June 2022 Pride Month Focus

The powerful impacts of accepting versus rejecting parent behavior on their LGBTQ+ children’s health & well-being

by Doug Aupperle, licensed psychologist

Doug Aupperle, Ph.D. Click to read Doug’s bio

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that parents have a profound impact on how their children develop, grow, and function in the world. However, research on the LGBTQ+ population has traditionally been scarce, and research related to the youngest members of that population and their families has been even more so. The Family Acceptance Project (FAP) of San Francisco State University began to shed some light on that, though, with some groundbreaking research over a decade ago. Their findings show just how powerfully parent and caregiver responses to their LGBTQ+ children really do impact their children’s mental and physical health and well-being now and into adulthood.

The researchers have conducted interviews with hundreds of families over the years and identified more than 100 types behaviors exhibited in response to their LGBTQ+ children’s identities. They found that about half of these behaviors could be categorized as accepting and the other half as rejecting. Then they evaluated the effects of these behaviors to see how they impact their LGBTQ+ children, and what they found was striking.

The study found that often the parents who were engaging in responses categorized as rejecting were actually motivated by care and concern for their children. These parents often reported being afraid for their LGBTQ+ child’s safety and concerned that their child’s identity would result in a more difficult life. In other cases, how closely the parents’ identities were tied to their children’s drove parental rejecting behavior. Parents with high levels of such identification felt personal shame and embarrassment regarding their children’s LGBTQ+ identities. They also felt intolerable distress over how it challenged the parents’ views and beliefs.

Regardless of the parental motivations for engaging in the rejecting behaviors, though, the resulting impact on their children was still the same. Compared to LGBTQ+ children whose parents are highly accepting, the research showed that those whose parents are highly rejecting are:

  • 8 times as likely to attempt suicide;
  • 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression;
  • 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs;
  • 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.

When parental rejecting responses decrease even somewhat to more mixed/moderately rejecting levels, the risks, though still serious, also decrease. Compared to those with highly accepting parents, LGBTQ+ children experiencing mixed/moderately rejecting parental responses are:

  • 2 times as likely to attempt suicide;
  • 3 times as likely to report high levels of depression;
  • 1.5 times as likely to use illegal drugs;
  • 1.5 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.

Parent responses also profoundly shape their children’s hopes and dreams for their lives. Nearly all LGBTQ+ children in the study with extremely accepting parents believed they could live happy, productive lives as adults, while only about a third of those did whose parents were not at all accepting.

The bottom line is that for parents who want to know how to best support their LGBTQ+ children, seeking out the educational resources and community support to help them best do so may be a truly life-giving and life-saving gift to their children. For those parents who are conflicted and struggling, taking steps to be even a little less rejecting and a little more supportive can still significantly reduce the risks for their children. As the saying goes, every journey begins with a single step.

Some Family Behaviors that Increase Your LGBTQ+ Child’s Risk for Health and Mental Health Problems BEHAVIORS TO AVOID

  • Hitting, slapping or physically hurting your child because of their LGBTQ+ identity
  • Verbal harassment or name-calling because of your child’s LGBTQ+ identity
  • Excluding LGBTQ+ youth from family events and family activities
  • Blocking access to LGBTQ+ friends, events, and resources
  • Blaming your child when they are discriminated against because of their LGBTQ+ identity
  • Pressuring your child to be more (or less) masculine or feminine
  • Telling your child that God will punish them because they are LGBTQ+
  • Telling your child that you are ashamed of them or that how they look or act will shame the family
  • Making your child keep their LGBTQ+ identity a secret in the family and not letting them talk about their identity with others

© Caitlin Ryan, Family Acceptance Project, 2009.

Some Family Behaviors that Reduce Your LGBTQ+ Child’s Risk for Health and Mental Health Problems & Help Promote Their Well-Being BEHAVIORS THAT HELP

  • Talk with your child or foster child about their LGBTQ+ identity.
  • Express affection when your child tells you or when you learn that your child is LGBTQ+.
  • Support your child’s LGBTQ+ identity even though you may feel uncomfortable.
  • Advocate for your child when he or she is mistreated because of their LGBTQ+ identity.
  • Require that other family members respect your LGBTQ+ child.
  • Bring your child to LGBTQ+ organizations or events.
  • Connect your child with an LGBTQ+ adult role model to show them options for the future.
  • Work to make your congregation supportive of LGBTQ+ members, or find a supportive faith community that welcomes your family and LGBTQ+ child.
  • Welcome your child’s LGBTQ+ friends & partner to your home and to family events and activities.
  • Support your child’s gender expression.
  • Believe your child can have a happy future as an LGBTQ+ adult.

© Caitlin Ryan, Family Acceptance Project, 2009.


Ryan, C. (2009). Helping Families Support Their Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Children. Washington, DC: National Center for Cultural Competence, Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development.

Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay and bisexual young adults. Pediatrics, 123(1), 346-352.

