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Families First: GLBT Family Issues and Resources (February 2015): Home

By Ellen Bosman


This bibliographic essay originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Choice (volume 52 | number 6).


Family—the concept is as old as humankind and invokes strong feelings and memories in every individual. In its simplest form, family comprises a group of individuals related by blood and, with the advent of formalized rituals and legalities, marriage. Through the family unit civilizations are produced, and cultures, languages, religions, and customs passed from generation to generation. However, the composition, definition, and experience of family changes over time and within cultures. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) individuals often have very different experiences and views of family and the attendant issues, such as marriage and parenting, because American society has long idolized and privileged the heterosexual nuclear family. As a result the GLBT community initially constructed the concept of family broadly, defining “family” as people claiming a GLBT identity (whether acquainted or not). Changing social attitudes and the greater visibility of GLBT persons have shifted the term closer to a construct mimicking heterosexuality, namely, GLBT “family” may now be defined as a same-sex couple living together, with or without children. The couple may enjoy full or partial legal recognition. While society has become more tolerant of the GLBT community, multiple family-related controversies abound.

Documenting the many GLBT family matters (the focus here will be marriage, parenting, adoption, immigration, and domestic violence) is challenging because early GLBT-related publications were ephemeral in nature. Some of the earliest known examples are pamphlets issued by fledgling GLBT organizations, such as the Lesbian Mothers National Defense Fund, which published in the 1970s. The rise of GLBT publishing during this period secured a place for GLBT literature. Specialty bookstores provided visibility and access to materials. Estimating the recent availability of GLBT family materials is nearly as challenging as identifying earlier publications. Bibliographic tools such as Bowker’s Books in Print and OCLC’s WorldCat offer useful methods of investigation despite problems of inconsistent subject headings, duplicate records, and over- or under-reporting of library ownership. Though such tools may produce divergent results, they can measure publishing patterns, popular subjects over time, and availability.

To illustrate, searching all fields in Books in Print for the phrase “same-sex marriage” results in some 230 unique English-language monographs published from 1992 to the present and still in print. A similar search in WorldCat using the subject heading “same-sex marriage—United States” results in some 300 items. For purposes of this essay, these figures reflect the removal of duplicates and extraneous materials such as government documents, theses and dissertations, microforms, wedding and legal guides, foundation and professional association reports, and conference proceedings. When results are parsed by publication date, a publication pattern consistent with major developments in the quest for same-sex marriage emerges. For example, according to Books in Print, 2003 saw the publication of two books on same-sex marriage in the United States. During that year a United States Supreme Court ruling declared Texas’s “Homosexual Conduct” law unconstitutional; the following year twenty-five titles were published, according to Books in Print. Within a decade two major cases—United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry—were before the Supreme Court, and the publication of GLBT marriage materials again spiked, producing thirty-three titles in 2013. Though these analyses and examples focus on one element within the larger canon of GLBT family-related literature, they serve as evidence of the growing interest in the subject.

Given the expanded interest and public debate regarding same-sex family matters, this essay offers a representative sample of books and Internet resources regarding marriage, parenting, adoption, immigration, and intimate partner violence. As these issues are interrelated and continuously evolving, assigning an item to one category does not exclude relevance to another category. Included throughout the essay is discussion of books, free websites, and memoirs. The place of memoirs in the academic library is a matter of debate. For the purposes of this essay, they are included for several reasons: explosion in the genre, the importance of literature as a reflection of culture and community, and the genre’s interdisciplinarity. Memoirs offer insight into sociocultural events as contemporaneous experiences. The contemporary development of GLBT family issues means that most of the recommendations in this essay’s “Works Cited” section have publication dates from 2004 to the present. Exceptions include groundbreaking works vital to any academic library and instances where literature on a subject is limited. Identifying materials involved drawing on this essayist’s past research, searching Books in Print and WorldCat, and consulting lists of awards such as the Ruth Benedict Prize, and bibliographies offered by the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (ALA-GLBTRT). 

Ellen Bosman ( is professor and head of technical services at the New Mexico State University Library.