Family Acceptance Project's Campaign for Two Spirit American Indian Families

The Family Acceptance Project (FAP) at San Francisco State University, in collaboration with Council Oak Training and Evaluation, Inc. has launched new research-based Healthy Futures posters for American Indian families & communities to help parents, families and caregivers to support LGBTQ / Two Spirit (LGBTQ-2S) children and youth to reduce health risks and increase well-being.

The term “Two Spirit” is used to describe diverse gender, spiritual and social identities among Native and Indigenous people that transcend binary concepts of male and female. Historically, Two Spirit people held respected roles in many tribal communities.

High levels of risk for LGBTQ-2S adolescents for suicide, substance abuse, depression and victimization call for evidence-based approaches that increase support and connectedness, and these connections start with families. Family support plays a major role in helping to buffer racism and rejection and to promote positive development.

FAP’s research has identified more than 100 specific family rejecting behaviors that increase risk for suicide, depression, drug use, HIV and other health risks and are experienced as traumatic for these youth, as well as specific family accepting behaviors that promote well-being. These new posters show parents and caregivers specific ways to help reduce their LGBTQ-2S children’s risk and increase family support.

FAP’s new posters for American Indian communities expand a growing series of cultural and multilingual versions of these materials that are currently available in English, Spanish and 8 Asian languages and are grounded in FAP’s peer-reviewed research and family support work over the past two decades. The posters show how specific family rejecting reactions to a child’s sexual orientation, gender identity and expression such as ridiculing their identity or not letting them wear clothes – including regalia – that express their gender identity contribute to health risks. They also show how supportive behaviors such as standing up for their children when others mistreat them because of their identity help protect against risk and promote well-being.

To develop the posters, FAP partnered with American Indian cultural consultants, Dr. Pamela Jumper Thurman and Dr. Barbara Plested, founders of Council Oak Training and Evaluation, Inc., a central resource for developing and implementing culturally grounded mental health, substance abuse, HIV and violence prevention and intervention programs for diverse tribes over the past three decades.

FAP’s new poster series to support LGBTQ-2S children’s mental health comes as leading national child and adolescent medical groups have designated a national emergency for children’s and adolescent’s mental health that calls for promoting trauma-informed services to reduce risk and support family resilience.

In describing the posters and FAP’s culture-based family support work, Drs. Jumper Thurman and Plested noted: “It is an honor to work with the Family Acceptance Project to develop these posters for the Indigenous community. In fact, it’s groundbreaking! To our knowledge there has not been a national campaign such as this one aimed at increasing family connectedness and support for LGBTQ-2S youth. This has high potential to be lifesaving for many youth.”

Said Sharon Day, an Ojibwe M’dewin, water walker and Executive Director of Indigenous Peoples Task Force: “Our coming of age ceremonies should include diverse, gender affirming tools to help our youth navigate adulthood. These posters offer guidance to parents and caregivers on ways to support our LGBTQ and Two Spirit identified children and to prevent health risks. As a lesbian/Two Spirit identified person, my own personal acceptance was deeply connected to my mother's unconditional love and acceptance. Our children face many challenges and family support is essential.”

Dr. Caitlin Ryan, Director of the Family Acceptance Project, said: “FAP’s posters help parents, families and caregivers understand the critical need for family support and the impact that specific family rejecting and accepting behaviors have on risk and well-being for LGBTQ- 2S children and youth. Family behaviors that try to change, deny and minimize a child’s LGBTQ-2S identity and gender expression start at home and contribute to serious health risks like suicide, substance abuse, self-harm and sexual health risks. Simply by changing the way they respond to LGBTQ-2S children, parents and caregivers can help prevent health risks and build healthy futures for children and youth.”

The Family Acceptance Project is a research, intervention, education and policy initiative, affiliated with San Francisco State University, that is designed to: 1) prevent risk, including suicide, substance abuse and homelessness, and promote well-being for LGBTQ children and adolescents in the context of their families, cultures and faith communities; and 2) implement and disseminate the first research-based, family model of wellness, prevention, and care to build healthy futures for LGBTQ children and youth.

For more information and to download copies of the posters, visit
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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