How to deal with having a gay parent

Young adults from broken homes in which a parent had had a same-sex relationship reported modestly more psychological and social problems in their current lives than peers from other families that had experienced divorce and other disruptions, a new study has found, stirring bitter debate among partisans on gay marriage.

The study counted parents as gay or lesbian by asking participants whether their parents had ever had a same-sex relationship; the parents may not have identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Gay-rights groups attacked the study, financed by conservative foundations, as biased and poorly done even before its publication on Sunday in the journal Social Science Research.

But outside experts, by and large, said the research was rigorous, providing some of the best data yet comparing outcomes for adult children with a gay parent with those with heterosexual parents. But they also said the findings were not particularly relevant to the current debate over gay marriage or gay parenting.

About half the study participants with a gay parent, as defined in the study, were born out of wedlock and half into a traditional family that broke up. Many lived with the gay parent sporadically.

Paul Amato, a sociologist at Penn State who was not involved in the study and has written in favor of same-sex marriage, said that many scholars suspected that some children with a gay parent might have more troubles than the average child, particularly in past decades when the stigma was greater. “We know, for instance, that many people with a gay parent were essentially raised in a stepfamily, and went through a divorce, both of which are associated with modest but real disadvantages,” he said.

Others said the study was limited in its usefulness. “What we really need in this field is for strong skeptics to study gay, stable parents and compare them directly to a similar group of heterosexual, stable parents,” said Judith Stacey, a sociologist at New York University.

The study looked a nationally representative sample of 2,988 people ages 18 to 39. The study’s author, Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas in Austin, said he sought financing from the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., and the Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee because government agencies “don’t want to touch this stuff.”

The participants answered questions about their current social, occupational and economic experiences and their early life. They included 163 whose mother had a same-sex relationship and 73 whose father did. Just three of those who had lesbian mothers lived out their entire childhood with that parent, Dr. Regnerus said; none of those whose fathers had had a same-sex relationship lived full time with their fathers through childhood.

The study controlled for factors like parent education, income, the perceived level of tolerance for gays in each person’s community and whether the child was bullied as a result of the parent’s sexual orientation.

Participants who grew up in intact, traditional families reported the lowest average level of problems in their current life, like drug use, unemployment or depressive moods, the study found. Participants who grew up in nontraditional arrangements — with a single, heterosexual parent, in a stepfamily or in a family with a late divorce, for instance — reported higher levels of such problems as adults.

Those who said they had a parent who had had a same-sex relationship fared somewhat worse than those in other nontraditional families. For instance, 38 percent of those who had a lesbian mother said they were currently on public assistance, compared with 31 percent of those whose parents divorced late and 10 percent of those who grew up in a traditional family.

Compared with the traditional group, those with a gay parent reported less education on average and more sexual partners; the same was true of those who grew up in other nontraditional households, to a slightly lesser extent.

Dr. Regnerus said that the study did not include the number, or variety, of people with a gay parent that he would have liked. “This whole narrative of a gay couple raising a kid together, staying together — that kind of thing didn’t exist much,” when the participants were children, he said.

“When I look at his data, my main take-away is that divorce and family transition is not a great outcome for kids,” said Gary Gates, a demographer at the at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study.

All parents want what’s best for their kids. But providing support isn’t always easy — especially if you are the parent of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) child. In many ways no different from their peers, LGBTQ youth face some unique challenges that parents often feel unprepared to tackle. To help, Johns Hopkins pediatricians and adolescent medicine specialists Renata Arrington Sanders and Errol Fields share steps you can take to keep your kid happy and healthy.

Let them know they are loved

For many LGBTQ youth, breaking the news to mom and dad is the scariest part of coming out. “Time and time again, we hear the same thing from patients: ‘Once my parents are behind me, I can handle anything else the world throws at me,’” Dr. Fields explains. “You’re their anchor, and your acceptance is key. In fact, research shows that LGBTQ adolescents who are supported by their families grow up to be happier and healthier adults.”

You don’t need to be an expert in all things LGBTQ to let them know you care. “There’s no right or wrong way to express love,” reminds Dr. Sanders. “Just be present and be open.” Even if you’re not sure what to say, something as simple as, “I’m here for you. I love you, and I will support you no matter what” can mean the world to your child.

Encourage dialogue

As you’re likely well aware, getting your kids to open up can feel impossible. Dr. Sanders and Dr. Fields say the best way to do this is to build trust and start small. “Be curious about their life,” advises Dr. Sanders. Get to know their friends and what they like to do. Ask them how their day went and if they learned anything interesting in school. If it’s like pulling teeth at times, don’t be discouraged. Children really do want to be able to talk to parents about what’s going on in their lives.

These conversations may seem like no-brainers, but staying connected to your child’s world makes it easier for them to approach you with bigger, more complex issues, like sexuality. The more you communicate with your child, the more comfortable they’ll feel.

How to Get Them Talking

You can’t always rely on your children to initiate these exchanges, though. When you feel something needs to be discussed, try being less direct. “Adolescents often have a hard time talking about themselves. Instead, bring up their friends or characters you encounter while watching age-appropriate movies or television together,” suggests Dr. Sanders.

Today’s media provide plenty of teachable moments for parents to seize. While it may seem less personal, it is an opportunity to broach sensitive topics in a way that’s not so scary. For instance, if a movie has a bisexual character, spark a conversation by saying, “The character in this show is attracted to boys and girls. That’s OK with me. What do you think?”

Learn the facts

“When we speak with parents, we hear a lot of misconceptions about gender and sexual orientation,” says Sanders. Empower your parenting with what experts know:

  • It’s not “just a phase.” Embrace — don’t dismiss — their evolving sense of self.
  • There is no “cure.” It’s not something that needs to be fixed.
  • Don’t look for blame. Instead, celebrate your child and all that they are.

Stay involved with the school

Kids spend almost as much time in the classroom as they do at home. Here’s what you can do to make sure they feel comfortable there, too.

  • Advocate for a gay-straight alliance (GSA), which has been shown to make schools safer and boost academic performance among LGBTQ students.
  • Maintain frequent contact with teachers. That way, you’ll know when issues arise.
  • Push for more inclusive sex education. Very few states allow schools to provide LGBTQ students with the information they need to be safe and healthy. Be aware of these knowledge gaps so that you can fill them yourself.
  • Above all, don’t hesitate to speak up. “Parents forget that they have a huge voice in the school system. You do have power,” Dr. Sanders emphasizes. “If there’s a problem and the school isn’t taking your concerns seriously, go to the principal or even the school board.”

Look out for signs of bullying

Bullying is a problem for many students, but LGBTQ youth in particular are often targeted for being different. If you see these signs, reach out to a teacher, guidance counselor or school administrator:

  • Behavior change (e.g., your outgoing, sociable child is now withdrawn)
  • Discipline or behavioral problems in school
  • Declining grades
  • Unexplained absences
  • Sudden shifts in who’s a friend and who’s not
  • Engagement in risk behavior (e.g., drug use, new sexual partner) that is out of character for your child

Take a team approach

Providing support can be challenging at times. It’s OK to be stressed, confused or surprised — but don’t pull back when you’re needed most. “Some parents feel so overwhelmed that they just throw up their hands and say, ‘I can’t do it.’ It’s a lot for parents to process, but don’t leave your kid in the lurch,” urges Dr. Sanders.

“Remember, your child is having more difficulty with this than you are,” says Dr. Fields, “and your duty as a parent comes first.” If you’re struggling, reach out for help. Team up with a pediatrician, a counselor at school, close family members and even community organizations — for example, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) — if you’re having trouble going it alone.

Ensure they form healthy relationships

As kids become teens, it’s OK for them to develop interest in other boys and girls their age. “Dating is daunting for most parents — especially parents of LGBTQ youth — but it’s an important part of adolescent development for all children,” assures Dr. Fields. To keep them safe, be involved and stay connected. “By encouraging your kid to date in a way that’s healthy and age-appropriate, you send a powerful message: LGBTQ relationships are normal, and there’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of,” explains Dr. Fields.

Stay on top of social media

Because they’re often discouraged from being open about their sexual orientation and gender identity, some LGBTQ individuals rely on social media and phone applications to meet others. Many social platforms and apps provide LGBTQ youth an inclusive space to connect with friends and allies, but some (especially dating apps) include content that is inappropriate for teens. Monitor what they’re doing on their devices and talk to them about phone and social media use, recommends Dr. Fields.

“More importantly,” says Dr. Fields, “understand that kids turn to these apps if they feel like they don’t have anyone to talk to. Be available so that your child doesn’t need to look elsewhere for guidance and support.”

