Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ryan's Hope

If any two people can truly know each other's hearts, Caitlin Ryan and Mary Griffith surely do.

Griffith, a California mother who raised her son Bobby in a devoutly religious household, became a most unlikely crusader for gay rights after Bobby committed suicide in the 1980s. After praying for her son, rejecting him out-of-hand and pushing him away because he was gay (and because she thought her faith required that she do so), Mary lost Bobby forever and began a remarkable journey that, in many ways, finally came full circle in just the past few weeks.

On January 24th, Lifetime television will bring Mary's story, based on the acclaimed novel Prayers for Bobby, to the small screen. And just weeks prior to the film's premiere, Dr. Ryan - a researcher based not far from Mary's suburban California home - released groundbreaking research showing that Bobby was never really alone. In fact, he had, unfortunately, far too much company.

Ryan, who heads up San Francisco State University's "Family Acceptance Project," released the first part of her new research on family acceptance and gay youth in this month's Journal of Pediatrics. And while, on the surface, her findings may seem overly logical, the story of Bobby Griffith shows us that for many families, there is still much to learn.

The research conducted by Ryan is chilling in its conclusions and unmistakable in its consequences. When families reject their lesbian, gay and bisexual children, it has a dramatic impact on the long-term health and well-being of those young people. Poor health, starkly higher rates of depression, an increased likelihood of drug use and, most disturbing, an undeniably greater risk of suicide are just a few of the side-effects of family rejection.

Misguided "prayers," Ryan found, can be very damaging things.

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