My son is going through a Pokémon phase, spending hours playing the collectable-card game and reading about the mythical characters. Not all myths are fun and games, however. Below is a baker’s dozen of myths about LGBT parents and our children—fables that are all harmful in various ways.
1. LGBT parents are a new phenomenon. Fact: Openly lesbian and gay parents have been around since the early 1970s, as evidenced by the first custody cases involving lesbian moms and their ex-husbands.
2. “Same-sex parents” are the same as “LGBT parents.” Fact: Some of us are single. Some of us are transgender or bisexual and in opposite-sex couples.
3. We all had our kids after coming out. Fact: The earliest known gay and lesbian parents had their children in opposite-sex relationships before coming out. Even today, according to Gary Gates, a demographer at UCLA’s Williams Institute, many LGB parents are raising children from prior opposite-sex relationships, although the number is dropping somewhat as people are tending to come out earlier. (There is less data to confirm this for transgender parents.)
4. We’re all White. Fact: UCLA’s Gates has also found, using data from the U.S. Census, that childrearing is “substantially higher” among African American, Latino, and Native American/Alaskan native individuals in same-sex couples. (The Census only gives insight into same-sex couples, not other parts of the LGBT community.)
5. We’re all educated and middle class. Fact: Childrearing is “substantially more common” among same-sex couples with lower levels of education, according to Gates. Children of same-sex couples also have poverty rates twice those of children in heterosexual married couple households.
6. All our kids will be LGBT. Fact: This myth has driven much of the fear from the right-wing. Over 40 years of legitimate social science research, however, has shown that our children are no more likely to be LGBT than children of non-LGBT parents.
7. None of our kids will be LGBT. Fact: Some LGBT parents will indeed have LGBT children—not because we caused them to be so, but because, statistically speaking, it’s bound to happen. As a community, we must make sure not to deny them their identities and visibility because we are afraid of the myth above.
8. Having LGBT parents negatively impacts children’s adjustment. Fact: Cambridge University psychologist Dr. Michael Lamb, one of the world’s leading experts on child adjustment, recently published an article summarizing over 40 years of research. He concluded that child adjustment is explained by factors other than family structure and parents’ sexual orientation. Ongoing results from Dr. Nanette Gartrell’s long-running U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study have also shown that children of lesbian parents are just as happy as those of non-LGBT parents. And a 2010 study by Dr. Charlotte Patterson of the University of Virginia found that adopted children of same-sex couples were well adjusted and developing in positive ways unrelated to their adoptive parents’ sexual orientation.
9. Our kids won’t be affected at all by having LGBT parents. This is a tricky one. Zach Wahls, who became a YouTube sensation last year when he spoke at an Iowa House hearing on marriage equality, famously said that the sexual orientation of his moms has had no impact on his character. They influenced his character in ways unrelated to their sexual orientation, he explained.
That’s his experience, and it is a valid one. In other families, I suspect, the obstacles parents have been forced to overcome in order to live authentic lives—and the desire for social justice this creates in many of us—have shaped our characters in ways we pass on to our children. A few studies have also shown that children of lesbian and gay parents have a broader conception of gender roles than children of non-LGBT parents.
Children of LGBT parents can also be teased or bullied about their parents’ LGBT status. Their families may face legal, social, and financial obstacles. While these may be considered ways that having LGBT parents affects children, we must remember that the root cause here is not the parents’ sexual orientation or gender identity per se, but rather biased attitudes and unfair laws.
10. We’re completely different from any other type of family. Fact: Diapers. Laundry. Sports practice. Homework. Family dinners. Occasionally we get wild and go to the park or play checkers.
11. We’re just the same as any other type of family. Fact: We still do not have full equality under the law, and we still struggle for acceptance and understanding. We may include more people under our family umbrellas, such as donors, surrogates, and birth parents (although LGBT people are not unique in that). We are part of a long history of LGBT people and their accomplishments.
12. Being LGBT is the most important way in which we define ourselves. Fact: We are parents, neighbors, relatives, and friends; teachers, coaches, scientists, farmers, doctors, cashiers, politicians; musicians, athletes, authors, and more. We are all colors, ages, and physical abilities. Not all of us put our LGBT identities first.
13. We are redefining family. Fact: The definition of family has evolved throughout history. In the 20th century, changing divorce laws, more open attitudes towards adoption, and advances in reproductive technologies are only a few of the factors that are continuing this evolution, along with LGBT parents.
Myths, like all good stories, have the power to enthrall. We must live in the real world, however, and dispel the myths that keep us from seeing it.