More gay people are coming out and coming out earlier than ever before in this country. According to Statistics Canada, the number of same-sex families standing up to be counted shot up 42.4 per cent between 2006 and 2011. These increasingly open examples of a normalized homosexual adulthood are giving young gay men and women the courage to be honest and open about their sexuality, and are changing the opinions of the people they are coming out to. However, even for modern, progressive parents, there are blunders that can cause unnecessary and often unintentional hurt. Coming out is a crucial juncture that can often make or break the child-parent relationship. But don't worry parents! I've got a big gay guide to help you out. I got together with two new generation gays (Marie and Scott) at Canada's top secret gay headquarters (Starbucks) to get their take on modern dos and don'ts for parents with gay kids coming out. These are their top five tips.

DO: Foster a positive LGBTQ atmosphere

Homosexuality comes in all shapes and sizes. Stereotypical mannerisms, dress and interests aren't always a steadfast indicator your offspring is a friend of Dorothy. Little Jimmy can be swishy and end up straight, and just because little Molly loves softball doesn't mean she loves other ladies. Instead, rely on your instincts as a parent. If you feel your child may be gay, one of the most important things you can do is create a gay-friendly environment, you just don't have to be obvious.

As Marie so wisely says: "Create a sense of diversity/openness in your home where your kids can feel comfortable if they are questioning. Instead of assuming someone has a boyfriend or girlfriend, use more gender-neutral terms like 'so is there anyone at the party that you like?' or 'Is your friend so-and-so dating someone new?' Don't assume everyone in the world is straight, and your kids will feel less out of place in your home."

It can be as easy as reacting kindly or expressing affinity toward gay people in the news or on TV too. Scott says: "Casually mention your support of LGBTQ individuals in general should it come up naturally. Don't say anything disparaging that would make your son/daughter hesitate/reconsider coming out."

It's important to remember you can't force someone out of the closet. Coming out and being outed are two very different things. Be patient and let your gay souffle finish cooking before you open the oven door.

DON'T: Say "I still love you no matter what"

This seems like a nice thing to say and it's something you will see a lot of in dramatizations on TV. But as Scott points out there is a subtext: "Saying 'I love you no matter what' suggests that your kid's gayness is something to be overlooked in the name of love. It translates to 'I love you even though you are gay' as if gayness were an illness or aberration." As for a suggested alternative? "How about just 'Thank you for telling me. I love you.'"

DON'T: Make it about you

Coming out is a big deal in a gay person's life. For some, it ends up being the most important moment in their lives. It's a big deal for parents too. Often mothers and fathers need time to adjust, be re-educated and mourn the loss of expectation they had for their kid. But whatever you are going through, your son or daughter is likely going through something more intense and important. Scott gives a prime example telling me his parents were: ". embarrassed I didn't feel comfortable telling them sooner," adding, "They don't trust me as much because they're sceptical that I was hiding a big part of myself before coming out." This is a prime example of making it about yourself. Scott's parents are probably feeling bad that they didn't foster a gay-positive environment and are feeling a little guilty about their son suffering in silence. While their reaction is far better than shipping your kid off to reparative therapy it still puts the focus on them and their issues. Your issues as a parent do deserve attention, but shelving it for a while helps as you and your kids adjust to a new dynamic.

DO: Open a dialogue

This one is key. Getting comfortable with your kid's sexual identity demands conversation but there are some key tips to follow.

It's important to note that sexuality can be a very private thing. Imagine talking in the context of who you would prefer having sex with with your parents. AWKWARD. If your son or daughter doesn't feel comfortable talking to you right away, or if you don't feel comfortable talking about it right away, try consulting another gay person or organization (ex PFLAG).

This is a situation Marie experienced telling me, "Because I was away at school after coming out to my mom, I didn't have the experience of 'living with it' daily so I wasn't aware that she was really struggling with it. But about a year ago she admitted to me that she did struggle with understanding it at first, but that changed when she spoke to other gay people and sought out resources for parents of gay people. They helped her understand that being gay doesn't change who your son/daughter is."

DON'T: Ask if it is a phase

Your gay son or daughter knows who they are attracted to the same way you do. Yes, sexuality exists on a spectrum and yes it can be fluid, but if they are coming to you with this information, it's safe to say they are currently quite sure. Trying to change your child's sexuality is one of the most harmful things you can do. There is a reason conversion therapy has staggering rates of failure and a reason the federal government is moving to criminalize it. It's also important not to look for a reason. Marie says: "Don't assume or ask if your kids' sexuality was "caused" by something. ie: asking if there was a traumatic experience or relationship that caused your kid to "turn," (I think this is very common for gay women to be asked) or if they just "haven't met the right guy/girl yet."

These tips are meant to smooth over some common speed bumps in the modern coming out process, however, not all Canadian kids are lucky enough to have a family open to having a gay kid or open to changing their minds on homosexuality. Luckily this country is replete with resources to help gay kids through a tough time that can sometimes leave them homeless or suicidal. If you are a gay person in crisis organizations like PFLAG Canada, Kids Help Phone, Egale Canada are just a call or click away.

DON'T: Make it about you

One of the most common reactions from parents can be stepping into a closet of their own, feeling the need to hide the fact that their child has just come out. Asking your child not to tell other relatives or family friends about their sexuality, or to withhold the information yourself, translates to one indisputable and damaging sentiment: I am ashamed of you. What you can ask and should ask is if it's OK for you to share this news with others. While conveying acceptance is key, it's also imperative that the person coming out controls who knows and when for a process that can be highly individualistic and sometimes overwhelming.

Ryan E. Thompson is a Toronto based television producer and writer specializing in LGBTQ issues and entertainment.

How It Feels to Have a Gay or Lesbian Parent: A Book by Kids for Kids of All Ages

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Book Description

Sometimes I fantasize about having a magic wand. How awesome it would be to wave it and completely eliminate prejudice, hate, and ignorance. Just imagine what it would be like to live in a world like that.

How It Feels to Have a Gay or Lesbian Parent: A Book by Kids for Kids of All Ages gives voice to the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of children, adolescents, and young adults who have a gay or lesbian parent. In their own words, they talk openly and candidly about how and when they learned of their parent’s sexual orientation and the effect it had on them—and their families. Their stories echo themes of prejudice and harassment, conflict and confusion, adaptation and adjustment, and hope for tolerance and a family that can exist in harmony.

“Because it’s an issue for other people, it becomes an issue for me. I’m angry about the way it works against me.”

The stories told in How It Feels to Have a Gay or Lesbian Parent not only reflect the day-to-day struggle of children with a GLBT parent, they also reveal the pain inherent in high-conflict divorce and child custody cases. Children of gay/lesbian parents ranging in age from seven to 31 recall the confusion and grief created when the disclosure of their parent’s true sexual orientation ended a marriage and divided a family. The “straight” parent’s resentment can lead to angry remarks that—intentionally or unintentionally—disparage the gay/lesbian parent and threaten the natural love and affection the child feels for both.

“I guess the hardest part about having a gay dad is that no matter how okay you are with it, there’s always going to be someone who will dislike you because of it.”

The one-on-one interviews presented in How It Feels to Have a Gay or Lesbian Parent document first-hand the effects of homophobia on family life. Children struggle with the choice between living in a closet, shamed by peers and family members, or dealing with discrimination as a parent’s sexual orientation is used against them. Taken together, these stories make a statement for acceptance, understanding, and tolerance as children do their best to make the transition from a traditional family to a nontraditional lifestyle.

“My mom is a normal person just like everyone else. The only thing that’s different about her is that she’s gay and if you can’t deal with it, you’re just going to have to live with it.”

How It Feels to Have a Gay or Lesbian Parent: A Book by Kids for Kids of All Ages offers comfort and support to children from those who share their journey. The book is a valuable aid for practitioners working with children of GLBT parents and an educational tool for GLBT adults considering children.

“In a flash the baby is here, but I can’t find my voice. I feel invisible. Freaked out – They had 9 months together, but my relationship with this child hasn’t started yet. Will this child accept me? Will my partner’s family accept me? Will the hospital treat me as the parent – will I be degraded or worse turned away? The belly is growing, and I don’t feel the recognition because I am the non-biological parent”

There is a gap in the literature and lack of support for non-bio parents; be it gay fathers or lesbian mothers! Upon finishing my Bachelor’s degree I wrote the final paper on “The Effect of Gay and Lesbian Parenting on Children” whereas my thesis in my Master’s counseling program was about “The Experience of the Non-Biological Lesbian Mother”.

Gay and lesbian parents are part of a growing population in the LGBT community, where fertility treatments, pregnancy and adoption are part of a positive change in society. Due to the lack of LGBT equality, some families still experience struggles in their daily living because they cannot just do the “right” thing for their family. At times you may feel like you are in a challenging relationship as your maternal clock is ticking or you wonder “will I ever have a child?”.

