|Caitlin Ryan, PhD. PHOTOâSOURCE: RENNA COMMUNICATIONS
By Cathy Renna
Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at SF State University, is a clinical social worker who has worked on LGBT health and mental health since the 1970s. Prior to the AIDS epidemic, her early organizing activities helped establish a national network of LGBT health and mental health providers that provided a platform for the community to address critical health, mental health and AIDS-related issues. In 1979, Dr. Ryan began to plan, and later was co-investigator of, the National Lesbian Health Care Surveyâthe first major study to identify lesbian health and mental health needs and concerns.
During the early 1980s, she developed community-based AIDS services as director of AID Atlanta and the Whitman-Walker Clinic AIDS Program. As co-director of the AIDS Policy Center at The George Washington University, she co-wrote the first book on AIDS policy, which served as the basis for many of the recommendations of the first Presidential Commission on AIDS.
Dr. Ryan pioneered the development of guidelines for care of LGBT adolescents and in the 1990s, co-wrote the first comprehensive guide to health and mental health care for lesbian and gay youth. She co-authored the first guidelines for care of LGBT out-of-home youth as part of the Model Standards Project to improve services for LGBT youth in child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
As young people started coming out during adolescence in the 1980s and early 1990s, Dr. Ryan identified a major gap in care. Little was known about how families responded to their LGBT children, and services for LGBT youth were provided either individually or through peer support. In 2002, she founded the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) with Dr. Rafael Diaz to study the impact of family acceptance and rejection on the health and well-being of LGBT youth, and to develop a new family intervention model to help ethnically and religiously diverse families to support their LGBT children.
Her groundbreaking research and family intervention work are changing the way we address issues related to coming out and the paradigm for how we nurture and promote the well-being of LGBT children and adolescents in the context of families, faith, culture and communities.
Among the resources that she and her team have developed is Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Children â a guide that encapsulates FAPâs approach. Dr. Ryan describes it as âmeeting families where they are.â
Written in English, Spanish and Chinese, it has been designated as the 1st Best Practice resource for suicide prevention for LGBT people by the national Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention. Lower literacy versions and versions for religiously diverse families are in development, including one just released for Mormon families.
Says Ryan: âAfter working in LGBT health for nearly 40 years, this is the most hopeful work Iâve ever done. So many parents, providers and youth have told us that this work is not only changing lives - itâs saving them.â Although FAP understands that there is a long way to go in helping protect and nurture LGBT children and youth, there can be no doubt that FAPâs progress is remarkable - and that Dr. Ryanâs work has dramatically changed how providers, educators, clergy and others approach and address the needs of LGBT youth.