Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

"There Is No Perfect School": The Complexity of School Decision-Making among Lesbian and Gay Adoptive Parents

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

"There Is No Perfect School": The Complexity of School Decision-Making among Lesbian and Gay Adoptive Parents

Article excerpt

Families in contemporary U.S. society are increasingly diverse and complex (Brodzinsky & Pertman, 2011). The household norm of two heterosexual parents with biological children has been replaced by a wide array of family arrangements in part because of changing social and political landscapes (Lofquist, Lugaila, O'Connell, & Feliz, 2012). In the United States, lesbian and gay (LG) couples are increasingly becoming parents and are at least four times as likely as heterosexual couples to have adopted children (Gates, 2013). Adoptive families are often racially diverse: At least 40% of U.S. adoptions are transracial (i.e., parents adopt children of a different race), and LG couples are more likely than heterosexual couples to adopt transracially (Brodzinsky & Pertman, 2011). The unique combinations associated with sexual minority status, adoption, and racial diversity make these families vulnerable to multiple forms of marginalization.

Despite such increases in family complexity, U.S. society has continued to prize the standard North American family of a heterosexual married couple parenting biologically related children (Smith, 1993), which can lead to the marginalization of families that deviate from this family form (Allen & Jaramillo-Sierra, 2015). Societal systems (e.g., schools, the legal system) have been slow to acknowledge and adapt to changes in contemporary families. Schools may reflect the broader community and cultural context in which they are situated, thus perpetuating heteronormativity in policies and curricula, which centralize the experience of White, heterosexual, two-parent, biologically related families (Hopkins, Sorensen, & Taylor, 2013). Alternatively, schools can also actively disrupt and challenge heteronormativity, such as through their physical structures (e.g., trans-inclusive restrooms) and curricular and extracurricular offerings (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender [LGBT] history month, LGBT student groups; Russell, Day, Ioverno, & Toomey, 2016). Aware of the potential for both invisibility and scrutiny of their families within the school context, LG adoptive parents may be motivated to seek out schools they believe will be affirming (Goldberg, 2014).

This qualitative study examines the school decision-making of LG adoptive parents (primarily White and middle class) with young school-age children (mostly preschool or kindergarten age and of color) in the United States. We attend to the vulnerabilities and assets that these parents reveal as salient in their decision-making and the tensions that emerge as they navigate and juggle logistical, intersectional, and academic complexities.

Conceptual Framework

Intersectionality holds that social identities such as sexual orientation, gender, race, social class, and nationality do not operate as distinct categories but are lived conjointly (Crenshaw, 1989; Few-Demo, 2014; Veenstra, 2011). Parents' identities and those of their children interact to shape their experiences, opportunities, choices, and challenges in relation to schools (Grant & Zwier, 2012). By exploring the intersections of families' sexual minority, adoptive, and racial statuses, we can illuminate the complexity of lived experiences at the "crossroads" of these identities and within the broader institutional systems of oppression and privilege (Crenshaw, 1989). Although parents in this study hold identities that are marginalized in U.S. society at large (i.e., sexual minority identity, adoptive family structure, multiracial family status), an intersectional approach highlights how parental social class, resulting from advantages linked to education and wealth (and among men, gender), also affords privileges that may shape their experiences in their communities and when navigating schools (Grant & Zwier, 2012). Parents with greater education are more likely to select private or alternative public schools (Goyette, 2014; Pugh, 2009) in that education level is an indicator of the value they place on education (Ogawa & Dutton, 1997), but also because education provides parents with access to networks of information, which shape knowledge and choice of schools (Goyette & Lareau, 2014). …

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