Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Lesbian and Queer Mothers Navigating the Adoption System: The Impacts on Mental Health

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Lesbian and Queer Mothers Navigating the Adoption System: The Impacts on Mental Health

Article excerpt


As social attitudes and policies related to sexual orientation become more progressive, increasing numbers of Canadian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and queer (LGBTQ)1 people are choosing to parent in the context of same-sex relationships, or as 'out' individuals or couples. LGBTQ people take a variety of pathways to form families, including donor insemination, coparenting with another LGBTQ individual or couple, surrogacy, and adoption (Epstein 2003:83).

This project arose in response to feedback from members of LGBTQ communities who suggested that we broaden an existing research study focused on donor conception to include the experiences of adoptive parents. The two principal researchers for this project are an academic in the field of women's mental health (LR) and a service provider/educator/community researcher who works with, and on behalf of, LGBTQ parents (RE). Both are parents, and identify as queer and white. Though neither of us has completed an adoption, our professional and activist work has brought us in contact with many LGBTQ people who have been through the adoption process, and with adoption workers, literature and conferences. For example, for ten years, RE has been teaching Dykes Planning Tykes, a 12-week course for lesbian/bisexual/queer women considering parenthood. The course includes information on the adoption process and storytelling by LGBTQ adoptive parents.

Our work draws upon that of Stacey and Biblarz (2001), who have noted the effects of heterosexism on research in the area of lesbian and gay parenting. In particular, the need to demonstrate that lesbian and gay parents and their children are psychologically healthy (in order to support parents in obtaining or retaining custody of their children) has led researchers to downplay ways in which lesbian and gay parents may differ from heterosexuals. Further, this heterosexist context has suppressed exploration of the problems and challenges faced by LGBTQ parents, and particularly any study of the health and mental health issues they may face. An understanding of these issues will be critical in order to provide LGBTQ parents with the supportive services they need to maximise their own health, and by extension, the health of their families.

In examining health issues for LGBTQ families, we are further guided by Meyer's minority stress framework, which suggests that stress resulting from experiences of discrimination, expectations of discrimination, and internalisation of oppressive beliefs is an important determinant of mental health for LGBTQ people (Meyer 2003:679). In this study, we conducted seven interviews with lesbian and queer adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents, in order to identify the various 'types' of discrimination and oppression they experienced during the adoption process, and to elucidate the impact these experiences had on participants' emotional wellbeing.

Homophobia and heterosexism in the adoption process

Relative to research on families formed through donor insemination or previous heterosexual relationships, there has been little research on LGBTQ adoptive families. However, the little available data suggest that many LGBTQ people face significant barriers to adoption, and particularly barriers related to homophobia and heterosexism. Homophobia may be defined as a fear or hatred of people who are attracted to, or intimate with, members of the same sex. It may be expressed as derogatory verbal insults, violence perpetuated against those who are (or presumed to be) LGBTQ, or through perpetuation of hurtful myths about LGBTQ people (e.g. as child molesters). Experiences of homophobia often occur at an interpersonal level. Heterosexism refers to the belief that heterosexuality is the norm and/ or is superior to all other sexualities. It is often expressed as a lack of acknowledgement of sexualities other than heterosexuality, such as in forms or documents that allow for recognition only of different sex partners. …

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