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“My 17-year old just told me he's gay. Now what?” - (8/28/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

Lou came into the pharmacy looking glum. “What’s wrong?” the pharmacist asked him. “My oldest just announced that he is gay,” Lou said. “How does he know this? He is only 17. I wish there was a pill for that! His mother and I did not raise him to be gay.” 

First, no one raises a child to be homosexual. However, genes may come into play. In a 2012 study published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, researchers suggest that homosexuality is linked to epi-marks — extra layers of information that control how certain genes are expressed. These epi-marks are usually "erased" between generations. In gay people, these epi-marks are not erased. Rather, they are passed from father-to-daughter or mother-to-son. Whether or not a person chooses to act on these expressions depends on whether he or she feels safe enough to do so.

Second, regardless of any study results, being gay is fraught with many life obstacles, starting with violence and hate crimes. Past research has also shown lesbian and gay teens are more likely to be bullied than their peers are. Exactly 20 years ago, Matthew Shepard, 21, was brutally beaten and left for dead in the freezing winds of Wyoming. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that 44% of lesbian women and 61% of bisexual women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking at some point in their lifetime versus 35% of heterosexual women. A 2011 study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that gay teens are more likely to be mistreated in the form of punishment from school authorities, police, and the courts. 

Then there is substance abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that, when compared with the general population, gay and bisexual men, lesbian, and transgender individuals are more likely to 1) Use alcohol and drugs, 2) Have higher rates of substance abuse, and 3) Continue heavy drinking into later life. Alcohol and drug use among some gay and bisexual men can be a reaction to homophobia, discrimination, or violence they experienced due to their sexual orientation and can contribute to other mental health and physical problems. It can disrupt relationships, employment, and threaten financial stability. For some gay and bisexual people, substance abuse can contribute to a higher chance of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. 

Yet, as the pharmacist explained to Lou, there is a bright side. He is still the child you love. As with any child, you fear for their safety and hope for their happiness. According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, specific parental behaviors, such as advocating for their children when they are mistreated due to their sexual identity and supporting their teen's gender expression, were linked to a lower likelihood of depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts in early adulthood. In the 2011 Pediatrics study, half as many teens from highly accepting families reported suicidal thoughts in the past 6 months compared with those who reported low acceptance (19% vs. 38%). In addition, 31% of the high-acceptance group reported suicide attempts versus 57% of the low-acceptance group. As they say, all you need is love.  

Lou knows that this is his flesh and blood and he vows to be understanding of his son – as understanding as the pharmacist’s own dad was when the pharmacist came out to him – long ago.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com

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