During the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic, the LGBT community became “family” to each other throughout the crisis—with many lesbians becoming caregivers to HIV-infected gay men; activist organizations quickly forming to advocate for increased services, and creative outlets (such as the AIDS quilt) becoming tributes to those who did not survive. Families of origin may (or may not) be the primary support “entities” for LGBT individuals—and partners and friends may play that role to a much greater degree as occurred at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Membership in PFLAG is a terrific demonstration of support by parents, siblings, and uncles/aunts—because it clearly conveys that they are also willing to be ‘out’ about having a LGBT family member. It is critical to have a ‘support circle’ when coping with cancer. From providing a ride to an appointment to grocery-shopping to listening to you vent your fears and frustrations, having compassionate people in your life will help you defeat (or adapt to living with) cancer.
Unfortunately, there are too many LGBT people who have experienced total rejection by their families of origin. According to an article in a publication of the American Psychological Association (APA), social rejection is linked to decreased health status and immunity, as well as depression and anxiety. Findings of the researchers who authored the APA article also showed an increase in physical pain by study subjects who had experienced social rejection[i].
The diagnosis of a possibly life-threatening condition necessitates estate planning—which can raise issues in terms of willing assets to a partner versus family members. While estate and funeral planning are not only issues for cancer survivors, the realization of a need to plan asset distributions in advance of one’s own death can result from facing a diagnosis of cancer. In other words, mortality is suddenly thrust in your face just by learning that you have cancer. The ‘silver lining’ for people who experienced cancer is that it forces confronting who you want to receive your money and property after death, and whether you want to be buried in the family plot or elsewhere (if you do want to be buried, and not cremated).
The good news is that LGBT people under 40 years old are more likely to have family members who accept their lifestyle than those of the “Baby Boomers”—since it was not until 1987 that “homosexuality” was removed as a disorder from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The incorporation of LGBT families into mainstream community activities (i.e., PTA meetings, church congregations, and weddings/anniversaries) has led to an increased open-mindedness on the part of heterosexual young adults toward their LGBT counterparts. In turn, teenage offspring in LGBT families have a better sense of self-esteem and pride in their families (versus the shame engendered by children in LGBT families prior to the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in 2003 that found it unconstitutional to limit marriage rights only to heterosexual couples).