As a gay dad or lesbian mom, you may feel the social stigmatization, distress, and disputes about your perceived maternal or paternal status because of your personal choice of same sex cohabitation and lifestyle even if you were part of a planned process of becoming a mother or father. Some non-biological lesbian mothers and fathers (and non gestational parent / NGP) are exposed to condescending words describing their motherhood / fatherhood roles in a same sex relationship (e.g. non-gestational, non-biological, non-birth, second mother, social father, other mother, and co-parent) rather than just mother or father, mommy or daddy and mom or dad.

The experience, emotional journey and struggles for non-biological lesbian mothers or gay fathers in regards to a partner’s fertility treatments, pregnancy, same sex parenting, dissolution of marriage, divorce, co-parenting and issues surrounding the tidal waves that come crashing during times of legal struggles and custody battles, is what I realized lacked deeper understanding among therapists.

There is a gap in the literature and lack of support for non-bio moms and dads! We really want the best possible scenario for our children so they do not suffer, get hurt of miss out on having two great parents in their lives no matter what circumstances. I get it, as a non-bio mother myself, there is a lot you don’t have to explain to me. I am here to help, you are not alone!

Maybe your partner’s growing belly makes you feel invisible during the pregnancy and you have to create your own visibility through language and in your social and work community. Or you may be grieving the loss of having a child of your own, living in a lesbian relationship as “the other lesbian mother and other gay father”, or trying to make meaning of not having a biological connection with your child.

How to deal with having a gay parent

How to deal with having a gay parent

How to deal with having a gay parent

How to deal with having a gay parent

How to deal with having a gay parent

– You are a meaningful mother, father and parent and your child needs you, even if your journey may seem bumpy at times. I am accepting new clients at my Long Beach office location and via TeleHealth (webcam sessions).

Many different family constellations exist, where children are raised in blended, divorced, single or two parent households and relationships. There has been a lack of research pertaining to gay fatherhood and lesbian motherhood maybe because of the notion that fathers and mothers have been seen as a conventional part of heterosexual couples. However, gay fathers and lesbian mothers may have more similarities in their desires of having children rather than differences.

You ARE a meaningful parent and your child deserve loving parents.

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This is a study of meaning making and identity construction in child custody cases involving gay or lesbian parents. In it, I investigate the language of all such recorded decisions over the past 50 years, focusing on how judges–in interaction with the litigants before them–construct, negotiate, deny, and confirm the sexual and familial identities of the parents and would-be parents involved in these custody contests. Employing a constitutive framework and drawing on the social, scientific, and feminist literatures on sexuality, family, and law, I find that through multiple discursive processes, from self-representation to imposition to negotiation of new spaces of compromise, family law actors bring together sexual and familial statuses often treated as exclusive of each other.

Founded in 1966, Law & Society Review is regarded by sociolegal scholars worldwide as a leading journal in the field. The Review is a peer-reviewed publication for scholarship bearing on the relationship between society and the legal process, including articles or notes of interest to the research community in general, new theoretical developments, results of empirical studies, and reviews and comments on the field or its methods of inquiry. Broadly interdisciplinary, the Review welcomes work from any tradition of scholarship concerned with the cultural, economic, political, psychological, or social aspects of law and legal systems. JSTOR provides a digital archive of the print version of Law and Society Review. The electronic version of Law and Society Review is available at http://www.interscience.wiley.com. Authorized users may be able to access the full text articles at this site.

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Stacy Feintuch, a mother of two in suburban New Jersey, said she didn’t know what was wrong when her oldest daughter, Amanda, 17, began to withdraw.

“I confronted her and said, ‘You need to talk to me,’” Feintuch said: “She said, ‘It’s not what you think. I’m fine, it’s not that.”

“I can’t tell you, I can’t tell you.’”

Feintuch said her mind raced: “Is she pregnant? Is she in trouble?” Finally, Amanda buried her head in her pillow and said, “I’m gay.”

“I was just dumbfounded, just shocked. It wasn’t even a thought in my head,” Feintuch said. “I said, which ended up being the absolute wrong thing to say, ‘Why do you think this?’ She started screaming at me.”

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“I said: ‘Take a breath, I didn’t mean anything by it. I love you. I’m shocked, I just want to talk to you about this.”

Amanda calmed down and, fortunately, they talked.

While Feintuch considers herself an accepting person, she still faced some immediate stress and shock when her child came out to her. That’s not uncommon. A new study conducted by researchers at George Washington University found that most parents of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have difficulty adjusting after their kids come out.

The study says it is one of the first to systematically examine the experience of parents raising lesbian, gay and bisexual children. David Huebner, one of the study’s lead authors and a public health professor at George Washington University, said his team approached the study with a question: “Can we identify the families that most need intervention to support the families and protect the kids?”

The study found that African American and Latino parents have a harder time accepting their lesbian, gay and bisexual children, as do the parents of children who come out at a later age.

The study, which surveyed a much larger sample size than previous studies, confirmed smaller studies that showed parents’ negative reactions tend to ease over time; the first two years are the hardest for parents.

There were no significant differences in reactions between mother and father, the age of the parent, or the gender of the child. The study did not examine the reactions for the parents of transgender children.

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In general, acceptance seems to be growing rapidly for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth. “We see improvement in people’s respect for LGBT rights, we’ve seen political progress, concrete political progress, and we have also seen attitudes shifting at the population level,” Huebner said. “I think for parents, when you’re confronted with your own child who you love so fiercely, I think that reaction in that moment is a very personal one, and it’s one that’s hard to predict from public opinion.”

After Amanda came out, Feintuch told her daughter that she worried her life would become more difficult after having struggled with depression in high school. “I was hoping that now your time would get easier, and your life would get easier, and it scares me that it would be more difficult.”

“She’s like: ‘It’s not like how it was when you were growing up. There’s a lot of kids in my school who are gay. Its not a big deal,’” Feintuch said. “I had to get it through my head first, and get it through my mind: ‘This is how her life is going to be, and it’s going to be fine.’”

“It was about a year until Amanda was like, OK, definitely 100 percent, and then she had a girlfriend and then I saw it all come together.”

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Huebner said his study is the first to measure these reactions and that previous studies of the parents of LGBTQ youth mostly recruited from accepting and friendly environments, like PFLAG, an organization for the parents of LGBTQ people.

“I think we have made a huge improvement here — 80 percent [of survey respondents] had never been to a support group, had never talked to a therapist,” Huebner said. “These were parents who had never before been heard from in research.”

Still, Huebner pointed to some potential oversights: “There’s reason to believe we are missing two groups of people: those super rejecting people, and those parents who were so immediately accepting that they also didn’t need the resources.”

Huebner hopes that this will allow advocates to devise materials so parents can better prepare themselves to accept and love their kids.

“Parents have the power to protect their kids, their LGBT kids, from all sorts of threatening forces,” Huebner said. “We know that when parents are supportive of their LGBT kids those kids have less depression and fewer risk behaviors.”

How to deal with having a gay parent

As a parent, you may have understandable questions or concerns if you think that your child might be lesbian, gay, bi and/or trans (LGBT). We’ve answered some of the most common ones below.

I think that my child might be LGBT. How can I be sure?

Until your child comes and tells you that they are, or might be LGBT, you can’t know. Try not to make assumptions and let them come and tell you in their own time. Create a positive environment where your child feels able to talk to you about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. For example, say positive things about LGBT people when they’re on TV and don’t allow others to say negative things under your roof.

But I don’t agree with it

The truth is, if you’ve got a problem with the idea of your child being LGBT, you’re going to have to live with it and accept it. The best thing you can do is put your feelings to one side and remember that, regardless of your child’s sexual orientation and gender identity, you love them and want them to be happy. As for other family members: if they don’t react well initially, put some rules in place and establish what can and can’t be said in front of your child.

Talking about it is a good thing

One thing you can do is give them the information they need to make good decisions. LGBT young people often lack access to information about their rights, where to access support, sex and staying safe – even if you feel like you can’t talk about it personally, you should at least be able to point them in the direction of the information they need. You can contact Stonewall’s Information Service for pointers.

Won’t being LGBT make their life harder for them?

One of the hardest things for LGBT people to face is rejection from their friends and family. New laws have made our country fairer and more equal. Same-sex couples can now get married and have children, and there is legislation to protect LGBT people in the workplace. There are more LGBT role models in the arts, politics and sport, and those people who have a problem with LGBT people are an increasingly small minority.

