Women and Mental Health

By Elizabeth Howell; Marjorie Bayes | Go to book overview

28
Lesbian Families: Cultural
and Clinical Issues

MARNY HALL

As the traditional nuclear family declines as the norm in this country—in numbers if not in influence—members of alternative families are appearing with greater frequency in the agency offices and clinical practice of social workers. Parenthood for same-sex couples and single gay people, most often lesbians, is currently under scrutiny as an alternative life style. Social workers are finding themselves in the roles of experts about the viability of such alternatives, and as such their influence can be profound. For example, their testimony in cases in which lesbian mothers seek to retain custody of their children may weigh heavily in judges' final decisions about placement of the disputed children. The growing number of occasions for social workers to take stands on such critical issues requires a professional community that is informed about problems unique to lesbian families. These issues, which social workers face in their contacts with lesbian clients as family members and as couples, are the focus of this article.

The issues for the practitioner, as the case examples in the article demonstrate, are two tiered. The first level of feelings and attitudes involves the social worker's own degree of comfort with the client's life style. Is the practitioner comfortable with the spectrum of her own sexuality? Does she have questions about the validity of a lesbian's life

____________________
The author wishes to acknowledge the help of Katherine Fengler, Nan Golub, Janis Janus X, Kathy Gauen, Marilyn Mehr, and Willyce Kim.

-373-

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