564019 brief-report2014

HPQ0010.1177/1359105314564019Journal of Health PsychologyBaiocco et al.

Brief Report

Coming out during adolescence: Perceived parents’ reactions and internalized sexual stigma

Journal of Health Psychology 1­–5 © The Author(s) 2014 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1359105314564019 hpq.sagepub.com

Roberto Baiocco, Lilybeth Fontanesi, Federica Santamaria, Salvatore Ioverno, Emma Baumgartner and Fiorenzo Laghi

Abstract Disclosing sexual orientation to parents is a challenging developmental task for lesbian and gay adolescents. The aim of the study is to investigate parental negative reaction to coming out, which is associated with high levels of internalized sexual stigma and psychological problems. Participants’ perceptions of their parents’ reactions, age at coming out, gender, parental political orientation and religiosity, family functioning, and internalized sexual stigma were assessed in 150 Italian homosexual adolescents. Findings confirm that negative parental reactions are connected to poor family functioning and strong beliefs in traditional values. Path analysis results identified that negative reaction to coming out mediates the effect between a more rigid family functioning and internalized sexual stigma. Implications for clinical and social fields are discussed.

Keywords adolescence, family, gender, protective factors, sexuality

Introduction The coming out (CO) process is an important transition in lesbian and gay (LG) identity development (Chow and Cheng, 2010). Revealing to others promotes self-integration and personal empowerment, and is a sign of self- and social acceptance (Corrigan and Matthews, 2003); CO may be most growthful when it takes place in the context of strong social support and is met with positive family responses. Indeed, social support (Rothman et al., 2012) and family acceptance have also been shown to protect them from negative health outcomes (Rothman et al., 2012; Vaughan and Waehler, 2009). Revealing one’s same-sex attraction to parents, however, is the one of the most dreaded

steps a LG youth can take, due to the risk of disapproval and rejection (Willoughby et al., 2006). Many studies have demonstrated the relationship between negative parental reactions and elevated levels of internalized sexual stigma (ISS). Young LGs feel the need to promote or conform to cultural expectations Sapienza University of Rome, Italy Corresponding author: Roberto Baiocco, Department of Social and Developmental Psychology, Faculty of Medicine and Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Via dei Marsi 78, 00185 Rome, Italy. Email: [email protected]

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Journal of Health Psychology 

of heteronormativity (Baiocco et al., 2012), resulting in their experiencing negative psychological, emotional, and behavioral outcomes such as depression (Legate et al., 2012), isolation, and suicidal ideation (Baiocco et al., 2014c; D’augelli and Grossman, 2001). According to the literature, parental negative first reaction to CO can be the result of different variables, including a lack of family cohesion and adaptability (Willoughby et al., 2006), parents’ age, political orientation (Savin-Williams, 2001), level of education, religiosity (Willoughby et al., 2006), and conventional attitudes regarding sex roles (Nagoshi et al., 2008). Italy is a family-oriented society where adolescents and young adults are dependent on and involved with their families of origin, more than other European cultures (Baiocco et al., 2013a, 2014a). Recent literature underlied (Bertone and Franchi, 2014; Broad, 2011), in fact, that reconciling parents’ religious identity with their children’s sexual orientation is addressed as crucial issues. Italy is a traditional and religious culture, and due to that Italian LG adolescents often experience high levels of rejection, internalizing negative attitudes and feelings, and representation toward themselves and homosexuality (Baiocco et al., 2010, 2014b; Lingiardi et al., 2012). In fact, unlike other catholic European Countries, such as Spain or Portugal, Italy’s legislation does not recognize same-sex marriage and does not allow same-sex adoption (Baiocco et al., 2014a). This cultural context has generated a series of negative attitudes and prejudices, especially in older adults, regarding same-sex couples, fostering a climate of rejection and denial (Baiocco et al., 2013b). As a consequence, in a traditional catholic and conservative family, characterized by a rigid functioning, integrating the CO in a “heteronormative context” appears to be a challenging and stressful task (Martin et al., 2010). In the light of these considerations, this study aims first to identify individual factors that can affect how parents react to their child’s disclosure and the differences between mothers’ and fathers’ responses, as perceived by their daughter and sons. Then, we examine how the

family system and the adolescents’ methods to face stressful situations influence the LG adolescents’ ISS levels.

Method Participants and procedures Participants were 150 adolescents, 71 females (47.3%) and 79 males (52.7%), aged between 16 and 19 years; M = 17.41 years (1.11). Average number of years since CO was M = 2.67 years (1.26). Participants were recruited from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations (31%) and LGBT college student organizations (69%) in Rome, Italy. The prerequisites for inclusion were as follows: responding to the Kinsey Scale at levels 5 and 6, having already revealed their sexual orientation to both parents, being Italian, and parents living together at the time of CO. Participation in the study was voluntary and anonymous. Research was reviewed and approved by the Ethical Commission of the Department of Developmental and Social Psychology of Sapienza University of Rome.

Measurements Participants filled out a background information questionnaire inquiring about demographic information: age, education, parents’ level of religiosity (two items evaluated on a Likert scale, regarding how often their parents attend religious services and how much important is religion in their parents’ lives), and parents’ political orientation (one item evaluated on a Likert scale: higher scores indicated strong right wind conservatism). Sexual orientation was evaluated using the Kinsey Scale (Kinsey et al., 1948). The Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale—IV (Olson, 2011) was used to evaluate family functioning. Flexibility and Cohesion were grouped into one variable, the scale of “Positive Functioning.” Higher scores in this scale represent high levels of cohesion and adaptability in the family system. The Perceived Parental Reactions Scale (PPRS) to CO (Willoughby et al., 2006) evaluated participants’

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Baiocco et al. Table 1.  Correlation between variables. Variables

Mothers’ negative reaction

Fathers’ negative reaction

Maternal religiosity Paternal religiosity Conservative mother Conservative father Positive functioning Enmeshed Rigid MISS score

.47** .07 .15 .09 −.29** .39* .50** .51**

.33* .20* −.03 .36** −.27** .56** .63** .57**

MISS: measure of internalized sexual stigma. *p 

Coming out during adolescence: Perceived parents' reactions and internalized sexual stigma.

Disclosing sexual orientation to parents is a challenging developmental task for lesbian and gay adolescents. The aim of the study is to investigate p...
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