Support if your child comes out as bi

At Stonewall, we use ‘bi’ to mean anyone who is attracted to more than one gender. This includes, but is not limited to, bisexual, bi-curious, fluid, pan and queer. If your child comes out as bi, the best thing you can do is to recognise this identity as real and valid in its own right. While it may be tempting to assume your child is just ‘going through a phase’, this can be really damaging to bi people as it suggests what they’re experiencing is temporary and unimportant. Unfortunately, some members of the LGBT community may also suggest that bi identities are not real or valid, so if you reassure your child that their identity is valid, this can be really helpful.

While sometimes coming out as bi may be a part of someone of coming out as a lesbian or as gay, any assumptions about this can reinforce the idea that bi identities are temporary. We’d encourage you to always be led by your child in terms of how they describe their sexual orientation, and not to dismiss their feelings or experiences at any stage.

Support if your child comes out as trans

Gendered Intelligence works with the trans community, and those who have an impact on trans lives. They specialise in supporting young trans people aged 8 to 25. They have produced a free guide with trans young people and their parents. It discusses various issues and concerns that parents and family members of trans people have and includes useful information, stories and quotes.

Mermaids also offers support for parents of trans young people.

Need some more support?

You can find LGBT-friendly solicitors and other useful contacts through Stonewall’s online database What’s In My Area.

There are more same-sex couple families than ever before in Australia. More than 10,000 children live with same-sex parents in this country, and 1 in 20 male same-sex couples has children. If you are in a same-sex couple, this article will help you consider the important questions about becoming a dad.

The options for becoming a parent

Same-sex families can be created in many different ways. For example, a bisexual man may have a baby with a heterosexual woman. One or both of you may have children from a previous heterosexual relationship, or you may decide to adopt. A gay couple may have a co-parenting arrangement with a lesbian couple. Or a gay man can donate sperm to a single woman or same-sex female couple to have a baby.

These days, more same-sex male couples are creating their own families through surrogacy. There are two types. Full or gestational surrogacy is when a fertilised donor egg is implanted into a surrogate through in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The surrogate has no genetic connection to the baby. For legal reasons, this is the only type of surrogacy that many clinics in Australia will be involved in. Partial or traditional surrogacy is when the surrogate’s own egg is fertilised by the man’s sperm. This can be done at home or in an overseas clinic.

The surrogate can be someone you know, who may then be involved in the child’s life, or someone else. In Australia, commercial surrogacy is against the law, although you can pay a surrogate’s medical expenses. You cannot advertise for a surrogate or pay someone to find a surrogate for you.

Some men find a surrogate overseas, but this can be quite expensive. It’s also very important to understand the laws and regulations of the overseas country before you enter into any arrangement with a surrogate.

For more information on surrogacy, visit the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority website.

Deciding on roles

Same-sex male couples tend to share parenting more equally than many heterosexual couples. Because a lot of planning usually goes into having a baby with a same-sex couple, there’s time to think about what it means to be a parent, what roles you will both have and who else will be involved in bringing up the child.

Research has shown that gay couples are more likely to share domestic duties and childcare fairly than heterosexual couples. Gay dads may be more involved in their children’s lives than heterosexual dads. Being a father can also raise your self-esteem and give you a sense of fulfilment.

There are different ways to involve the biological mother or other women in family life. For example, you may introduce the children to mothers, sisters or friends as female role models.

Social and psychological issues

Research has shown that children who grow up in same-sex families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as any other children.

But even though there is more support than ever for same-sex families in Australia, some same-sex couples and their children are worried about being teased or bullied. It’s the stigma of others rather than growing up with two dads that can affect children’s wellbeing.

Surrounding your family with plenty of supportive friends, families and same-sex organisations and communities can help your family navigate discrimination.

Children usually find their own way of explaining their family set-up to other people. If you think your child is being bullied, it’s important to step in quickly. Schools and teachers are trained to deal with issues like this.

Work and legal issues

It’s important to obtain legal advice before you enter into any surrogacy arrangement.

Altruistic surrogacy (when the surrogate mother does not receive any financial compensation) is legal in Australia. However, the law does not obligate a birth mother to surrender the child. Sometimes a court may transfer legal parental rights to the commissioning parents.

The way in which Australian law applies to children born to surrogates overseas is sometimes confusing and there have even been cases where children have been left without legally-defined parents. Sometimes, commissioning parents will need to apply to the Family Court for parenting orders.

If you donated sperm to a woman, you have no legal rights or responsibilities concerning the child. The woman who gives birth to the child and her partner have full parental rights. When they turn 18, children conceived from a sperm donor have the right to information that identifies you.

If you are a same-sex parent, it’s important to let Centrelink know. You will be assessed for entitlements in the same way as everyone else. Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for child support or Dad and partner pay. Visit the Department of Social Services for more information.

The Children and Families Act 2015 introduced some rights for same sex parents and those planning parenthood. This included extending the right to apply for Guardianship to non-biological parents, provided they are married, civilly partnered or co-habiting with the child’s other parent, and they have been parenting the child for more than 2 years. The right to apply to Adopt was also extended to civil partners and co-habitants by the Act.

Provisions in the 2015 Act which will allow certain female non-birth parents to be recognised as legal parents of their children, come into operation on 4th May 2020. This will mean that female same-sex parents that meet these provisions will be able to be named on their child’s birth certificate. See our FAQ document in useful downloads for more information.

Guardianship

Guardianship is the collection of rights and duties that parents have, or can acquire, in respect of their child or children.

The biological mother of the child is automatically a guardian. The Children and Family Relationship Act 2015 introduced provisions which means that a spouse, civil partner or cohabitant (have to have co-habited with the other parent for over 3 years), can apply for guardianship provided they have shared parenting responsibility for the child for over 2 years. The applicant must apply to the District Court for Guardianship .

Assisted Human Reproduction Services

There is no legislation in Ireland governing AHR, although the Government have published draft legislation called the General Scheme for Assisted Human Reproduction 2017, which will regulate this area when the Bill is passed. In recent years, more clinics have opened up their services to same-sex female couples, however until the regulations are in place it is uncertain whether they can be legally obliged to do so. See useful links on this page for clinics who do treat same sex female couples.

Surrogacy

There is no legislation in Ireland dealing with surrogacy, however the General Scheme of Assisted Human Reproduction 2017, does continue provisions to introduce limited surrogacy to Ireland. This legislation is at a very early stage of debate and will take some time to become law.

For those couples who have or plan to undertaken surrogacy abroad, the Department of Justice and Equality has published very useful guidelines in relation to citizenship, parentage, guardianship and travel document issues in relation to children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements entered into outside the state, see useful documents.

Adoption

The Adoption Amendment Act 2017, commenced provisions in the Children and Family Relationship Act 2015, which allows for married, civilly partnered or co-habiting couples, to apply to adopt a child jointly. It is also possible to apply to adopt as a single applicant.

If you are considering adoption contact a your Local Adoption Office in the HSE .

Foster Parents

It is possible for same sex couples to apply to the HSE to foster a child. If you are interested in fostering, you should contact your Local Fostering Office in the HSE. (Links). The Irish Foster Care Association can also help with any enquiries you might have around fostering a child. See: www.ifca.ie

Information and Support for LGBT Parents and their Children

Treoir , an organisation which provides information for unmarried parents, has a section on their website for LGBT parents, which provides legal information on a range of issues from guardianship to parental leave. See useful links on this page.

To get an insight into the experiences and issues facing children of LGBT parents, Marriage Equality’s Voices of Children report, outlines the findings of a consultation with a same group of adult children with lesbian parents.

While the experiences of LGBT Parents and those planning parenthood are documented in the first study of its kind undertaken in Ireland, The LGBT Parenthood Study. See useful documents on this page.

I don’t think that our eldest son had planned on coming out when he did.

We were having an argument about putting the ‘Find my iPhone’ app on his phone so we could track him down in case of an emergency. Soon the row escalated into a heated debate about his human rights, and the next thing he blurted out:

“I’ve got something to tell you. I am gay.”

As a parent, however prepared you might be for an announcement of this kind, you can never be totally sure how you are going to react.

Instinctively, I threw my arms around him, told him how proud I was of him and said that we didn’t care who he loved as we would always love him. I felt a huge swathe of emotions, but what really broke my heart was the knowledge that he’d known for a while and hadn’t been able to share his feelings with anyone. The idea that he had been going through his ‘journey’ alone was heartbreaking to hear.

He then told his Dad, who reacted exactly as I had hoped and, after more hugs and encouraging words, our son brought the conversation to a close with a ‘By the way, what’s for dinner?’

This date/time/place will be forever etched in our son’s memory and form part of his ‘coming out story.’ I am so pleased that it will be remembered in a positive way and feel very proud of how we, as parents, reacted and supported him. However, as he closed the door that day and went back to his life, he left us with many unanswered questions and mixed emotions. We felt confused, ill-informed, sad and anxious for him; a lot of thoughts were whirring around in our heads.

