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We had a hugely successful conference on October 30, 2012 at Bentley University. Despite Hurricane Sandy’s arrival the day before, the Pastoral Counseling for LGBT Youth and Their Families religious conference was fabulous and very well attended.  

Dr. Caitlin Ryan delivered a powerful keynote presentation, followed by a day filled with great workshops and discussions. The energy level all day was palpable, and the nearly 200 participants came away with a set of tools and strategies for promoting understanding, acceptance and inclusion of LGBT congregants in their faith communities. It was really a groundbreaking event, and one that all of us associated with Greater Boston PFLAG should be very proud of.

Resource Bibliography - please download the pdf here.

Conference Program - please download the pdf here.

Pastoral Counseling for LGBT Youth and Their Families

A conference focusing on the role of religious professionals in fostering family acceptance of LGBT people, supporting congregants and building safe, welcoming and supportive communities for LGBT people and allies.

October 30, 2012
8:30am to 4:15pm
Bentley University, Waltham, MA

On-line registration is open

October 29 at noon:  The conference is taking place as planned.  See you there!  Please be sure to register


Questions? contact info@gbpflag.org .  Please let your religious leaders and institutions know about this important conference.

Conference Summary

The Need

Dr. Caitlin Ryan’s research from the Family Acceptance Project at SF State University has found that families have a compelling impact on the health and well-being of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children. Her research shows that family accepting behaviors protect against risk and promote well-being while family rejecting behaviors are linked with serious risk behaviors. In addition, her research has found that highly religious families are less likely to be accepting of their LGBT children and rejecting behaviors based on religious beliefs are significantly related to risk.
In particular, her research found that – compared with peers from families with no or low levels of family rejection – LGBT teens whose families were highly rejecting during adolescence were (as young adults):

  • 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide
  • 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression
  • over 3.5 times more likely to be at risk for STD’s / HIV and 
  • 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs

The Family Acceptance Project has been developing groundbreaking new family interventions and resources based on this research that help families integrate deeply held values and beliefs with love for their LGBT children to reduce their children’s risk, promote their well-being and strengthen families.

Religious professionals can be a powerful conduit for accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity for parents and caregivers, and can intervene with families at critical moments to provide meaningful growth. The commandments of love and compassion, which are the basis for all faiths, have been validated by Dr. Ryan’s peer-reviewed research and are core aspects of her family intervention approach. If we reject our LGBT children, we elevate their risk for adverse health and mental health outcomes. If we love them, these children have a much better chance of living healthy lives close to their families and faith communities.


Keynote Speaker: Dr. Caitlin Ryan, Director - Family Acceptance Project

Caitlin Ryan, PhD, ACSW is a clinical social worker who has worked on LGBT health and mental health for nearly 40 years through early community development, education, research, policy and practice. Recognizing that LGBT youth services had evolved as separate and apart from families and that little was known about how families affected their LGBT children, she founded the Family Acceptance Project at SF State University in 2002 and initiated the first comprehensive study of how families react to their LGBT children and how family acceptance and rejection affects their LGBT children’s health, mental health and well-being.

For more than a decade, Dr. Ryan and her team have studied and used this research to help ethnically and religiously diverse families support their LGBT children by developing a new family model of wellness, prevention and care to strengthen families, decrease health risks, and promote well-being for LGBT children and adolescents – in the context of family, culture and faith. Called revolutionary and paradigm-changing, her work has been acknowledged by many professional and community groups including the American Counseling Association – Counselors for Social Justice, National Association of Social Workers, and the American Psychological Association, Division 44 which gave her the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award for groundbreaking research on LGBT youth and families. The multi-lingual, evidence-based family education publications she wrote to help diverse families support their LGBT children have been designated as the first “Best Practice” resources for suicide prevention for LGBT people by the national Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention. Dr. Ryan has trained more than 30,000 providers, clergy, families and youth on her research and evidence-based family approach across the U.S., in Mexico, Spain, Latin America and China. She is collaborating with agencies, faith communities, organizations, and providers to develop an international movement of family acceptance to promote wellness and healthy futures for LGBT children, youth and young adults.

Attendees will have the opportunity to select one workshop from each of the the following lists: 

12:45-2 pm

A1.  Open the Doors and See All the People - Making Your Faith Community Loving and Affirming for LGBTQ People 
You want your house of worship to be a welcoming and affirming community. How do you create an authentically safe and affirming environment where all people, including LGBTQ people, can grow and thrive and express their faith? What does it look like? Participants will discuss their congregation’s values, learn tools for assessing their congregation’s current welcoming status and discover areas in which their congregation can grow in the skills of affirmation and welcome. Bring your questions, doubts, experiences and hopes to this workshop.

A2.  Empowering the T in LGBT 
This workshop will convey basic information on how religious communities can be supportive and empowering of folks who represent the T in LGBT.

