(WM) A researcher and associate professor from the University of Miami is conducting a study on the emotional dynamics of Hispanic families with LGBT youth.
Karina Gattamorta, who works at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, will be utilizing family-support models tailored to Hispanic families with LGBT youth and offer these services to Florida families for free, with the goal of reducing serious health risks and increasing support for Hispanic LGBT youth.
Gattamorta was initially inspired by the work of clinical social workers Caitlin Ryan and Rafael Diaz. The duo created The Family Acceptance Project in 2002 as a way of examining family acceptance strategies for families with LGBT youth. The study resulted in the “first evidence-based family support model for families with LGBTQ youth,” according to the San Francisco-based publication The Bay Area Reporter.
“From the beginning we did research with Latino parents with LGBT kids throughout California; and, of course, we also worked with families of other racial, cultural and religious backgrounds,” Ryan said.
The model that was developed from The Family Acceptance Project “encourages parents to fully accept their children for who they are, instead of refusing to discuss — or in some cases acknowledge — their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” Ryan and Gattamorta have both said that such evasiveness can promote “negative health consequences for LGBT youth, such as suicide, drug abuse and HIV infection.”
Gattamorta had done a number of research projects that focused on the Hispanic population and was taken aback by the lack of discourse on the intersection of Latin culture and queer identity. This, combined with her discovery of The Family Acceptance Project, inspired her to contact Ryan.
“We have a large [National Institutes of Health]-funded health disparities research center,” Gattamorta said. “I got interested in the intersectionality of being a cultural minority and a sexual minority and was so shocked to see there was so little research. I came across the work Caitlin [Ryan] had been doing and reached out.”
Findings from the Family Acceptance Project indicate that queer Latinx youth are at a much greater risk for mental distress, substance abuse and disease when their sexuality or gender identity isn’t embraced by their families.
“Initial research from the [study] shows that Hispanic LGBTQ youth from highly-rejecting families were more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide and more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs and to be at high risk for HIV,” the Bay Area Reporter notes.
Ryan has said that familial support is crucial to the well-being of queer Latinx youth because of the family-oriented nature of many Hispanic cultures. She also pointed out that the persistence of systemic inequities within Hispanic communities has prevented the creation of culturally-competent resources.
“One of the big challenges has been cultural and religious beliefs because family is the heart of the culture,” she said. “But because of the enormous economic disparity, lack of access to services and the barrier of language for many, there hasn’t been a way to provide guidance to families that was culturally appropriate.”
Ryan and Gattamorta want to highlight the inherent warmth and caring nature of Hispanic families and use these qualities as a springboard for fostering more positive family acceptance strategies.
“One of the strengths in this project is we have found specific behaviors parents engage in that result in risk — suicide and depression — and on the other side there are positive behaviors,” Gattamorta said. “We want to help people increase positive behaviors. For example, the family mobilizes and provides incredible support during pregnancy. We know this shows the nurturing impact of family, and that’s the most important thing in this work.”
Gattamorta and Ryan’s study will take a look at “the correlation between family behavior and 100 particular behaviors in total among LGBT youth.” Their aim is to demonstrate the relationship between traditional family beliefs and the acceptance of LGBT identity and how this can affect the intact nature of families.
“These behaviors are common across cultures,” Ryan said. “We’re not forcing anyone to change their beliefs, but we want to show people how when the conflict [between traditional beliefs and LGBT identity] increases, families can become fractured, and that ties that help people be supportive even as they are learning what it means to have an LGBT child.”
The Center of Excellence for Health Disparities Research: El Centro at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies conducts research with a focus on “communities of Hispanic and African descent and sexual/gender minorities.” El Centro strives to “to develop and test interventions to reduce health disparities” within these marginalized communities.