  • How will his younger sibling feel about having a gay brother?
  • His children will never have a mother.
  • Will life be harder for him now?
  • What if he is a victim of homophobia?
  • What will his grandparents say?
  • What about sex?

Looking back now four years on, these questions seem so trivial and silly. His brother already knew when we told him (!) and his grandparents, like us, love him unconditionally so don’t care if he has a girlfriend or a boyfriend as long as he is happy. His children may never have a mother but that doesn’t mean they won’t know the love of a whole range of different people and the world in which we live now is so much more accepting of diversity that hopefully he will live a safe and secure life regardless of sexual preference.

A few days after our son came out, the subject became a bit like the elephant in the room. Dad and I didn’t want to bring up the subject again in case he didn’t want to talk about it, yet we didn’t want him to think it was so trivial to us that we didn’t care.

Being a perceptive young man, he picked up on our discomfort and said that he’d done some research on parents with gay children. He then seemed to take on the parent role, reassuring us that it was perfectly normal to feel confused and uncertain, we were after all ‘grieving for the life we thought our child would have’ and anxious for the tougher path he would have to travel.

As parents we are thrown lots of challenges during the lives of our children. Unfortunately we aren’t given a rule book on parenting when a child is born and most of the time we make it up as we go along! Despite our son’s research, we didn’t have a preconceived idea of what our child would be like or the young man he would grow into. We just wanted children that were happy, healthy, kind to others and knew that they were loved. Sexual preference makes no difference to this.

This was an incredibly important time in the life of our family and we are loving watching our son grow into the man he is becoming.

Having a child come out can be a challenging time for a parent but there are a few things we learnt along the way:

She just told me she’s gay. I’ve already talked to her about sex with boys—how do I talk to her about girls?

How to deal with having a gay parent

Dear Therapist,

As a parent, I firmly believe that it is my duty to prepare my kids to be positive, healthy, and productive people both in the world and in personal relationships.

So when my 12-year-old daughter announced that she is gay, my mind started spinning. Don’t get me wrong—I have no problem with her sexual orientation. But I am completely lost when it comes to how to prepare her for future relationships.

We’ve had “the talk” about heterosexual intercourse, so should I have “the talk” about lesbian sex? I’m also unsure how to handle sleepovers. Do I let her girlfriends spend the night when there’s potential for sexual activity?

Please help me with this paradigm shift.

Anonymous
Indianapolis

Dear Anonymous,

First, you’re already on the right track by making healthy relationships a priority for your children. Which is to say, I don’t think you’re as lost as you think you are, and that’s because the best way to prepare your daughter for future relationships, regardless of sexual orientation, is to model the qualities you’d like those relationships to have. If you provide a safe, open dialogue while also setting (and upholding) clear limits that will be renegotiated as she gets older, you’re both going to be able to find your way.

By opening up conversations early and often—as opposed to having “the talk” and being done with it—you’ll communicate to your daughter that you respect her sexuality and the relationships that will go with it, as I gather from your letter you’d like to do. This ongoing dialogue avoids a more shame-based approach (where sex is compartmentalized into a single awkward conversation) and also engenders trust—something you’ll need on both sides as you negotiate boundaries through your daughter’s teen years.

So what will you say? There’s no single “right” way to incorporate our kids’ developing sexual desires into the reality that they’re still young and live in the family household. Every family will have different philosophies and comfort levels around privacy, emotional readiness, and limits. But here’s the point: These should be consistent in a given household, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

What that means in practice is that there’s no double standard, that your rules don’t change simply because your daughter is attracted to girls instead of boys. Think about what you would do if she were heterosexual. Would you talk to her about sex—not just the mechanics, but safety, peer pressure, readiness, respect, and consent? It sounds like you’ve already done at least some of that. If so, you should have the same conversation with her about sex with women. And if you need to educate yourself about lesbian sex, you might reach out to LGBTQ organizations for resources so that the information you give her is as comprehensive as the information you’d offer her about heterosexual sex.

As for sleepovers, think about what your rules would be if she were attracted to boys. Would you allow boys she was romantically interested in to sleep over? Would you let only boys who were clearly longtime platonic pals sleep over? Would you let a boy sleep over if he slept in the living room? Would you allow a co-ed group sleepover? You might consider what kind of permission your daughter needs in order to have guests over. (“Can Jane sleep over this weekend?” is different from “I invited Jane to sleep over this weekend.”) You can run through this same thought process for any of the parameters you’d have regarding your daughter’s sex life in the heterosexual scenario, such as age for sexual activity, degree of activity, and where it’s allowed in the house (if it is).

Over time, these rules will shift, and the conversations the two of you have as you navigate those changes are how the trust between you will grow. For instance, if your rule is that at age 12 she can have platonic sleepovers only, she’ll need to earn your trust that, say, Stella is really “just a friend” and not someone she has a crush on. The same would be true if this were your rule and she liked boys—you’d have to trust that, say, Simon was “just a friend.” Remember that she will continue to have nonromantic friendships with girls her age, and you don’t want to inadvertently get in the way of those friendships.

It’s worth noting, too, that many parents tend to be inconsistent in the messages they send to their kids about sex, such as: Sex is a normal part of being human—but you have to sneak around to do it. Sex should be pleasurable—but you’re relegated to the cramped back seat of a car. Sex in the context of caring about your partner and being intentional about what you both want is healthier—but your only opportunities to have sex are in a closet while drunk at a party. In our family we value honesty—but you have to lie about your sexual activity, even if by omission.

Could these boundaries be more challenging to tease out with same-sex relationships? Maybe. Will your daughter show occasional lapses in judgment or honesty? Possibly. That’s part of being a teenager. These are the years when she’ll learn about accountability and trust—not just with you, but also with her partners.

Fortunately, neither of you has to get this perfect—nobody does. But with clear communication and limits based on what feels appropriate for your family, taking into account your daughter’s age and level of emotional maturity, you won’t feel lost, either.

Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.

This fact sheet provides information on how parents can promote positive health outcomes for their lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) teen.

How to deal with having a gay parent

The teen years can be a challenging time for young people and their parents. The information is based on a review of published studies 1 , which found that parents play an important role in shaping the health of their LGB teen.

When LGB teens share their sexual orientation 2 (or even if they choose not to share it), they may feel rejected by important people in their lives, including their parents. This rejection can negatively influence an LGB teen’s overall well-being.

On the other hand, a positive family environment, with high levels of parental support and low levels of conflict, is associated with LGB youth who experience healthy emotional adjustment. These teens are less likely to engage in sexual risk behaviors and be involved in violence.

Compared to heterosexual youth, LGB teens are more likely to experience bullying, physical violence, or rejection. As a result, LGB teens are at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors and report higher rates of sexual risk behavior and substance abuse.

Research suggests that LGB teens experience better health outcomes when their parents support their sexual orientation in positive and affirming ways. Compared to teens who do not feel valued by their parents, LGB youth who feel valued by their parents are less likely to

  • Experience depression
  • Attempt suicide
  • Use drugs and alcohol
  • Become infected with sexually transmitted diseases

In addition, research among young gay men has shown that having a positive relationship with their parents helped them decide to have safer sex (e.g., using a condom, not having sex with high-risk partners). Many also reported that having a positive parent-teen relationship created a sense of responsibility to avoid HIV infection.

Research on parenting shows how important it is—regardless of their teen’s sexual orientation—for parents to

  • Have open, honest conversations with their teens about sex
  • Know their teen’s friends and know what their teen is doing
  • Develop common goals with their teen, including being healthy and doing well in school

Although additional research is needed to better understand the associations between parenting and the health of LGB youth, the following are research-based action steps parents can take to support the health and well-being of their LGB teen and decrease the chances that their teen will engage in risky behaviors.

  • Parents who talk with and listen to their teen in a way that invites an open discussion about sexual orientation can help their teen feel loved and supported.
  • When their teen is ready, parents can brainstorm with him or her how to talk with others about the teen’s sexual orientation.
  • Parents can talk with their teen about how to avoid risky behavior and unsafe or high-risk situations.
  • Parents can talk with their teen about the consequences of bullying. Parents (and their teen) should report any physical or verbal abuse that occurs at school to teachers and the school principal.
  • Parents need to understand that teens find it very stressful to share their sexual orientation.
  • Parents who take time to come to terms with how they feel about their teen’s sexual orientation will be more able to respond calmly and use respectful language.
  • Parents should discuss with their teen how to practice safe, healthy behaviors.
  • By continuing to include their teen in family events and activities, parents can help their teen feel supported.
  • Parents can help their teen develop a plan for dealing with challenges, staying safe, and reducing risk.
  • Parents who make an effort to know their teen’s friends and romantic partners and know what their teen is doing can help their teen stay safe and feel cared about.
  • Parents who build positive relationships with their teen’s teachers and school personnel can help ensure a safe and welcoming learning environment.
  • If parents think their teen is depressed or needs other mental health support, they should speak with a school counselor, social worker, psychologist, or other health professional.
  • Parents can access many organizations and online information resources to learn more about how they can support their LGB teen, other family members, and their teen’s friends.
  • Parents can help their teen find appropriate LGB organizations and go with their teen to events and activities that support LGB youth.

