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Psychologists with gay, lesbian or bisexual relatives are building a network to publicly show support for their family members. The group, which had 95 members in early May, will encourage clinical work and research on gay concerns and advocate to reduce the stigma associated with homosexuality.

"We hope to facilitate greater acceptance of gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals and encourage less-accepting family members to re-evaluate their own attitudes and behaviors," says network organizer, Marvin R. Goldfried, PhD, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is urging more psychologists to join the as yet unnamed group.

Goldfried launched the network after he and his wife, Anita, a clinical social worker, marched in a gay pride parade with the national group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The applause and cheers of lesbian and gay onlookers were punctuated with shouts of "We wish our family would march!" Goldfried and his wife participated to show support for their 28-year-old gay son Michael. "There's a saying that when gay and lesbian individuals come out of the closet, their parents and relatives go in," says Goldfried. "Many gay people lose their families when they come out. Or if they haven't come out to them, they maintain a distance from their families."

Yet, he says, family support--such as parents openly talking to friends and relatives about their gay children--plays a key role in enhancing self-esteem and self-acceptance for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, especially adolescents who are often struggling to come to terms with their sexual identities. About 25 percent of the gay adolescents who reveal their sexual preference are rejected by their parents, according to the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a community group in New York City for gay adolescents.

Research also reveals that one out of four gay, lesbian or bisexual adolescents has encountered physical abuse from peers at school and one out of every three experiences verbal abuse from family members. Gay and lesbian adolescents are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other youth are. In fact, 30 percent of all attempted or completed adolescent suicides are related to issues of sexual identity, according the U.S. Surgeon General's 1999 call to prevent suicide.

Even when parents tell their gay children they support them, says Goldfried, parents often find it difficult to talk about their children's lifestyles, thereby failing to validate their children's gay identities. Network members hope their efforts will set an example for others who struggle to publicly admit that they have a family member--son, daughter, sister, brother, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle or cousin--who is gay.

"When friends or neighbors make a negative comment about gays or lesbians, it's up to us to say we have a family member who is gay and correct their misperceptions," says member Donald Freedheim, PhD, a psychology professor at Case Western Reserve University.

The group also hopes to bridge research and clinical work on gay and lesbian concerns with mainstream interests that often have had little to say about gay and lesbian populations, such as substance abuse, suicide and depression. Currently, there's little overlap, and often there's a stigma associated with conducting research and writing clinical articles on lesbian and gay issues, Goldfried asserts.

The network will support researchers and clinicians who study gay and lesbian issues by offering to collaborate with these researchers or supervise students interested in this area of study. Goldfried hopes that researchers conducting large-scale studies on any psychological area--depression or substance abuse, for example--will incorporate gay and lesbian issues into their studies or collaborate with researchers who study gay and lesbian populations.

Network members will also provide expertise to gay and lesbian advocacy groups, such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, by offering to testify in court or before legislative bodies.

Advising the network will be members of APA's Div. 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues).

"This network offers a strong public statement that these psychologists are proud family members of gay and lesbian individuals," says former Div. 44 president Laura S. Brown, PhD.

Further Reading

For more information, call Marvin Goldfried at (631) 632-7823 or send an e-mail to marvin.goldfried@sunysb.edu.