A3.  Between a Rock and a Hard Place: When Pastoral Need and Denominational Policy Collide 
Religious professionals often feel tension between their own attitudes, those of their congregants and those of church hierarchy. How can we manage this tension with creativity and compassion?

A4.  Respond to the Call for Help: Counseling Families of LGBT Youth - Panel Discussion 
We look forward to having an interactive conversation and exploration of this sacred  lifecycle moment not commonly found in most books of prayer, ritual or lectionaries.  We  will of course bring God into our conversation and explore together some of the potential roles God might play in the lives of those seeking our guidance at this important time of their lives.


B1.  Creating Safer Conversations about Sexuality and Identity 
Increase your capacity to plan, facilitate, and engage in constructive conversations about homosexuality within your congregation. 

B2.  Counseling Families of LGBT Youth 
This workshop will cover specific counseling skills to enable you to support families of LGBT youth with confidence.

B3.  What does the scripture really say about LGBTQ people? 
 Many if not most LGBTQ youth hear claims that God hates or condemns people like them.   An interfaith panel will share strategies for refuting these claims, and for finding affirming resources in the Bible. Participants will also practice an affirming exercise that they can bring back to their congregations 

B4.  Counseling LGBT Youth 
This workshop will cover specific counseling skills to enable you to support LGBT youth with confidence.

 B5 .  Wounding words:    the experience of a remorseful evangical mother who didn't know her daughter was gay   


 Concluding Plenary - 3:45-4:15

 A concluding plenary will focus integrating the important work of fostering inclusive faith communities and plans for further inter-or-intra faith activities.


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Goals & Objectives of the Conference

“Pastoral Counseling for LGBT Youth and Their Families” will focus on parental acceptance in a religious context, and asking such questions as: How do parents reconcile their religious beliefs with acceptance of an LGBT child? How can religious professionals support the critical role of parental love and acceptance to the health and mental health of LGBT youth?

Specifically, the conference will:

  • Acquaint religious professionals with the Family Acceptance Project and the critical role of parental love and acceptance to the health and mental health of LGBT youth.
  • Articulate the powerful role that religious professionals have in fostering family acceptance. 
  • Expand the work with religiously conservative communities of promoting loving acceptance of children.
  • Create ongoing networks for communication and support for pastoral counseling for families that include LGBT children.
  • Examine ways of incorporating “family acceptance” into curricula for training all types of religious professionals.


Click for on-line registration

Participating Sponsors:

  • Andover Newton Theological School
  • Bentley University
  • Boston Theological Institute
  • Boston University School of Theology
  • Brandeis Interfaith Alliance
  • Central Reform Temple of Boston
  • Dignity/Boston
  • Episcopal Chaplaincy at Boston University
  • Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
  • Harvard Divinity School
  • Hebrew College
  • Keshet
  • Metropolitan Community Church, New England Campus Ministries
  • Temple Beth Shalom 
  • The Crossing
  • The Open and Affirming (ONA) Ministry Team, MA Conference of the United Church of Christ
  • Reconciling Ministries New England
  • Unitarian Universalist Association
  • Wellesley Hills Congregational Church
  • West Suburban Alliance of GLBTQ Youth (WAGLY)


Supporting Sponsors:

  •  Anonymous
  • Dianne Bonita
  • Dignity Boston
  • Joanne Casper
  • Alice Dunn & Gordon Hardy
  • Karen Edmunds
  • Teresa Edmunds
  • Episcopal Church of Lexington
  • Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
  • First Parish Needham
  • Maria Garber
  • Stanley N. Griffith and Ann E. Schauffler
  • Rev. Ian Holland
  • Gail Hulburt
  • Rev. Dr. Bonnie Jellinek
  • Carrie Little 
  • Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ
  • Massachusetts Department of Public Health Suicide Prevention Program
  • Rev. Karla Miller
  • Deb and Ron Peeples
  • Kathleen Miskiewicz
  • Rev. Greg Morisse
  • Peter Nee
  • Liz Page
  • Joan Parker
  • Rev. Vernon Porter  
  • Nena Radtke
  • Edie Recker
  • Debby & Andy Rempis
  • Joanne Smith
  • Epp Sonin
  • Donald Vaughn & Lee Ridgeway
  • Brad Watters
  • Wellesley Friends Meeting
  • Susan Wilson


Steering Committee:

  • Andover Newton Theology School
  • Rev. Nick Carter, President
  • Rev. Walter Cuenin, Catholic Chaplain & Coordinator, Interfaith Chaplaincy at Brandeis
  • Dignity USA
  • Episcopal Diocese 
  • Maggie Herzig, Public Conversations Project
  • The Rev. Dr. Bonnie Jelinek, Minister at Large
  • Rev. Jack Lewis, Assistant Minister
  • The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, Bishop
  • Wellesley Unitarian Universalist Society
  • Wellesley Hills Congregational Church