1 This fact sheet is based on the following publication: Bouris A., Guilamo-Ramos V, et al. A systematic review of parental influences on the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth: Time for a new public health research and practice agenda. (2010). Journal of Primary Prevention; 31, 273–309. Because the systematic review focused on youth who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and did not include research on gender identity, this fact sheet does not address transgender youth.

2 Sexual orientation: a term frequently used to describe a person’s romantic, emotional, or sexual attraction to another person.

(CBS News) A new study that finds children of a gay or lesbian parent may be more likely to have social and emotional problems has sparked controversy on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate.

The study, from Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, surveyed more than 15,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 39, asking them questions about their upbringings. Its findings are published in the July issue of Social Science Research.

One survey question asked whether a parent had been in a same-sex relationship during a child’s upbringing; Regnerus wanted to see whether there were differences between kids raised in a household by a parent in a same-sex relationship compared with those who were raised by biological parents who were married and heterosexual.

The survey results were measured by a set of 40 outcomes on social, emotional and relationship factors. Outcomes included whether a child had grown up to need public assistance like welfare, were more likely to have anxiety or depression, were more likely to be abused, or were more apt engage in unhealthier habits such as having more sexual partners, smoking or using drugs.

Regnerus’ analysis identified 175 now-adult children who said they were raised by a lesbian mother, along with 73 who said their father was in a same-sex relationship. Focusing on the larger sample, the study found respondents whose mother had a same-sex relationship fared worse on 24 of the 40 tested outcomes, compared with children of an intact heterosexual couple.

Sixty-nine percent of children of lesbian mothers reported that their family received public assistance, such as welfare at some point, compared with 17 percent from intact biological families. About half of children of an intact biological family said they were employed full-time, compared with 26 percent of those born to a lesbian mother. Fourteen percent of kids of a lesbian mom spent time in foster care at some point, compared with 2 percent of the rest of the children studied. Overall, less than 2 percent of all respondents who said their mother had a same-sex relationship reported living with their mom and her partner for all 18 years of their childhood.

With children of dads in a same-sex relationship, there were 19 outcomes they performed worse on, Regnerus told HealthPop, so they didn’t have as many negative outcomes as kids born to a mom without the mother, but more than those who grew up in a home with married heterosexual parents, he said.

“Most conclusions about same-sex parenting have been drawn from small, convenience samples, not larger, random ones,” Regnerus said in a news release. “The results of that approach have often led family scholars to conclude that there are no differences between children raised in same-sex households and those raised in other types of families. But those earlier studies have inadvertently masked real diversity among gay and lesbian parenting experiences in America.”

Several experts and advocacy groups have taken issue with the study’s methodology, saying a comparison of children of a lesbian mother — who herself may have divorced the child’s biological father, or may not even identify as a lesbian since the survey only asked if a parent had ever been in a same-sex couple during their childhood — is an unfair, flawed comparison.

“Whether same-sex parenting causes the observed differences cannot be determined from Regnerus’ descriptive analysis,” said Cynthia Osborne, associate professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. “Children of lesbian mothers might have lived in many different family structures, and it is impossible to isolate the effects of living with a lesbian mother from experiencing divorce, remarriage or living with a single parent. Or it is quite possible that the effect derives entirely from the stigma attached to such relationships and to the legal prohibitions that prevent same-sex couples from entering and maintaining ‘normal relationships’.”

In a joint statement from the Family Equality Council, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Freedom to Marry, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD), advocates called the study a “flawed, misleading, and scientifically unsound paper that seeks to disparage lesbian and gay parents.”

“Because of the serious flaws, this so-called study doesn’t match 30 years of scientific research that shows overwhelmingly that children raised by parents who are LGBT do equally as well as their counterparts raised by heterosexual parents,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.

Gary Gates, a researcher at the Williams Institute, a sexual orientation policy think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, told LiveScience that a more fair comparison would’ve been of children of heterosexual or same-sex couples who were raised in similar homes, with no divorces, separations or foster care.

“All he found is that family instability is bad for children and that’s hardly groundbreaking or new,” Gates, who was not involved in the research, told LiveScience.

Other critics have alluded to the study’s funding from conservative groups the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, suggesting Regnerus had a right-wing agenda.

Regnerus defended his study to HealthPop, saying he set out to do a population-based study, which is considered the “gold standard” in his field. Other study’s samples, he said, interviewed “convenient samples” of people researchers knew, friends, or groups that are linked together somehow, but he wanted a totally random sampling.

“People will say I’m irresponsible without weighing in with stronger data,” he said. “This is the best quality data we’ve seen so far. If they don’t like the results, I’m sorry.”

Regnerus was upfront about the funding from conservative groups, and said he pledged to groups involved that he would report whatever the data found, regardless of which way it leaned. What’s more, he says some of the criticisms are valid and plausible.

“There are some valid criticisms that are being made, such as the measurement decision on who should be called a lesbian mother in this study,” Regnerus said. “People might say that’s irresponsible to do this study without all these stable lesbian couples in the study,” he said, adding the random sampling only found two out of the 175 children who said they lived in a home with both same-sex parents throughout all 18 years. “I would have been happy to compare them but they did not exist in large enough numbers.”

Regnerus said it’s entirely possible that instability in the household led to some of the reported negative outcomes in adult children of same-sex parents. He said children of heterosexual couples in an unstable home were also found to fare worse than those in a stable environment.

“People gay or straight should stick with their partners, he said. “I think the study provides evidence of that.”

In a commentary in Slate, William Saletan writes, “What the study shows, then, is that kids from broken homes headed by gay people develop the same problems as kids from broken homes headed by straight people. But that finding isn’t meaningless. It tells us something important: We need fewer broken homes among gays, just as we do among straights. We need to study Regnerus’ sample and fix the mistakes we made 20 or 40 years ago.”

Study calls for solutions that would help support parents and keep gay, bisexual and lesbian youth healthy and safe

Two years after their child “comes out” as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB), many parents still say that it is moderately or very hard for them to adjust to the news, according to a study published today. Those responses are the same, on average, as parents who have recently learned about their child’s sexual orientation, a finding that suggests most parents struggle with such news for several years.

The results are important because previous studies suggest parents who have trouble adjusting are more likely to disapprove or adopt negative behaviors that can, in turn, put LGB youth at risk of serious health problems.

“Surprisingly, we found that parents who knew about a child’s sexual orientation for two years struggled as much as parents who had recently learned the news,” said David Huebner, PhD, MPH, associate professor of prevention and community health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH). “Two years is a very long time in the life of a child who is faced with the stress of a disapproving or rejecting parent.”

This study is one of the first and largest to survey parents themselves, Huebner said. In addition, the study includes data from parents rarely ever studied, Huebner said, noting that 26 percent of the parents surveyed had only learned their son or daughter identified as LGB in the past month. Huebner and his colleagues studied more than 1,200 parents of LGB youth ages 10 to 25. The researchers asked parents who visited a website with LGB resources to fill out a questionnaire.

Huebner and his colleagues asked parents “How hard is it for you, knowing that your son or daughter is gay, lesbian or bisexual?” Parents responded using a five-point scale of magnitude that ranged from not at all hard to extremely hard.

The researchers found:

  • Parents who had learned about their child’s sexual orientation two years ago reported struggling just as much as parents who had been told very recently;
  • African American and Latino parents reported greater trouble adjusting compared to white parents;
  • Parents of older youth said they had greater levels of difficulty compared to parents of younger children;
  • Fathers and mothers reported similar levels of difficulty as did parents of boys and girls.

Huebner says that the difficulty most parents experience runs a developmental course with most gradually adjusting over a long period. Parents in this study who had known for five years or longer reported having the least amount of trouble with the fact that their child is LGB.

Parents who have trouble accepting the news may worry that their child might face a more difficult life, one that includes bullying or harassment. Others need time to adjust because they have long imagined a traditional heterosexual future for their child, Huebner said.

Previous research by this team suggests that if parents reject their child or react negatively — even for a few years — it takes a toll on the parent-child relationship. Negative parenting behaviors run the gamut from mild disapproval to outright rejection. Huebner’s research and other studies suggest such behavior puts the child at high risk of depression, suicide, substance abuse and other health risks.

