The Impact of Homophobic Public Discourse on Children and Youth Living in LGBT-Led Families: A study of the same-sex marriage debate.
Principal Investigator: Rachel Epstein
Funded by the Wellesley Central Urban Health Grants Initiative.
This community-based research project explored the following research questions:
- What kinds of experiences are the children of LGBTQ parents having in schools?
- How do young people, teachers and parents perceive, respond to and talk about these experiences?
- How are children/young people impacted when they are surrounded by a public debate that tells them their families are not legitimate and that they are at risk growing up in their households?
Methodology included interviews with key community informants, group interviews with young people (age 10 – 18) with one or more LGBTQ parents, LGBTQ parents, and teachers interested in LGBTQ issues, and on-line surveys with the same three groups. In total 31 young people, 17 parents and 15 teachers were interviewed; 18 young people, 79 teachers and 77 parents filled out the on-line survey.
This project was guided at key points by a Community Advisory Committee, composed of academics, community activists and educators.
Some key themes emerged from the interviews with young people. In summary, we are finding that most school-age children experience quite a profoundly homophobic culture at school (with some notable exceptions, i.e. some alternative and private schools). This includes hearing phrases like “that’s so gay,” consistently and repeatedly; being asked questions by other kids, like, “your parents are gay, can we put a pencil up your ass?” or being told by a teacher that “the best way to grow up is with a mom and a dad.”
Our children respond to this culture of homophobia in very diverse ways. They talk a lot about assessing safety, seeking clues about when and where they might experience homophobia and trying to make decisions accordingly about when and with whom to “come out.” Some develop strategies of “coming out” more; others less. Sometimes they respond with anger and physical aggression, even when this is not their “normal” way of responding to stress. Sometimes they respond by verbally playing with other kids’ ignorance, a form of teasing back. Disclosure to parents and/or teachers varies by situation and individual, but it is not always straightforwardly helpful for parents and/or teachers to intervene. One of the key questions emerging from this research is about how parents and teachers can effectively support the children of LGBTQ parents when homophobic incidences occur.
Epstein, R. Idems, B. and Schwartz, A. (2013). Queer spawn on school. Confero. 1, 2. pp. 1-37. Available: http://www.confero.ep.liu.se/issues/2013/v1/i2/131118/confero13v1i21e.pdf
Workshops by youth from LGBTQ families.