Study Focuses on Experiences of Hispanic Sexual Minority Youth and their Parents

According to public health experts at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and School of Nursing and Health Studies, disclosure of sexual identity and or gender orientation is difficult for Hispanic youth and is associated with elevated health risks, such as depression, bullying, substance use, and risky sexual behaviors — especially when there is parental rejection.

Sexual minority youth are those youth who identify as LGBTQ and Hispanic sexual minority youth are youth who are Hispanic and identify as LGBTQ. Alyssa Lozano, a Ph.D. student in the Division of Prevention Science and Community Health in the Miller School’s Department of Public Health Sciences, served as first author in a study that focused on understanding the experiences of Hispanic families with sexual minority youth who disclosed their LGBTQ sexual and/or gender orientation, the families’ initial reaction to disclosure, and how disclosure affected familial relationships.

The study, published online in February in Family Process, found that common themes experienced by youth and their parents were facing intrapersonal challenges, navigating the disclosure, and conceptualizing acceptance after disclosure.

“There is a dearth of information about what both parents and youth go through during the disclosure process,” Lozano said. “It is important to understand what occurs within the family unit in order to develop culturally appropriate family interventions for this population.”

Family support is needed

“Family support and cohesion during and after the youth’s coming out to parents leads to better mental health and lower risk of substance use and sexual risk behaviors,” added study senior author Guillermo (Willy) Prado, Ph.D., vice provost for faculty affairs, professor of nursing and health studies, public health sciences and psychology. “The development, evaluation, and dissemination of parenting programs that strengthen family support and cohesion are clearly needed for this population.”

The researchers utilized a “phenomenological” approach, in which participants who share a common experience are interviewed, and their experiences are explored through their responses. This allowed them to gain understanding of families’ subjective experiences, with an emphasis on the impact of disclosure on family relationships. Understanding the insight derived from the phenomenological approach can help inform the development of family-based preventive interventions to prevent negative health outcomes in Hispanic sexual minority youth.

From February 2019 to June 2019, the researchers conducted 15 face-to-face individual interviews with youth and 15 face-to-face interviews with primary caregiver participants, with each interview lasting one hour. Questions asked of the adolescents included what they found most difficult during the disclosure process, who they told first when they realized their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and their experience when they did, challenges that they experienced when disclosing to parents, and if their relationship changed in any way. Questions asked of the parents included what they found most difficult about the revelation, in what ways the revelation affected their relationship with their son or daughter, and what challenges they faced when discussing this with the other parent.

The analyses of the interviews revealed that Hispanic sexual minority youth and their parents went through similar experiences following disclosure, but responses to disclosure were unique to youth and parents. Their responses to challenges and experience, however, were uniquely influenced by cultural factors, such as familismo, gender norms, country of origin, and a cultural religious system.

Potential solutions

The study findings suggest that interventions and therapy for Hispanic sexual minority youth should address the barriers to disclosure to facilitate communication around orientation. Family therapists, for instance, may have to address how cultural values may influence internalized homophobia and homophobic behaviors in parents and/or adolescents. Similarly, clinicians should be aware of and address implicit biases within themselves — especially if a clinician’s culture may harbor homophobic beliefs. Additionally, parents may need to learn how to be supportive of their child, as they often feel guilt and stress related to the adolescent’s sexual orientation.

The authors note that participation in therapy or interventions aimed at facilitating may rely on the parent’s stage of acceptance of the youths’ sexual orientation. Additionally, interventions and/or therapy aiming to facilitate parental acceptance of youths’ sexual orientation should help parents identify tacit forms of disclosure, such as inviting same-sex partners to family functions.

Future research should focus on understanding the risks and protective factors that may interfere with parents of Hispanic sexual minority youth accepting their son or daughter. Based on those findings, the study states that informed, culturally specific family-based interventions could be developed to tap into the Hispanic culture of resiliency and unconditional love for the family.

Tags: Alyssa Lozano, Dr. Guillermo "Willy" Prado, Family Process, gender orientation, Hispanic sexual minority youth, LGBTQ, phenomenological approach, sexual identity