Still, Huebner says most parents, even those in shock when first learning the news, care deeply about their children and eventually do adjust.

“Our results suggest interventions to speed up the adjustment process would help not only the parents but also their children,” Huebner said. “LGB youth with accepting families are more likely to thrive as they enter adulthood.”

Huebner and his team have created a website, Lead With Love, that contains evidence-based resources for families, including a documentary film, to help support parents who have just learned about a child’s sexual orientation.

At the same time, the researchers say much more needs to be done. For example, this study looked at parents and their reaction at a snapshot in time. Additional research must be done that follows parents and children to see how the relationship changes over the months and years. Such studies could help researchers develop better supports for families — ones that would help keep the relationship between parents and children healthy and strong.

The study, “Effects of Family Demographics and the Passage of Time on Parents’ Difficulty with Their Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual Youth’s Sexual Orientation,” was published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. The National Institute of Mental Health funded the study.

Observed sensitivity was not predicted by parental gender or caregiver role.

Observed intrusiveness during play and feed was not predicted by parental gender or caregiver role.

Secondary caregiving fathers were more intrusive than secondary caregiving mothers while cleaning their infants.

Having twins was related to more intrusive behavior during play.

Abstract

The goal of our study was to examine whether differences in the sensitivity and intrusiveness of fathers and mothers from gay-, lesbian-, and heterosexual-parent families (57 French couples, 47 Dutch couples, and 31 British couples) with their first-born infants were explained by gender or caregiver role, while controlling for nesting within families, infant temperament, and twinship. We assessed the sensitivity and intrusiveness of 147 primary caregivers (45 fathers, 102 mothers) and 123 secondary caregivers (68 fathers and 55 mothers). All infants were conceived using assisted reproductive techniques and averaged 4 months of age. They were videotaped at home with both parents while engaged in play, feeding, and other childcare (bathing or changing) and these videotapes were coded for sensitivity and intrusiveness. Information about relative levels of caregiving, infant temperament, and twinship was collected via parent report questionnaires. Mixed linear models showed that sensitivity while playing, cleaning, and feeding were not predicted by parental gender, relative parental involvement, and the interaction between parental gender and parental caregiver role. Models for intrusiveness while playing and feeding showed similar results. However, intrusiveness during cleaning was predicted by parental gender and the interaction between parental gender and caregiver role. Post-hoc analyses showed that secondary caregiving fathers showed more intrusive behavior during cleaning (M = 1.51, SD = 0.09) than secondary caregiving mothers (M = 1.26, SD = 0.10). Our results also showed that contextual factors, such as having singletons or twins, infant temperament, and country of residence were related to parenting behavior. In sum, our findings do not support presumptions that mothers are more capable of providing better quality care than fathers, or that, at this early stage, primary caregiving parents are better attuned to their infants than those who are less involved.

For LGBTQ History Month, let’s take a quick tour of LGBTQ parenting history in the U.S. to remind us that our “modern families” really have older roots.

Custody and Adoption

We first hear of out LGBTQ parents around the time of World War II, mostly in the context of cases that denied them child custody after divorce from different-sex, cisgender spouses. Starting in the 1970s, however, a few state courts upheld custody rights for transgender, gay, and lesbian parents, though some still required that they not live with a partner or engage in “homosexual activities.”

In the 1960s and 70s, as the nascent LGBTQ rights movement buoyed the community, out LGBTQ people also began starting families. Bill Jones, a gay man, in 1968 became the first single father to adopt a child in California and one of the first nationally—although, as he told NPR in 2015, he was obliquely advised by a social worker not to mention that he was gay. A decade later, New York became the first state not to reject adoption applicants solely because of “homosexuality.” A gay couple in California in 1979 became the first in the country to jointly adopt a child.

It wasn’t until 1997, however, that New Jersey became the first state to allow same-sex couples to adopt jointly statewide, and not until 2010 did the last state, Florida, overturn a ban on adoption by gay men and lesbians. Several other states continued to ban unmarried couples, though, effectively stopping same-sex couples from adopting until marriage equality became federal law in 2015.

In the 1970s, too, female couples and single women increasingly began to start their families together through pregnancy. In 1982, the Sperm Bank of California opened as the first fertility clinic in the country to serve this market (although many queer people had been doing home inseminations for years before).

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In 1999, Matt Rice became possibly the first transgender man to give birth in the U.S., although it is hard to tell how the few people in the 19th century who gave birth but lived as men would have identified. (They are our queer parental forebears, regardless.) The same year, a British gay couple had children through surrogacy in California, where a court for the first time allowed two gay dads to be on their children’s birth certificate.

In 1985, some same-sex couples first obtained what became known as “second-parent adoptions” to secure a child’s legal connection to a nonbiological parent. A decade later, the Wisconsin Supreme Court was the first state high court to say a nonbiological mother may seek visitation after separation.

Strength in Community

LGBTQ parents have long come together to support each other, as well as to contribute to the broader LGBTQ rights movement. In 1956, the pioneering San Francisco lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis held the first known discussion groups on lesbian motherhood. The first lesbian mothers’ activist group, the Lesbian Mothers Union, formed in the same area 15 years later.

In 1974, several lesbian mothers and friends in Seattle formed the Lesbian Mothers National Defense Fund to help those in custody disputes. Similar groups for lesbian mothers and gay fathers formed in other cities. In 1977, lawyers Donna Hitchens and Roberta Achtenberg in San Francisco began the Lesbian Rights Project, which helped both lesbian moms and gay dads. It evolved into the National Center for Lesbian Rights, still helping LGBTQ parents and others across the spectrum today.

Also launched in the same era (1979) was the Gay Fathers Coalition, which ultimately became Family Equality Council, the national organization for LGBTQ parents. Out of this, too, came a program by and for children of LGBTQ parents, which in 1999 spun off to become COLAGE.

By March 1990, lesbian and gay parents had become visible enough for Newsweek to coin a term, reporting that “a new generation of gay parents has produced the first-ever ‘gayby boom.’”

Seeing Ourselves, Teaching Others

Depictions of LGBTQ parents in media also go back over 40 years. ABC’s That Certain Summer (1972), about a gay dad who comes out to his teen son, was the first television movie to depict a queer parent. Jane Severance’s 1979 When Megan Went Away was the first picture book in the U.S. to show a same-sex relationship, but it was Lesléa Newman’s 1989 Heather Has Two Mommies that took off in popular culture (garnering praise from LGBTQ families and opprobrium from conservatives), perhaps because Heather shows a happy, intact two-mom family. Michael Willhoite’s Daddy’s Roommate (1990) was the first children’s book with a gay dad. The first with a clearly transgender character, Marcus Ewert’s 10,000 Dresses, didn’t come until 2008.

Marriage Rites and Parental Rights

In recent decades, marriage equality opponents argued that children needed both a mother and a father. Marriage equality, they claimed, would also require that “homosexuality” be taught in schools. That fear played a large part in the passage of Proposition 8, California’s 2008 marriage equality ban. LGBTQ advocates flipped this around, however, through visibility, legitimate social science research, and court briefs that quoted young people raised by same-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court then cited children’s well-being as a key argument in favor of marriage equality in its 2013 and 2015 rulings. It took another Supreme Court case, however (Pavan v. Smith), to affirm in June 2017 that marriage equality means both parents in a married, same-sex couple have the right to be on their children’s birth certificates and be legally recognized as parents.

Marriage equality also allowed same-sex couples to adopt in several states that had not previously allowed unmarried couples to do so—although several states have now implemented “religious freedom” laws that allow child care agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others in adoption and foster care.

Looking Back to Look Ahead

There is much more to be written about the history of LGBTQ parents, both as a movement and in terms of our contributions as individuals. (See this post for a few resources.) This goes doubly for transgender parents, about whom much less has been written, and bisexual parents, many of whom were likely misidentified as gay or lesbian earlier if they were in same-sex relationships, or overlooked if they were not. We also need more studies that look at queer parenting history through the lens of particular racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

Delving further back, too, and around the world, we find many parents under the queer umbrella—from the poet Sappho in 600 BCE to writers Oscar Wilde and Vita Sackville-West, comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley, poet Lord Byron, and jazz musician Billy Tipton. Did their queerness inform their relationships with their children? Did being a parent impact how they expressed their queer identities? And how can we write books about them for our children that celebrate both? I hope you’ll ponder these questions as we reflect on our past this month—and as we look to the future.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.

This article was reposted with permission, and originally appeared on Mombian.

How to deal with having a gay parent

I was in Atlantic City with my best friends when a table of women nearby — moms in their late 30s to early 40s — decided to join in on our Friday night out.

They were getting away from their kids and husbands for the weekend, as we were getting away from the hustle and bustle of New York City. They immediately clocked us as gay, while we immediately clocked them as tipsy.

