Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Systemic Heterosexism and Adjustment among Adolescents Raised by Lesbian Mothers

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Systemic Heterosexism and Adjustment among Adolescents Raised by Lesbian Mothers

Article excerpt

The main objective of this study was to examine the impact of heterosexism on the wellbeing of adolescents raised by lesbian mothers. A substantial body of research has shown that children raised by same-sex parents do not differ from children of heterosexual parents with regard to gender, social, emotional, and cognitive development (for reviews, see: Goldberg, 2010; Tasker, 2005). In the last decade, there has been increased attention to adolescents raised by lesbian mothers, notably through the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) (e.g., Gartrell, Bos, & Goldberg, 2011), the U.S. 1994 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (e.g., Wainright, Russell, & Patterson, 2004), and the longitudinal study of lesbian families in the U.K. (e.g., Golombok & Balger, 2010) (for a review, see Gartrell, Bos, Peyser, Deck, & Rodas, 2012). Overall, examining adolescents' psychosocial adjustment, academic success, substance use, victimization, romantic relationship, and sexual behaviours showed that adolescents raised by lesbian mothers fare as well as adolescents raised by heterosexual parents.

These findings have been largely disseminated, notably in the context of unprecedented advances of civil rights among sexual minority individuals. Yet, gay and lesbian individuals and their children still live in heterosexist environments. Herek (1995) defines heterosexism as "the ideological system that denies, denigrates and stigmatizes any nonheterosexual form of behaviour, identity, relationship, or community. . . . Heterosexism is manifested at both the cultural and the individual levels" (p. 321). We conceptualized direct experience of heterosexism as distinct from perception of heterosexism, as suggested by Meyer (2003) and Almack (2007), because the actual experience and the threat of victimization are stressors and risk factors that have specific negative impacts on the wellbeing of sexual minority individuals.

As children can be stigmatized for racial, political, or religious characteristics of their families (e.g., Quintana & McKown, 2008), children of gay and lesbian parents can be stigmatized because of their association with homosexuality (e.g., King, 2001). For instance, 41% of 78 American adolescents in the NLLFS study reported having been "treated unfairly because of having a lesbian mother," mostly within the school context (Bos & Gartrell, 2010; Van Gelderen, Gartrell, Bos, & Hermanns, 2012). Similarly, in a Canadian study, 69% of the 65 adolescents raised by lesbian mothers reported some level of negative beliefs about lesbianheaded families among their peers at school (Vyncke, Julien, Jodoin, & Jouvin, 2011). This takes place in a context of a strong negative climate regarding sexual diversity in the schools attended by the adolescents (e.g.,Chamberland, Richard, & Bemier, in press; Kosciw, Diaz, & Greytag, 2008; Taylor & Peter, 2012). However, very few studies have assessed the impact of heterosexism on the wellbeing of children and adolescents raised by gay and lesbian parents. The current study examined such impacts among adolescents raised by lesbian mothers and the protective factors likely to account for variance in adolescents' wellbeing.

Theoretical Background

To guide our study of the association between heterosexism and adolescents' adjustment, we used Bronfenbrenner's (1988) bioecological theory of human development. This model posits that human development is a process involving a dynamic relation between individuals and a given context. The context refers to the nested system of multiple levels of organizations, ranging from biology through history. At any given moment in their lives, individuals behave within given microsystems (e.g., family, school, workplace). The mesosystem refers to the set of microsystems interacting with each other at a given developmental period. For instance, a child's early cognitive stimulation at home may influence performance at school. …

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