NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. Coming out to one's family can be stressful, but gay black males face a unique set of personal, familial and social challenges.
"Parents and youths alike worry that gay men cannot meet the rigid expectations of exaggerated masculinity maintained by their families and communities," says Michael C. LaSala, director of the Master of Social Work program at Rutgers University School of Social Work. LaSala, an associate professor, recently completed an exploratory study of African American gay youth and their families from urban neighborhoods in New York City and Philadelphia.
The study, "African American Gay Youth and Their Families: Redefining Masculinity, Coping with Racism and Homophobia," was published in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies and co-authored with Damien T. Frierson from Howard University. The research focused on gay black males, ages 19 to 25, and their families.
Gay black males struggle to cope with intersecting oppressions racism, homophobia and sexism, says LaSala. They carry a "special stigma" that some straight black males may find particularly disturbing. "The world already sees you as less than others. By being gay, you're further hurting the image of African-American men," LaSala says was a common reaction among the male relatives of the black youth when they learned that their relative was gay.
"On a clinical level, targeted interventions, especially those that include the young man's biological father or a father figure, can assist families to cope with what for many is an unexpected and troubling reality," says LaSala, who works with gay youths and their families in private practice and outlines interventions for families in transition.
Child-rearing for the parents of a black son can be especially daunting, given the increased risk for poverty, HIV/AIDS and other illnesses and imprisonment faced by African- American men. Black parents often feel guilty when the
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