After we warmed up to another, one mom anxiously said: “I have a question: I am pretty sure my son is gay, but I don’t know what to do. He hasn’t come out yet, but I wanna make sure he knows I’ll be OK with it.”

Most LGBTQ youth are aware of their sexual orientation or gender identity by the start of adolescence. But still, the real and perceived fear of rejection still deters many children from coming out.

What can parents do?

From responding to Neil Patrick Harris on “The Tonight Show” to spending some time with Google, here are six things a parent can do before their child comes out.

1. Respond to an LGBTQ character in the media

With LGBTQ visibility continuing to rise in the media, there are plenty of opportunities to breach the topic in your household.

“If you’re watching TV or a movie together and an LGBTQ character comes on, seize the opportunity to affirm to your child that you are accepting and supportive of LGBTQ people,” Kristina Furia, the founder and executive director of Emerge Wellness and Philadelphia LGBTQ Counseling, tells TODAY Parents.

"It may seem counter-intuitive but the best thing to do is to wait for your child to open up to you."

2. Stop any and all hate speech

This may seem like an obvious one, but microaggressions are a great opportunity for you to demonstrate to your child that you are an ally.

A 2018 report from the Human Rights Campaign shows that 78% of LGBTQ youth who are not out at home hear their families make negative comments about LGBTQ people.

Furia says, “It is crucial that your child feel that your home and ultimately you are a safe space. You must not allow hateful speech, whether subtle or overt, of any kind to be tolerated.”

For example, if someone uses the word “gay” in place of “stupid,” remind them that the two are not interchangeable, and suggest they should say what they actually mean instead.

3. Educate yourself

Start educating yourself about the LGBTQ community: You don’t have to wait for the big “coming out” moment to start learning.

“Consider increasing your understanding of the LGBTQ experience and brushing up on appropriate language,” Furia says. “There is an array of vocabulary relevant to the community that you very well might not know yet.”

4. Seek your own network

You’re also part of your child’s LGBTQ experience, so make sure you take care of yourself in the process.

“Consider getting involved with an organization for additional support and resources,” Furia says. “PFLAG is a great place to start.”

PFLAG is the nation’s first and largest organization for LGBTQ people, their families and allies.

“Self-care is crucial, which means that even as you are learning how best to support your child or loved one, you must also find support for you,” Liz Owen, director of communications for PFLAG National, told TODAY.

“This is especially true if your emotions are less positive, as you’ll need a safe place to work through those feelings. PFLAG meetings are a great and confidential way to find people who have gone through similar experiences. You can find a chapter near you by visiting here.”

Another group specifically for dads is Dragon Dads, an online network and resource for religious fathers who shower their LGBTQ children with love and support.

How to deal with having a gay parent

Craig Melvin’s ‘Dads Got This!’ spotlights religious dads supporting LGBTQ children

5. Ask open-ended questions

Facilitating healthy dialogue can begin with the parent.

“Give your child ample opportunity to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. Whether they want to talk about their hopes for the future, or a situation that happened in school or at work that day, the prospect for open discussion is endless,” Owen says.

“If you have a sense that your loved one might want to talk, but isn’t doing so on their own, a gentle open-ended question, such as, ‘How did things go at school/work/church today?’ can open the door to dialogue.”

6. Don’t push

Furia and Owen both stress the importance of not jumping the gun. Let your child take the lead.

“It is important that you address this subject with great care,” Furia explains. “It may seem counter-intuitive but the best thing to do is to wait for your child to open up to you. If asked about their sexual orientation or gender identity before they’re ready to discuss it, your child might shell up, or worse, experience feelings of embarrassment or even shame. The best thing you can do is to make the conversation welcome by creating a warm and safe environment where open communication is the norm.”

It’s critical to address a few issues and concerns — both founded and unfounded — unique to gay and lesbian adoptive parents so that social workers can examine their own personal biases to make informed decisions. By dispelling the myths and focusing on what really matters, gay and lesbian adoptive families can receive the support they need to thrive, both during the adoption process and after.

The following is a summary of questions, concerns, and persistent myths about gay adoptive parents that are frequently raised.

"What is Sexual Orientation?"

The American Psychological Association (AMA) defines sexual orientation as "one of four components of sexuality distinguished by an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectionate attraction to individuals of a particular gender. The three other components of sexuality are biological sex, gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female), and social sex role (the adherence to cultural norms for feminine or masculine behaviors)."

For most people, sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. Sexual orientation is different from sexual behavior because it refers to innate feelings and self-concept and may not be expressed in behavior. Thus, someone may identity as being LGBTQ even they’ve never had sex.

Understanding the source of sexual orientation depends on which side of the nature versus nurture debate you fall. Some theories point to genetic or inborn hormonal factors; others to early childhood life experiences. Many believe sexual orientation is shaped at an early age through a combination of environmental, emotional, hormonal, and biological factors.

"Will Children Be Molested by Homosexual Parents?"

As obvious as the answer to this question is, sadly, some people still believe that persons who identify as LGBTQ are sexual predators. There is no legitimate scientific research connecting homosexuality and pedophilia. Sexual orientation (homosexual or heterosexual) is defined as an adult attraction to other adults. Pedophilia is defined as an adult sexual attraction or perversion to children. In a study of child sex abuse cases, offenders are far more likely to identify as heterosexual than homosexual.

More relevant was the finding that among the cases involving molestation of a boy by a man, 74 percent of the men were or had been in a heterosexual relationship with the boy’s mother or another female relative. The conclusion was found that "a child’s risk of being molested by his or her relative’s heterosexual partner is over 100 times greater than by someone who might be identifiable as being homosexual."

"Will Children of Gay or Lesbian Parents Be Teased or Harassed?"

Children of gay men and lesbians are vulnerable to teasing and harassment, particularly as they approach adolescence, when any sign of difference is grounds for exclusion. How much of a problem is it? Is it likely to cause lasting psychological damage?

In general, gay and lesbian parents are well aware of the difficulties that a child may face – many have dealt with prejudice all of their lives. Most see it as an opportunity for ongoing discussion that will help their children grow as people.

In custody cases involving an LGBTQ parent, courts have considered the fact that a child might be teased as contrary to the best interests of the child. They argue that the stigma attached to having a gay or lesbian parent will damage a child’s self-esteem, although this has been refuted in many studies. Research has found that although children of gays and lesbians do report experiencing teasing because of their parent(s), their self-esteem levels are no lower than those of children with heterosexual parents.

Nonetheless, social workers and even some LGBTQ adults considering adoption wonder if it’s in the best interests of a child to be raised by gay parents. "It can be too hard a transition for some children, especially those who are older and have already formed preconceived notions about homosexuality," explains Abby Ruder, a therapist, lesbian, and adoptive mother. "Younger children usually have an easier time adjusting to a gay and lesbian parented home. They haven’t learned the societal biases against gays and lesbians yet."

When a gay person is being considered as a potential adoptive parent for an older child, the child should be told about the person’s sexual orientation (depending on the child’s age) and asked their feelings about it. If the child is comfortable with the information, the caseworker can proceed to the next step.

"Will Children Raised in Homosexual Households Become Gay?"

The bulk of evidence to date indicates that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are no more likely to become homosexual than children raised by heterosexuals. As one researcher put it, "If heterosexual parenting is insufficient to ensure that children will also be heterosexual, then there is no reason to conclude that children of homosexuals also will be gay".

Studies asking the children of gay fathers to express their sexual orientation showed the majority of children to be heterosexual, with the proportion of gay offspring similar to that of a random sample of the population. An assessment of more than 300 children born to gay or lesbian parents in 12 different samples shows no evidence of "significant disturbances of any kind in the development of sexual identity among these individuals."

"Will Children Develop Problems Growing Up in a Homosexual Household?"

Some courts have expressed concern that children raised by gay and lesbian parents may have difficulties with their personal and psychological development, self-esteem, and social and peer relationships. Because of this concern, researchers have focused on children’s development in gay and lesbian families.

The studies conclude that children of gay or lesbian parents are no different than their counterparts raised by heterosexual parents.

In "Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents," a 1992 article in Child Development, Charlotte Patterson states, "Despite dire predictions about children based on well-known theories of psychosocial development, and despite the accumulation of a substantial body of research investigating these issues, not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents."

Talk to an Attorney About Issues and Concerns Involving Gay and Lesbian Adoptive Parents

Although our society has become increasingly accepting of gay and lesbian relationships and parenting there’s still a significant amount of resistance to same-sex relationships in some places. Contact a qualified adoption attorney near you to discuss your questions about how being in a gay or lesbian couple may affect the adoption process, and get legal guidance through the process of adoption.