Being an LGBTQ+ Parent

Families with parents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+) have dramatically increased in the last 10 years (Goldberg, 2018). These families have the same makeup as other families and may have parents who are married or single. Parents may also cohabitate or live in separate households. Increased legal protections and better social acceptance have propelled these family numbers to increase, while families in other demographics have seen declining numbers (Family Equality Council, 2017). Rigorous and prolific research indicates that children from LGBTQ+ families demonstrate the same outcomes of well-being as children from non-LGBTQ+ families.

Challenges

Families from many diverse backgrounds can encounter challenges in their communities, and LGBTQ+ families are no exception. The social and legal environments of a community are often a determining factor in the frequency of LGBTQ+ families choosing to live in that community (Gates, 2015). Supportive attitudes and resources vary geographically and culturally within the United States. Research has shown that common minority challenges, such as stigma, discrimination, and lack of resources, can negatively impact LBGTQ+ families (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2020). These challenges can be distressing for LGBTQ+ parents. For example, in custody or other legal disputes, sexual orientation and/or gender status have been highlighted as reasons to deny or restrict custody, even though these arguments have been repeatedly dismissed by research. Success as an LGBTQ+ parent is often supported by the parents’ ability to feel comfortable and secure with their identity and choices and convey this security to their children as they, the parents, navigate the challenges that society may place on them.

Supportive Communities

Some communities may be more accepting of the LGBTQ+ population than others. Many communities, schools, and activity programs offer resources that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ families. For example, many schools have established chapters of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA), which is an organization that intends to build alliances across sexual orientations to make positive strides in the community. Similarly, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is a national organization that is influential in policy and positive societal change and offers a robust number of resources and tools for families to use. GLSEN began as a small group of teachers advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, but, today, they have a membership of over 1.5 million people that includes teachers, students, parents, and other advocates. Finding and connecting with these organizations and other supportive organizations in your area may help your family make positive connections and constructive changes in your community.

Bullying, Stigma and ensuing Transgressions, and Discrimination

Some of the most common worries for LGBTQ+ parents are that their children will face bullying, stigma and ensuing transgressions, and discrimination because of their parents’ lifestyle choices (Goldberg & Byard, 2020). Even with the increasing acceptance and legal protections that support LGBTQ+ families, these families may still be impacted by bullying, stigma, and discrimination. By confronting these challenges, LGBTQ+ parents can build family resiliency and, hopefully, increase tolerance in their communities. These are important concerns for parents, and there are measures that can be taken to lessen these worries.

When parents in these families are selecting schools or activities, they may wish to do some research to understand the school’s or specific activity’s policies or rules, environment, culture, and content to ensure that a school choice or activity is conducive to a healthy LGBTQ+ family. Families may want to consider policies and rules that include anti-bullying guidelines that, specifically, are inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. Work with your child to identify teachers, coaches, and other leaders who will be supportive if any issues do arise (Goldberg & Byard, 2020).

One of the main challenges LGBTQ+ parents face with their children’s education is discrimination by school personnel. This discrimination may be due to personnel demonstrating a lack of understanding of how to interact with diverse populations (Goldberg & Byard, 2020). Though potentially difficult, parents need to face these challenges as their engagement in their children’s school experience can have positive implications for the family and community. One way that parents can confront these challenges is, if possible, to find out if the school or organization offers cultural competence training to their staff regarding working with LGBTQ+ families. Another way to combat stigma and discrimination is to be involved in your child’s school or activity by regularly speaking with teachers and administrators. Parents can also volunteer to participate in school activities, so they are actively involved in their child’s school life and can connect with other parents.

LGBTQ+ parents may also find it helpful to prepare their children to have conversations or simply answer peer questions about their family. Parents, in this situation, should listen to their child and, to some degree, let them take the lead in these conversations to ensure that their level of explanation matches their child’s developmental level. Parents will want to keep open communications with their child at all levels of maturity to ensure that the child is receiving the support they need. Most of the research on this topic shows that children of LGBTQ+ parents are not teased any more or less than their counterparts; however, the parents’ sexual orientation or gender status can be used in the instances when teasing does happen (Goldberg & Byard, 2020). Remember, keep your conversations honest, ongoing, and age appropriate.

Though there is a high level of LGBTQ+ families in many communities across the United States, some societal challenges exist, and LGBTQ+ parents must navigate these obstacles to promote their family’s resiliency. Factors, such as stigma and legal issues, remain risk factors for these families. Parents can seek out institutions that are proactive in LGBTQ+ awareness and understanding to lessen potential harm to their family. Parents who listen to their child and are active in their child’s academic and extracurricular life can help to reduce risk factors and promote acceptance.

Additional Resources

For LGBTQ+ Parents:

LGBTQ Family Fact Sheet
This fact sheet can give you a better understanding of the demographics and challenges of LGBTQ+ families.

Movement Advancement Project (MAP)
MAP can help parents research state-level policies and trends regarding LGBTQ+ families.

Gay Parent: LGBTQ Magazine
Gay Parent magazine has been in publication since 1998. The subscription-based magazine features resources and topics that are relevant to the gay parent population.

For Children with LGBTQ+ Parents:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
This webpage lists a number of popular government and community organizations that offer support to the LGBTQ+ community.

Colage
Colage is a network of peers who are in families with LGBTQ+ parents.

PFLAF
PFLAG provides support, information, and resources for LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families, and allies.

Proud Parenting: Teenview
Teenview is a sub section of Proud Parenting that offers articles that are relevant to teens who have LGBTQ+ parents.

References

Family Equality Council. (2017). LGBTQ family fact sheet. https://www2.census.gov/cac/nac/meetings/2017-11/LGBTQ-families-factsheet.pdf

Gates, G. J. (2015). Marriage and family: LGBT individuals and same-sex couples. The Future of Children, 25(2), 67–87. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43581973

Goldberg, A. E., & Byard, E. (2020). LGBTQ-parent families and schools. In A. Goldberg, & K. Allen (Eds.), LGBTQ-parent families, (pp. 287-300). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-35610-1_18

Goldberg, S. K., & Conron, K. J. (2018, July). How many same-sex couples in the U.S. are raising children? U.C.L.A. School of Law Williams Institute. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/same-sex-parents-us/

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). Understanding the well-being of LGBTQI+ populations. The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25877

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