'This Is Normal for Us': Resiliency and Resistance Amongst Lesbian and Gay Parents

Article excerpt

Abstract

Whilst growing numbers of Australian lesbians and gay men are raising children, and whilst research has overwhelmingly found positive outcomes for both parents and children in these families, such families continue to face ongoing discrimination, particularly in relation to the law. In response, recent Australian research has sought to explore both the challenges that lesbian and gay parents face, and the resiliency they display. The present paper contributes to this body of research, by reporting on interviews conducted with 14 South Australian lesbian or gay parents. Through thematic analysis, key areas of importance to these parents were identified, including motivations for becoming a parent and experiences of parenthood, experiences of marginalisation (both within the broader community and within lesbian and gay communities), and perceived strengths and benefits of lesbian- and gay-headed families. As such, this paper provides further evidence of the need for legislative change, in order to better support lesbian and gay parents and their children.

Keywords: lesbian & gay parents, legal exdusion, resiliency, parenting motivations, de/sexualisation

Introduction

Statistics show that an increasing number of Australian lesbians and gay men are raising children (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005), including those born through Assisted Reproductive Technology; in previous heterosexual relationships; through surrogacy, foster care or adoption; or in shared parenting arrangements (Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission, 2007; Dethloff, 2005). The emergence of these 'alternative families' in Australia reflects worldwide trends in which an increasing number of non-heterosexual people are making conscious decisions to parent (Dethloff, 2005; Gilgoff, 2004; Robinson, 1997; Tobin, 2008).

Whilst there is a considerable body of research which has consistently demonstrated that children raised by non-heterosexual parents fare at least as well as those raised by heterosexual parents (see Short, Riggs, Perlesz, Brown & Kane, 2007, for a summary), less is known about the specific practices undertaken by non -heterosexual parents and the ways in which they negotiate heteronormative social contexts. In a 2007 paper. Short suggests that what is needed is a focus upon how lesbian parents (amongst others) continue to thrive despite the negative impact of legal and social discrimination, but that this must sit alongside ongoing recognition of the need for legal and social change. Riggs, McLaren and Mayes (2009) make a similar point in their research on attitudes towards parents amongst a lesbian and gay community sample, in which their participants rated both lesbian and gay parents more positively than heterosexual parents. In commenting on these findings, Riggs and his colleagues suggest that "viewing lesbian and gay parents who continue to thrive in the context of heterosexism and homophobia as enacting positive forms of parenting in comparison to heterosexual parents is not the product of exaggeration, but rather one of celebration and recognition" (p. 60).

Reporting research conducted in South Australia in 2008, this paper takes up the lead set by the authors cited above by further exploring both the discrimination that lesbian and gay parents face, and the parenting practices they undertake that typically celebrate their family forms. Through a thematic analysis of interviews with single and coupled lesbian and gay parents, three broad themes were identified: 1) experiences of parenting that are reported by most parents, regardless of sexual identity, 2) experiences that are specific to lesbian and gay parents (as non-heterosexual people), and 3) the potentially beneficial aspects of parenting by non-heterosexual people. The paper concludes by suggesting that if the strengths of lesbian and gay parents are to be recognised, this requires ongoing legislative change to ensure that adequate levels of support are provided and that current levels of discrimination can be reduced, so that lesbianand gay-headed households can continue to thrive. …

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