A family’s most basic functions include support, both emotional and financial. Our family are the first relationships we develop and are usually the ones that we hold onto the longest, from birth to death. These bonds are not only meant to integrate us into society but prepare us for our own families when the time or choice comes (Hammond & Cheney, 2009). What happens when these family units do not fulfill their most basic functions and cast out their family members for things that are often not a choice, such as gender or sexual orientation?
Family rejection can happen for a number of reasons from personal differences, religious problems, alcohol/drug use, arguments, and so forth. However, many times families can settle their differences and still continue to act as a unit, even if they do not necessarily get along. However there are occasions where this rejection is lifelong from the moment it happens. This can lead to short and long-term health effects, both mentally and physically, regardless of age. The impact is most significant if this rejection happens during youth and is over things that cannot be changed, such as gender or sexuality (Lowrey, 2010).
These effects can range from homelessness, increased depression, increased suicidal thoughts and tendencies, to higher accounts of HIV/AIDS and drug use/alcoholism (Ryan, Russell, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2010). This rejection can also lead to being in and out of the criminal justice system due to the criminalization of homelessness as well as survival tactics such as the survival sex trade (Valentino, 2011). These problems are also affected by experiencing racism, transmisogyny (misogyny directed specifically at trans women), as well as sexism, heterosexism, and other institutional oppressions. For example, a Black trans women will face more problems on the streets than a White cisgender (meaning non-transgender) gay male (Grant, Mottet, Tanis, Harrison, & Herman, 2011). These impacts are both short and long-term, impacting a person’s life from the moment the rejection happens and beyond.
Homelessness is the biggest short-term (potentially turning into long-term) effect of family rejection on LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) youth. Youth who are rejected by their family upon either coming out of the closet or upon being forced or discovered must face the potential of losing a stable place of living. LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population. Numbers vary anywhere between 20-40% of the overall homeless youth population identify as being LGBTQ with the majority of them being homeless because of family rejection (Lowrey, 2010). If the youth is still in school, this leads to difficulty in maintaining the ability to go to school. Schools often lack resources for homeless youth to continue their education, making it increasingly difficult to be able to graduate with a high school diploma (Cahill & Cianciotto, 2012).
Transgender youth are hit particularly hard by this family rejection. A survey done by Grant et al. (2011), found that those who reported family rejection were nearly three times more likely to be homeless than those who did not (26% versus 9%, respectively). Compound this issue with increasing problems with finding jobs due to transphobia, incorrect documents, and other issues (such as age) and transgender people who were rejected by their family were almost double as likely to have done sex work for income (13% versus 7%, respectively). There was an 8% (from 11%) increase for those who experienced family rejection for having used the underground economy for income (I.E.: dealing drugs, street sex work) compared to those whose family was accepting (Grant et al., 2011).
Homelessness is not the only immediate issue that comes with family rejection. Homelessness and the survival around the state of homelessness also create a huge potential for incarceration and repeated run-ins with the juvenile justice system. Since LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population, they are often overrepresented in the juvenile justice system (Valentino, 2011). This does not mean that being in the system is better than being on the streets. LGBTQ youth in the prison system face abuse, harassment, rape, and other horrors due to their gender or sexual orientation not only from other youths, but from guards and other people meant to be protecting them. Isolation is often used as a way to protect youth from these abuses, but it often only creates more problems, especially in regards to mental health (Valentino, 2011).
An immediate drop in mental health also comes with the rejection from family. Youth who have been rejected by their families report more frequent suicide attempts, often due to family rejection, higher rates of depression, as well as lower rates of self-esteem (Ryan et al., 2010). They lose their most immediate emotional and financial supports with the family rejection, often faced with abuse if they stay. Those who are not kicked out of their homes, but end up homeless anyway often report abuse at the hands of family members as the reason they left. Family members may occasionally believe that they can beat, pray, exorcise, or other forms of potential abuse, away the gay (or transgender, bisexual, etc.) from their children leaving these youth with no other choice but the streets (Cahill & Cianciotto, 2012; Grant et al., 2011).
