The first report from a new project dedicated to families with LGBTQ children or parents shows the negative impact of stigma on both groups—and points the way forward to keeping these families strong and healthy.
“Families with LGBTQ Children or Parents: Countering Stigma with Knowledge and Support” is the first publication of The Constellation Project, which formed last year as a data resource to help both nonprofits and researchers reach out to and serve families with LGBTQ children or parents. One of the authors is Nathaniel Frank, the director of Cornell University’s What We Know Project, which I’ve long cited as a resource for all of the academic papers showing the well-being of children with LGBTQ parents.
In his introduction to the Constellation report, Frank explains that families with LGBTQ children and families with LGBTQ parents both “face stigma and rejection” and “both require similar mitigation.” The report therefore offers two literature reviews, one for each group, showing the research that exists and identifying gaps in our knowledge. (I will also note that of course these two groups aren’t mutually exclusive.)
Frank points out, however, that “The scholarly consensus on LG [lesbian and gay] parenting is now so robust that, besides noting a need for further research on how to mitigate the impact of stigma on children with LGBTQ parents, this report does not dwell on the outdated question of whether LG parenting yields adequate child wellbeing outcomes. It’s now clear that, as the 2010 film put it, ‘The Kids Are All Right.’” Thank goodness that’s settled. (In my opinion, it was settled long ago; it’s just nice to see additional affirmations of it. And while there’s been less research on kids of transgender and bisexual parents, I can’t imagine the results will be different when it comes to children’s well-being.)
Instead, he says, the report shows “a particular need to focus research and support on parents.” Parental rejection of LGBTQ children is a key cause of many negative outcomes, but research shows (as I’ve discussed) that “even ambivalent and rejecting parents are often open to interventions to improve their family relationships.” We need to look even further at how best to do that. As for LGBTQ parents, Frank says, they still need support, like all parents, and may also “experience difficulties obtaining the same opportunities and protections that many parents take for granted.”
The first review, by Kirsty A. Clark and John E. Pachankis of Yale University, focuses on families with LGBTQ youth. The report summarizes what they say we know:
- LGBTQ youth are more likely to face stigma-related stressors and associated mental health problems than their heterosexual, cisgender peers.
- Parental rejection of LGBTQ youth raises the odds of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, substance use, and other risk-taking behavior among LGBTQ youth.
- Support by parents of their LGBTQ children is associated with positive mental health and serves as a buffer against the harmful effects of minority stress.
- Parents of transgender and gender-diverse youth face unique social, emotional, and institutional challenges around their children’s social and medical gender affirmation processes.
Future research directions include the need to:
- Recruit more parents with conflictual or negative responses to their LGBTQ children, as well as parents with limited financial resources, conservative cultural or religious values, and more diverse racial, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds.
- Recruit parents and parent-child dyads to research parent-child relationships directly, without relying primarily on youth self-reports.
- Conduct more longitudinal studies of parental reactions to LGBTQ youth.
- Rigorously test promising interventions that support parents of LGBTQ children, particularly those geared toward parents with rejecting or ambivalent attitudes.
The second review, by Susie Bower-Brown and Anja McConnachie of the University of Cambridge, focuses on families with LGBTQ parents. Research currently tells us:
- LGBTQ people face discrimination when seeking to adopt or use assistive reproductive technology.
- Rejection and differential treatment of LGBTQ parents often come from extended family (such as grandparents).
- LGBTQ parents face further levels of stigma and other barriers when they are also members of other marginalized populations based on racial and ethnic identity and socioeconomic status, as well as when they live in conservative communities.
- Bisexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming parents face additional hurdles to optimal wellbeing by virtue of their marginalized status, even within the LGBTQ population.
In the future, the report says, we should:
- Obtain more robust counts of LGBTQ parents, such as via the U.S. Census.
- Recruit and research larger numbers of LGBTQ parents, particularly those with diverse racial, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds; those with lower income; those from environments with conservative cultural or religious values; and those who are bisexual or transgender or gender-nonconforming.
- Identify and test protective factors for LGBTQ parents, and their children, in hostile environments.
- Research how rejection and differential treatment of LGBTQ parents by their own families (i.e. grandparents) affect family outcomes.
If you’re interested in the details behind all this, I encourage you to read the full report, though it is a dense dose of social science research, which will either delight you or make you run away screaming. (No judgment either way; I was trained as a historian myself and have sympathies on both sides.) If you don’t want to wade through it, at least know that it exists as a resource to guide policymakers, advocates, health care professionals, educators, and others, because, as Frank says, “The needs of the families in this report must be addressed at every level—political, social, and cultural—with an increase in knowledge, community and support.”
No matter who wins the election next week, the conservative shift of the U.S. Supreme Court and the threat that poses to LGBTQ families makes such work—backed by legitimate, authoritative social science research—even more vital than ever.