"You Live Where?!" Lesbian Mothers' Attachment to Nonmetropolitan Communities

By Oswald, Ramona Faith; Lazarevic, Vanja | Family Relations, October 2011 | Go to article overview

"You Live Where?!" Lesbian Mothers' Attachment to Nonmetropolitan Communities


Oswald, Ramona Faith, Lazarevic, Vanja, Family Relations


A positive attachment to one's residential community has been linked to better mental health (McLaren, 2009), stronger social support (Young, Russell, & Powers, 2004), and a higher quality of life (Mak, Cheung, & Law, 2009). Attachment to residential community has been understudied in research on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) families. The current study attempts to fill this gap by using family and minority stress theories to examine the predictors of residential community attachment among 77 lesbian mothers living in nonmetropolitan communities. Our findings indicate that stronger residential community attachment is predicted by more frequent contact with family of origin, low religiosity, and an interaction between close LGBT friendships and the presence of at least one local LGBT organization. Contrary to expectations, anti-LGBT victimization perpetrated by community members did not have an effect on residential community attachment.

Key Words: attachment to community, family of origin, LGBT community, lesbian mothers, nonmetropolitan, religiosity.

Attachment to community is the emotional connection between person and place (Altaian & Low, 1992). It lies at the person-environment nexus such that who one is (identity) is merged with where one is (place; Stedman, 2002). A positive attachment to one's residential community has been linked to better mental health and social support (McLaren, 2009; McLaren, Jude, & McLachlan, 2008; Young, Russell, & Powers, 2004) as well as general quality of life (Mak, Cheung, & Law, 2009). Further, place attachment has been linked to place-protective behavior such that "we are willing to fight for places that are more central to our identities and that we perceive as being in less-than-optimal condition' ' (Stedman, 2002, p. 577). Thus, place attachment can have positive implications for individuals, families, and their communities.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

Attachment to residential community has been understudied in research on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) families. Instead, we have a canon that has historically either ignored residential context or oversampled from urban areas (Oswald, 2007). This "metronormative" (Herring, 2007) stance is changing, thanks in part to Census data that documents samesex partner households in virtually every U.S. county; when these households include children they are likely to reside in less urbanized counties (Gates & Ost, 2004). The emerging social science research has found that nonmetropolitan areas pose both constraints and opportunities (Cohn & Hastings, 2010; Holman & Oswald, in press; Kinkier & Goldberg, 2011; Kosciw, Greytak, & Diaz, 2009; Oswald & Culton, 2003; Oswald & Masciadrelli, 2008). The question remains, however, as to why LGBT people, and parents in particular, would choose to live outside of an urban "gay mecca" (Stacey, 2006); presumably in these meccas LGBT families would be considered "normal" and have relatively easy access to LGBT-affirming resources. We surmise that LGBT people live where they do because they are attached to it; they have important emotional connections to their residential communities that may be related to sexuality, but may also be related to aspects of their lives not pertaining to their sexuality.

We used ordinal regression to examine what factors predict attachment to community among a survey sample of 77 nonmetropolitan lesbian mothers. Residential community attachment was measured with a single item question; the rationale for, and limitations of, this approach are discussed. This research has theoretical and substantive importance because it can move us beyond urban versus rural stereotypes to understand the diversity of LGBT families and the complexities of nonmetropolitan communities. Further, it has practical importance for policy makers and practitioners who wish to promote the social inclusion of lesbian mothers and their families. …

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