It’s not a matter of fashion: How psychological research can revamp common beliefs on lesbian and gay parenting

No victimisation by peers

As mentioned above, in addition to the focus on individual developmental outcomes, research on lesbian and gay parenting has also given attention to the social functioning of children, namely the quality of the relationships they have with their peers. This is an important area to investigate because concerns for societal reaction to same- sex parenting are widespread. “I do think that gays and lesbians may be as good parents as heterosexuals, but society is not ready for that” is a common argument we come across when discussing lesbian and gay parenting. Although reluctance to accept lesbian and gay parenting is clearly motivated by the intention to protect children from experiencing victimisation, this is a concern with no empirical foundation. Research has not found evidence that children from lesbian-mother and gay-father families are more likely to have problems with their peers compared to children of heterosexual parents (Clarke, Kitzinger & Potter, 2004; Golombok et al., 2003; Golombok et al., 1997; Green et al, 1986; Miller, 1979). Also teachers’ evaluations of the social functioning of students from lesbian and gay parents confirmed findings that no difference exists (Golombok et al., 2003; MacCallum & Golombok, 2004). All this does not mean, of course, that lesbian and gay parents are not troubled by the idea that their children might experience harassment or teasing because of their family structure (Goldberg, 2010), which is why they make great effort to prepare their children for the possibility of stigma (Gartrell et al., 2000). Moreover, the existence of lesbian and gay parents’ networks, more common in metropolitan areas (Oswald & Holman, 2013), can help to deal with discrimination. For example, having frequent contact with other children with lesbian or gay parents offers protection against the negative impact of stigma on self-esteem (Bos & van Balen, 2008). The level of acceptance of lesbian and gay people in the context of where the family lives is another factor that may influence children’s experience of peer stigma and the openness about private aspects of their lives (Bos et al., 2008).

Although children of lesbian and gay parents sometimes report being worried about reactions from peers to their parents’ sexual orientation (Gartrell, Deck, Rodas, Peyser & Banks, 2005; Lewis, 1980; Miller, 1979), they do not seem to be victimised significantly more often than are their peers that are being raised by heterosexual parents (Wainright & Patterson, 2006). Even when children report being teased due to their family structure, this does not mean that they are more often subjected to teasing than children from heterosexual families (Vanfraussen, Ponjaert-Kristoffersen & Brewaeys, 2002). Parents’ sexual orientation is just one of the many characteristics (other examples are clothing or physical appearance) that can be the pretext for teasing (Goldberg, 2010).


It’s time for research to go further!

Research on lesbian and gay parenting has found no relationship between children’s developmental outcomes and parents’ sexual orientation, and there is no evidence that the development of children raised by lesbian and gay parents is further disturbed in any respect relative to that of children raised by heterosexual parents.

Although some opponents to lesbian and gay parenting highlight the weaknesses of the research in this field due to the small number of participants in the studies, currently a number of reviews (e.g. Anderssen et al., 2002; Fitzgerald, 1999; Goldberg, 2010; Patterson, 1992; Patterson, 2005; Tasker, Patterson, 2007) and meta-analyses (e.g. Allen, Burrell, 1996; Crowl, Ahn, Baker, 2008; Fedewa et al., 2015) are available to balance out the limitations of the single studies. For example, a recent quantitative synthesis of 33 previous unpublished and published studies (N of children = 5,272) on the effects of parent sexual orientation on child developmental outcomes highlighted that child sexual orientation, cognitive abilities, psychological adjustment, and gender identity were not moderated by parents’ gender or sexual orientation (Fedewa et al., 2015).