

Controversy also is swirling around President-elect Barack Obama's choice of the Rev. Rick Warren, who supported Prop 8 and has made disparaging remarks about gays, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.

Image of Gay Pride Flag by marcus_jb1973 via Flickr

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