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Volume 26, Number 2
March/April 2010

Beyond Gay-Straight Alliances

Research shows why family support is critical to helping LGBT students succeed


Decades’ worth of studies point to the importance of parental involvement in K–12 schooling. Yet when it comes to programs and policies related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, families are often deliberately left out of the conversation, according to several leading experts in LGBT youth development. Even in schools where LGBT-positive programs such as gay-straight alliances (GSAs—support and advocacy groups for LGBT students and their “straight allies”) exist, these are often kept low-key. Obviously, educators need to exercise care when discussing individual LGBT students—some may not be “out” to family members, or some parents and caregivers may not be supportive of their children’s LGBT identities. But in some cases, they say, family involvement is absent, or even avoided, for fear of controversy.

“The assumption is that families are going to be unsupportive at best,” says Caitlin Ryan, a researcher at San Francisco State University, who has studied the issues affecting LGBT youth for more than three decades. Evidence from Ryan’s research, as well as several recent school-based initiatives, however, suggests that parents and caregivers can be important allies in the success of LGBT students, and that schools’ unwritten “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies around LGBT issues may do more harm than good.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Family Acceptance Project:

Gay-Straight Alliance Network:

J. G. Kosciw, E. M. Diaz, and E. A. Greytak. 2007 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. New York: Gay, Lesbian and
Straight Education Network, 2008. Available at 

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays:

C. Ryan. “Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Children.” San Francisco: Family Acceptance Project, San Francisco State University, 2009. Request at

C. Ryan, D. Huebner, R. M. Diaz, and J. Sanchez. “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults.” Pediatrics 123, no. 1 (2009): 346–352.