The gift of counseling

special to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, July 2017

By Billie Wade

Billie Wade

Counseling is a gift accessible to most people who want to explore and transform their lives. My experience with the gift of counseling spans several decades as a client as well as a seven-year stretch during which I sat in the counselor’s chair as a chemical dependency treatment counselor. I was a counselor in counseling, which is imperative. Counseling provides a safe place to explore my inner world and help me reframe the outer world. Counseling is a gift I receive on my journey of self-discovery. Counseling frees me to voice my deepest thoughts, confront my most pressing problems, and receive feedback, encouragement, guidance, support, and reflection.

The eldest of three children, I grew up in a turbulent home. At age thirteen, I wanted counseling, but my mother refused, thinking counseling was for “crazy” people. My family doctor prescribed “nerve pills.” Shortly after my fifteenth birthday, I experienced a miscarriage. I graduated from high school at age seventeen and married a year later. At the age of twenty-two, I attempted suicide. My husband ridiculed me. The medical staff in the emergency room told me not to do it again and sent me home. In my mid-twenties, my doctor diagnosed me with clinical depression. Thus, began my rounds with counseling and medication.

Counseling helps me detangle the tightly woven threads of confusion and shame that I’ve protected for years. Counseling helps me face the challenges as I confront the issues of my life. Counseling helps me gain clarity about the events of my life. I can see options as I learn to look at my life from a new vantage. Talking with someone I trust helps me see a problem as it is. Unless I share my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and opinions, they go unchecked. I think I am right and I may be wrong, very wrong. My counselor validates my process by encouraging me to explore my experiences and feelings.

Counseling has carried me through many difficulties. Family of origin. A difficult marriage, and divorce. The birth of my child. My return to school as an adult learner. A career change. Loss of two jobs. Loss of identity. Grad school. Forced retirement. The deaths of my parents, sister, and partner. I could not have walked those dark hallways alone. I’ve needed a nonjudgmental person who could see all of me, help me recognize patterns and blind spots, and cheer me on in my growth.

Counseling has helped me see other people differently as I bring my own life and behaviors into perspective. I more readily see that we all have something to offer each other. People I find abrasive or unpleasant may hold valuable lessons for me if I give them the opportunity. Likewise, I have wisdom and insight to share. I am now more prone to consider the difference between responsibility and fault.

I have learned to respect my needs. Despite societal messages to the contrary, seeking professional counseling takes courage. It takes courage to look in the mirror and accept that we need the guidance, support, and encouragement of another person. It takes courage to pick up the phone and stay on the line long enough to say, “I need to make an appointment.” It takes courage to show up the first time. It takes courage to lay one’s life in the lap of a stranger.

My journey led me to the door of Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center when the organization was on Ingersoll, then to Westown Parkway, and finally to the present location. Most recently, the Center has seen me through the past four years as I faced life-changing losses on several fronts.

I am grateful for the gifts of counseling and the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. Peace to everyone.

Billie Wade is a gregarious introvert whose primary interests are writing, lifelong learning, personal development, and how we all are affected by life’s vagaries. Issues facing black people, women, the LGBTQ community, and aging adults are of particular concern to her. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people. The opinions expressed here are her own.

Read more blog posts by Billie

They told me I wasn’t alone – Elizabeth’s story

Elizabeth images

Depression does not make a distinction of rich or poor, man, woman or child, yet it can have the same tragic outcome: suicide. However depression is treatable and people can experience the fullness of life. As an example, we offer the story of one of our clients, Elizabeth. (Shared with permission. We’ve changed the name and identifying details to protect privacy.)

If you saw Elizabeth today, you would see a beaming mother of two little boys, embracing the joy and challenges of a growing family along with her husband. But it wasn’t always that way. Life was bleak for Elizabeth.

Elizabeth has suffered anxiety and depression since she was a young girl, starting therapy in third grade. Her fears were so dark she didn’t know if she would succeed in school, enter the workforce or continue to live. Psychiatric medication helped curb her mental anguish yet after she married she faced an impossible choice: having children or maintaining health. Elizabeth imagined her life with prescription medication would hurt the baby, and her life without meds might end.

Elizabeth came to the Center during this time of grave discernment. She met with a licensed counselor and the Center’s psychiatry physician assistant (PA). They all worked together to create a treatment plan. Elizabeth learned that there are safe medication options, if she and her husband decided to start a family. They did, and Elizabeth’s clinical team walked with them every step of the way.

The children are now one and three years old. Elizabeth is a working mother and tends to her self-care. Elizabeth continues treatment with her psychiatry PA and speaks fondly of her: “She tells me ‘happy, healthy mommy means happy, healthy baby.’”

Elizabeth is one of more than 4,000 individuals assisted annually at the Center. Approximately 35 percent of our clinical clients utilize a sliding pay scale, thanks to generous donations.

“They told me I wasn’t alone,” said Elizabeth about her clinical team. “They said I wasn’t the only one who experiences this.”