Academic journal article Social Work

Family Caregiving Responsibilities among Lesbians and Gay Men

Academic journal article Social Work

Family Caregiving Responsibilities among Lesbians and Gay Men

Article excerpt

This study examines the full range of family care responsibilities among lesbians and gay men, including caring for children and adults with an illness or disability. Thirty-two percent of the gay men and lesbians in this study were providing some type of caregiving assistance. Lesbians, compared with gay men, were significantly more likely to be caring for children and elderly people, whereas gay men were more likely to be assisting working-age adults with an illness or disability. After controlling for the sociodemographic characteristics of the caregivers, having child care responsibilities was a significant predictor of not being openly identified as gay or lesbian, but child care and adult care responsibilities were not significant predictors of degree of support received from biological family members or of harassment experienced. These findings have implications for the development of human services practices and policies that are responsive to the unique needs of lesbians and gay men and their families.

Key words: children; dependents; family care; gay men; lesbians

In the United States there is increasing heterogeneity among families (Congress, 1997), and health and human services workers increasingly are called on to assist people living in a variety of family structures. Yet research primarily has examined the care of family members within traditional family constellations (Pruchno & Resch, 1989), with few attempts to examine other family structures and their patterns of care. To date, relatively few studies have examined the family care responsibilities of lesbians and gay men (Gottman, 1990; Patterson, 1992).

There have been tremendous gains in the extension of civil rights protections for gay men and lesbians during the past several decades. In 1993, for example, 80 percent of Americans favored equal job opportunity for lesbians and gay men, compared with 74 percent and 56 percent in 1992 and 1982, respectively (Moore, 1993). Eight states and almost 90 cities or counties have enacted protections against sexual orientation discrimination in private employment (Klawitter & Flatt, 1994).

Despite the increasing support for basic civil rights protections, lesbians and gay men and their families have come under increasing scrutiny and attack. For example, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was enacted recently to prohibit the recognition of interstate same-sex marriages. Lesbians and gay men also often are denied custody of and visitation with their biological children and denied the opportunity to adopt or become foster parents (Editors of the Harvard Law Review, 1990; Falk, 1989; Shapiro, 1996). In Washington and Oklahoma legislation recently was introduced to prohibit gay men and lesbians from adopting, and in Oregon legislation was introduced to make artificial insemination illegal for unmarried women. In addition, the State Department of Social Services in Nebraska enacted policies prohibiting the placement of children in the homes of lesbian and gay foster parents (National Center for Lesbian Rights, 1995).

Many such initiatives have prevailed despite the fact that the vast majority of social science research has demonstrated that the sexual orientation of an individual affects neither his or her ability to parent nor outcomes among children. Several studies have demonstrated that a parent's sexual orientation is not related to the child's emotional health, interpersonal relationships, social adjustment, gender identity, or sexual orientation (Flaks, Ficher, Masterpasqua, & Joseph, 1995; Golombok & Tasker, 1996; Gottman, 1990; Patterson, 1992; Tasker & Golombok, 1995; Victor & Fish, 1995). For example, Gottman (1990) found, when comparing daughters of lesbian and daughters of heterosexual mothers, that there were no significant differences in the daughters' sexual orientation, gender identity, gender role, or social adjustment.

Even less is known about the experiences of lesbians and gay men in providing family care assistance to adult family members with an illness or disability. …

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