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Children and Young People’s Experiences Growing up in Lesbian and Gay Families Children and Young People’s Experiences Growing up in Lesbian and Gay Families.

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Presentation on theme: "Children and Young People’s Experiences Growing up in Lesbian and Gay Families Children and Young People’s Experiences Growing up in Lesbian and Gay Families."— Presentation transcript:

1 Children and Young People’s Experiences Growing up in Lesbian and Gay Families Children and Young People’s Experiences Growing up in Lesbian and Gay Families Ms Anna Fairtlough Lecturer in Social Work, Goldsmiths, University of London 020 7919 7832

2 Approaches and Perspectives Qualitative Giving children voice and agency Deficit model v. strengths perspective Increasing visibility of children with a lesbian or gay parent in Western countries Period of rapid social and legislative change

3 Social & legislative changes Civil partnerships and same sex adoption Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) regulations 2007 - outlaws discrimination in provision of goods and services and exercise of public functions Forthcoming Equality Bill - Duty on public authorities to eliminate discrimination, to advance equality of opportunity and to foster good relationships. Implementation?

4 Life stories/texts Published accounts by 67 young people (13+) and adults reflecting on their experiences of being parented by lesbian/gay/bisexual people Four anthologies of stories (1991- 2004) –Two from the US, one from UK and one from New Zealand Three stories from magazine

5 Life circumstances and experiences of the young people 4 Black/ African American, 9 Mixed parentage or bi-racial, 52 White/ unknown (presumed white) Christian, Jewish and non-religious backgrounds, none Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist 51 lesbian mother, 19 gay father (3 both) 31 had significant relationship with lesbian/gay partner, 46 had experienced heterosexual divorce/separation.

6 Strengths and Limitations Range of family circumstances Geographical and temporal spread Ethical difficulties minimised Honours those who have already chosen to speak Representative? Second hand nature of stories Range is limited - no stories from non- western families Stories particular to encounter - not ‘truth’ Breaking up stories

7 Methodology Qualitative content analysis Method of systematically analysing text data through coding and identifying themes Developed an initial template based on literature and reflexivity to analyse 20 stories Refined these for final template to analyse 67 stories

8 Findings - responses of young people to parents’ sexuality Predominantly positive (31) - positive responses to their parents, their parents sexuality and their upbringing Neutral (2) - ‘didn’t bother me’ - brief account Somewhat negative (2) - critical of parents’ behaviour and impact on their life Ambivalent (28) - strong emotions both positive and negative, reactions changing over time, complex detailed story

9 Predominantly positive ‘Being lesbian/gay is what makes my parent wonderful’ - admire courage, close to and able to talk to them, parent is fun/unusual Having a lesbian or gay parent is normal Gain extra parent(s) Positive attitudes towards lesbian/gay community - extended group of carers, lesbian/gay culture fun/exciting, appreciate radical perspectives

10 Ambivalent Similar responses of positive group plus: Parental separation - shock, disbelief, grief, shame, anger, own prejudices Sudden/ serious exposure homophobia Parents’ own ‘internalised’ oppression very hard Adolescent rebellion - maturing process Some instances of parental neglect/ emotional abuse and criticisms of lesbian/gay community - separatism, instability, exclusion

11 Experiences of prejudice/homophobia 60 of the young people gave examples, 4 said that their school was very good at combating homophobic abuse, 3 concentrated on other aspects of their story Overwhelmingly young people talked about their grief, fear, outrage about and incomprehension of homophobia Examples given amount to physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse

12 Experiences of prejudice and homophobia - general and institutional (27) Constant anti-gay language, specific negative comments about parent, threatening phone calls, being thrown out of a public place, parent losing her job, being forced out of their house. Generalised fears of violence and rejection

13 Experiences of prejudice and homophobia - general and institutional (27) Trusted adults - judges, social workers, religious leaders, teachers - not understanding, expressing discriminatory views and making wrong (in the young people’s eyes) decisions

14 Experiences of homophobia within family 16 from the other parent - used in custody battle, verbal abuse of lesbian/gay parent, using religion, controlling young person 4 step-parent homophobic 16 within extended family - rejection, verbal abuse, needing to keep secrets

15 Experiences of homophobia from peers, friends and other parents 29 described homophobia from other children - specific incidents of verbal or physical abuse, hearing anti-gay comments, feeling unable to challenge or witnessing/experiencing abuse for being gay 10 had experienced negative reactions from friends 3 had experienced or feared negative reactions from friend’s parents

16 ‘Coming out’ -managing stigma Two dimensions Making the choice to disclose parent(s)’ sexuality - in all situations, some, none, changing decision over time Being ‘outed’- loss of control - by parent(s)’ behaviour, appearance, activism, choices etc - by gossip from other children or adults

17 ‘Coming out’ Only five did not mention this 10 were open most of the time and had experienced few problems: ‘People were cool’ ‘Bullying taken seriously at school’ ‘Mother was open - from her positive example I know that to be true to myself I must be open in the world’ ‘Wouldn't have a friend who was homophobic’

18 ‘Coming out’ 12 were open to a few: don’t ‘Open to a few close friends’ ‘Don’t advertise it but don’t lie’ 8 had not been open when they were younger but now felt able to tell: ‘Used to be ashamed but now ok’ ‘Burden is better now’ ‘It is important it is said so it doesn’t have to be hidden’

19 ‘Coming out’ 18 were not open: ‘Doesn’t tell - they would think us kids are strange’ ‘Doesn’t tell - for fear of rejection, persecution or being seen as gay oneself’ ‘Would hotly deny’ ‘Would lie, cover up, watch every word’ One actively created a different version of their family

20 ‘Coming out’ 8 Involuntary - Didn’t talk in terms of having agency about it - e.g. ‘Everybody knew at school’ Angry about mother’s partner going on TV For 5 their parents were so secretive not an issue For 1 bullying arising from their own sexuality overshadowed all else

21 What helped? Being open: ‘For the first time in my life I am experiencing connection and community around something that I feared would always alienate me’ - but important to have control. Enduring supportive relationships with a parent or other adult. Many young people described their lesbian mother and gay father as being easy to talk to. Partners often important figures but sometimes seen negatively.

22 What helped? Heterosexual parent not undermining lesbian or gay parent ‘My mom would tell me the court was evil for giving my dad custody of me. I felt rejected by my mom because I didn’t hate my dad.’ Close relationship with sibling or peer Professionals listened in an unbiased way, didn’t assume that having a lesbian/gay parent was a problem or cause of difficulties

23 What helped? Knowing children in same situation, attending a group. Having personal qualities such as rebelliousness, confidence, creativity and humour A strong sense of identity/community pride/intellectual or political commitment to lesbian and gay equality

24 Questions for practice How far is this still true? –Are attitudes more accepting? –But recent ethnographic studies suggest not… How can children’s desire for control of information be reconciled with the benefits of being open and respect for their family structure?

25 Questions for practice What skills and knowledge do we need to work with lesbian/gay families when things are going wrong? How do we take forward a positive duty to promote good practice with this group of families?

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