Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Are the Kids All Right? the Impact of School Climate among Students with LGBT Parents

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Are the Kids All Right? the Impact of School Climate among Students with LGBT Parents

Article excerpt

Introduction

According to the 2011 Canadian Census Survey, there are approximately 64,575 LGB couples in Canada (45.5% female partners, 54.5% male partners--trans couples not enumerated). Among these couples, 9.9% have children. The majority of these children (94.3%) are aged 24 and under. Many arguments have been made that suggest having an LGBT parent can be detrimental to a child's well-being and future (Regnerus, 2012a). Regnerus (2012a), for one, has argued in his highly controversial article that children of LGB parents experience disadvantages compared to children of "intact biological families." Regnerus' findings from the New Family Structures Study (NFSS) sparked a debate among researchers about the methodological merit of his work (Amato, 2012; Eggebeen, 2012; Osborne, 2012; Perrin, Cohen, & Caren, 2013; Regnerus, 2012b). Many researchers have strongly critiqued and questioned Regnerus' findings and underlying political impetus (see, for example, Perrin, Cohen, & Caren, 2013). They draw on research showing that children who have a LGB parent progress just as well as children with cisgender-heterosexual (CH) parents (Anderssen, Amlie, & Ytteroy, 2002; Rosenfeld, 2010; van Gelderen, Gartrell, Bos, van Rooij, & Hermanns, 2012; Wainright & Patterson, 2006, 2008). For instance, van Gelderen and colleagues (2012) found that children in lesbian families showed no difference from children in CH families on reports of quality of life. These studies suggest that it is the strength of the parent-child relationship, rather than the gender or sexual minority (GSM) status of parents, that has the greater effect on the positive health, development, and adjustment of children and adolescents (Patterson, 2006, Patterson & Wainright, 2007; Wainright, Russell, & Patterson, 2004).

It is understandable that people defend the "no-difference paradigm," especially in response to people using Regnerus's research to defend heterosexual-only marriage (and therefore "family"). However, there may be legitimacy behind some of Regnerus's empirically-based claims. Regnerus (2012a) does not suggest any causal connections between LGB parents and "suboptimal outcomes" among their children, and he is careful to point out some possible explanations that may aid in contextualizing his findings. He writes:

   Although the findings reported herein [i.e., that children of LGB
   parents are more disadvantaged compared to biologically intact
   families] may be explicable in part by a variety of forces uniquely
   problematic for child development in lesbian and gay
   families--including a lack of social support for parents, stress
   exposure resulting from persistent stigma, and modest or absent
   legal security for their parental and romantic relationship
   statuses--the empirical claim that no notable differences exist
   must go. (p. 766)

Among the social environments which children regularly frequent and where they may encounter "persistent stigma" is the school system.

Other research suggests that students with an LGB or transgender (LGBT) parent experience more hostile school environments than students with CH parents (Kosciw & Diaz, 2008; Ray & Gregory, 2001). Negative outcomes experienced by youth with an LGBT parent can be explained not as a consequence of their parent's sexual orientation, but as the result of homophobia, transphobia, and heteronormativity still thriving in society, and, more notably, in schools, where adolescents and youth spend much of their time. It is within this framework, and not Regnerus's, that the current research is situated. More specifically, the goal is to empirically analyze, using a large-scale survey of Canadian students, the impact of having an LGBT parent on the propensity to skip school due to feeling unsafe. The decision to focus on skipping school is grounded in longstanding research that has shown skipping school to be a key correlate with grade retention (Rosenfeld, 2010), eventually dropping out of school (Freeman & Simonsen, 2015), and other negative social outcomes (Rumberger, 2011). …

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