Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Identity versus Identification: How LGBTQ Parents Identify Their Children on Census Surveys

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Identity versus Identification: How LGBTQ Parents Identify Their Children on Census Surveys

Article excerpt

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals, much like those in other complex household structures (Manning & Smock, 2005), often experience conflicts between their relationship identities and the manner in which they believe their relation- ships can or should be described on survey instruments. Prior research has analyzed con- flicts between relationship identity and survey identification for the relationships between adult same-sex partners, focusing on whether couples describe their relationships as married or unmar- ried partnerships on the U.S. censuses (Gates, 2010; Walther, 2013). This article extends the lit- erature by examining conflicts between identity and identification faced by LGBTQ parents who must describe their parent-child relationships on surveys.

Surveys administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, including the decennial censuses and the annual American Community Survey (ACS), ask all respondents to identify the relationship of household members to the first person listed on the survey, the householder. The identification of parent-child relationships is likely nonproblematic for most LGBTQ parents when there is a clear biological or legal relationship between the householder and the child. In instances where there is an absence of a biological or legal relationship or the legal relationship is established after the parent-child relationship (e.g., a second-parent adoption), conflicts between identity and identification are morelikelytoarise.

In this article, we draw on interviews with 100 LGBTQ parents to examine when con- flicts between identity and identification arise for those completing the census surveys, what identification choices are made in the face of such conflicts, and the conditions that gener- ate the selection of a particular parent-child relationship. Our findings suggest that although heteronormative biological and legal norms often govern identification choices, LGBTQ parents also rely on alternative conceptions of family identity when defining parent-child rela- tionships. These identification processes have implications for the increasing body of research that relies on survey data to understand house- hold structures of LGBTQ parents and their children. Furthermore, identification processes are particularly relevant for interpreting census data, given the use of these data for enumerating households, policy development, and resource allocations.


Ouranalysisexplorespotentialconflictsbetween relationship identities and the manner in which individuals delineate identities on a survey instrument. Prior family research has examined challenges in measuring complex family struc- tures, such as cohabiting households or stepfam- ilies (e.g., Brown & Manning, 2009; Carroll, Olson, & Buckmiller, 2007; Manning & Smock, 2005). Some of these studies have examined the role of boundary ambiguities within com- plex families that generate discrepancies among family members regarding who is and who is not part of a family (Brown & Manning, 2009; Carroll et al., 2007). These ambiguities and the way they are resolved by family members' varying definitions of family can generate differ- ential outcomes on survey instruments (Brown & Manning, 2009).

Our question focuses less on ambiguity within the family itself when defining relationships and more on the manner in which family identities can be incongruent with survey options and how individuals choose to reconcile these incongruities. Similar questions have been examined within the race and ethnicity literature concerning tensions between a malleable self- identity and a public persona conveyed via identification on surveys (Brunsma, 2005; Wijeyesinghe & Jackson, 2001). Research in both of these bodies of literature indicates that a consideration of the intended use of the instrument, the individual's own self-identity, demographic characteristics, social networks, and the contextual environment generate the propensity to check one box versus another (Brown & Manning, 2009; Brunsma, 2005). …

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