Post submitted by Beth Sherouse, former ACLS Public Fellow, HRC Senior Content Manager

Dr. Caitlin Ryan has spent the past 40 years working to build happier and healthier futures for LGBTQ youth and adults and to prevent major health risks for LGBT youth. In recognition of her lifetime of work, the HRC Foundation will present her with its Upstander Award for Promoting Safety, Inclusion and Well-Being for LGBTQ Youth at the second annual Time to THRIVE conference in Portland, 13-15 February 2015.

“It’s an honor to receive this award from HRC,” said Ryan. “It’s been a privilege to work with so many diverse LGBT young people and their families over the years and to know that I’ve been able to make a difference. Helping families learn to support their LGBT children – especially socially and religiously conservative families – is the most hopeful work I’ve ever done.”

Dr. Ryan’s work with children and youth began during her clinical training at Smith College of Social Work 35 years ago. In the 1970s, she worked as a national organizer in the early LGBT health movement, and started to plan the first national study of lesbian health. During the 1980s, she played a leading role in developing early AIDS services.

Since the early 1990s, Dr. Ryan’s work has focused on promoting well-being for LGBTQ youth. In 2002, she started the Family Acceptance Project, working “to prevent health and mental health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and youth, including suicide, homelessness and HIV – in the context of their families, cultures and faith communities.” The Project uses “a research-based, culturally grounded approach to help ethnically, socially and religiously diverse families to support their LGBT children.”

According to HRC Foundation’s 2012 report Growing Up LGBT in America, the LGBT youth who were surveyed were only half as likely as their non-LGBT peers to report being happy; LGBT youth were more than twice as likely as non-LGBT youth to experiment with drugs and alcohol; and more than half of LGBT youth reported having been verbally harassed by peers and called names involving anti-gay slurs.

Disparities like these show the cost of stigma-related challenges that LGBT youth experience, compared with their non-LGBT peers. Dr. Ryan’s family intervention work provides a road map to build healthy futures for LGBT children and youth by changing the social environment at the family and community level. Her groundbreaking research has generated a new language of behavioral change that helps families, foster families and caregivers learn that how they respond to their LGBT children – with specific accepting and rejecting behaviors – promotes their LGBT children’s health and well-being or significantly increases risk their for serious health problems and fractures families.

“Caitlin has been a leader in our movement for decades,” said Ellen Kahn, HRC Foundation’s Children, Youth and Families Program Director. “Given the major challenges that LGBTQ youth face, Caitlin’s focus on building acceptance among families is literally life-saving work.”

To learn more about HRC Foundation’s Time to THRIVE conference, visit

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