These short-term effects can create long lasting scars and problems further in life. For example, issues with having been part of the juvenile justice system can cause problems with finding employment and stable housing. This is exacerbated by problems such as racism, homophobia, and transphobia, which can keep LGBTQ youth and young adults on the streets or focused on the underground economy as a source of support. This can create a problem with reoccurring issues with the law making it increasingly more difficult (Grant et al., 2011; Valentino, 2011). Lack of a high school diploma or a GED makes finding a job that can pay a living wage even more difficult as minimum wage is not enough to support oneself (Hammond & Cheney, 2009).
Youth who experienced family rejection have an overall lower reported health than those who family accept them. They report lasting problems with depression and low self-esteem, directly connected with how accepting their family was of their identity (Ryan et al., 2010). In order to cope with family rejection, many LGBTQ youth may turn to drugs and alcohol as escapism or a form of coping methods, creating long-term health problems due to drug use or chronic alcoholism. Those who rejected by their family even reported higher levels of smoking cigarettes compared to those whose family accepted them (Grant et al., 2011).
Family rejection is also linked to riskier sexual behaviors. Transgender women are some of the highest populations with new HIV cases. This is due to a number of factors linked with transmisogyny leading to poverty, homelessness, and other issues such as drug addiction. Having to turn to the survival sex trade in order to make a living also makes this population of women extremely vulnerable to new cases of HIV (Grant et al., 2011). It is important to note that is not sex work that makes this a problem, but the unsafe conditions in which sex workers have to potential work in due to the criminalization and stigmatization of sex work. This forces sex workers into dangerous situations with little to no protect from theft, rape, and other abuses without potentially facing criminal charges and loss of property and livelihood due to their job (Grant, 2014).
The family unit is extremely important in any culture. Our family is our first introduction to the culture we live in. It is our first introduction to relationships and how these family relationships form will shape how we see relationships with others and ourselves for the rest of our lives (Hammond & Cheney, 2009). Family rejection is hard hitting with lasting effects that create waves through the life of the individual affected. Continually problems with areas such as homophobia and transphobia only exacerbate the wounds and problems created by an unsupportive family (Blair & Claster, 2013; Grant et al., 2011).
A family provides financial as well as emotional support for children as they group up under its care. When this is abruptly ended, it creates turmoil in the life of the youth. This turmoil leads to potential life problems, including lacking support through the rest of the child’s life, vital support that can help them remain mentally and physically healthy into adulthood (Blair & Claster, 2013; Ryan et al., 2010). The problems family rejection creates are long-term and far-lasting, creating a cycle which is difficult to end, especially for those who must fight against institutional oppressions (Grant et al., 2011).
Where family support is lacking, there must be new support systems on both financial and emotional levels. While there are LGBTQ focused shelters and centers, such as the Ali Forney Center in New York City, these centers are far and few in between which is shocking considering the overwhelming number of homeless LGBTQ youth (Lowrey, 2010). More must be done to either educate the family on their LGBTQ child and create a supportive and healthy home system or create new homes and new families for these youths as family is not always related by blood or law (Cahill & Cianciotto, 2012; Hammond & Cheney, 2009).
Blair, S., & Claster, P. (2013). Visions of the 21st Century Family: Transforming Structures and Identities. Bingley, U.K.: Emerald.
Cahill, S., & Cianciotto, S. (2012). Lgbt youth in America’s schools. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Grant, M. (2014). Playing the whore: The work of sex work. Brooklyn: Verso.
Grant, J. M., Mottet, L.A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., & Herman, J.L. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the national transgender discrimination survey. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Hammond, R., & Cheney, P. (2009). Sociology of the family. Retrieved from http://freebooks.uvu.edu/SOC1200/index.php.
Lowrey, S. (2010). Kicked out. Ypsilanti: Homofactus Press.
Ryan, C., Russell, S., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 205-213. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-6171.2010.00246.x/full
Valentino, A. (2011). Part 1: LGBTQ Youth in the Juvenile Justice System. Children’s Rights Litigation, 13(4), 20.