Paternal support buffers emotional damage to LGBT teens and young adults

December 16, 2019

Support from fathers trumps that of mothers when it comes to mitigating damage from discrimination over sexual orientation in LGBT teenagers and young adults.

Paternal support is often overlooked in many facets, but a new study reveals that for sexual minorities, a father’s involvement may be the key to reducing cardiovascular risk caused by the strain of discrimination over sexual orientation.

A new study, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, examined C-reactive proteins (CRP) and how they may be used to predict future cardiovascular risk in teenagers and young adults who face discrimination as a result of their sexual orientation. The CRP biomarker, created in the liver, rises when inflammation is present in the body and can provide information about acute or chronic conditions. Often used to predict cardiovascular risk, CRPs were studied in high school students in grades 7 to 12, and then into their young adulthood. Researchers interviewed the study groups about their sexual orientation, discrimination they had experienced relative to their sexual orientation, and what kind of social support they had received from their father and mother. The goal of the research was to determine whether parental support could help deter the rise of CRP caused by the stress of discrimination.

Surprisingly, support from mothers did not mitigate the negative effects that the study group experienced-measured by CRP-but support from fathers was associated with a significant moderation in the association between discrimination over sexual orientation and elevated CRP. This applied only to sexual minorities, and not heterosexuals.

“We must do a better job of understanding the role that fathers play in supporting lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) adolescents and young adults. Also, in doing so, we may be able to limit the effects of discrimination on cardiovascular risk,” says Stephanie Cook, DrPH, assistant professor of biostatistics at New York University in New York City and co-author of the report. “Our results suggest that moderate levels of father support buffer the negative effects of discrimination on CRP for sexual minority adolescents and young adults but not for heterosexual teenagers and young adults. We did not find an effect with mother support. Of course, these analyses will need to be replicated in another large national dataset, but the findings of this work lay important groundwork.”

For the study, Cook says researchers asked general questions about parental support, and more research is needed to utilize this data more effectively.
“The only question concerning parental support was ‘how close do you feel to your father?’ This question was also asked about the mother,” Cook says. “Thus, this is a measure of emotional support and not other types of parental support-instrumental support, tangible support, financial support-that may also be important for LGBT adolescents and young adults. In the future, my study team as well as other researchers will examine the specific types of support beyond emotional support.”

There was also a limit as to how much paternal support helped, she adds.

“In this study, we found that moderate levels of father support buffered the negative effects of discrimination on CRP for LGB adolescents and young adults,” Cook says. “Interestingly enough at the highest levels of father support this effect disappeared. We do not quite understand why this is, but plan to continue our work in this area.”
Cook says she was surprised overall, though, that maternal support was not a better buffer for LGBT youths.

“I do think, however, that this work supports the theoretical underpinnings highlighting the important role of emotional closeness with fathers for LGBT teenagers and young adults,” she says. “The role of fathers has historically been neglected in research examining LGB health and in interventions intended to improve the health of LGB adolescents and young adults. We hope that our findings can inform interventions that foster supportive relationships among LGB teenagers and young adults and their father or father-figures and inform policy that focuses on increasing such support.”