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

By Ellen Bosman


A central function in families is parenting, and guides intended for heterosexual parents raising GLBT children were some of the earliest parenting resources. Often these works were pamphlets or booklets issued by GLBT organizations, such as Betty Fairchild’s 1976 Parents of Gays. The genre continues to expand. For example, a WorldCat search using the subject “Parents of Gays” yields nearly 500 results (before duplicates are removed and without limiting results). The GLBT parenting experience is unique because same-sex couples must seek out the biological participation of the opposite sex in order to create families. This situation leads to a variety of family and parenting structures. Examples include a same-sex couple with children from a heterosexual relationship; same-sex couples who co-parent, or not, with the opposite-sex biological parent; and a nonpartnered GLBT individual raising a child of adoption, surrogacy, or insemination. Libraries seeking to develop GLBT parenting collections that address various family constructions have a wide array of materials from which to select. These range from guides and personal narratives to legal and theoretical works. Within this topic the experience of transgender parents is a rapidly emerging area. The conscious decision to be a parent is the same for GLBT couples as for heterosexual couples.

Research Studies

Qualitative research dominates the exploration of GLBT parenting. In Families We Choose Kath Weston surveys the ways GLBT family members construct their own meanings of familial relationships. As a Choice review by R. W. Smith noted (CH, Nov’91, 29-1816), this early exploration of the evolving definition of family is a significant contribution, particularly because it looks at both lesbians and gay men and documents viewpoints on parenthood on the cusp of the GLBT baby boom. For Gay Men Choosing Parenthood, Gerald Mallon conducted an extensive literature review and found only two studies of gay parents. To expand the available information, he interviewed a group of men who became fathers in the 1980s. The twenty fathers interviewed all became parents via adoption, which Mallon asserts creates a significantly different experience from that of gay men who are biological parents. This qualitative study offers a unique perspective on gay men as challenging the cultural norms during a time when most gay men were focused on the AIDS epidemic. More recently anthropologist Ellen Lewin expanded Mallon’s work by interviewing ninety-five gay fathers to create the ethnographic study Gay Fatherhood, which won the Ruth Benedict Prize. This study covers the emotional, spiritual, and legal journey to fatherhood, concluding that the reasons gay men want to become parents are the same as those for heterosexual couples. Lewin’s work with gay parenting began in Lesbian Mothers, an ethnographic study comparing lesbian and straight mothers; the title deserves a place in libraries because it tackled this subject early on and has been extensively cited by later researchers.

Daniel Winunwe Rivers’s Radical Relations is an excellent example of a scholarly, research-based work appropriate for general readers and important for all libraries. Rivers personalizes seven decades of the joys, sorrows, and custody battles of GLBT parents through more than one-hundred interviews and thirty-four photographs. Pictures of pamphlets and flyers from various events add to the book’s accessibility. A must for academic libraries is Abbie Goldberg and Katherine Allen’s edited LGBT-Parent Families, which features articles addressing a number of distinct issues. Divided into four sections—”Overviews,” “Understudied Topics and Groups,” “Applications: Clinical Work, Policy, and Advocacy,” and “Methodology”— the book’s formatting eases reading of these scholarly essays on topics not widely covered in the monographic literature. These include polyparenting, race and ethnicity in parenting, children of GLBT parents heading their own GLBT family, and GLBT grandparents raising children. The two essays on methodology are particularly useful in a field with little available on the topic. 

Legal Aspects

Those interested in the legal aspects of parenting should consult The Right to Be Parents. Here, Carlos Ball summarizes, analyzes, and critiques the legal terrain of parenting. He introduces readers to GLBT parents who have turned to the justice system to untangle questions of custody, visitation, adoption, and surrogacy. The resulting court cases have changed how the law defines and regulates parenthood in relation to sexuality. They have pushed the legal system to wrestle with questions of who is a parent and what makes a family. The personal narratives anchor a comprehensible writing style, rendering what might have been a jargon-filled legal book appropriate for general readers. LGBT Parenting, a website of the American Civil Liberties Union, presents legal cases from around the country. COLAGE is the only organization in the world that specifically supports children, youth, and adults with LGBTQ parent(s). The COLAGE website offers resources for parents and children, publications, and information on pen pals, art projects, scholarships/internships, and training. Another useful resource is the website of The Family Equality Council, an organization that works to ensure equality for LGBT families. The site features a “Kids’ Corner” with coloring pages; information on finding a parents’ group; and the opportunity to read publications and conduct research.

Works Cited