In This Article Families with Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Parents

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Transition to Parenthood
  • Parenting
  • Child Outcomes
  • Perspectives of Youth, Young Adults, and Adults
  • Adoption and Foster Care
  • Assessment and Intervention
  • Religious and Socially Conservative Perspectives

Social Work Families with Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Parents
Mark Gianino
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0144


The topic of parenthood by gay men and lesbians and the children raised in these households has been one of keen interest to scholars, researchers, and social work practitioners over the past three decades. Early research from the late 1970s and early 1980s was conducted to generate empirical data to address heteronormative and homophobic premises that children raised in lesbian or gay parented households are damaged by that experience and that a home with a mother, father, and biologically related children is the only suitable family structure—a view that all too often informed legal decisions related to child custody where a gay or lesbian parent was involved. Since these years of nascent scholarship on gay and lesbian (GL) parenthood and family life, there has been a proliferation of scholarship across a multitude of disciplines—law, medicine, psychology sociology, child welfare, and social work. One caveat to readers in their assessment of this body of scholarship is the use of the acronym LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) in reference to research populations. While attempting inclusiveness through the use of this nomenclature, there is actually scant scholarship chronicling the lives of transgender parents or their children. This article explores several dimensions of the lives of GL parents and their children. First we present general overviews on the topic of GL family life and that of their offspring followed by summaries of important research on the transition to parenthood for lesbians and gay men. Next is a delineation of studies related to the lives of GL parents exploring topics such as roles within relationships of same-sex parents. Then is offered an overview of scholarship that has captured a great deal of the public’s interest lately regarding the emotional and behavioral outcomes of children and youth raised in these families and, in particular, the association (or lack thereof) between parental sexual orientation and the well-being of these children. As the children and youth born and adopted into GL-parented families grow older, their perspectives warrant their own space, and a section is devoted to writing that privileges their voices. Increasingly, scholars and practitioners recognize the need for multicultural awareness and competence in service delivery to GL-parented families and their children. A section is offered that presents reviews of helpful chapters that detail best practices in social work assessment and intervention with GL-parented families. Not all that appears in the literature is supportive of GL-parented families. Although of questionable methodological rigor, readers nevertheless may be interested in examining the section that presents studies espousing religious and socially conservative perspectives. Finally, policy and legal aspects of GL family life are presented. The section will guide the reader through writing helpful at both the direct practice agency level or at the macro level.

General Overviews

Overviews of GL family life have proliferated in recent years. This article offers a sample of the range of writing reflecting experiences of family life through the lenses of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. One invaluable resource for practitioners and researchers is Goldberg 2010, the author’s compendium of research on GL-headed families. This compilation is a must-read for researchers and is especially noteworthy for the manner in which the author makes the research accessible to all readers. Also reviewed is a very well-written presentation, Johnson and O’Connor 2002, of the authors’ large-scale research project on GL parenthood, the National Study of Gay and Lesbian Parents. Sullivan 1999 is a very useful volume of chapters related to GL family life that explicates the legal context of GL-parented families as well as research on gay men as fathers. Telingator and Patterson 2008, written by two eminent scholars, is a very readable and useful overview of GL family life with an emphasis on paths of family formation and clinical practice with children of GL parents. As the first chapter in an excellent and comprehensive handbook on LGBT-affirmative family therapy edited by Jerry Bigner and Joseph Wetchler, Giammattei and Green 2012 is useful to practitioners and scholars alike mapping the history of and future directions for couple and family clinical interventions with LGBTQ couples and families. Also of immense help to social work practitioners is Mallon 2008, which introduces many aspects of LGBT life with numerous contributors presenting chapters on social work practice with diverse populations as well as a chapter authored by the editor on social work practice with LGBT parents. Gates, et al. 2007 discusses trends in adoption and foster care by lesbians and gay men that will be of special relevance for child welfare professionals. Finally, Lev 2004 is a guide to queer parenting that is included as a pioneering work intended to guide the reader on the process of becoming a parent helpful to professional and nonprofessional audiences.

  • Gates, Gary, M. V. Lee Badgett, Jennifer Ehrlle Macomber, and Kate Chambers. 2007. Adoption and foster care by gay and lesbian parents in the United States. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

    E-mail Citation »

    An excellent report that provides a sophisticated analysis of demographics illustrating how proposed bans on LGBT prospective adoptive parents would impact children in the US child welfare system.

  • Giammattei, Shawn V., and Robert-Jay Green. 2012. LGBTQ couple and family therapy. In Handbook of LGBT-affirmative couple and family therapy. Edited by Jerry J. Bigner and Joseph L. Wetchler, 10–22. New York: Routledge.

    E-mail Citation »

    This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of trends in couple and family therapy that will be of special interest to social work practitioners. It is both succinct and in-depth and offers an exhaustive reference section.

  • Goldberg, Abbie E. 2010. Lesbian and gay parents and their children: Research on the family life cycle. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/12055-000E-mail Citation »

    An indispensable resource for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers that offers a critical analysis of the empirical literature on the subject of GL parents and their children.

  • Johnson, Susan. M., and Elizabeth O’Connor. 2002. The gay baby boom: The psychology of gay parenthood. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    A pioneering report on the findings of the Gay and Lesbian Family Study that is a well-written and organized depiction of life within GL-parented families.

  • Lev, Arlene I. 2004. The complete lesbian and gay parenting guide. New York: Berkley.

    E-mail Citation »

    Although not current in terms of most recent research and policy changes, this book is included here as it offers a comprehensive and lively narrative guide to the lay reader on the LGBTQ family life cycle.

  • Mallon, Gerald, ed. 2008. Social work practice with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

    E-mail Citation »

    Introduction to many aspects of LGBT life with numerous contributors offering chapters on social work practice with diverse populations as well as a chapter authored by the editor on social work practice with LGBT parents.

  • Sullivan, Richard T., ed. 1999. Queer families, common agendas. New York: Harrington Park.

    E-mail Citation »

    Also published as a special edition of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, this volume offers useful chapters providing early overviews of GL family life. An especially useful chapter presenting pioneering research on gay fathers is offered.

  • Telingator, Cynthia J., and Charlotte Patterson. 2008. Children and adolescents of lesbian and gay parents. Journal of The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 47:364–1368.

    DOI: 10.1097/CHI.0b013e31818960bcE-mail Citation »

    Although geared to child psychiatrists, this succinct overview of GL family life offers practice suggestions for social workers and other clinicians working with children and youth in GL-parent families.

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