Lead with Love

A University of Utah research team has created a new way of helping lesbian, gay and bisexual teens — by reaching out to their parents. A 35-minute documentary, "LEAD with love," aims to help parents who are having trouble accepting their child's sexual orientation.

LGBT adolescents are at higher risk than straight teens for depression, substance abuse and suicide, according to the Institute of Medicine, which released the first comprehensive report on LGBT health this past spring. While there are many reasons for this discrepancy, including bullying and feeling isolated, research suggests that parental support can also play a crucial role, says David Huebner, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Utah.

"We find that the ways parents respond to kids when they come out has a surprisingly huge impact on the child's health," Huebner says. "Adolescents are eight times more likely to attempt suicide when they have parents who are highly rejecting."

The vast majority of gay teens do not attempt or commit suicide, but those who do might be the kids for whom there isn't any safe place, Huebner says. They may face bullying at school, or their parents don't know or aren't supportive. "That's probably a perfect storm," he says.

"LEAD with Love" works to address this problem by speaking directly and sympathetically to parents who may struggle with their children's sexual orientation. The film focuses on four families of gay teens. The central theme of the film is the acronym LEAD: Let your affection show; Express pain away from your child; Avoid rejecting behaviors; and Do good before you feel good. Interspersed among interviews with the families are concrete strategies for following the LEAD strategy, along with expert advice and information about homosexuality.

"There is an empirical foundation for almost everything we present in the film," says Huebner.

The team is now studying viewer response through a survey that allows for open-ended feedback, and hopes to launch a formal study of the film's effectiveness. Although a rigorous, controlled trial has not yet been done, says Huebner, "I'm really encouraged and excited about the changes suggested in the data we do have."

—E. Wojcik