SOMERSET, N.J. (AP) – A conference focusing on suicide prevention among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people is being held Thursday in New Jersey, where the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman in September cast an international spotlight on the issue.
The conference theme was chosen before 18-year-old Tyler Clementi killed himself after his roommate had allegedly used a webcam to spy on him during a liaison with another man, organizers say.
The conference is focusing on the crucial role that families and other support systems can play in helping prevent suicide and other health problems among LGBT youth, according to organizers.
Keynote speaker Caitlin Ryan, the director of the Family Acceptance Project, has researched how a family’s reaction to an adolescent coming out can affect a young person’s physical and mental health.
‘The strong message should be that sexual orientation is a part of human development, and we really need to have education across all systems about supporting gay people,” Ryan said. “Because LGBT young people are coming out at younger ages, there’s a general lack of information in the systems that work with them.”
The conference agenda includes topics ranging from the difference that family acceptance can make in a young LGBT person’s life, to the role of schools in preventing or intervening when harassment of LGBT youth occurs.
The conference is being organized by the Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth Program, based at New Jersey’s University of Medicine & Dentistry, with support from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Rutgers University Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology and the Multicultural Family Institute.
Donna Amundson, program manager of the Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth Program, said conference attendees include administrators from the legal and child welfare systems, schools, health care professionals, law enforcement and academics as well as those the conference is focusing on helping: families and young people.
“We know that one of the protective factors for suicide is family and peer connections,” Amundson said. “The more that you can strengthen that, the better it’s going to be; that’s why we want to help these families help their kids embrace their identity and sexuality and help them to thrive.”
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