SALT LAKE CITY — Behind the statistics of the increased risks of self harm, homelessness and exploitation faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are intensely personal stories of family dynamics and for many in Utah, the intersection of faith.
Some parents choose to love and support their children no matter what. Others, when their child reveals their sexual identity to them, struggle to reconcile that revelation with their family's deep-seated religious beliefs.
The Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen, director of the LGBTQ Youth Continuum of Care, says all parents need to be aware of the increased risks that lesbian, gay, bisexual youth face, among them bullying, suicide, human trafficking and homelessness. Youths who are rejected from their families and their communities face even greater risks.
LGBT youth attempt suicide four times more often than their straight peers. However, LGBT youth from highly rejecting families are more than eight times as likely to try to take their own lives by the time they are young adults, according to a publication of San Francisco State University's Family Acceptance Project.
To facilitate conversations about these issues within families, faith communities and the community at large, the LGBTQ Youth Continuum has organized events to raise awareness, train community partners and provide resources to help prevent suicide and reduce risk to vulnerable youths.
A community forum on the roles of family and faith in supporting and helping LGBT youth will be held Tuesday, May 31 at the Provo City Library, 550 N. University Avenue, beginning with an informational fair at 6 p.m., followed by a panel at 7 p.m.
The interplay of faith is complex, Edmonds-Allen said.
"We talk about faith as being protective for some folks. And we know if someone is a person of faith they are less likely to be suicidal, although for some folks whose religious identity doesn't match up with who they are, then it becomes a risk for them," Edmonds-Allen said.
The goal of the upcoming community meeting is to give families, faith communities and others tools to look for warning signs, mitigate risk and learn the best ways to talk about these issues.
"It's the very practical, 'OK, here's what you look for. Here's what you say. Here's what you don't say. Here's where you can find resources in your families,' " Edmonds-Allen said.
Tuesday's forum will be hosted by Utah County PFLAG, a local chapter of the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The national organization, formed in the 1970s, provides information, resources, and support for families with LGBT loved ones.
On Tuesday June 7, also at the Provo City Library, a forum on safe schools and bullying will be offered. An information fair starts at 6 p.m. and a training session and panel begins at 7 p.m.
The programs are being piloted in Utah County, where a large percentage of the population belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Edmonds-Allen, herself a mom to a teenager, said it can be difficult for parents to differentiate between "teen behavior" and a child struggling with issues related to gender identification, including suicide ideation.
The community informational sessions can help, she said.
"When you want to have that conversation with your teen, there's support for that. Yes, it's OK to talk about this. It's important to talk about it and here's how you can do it," Edmonds-Allen said.
"I think a lot of people have good common sense but they want to know it's OK. There's a lot of fear that 'Oh, I might cause someone to be suicidal.' There's a lot of fear of that. Here's the best science so you know what to do and you can feel comfortable about having that conversation."
The overarching goal of the Continuum of Care for LGBT Youth is to reduce youth suicide and homelessness and improve safety for youth in Utah using data-driven best practices. The effort is co-directed by Rachel Peterson, who leads the Utah Coalition to End Youth Homelessness.
The project is funded by Prevention by Design through a collaboration of the Utah State Suicide Prevention Coalition and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.