Research on LGBTQ families has historically been developed in the context of a political and social climate that denied LGBTQ people the right to parent. In 1979, 88 percent of lesbians fighting for judicial custody of their children in the U.S., lost. In Canada, the climate was not dissimilar, with courts distinguishing between “good” and “bad” lesbian mothers (and gay fathers); the good ones being those who were not visible, militant, or sexual. In the 1970s and 1980s, custody cases were based on a series of arguments designed to prove that lesbians and gay men were unfit parents. When lesbian and gay parents (and their lawyers) were in court rebutting these arguments, they had to prove that they were “fit” to be parents — that their kids would understand traditional gender roles and behaviours, that the children were no more likely to be gay themselves, that they would not be damaged by the teasing and discrimination they might face, and that they would be “just like” kids growing up in heterosexual families. The research carried out during this period helped to bolster these arguments. (For a summary of this research, see Patterson, 2005.) In these struggles, which involved enormous loss and heartbreak, lesbian and gay parents were pushed to present themselves and their children as “just the same as; and “just as good as” an artificial notion of the heterosexual nuclear family.
In 2001, Stacey and Biblarz in their landmark article “(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?” took research on LGBTQ parenting in a different direction. Instead of arguing that LGBTQ parents and their children are “just the same as” other parents and children, they chose to explore differences, drawing on fifteen years of research on children with lesbian moms. The differences they highlight in children growing up with lesbian/gay parents include less traditional gender-typing; higher self-esteem and better mental health; more egalitarian, shared parenting; more closeness and communication between parents and children; and increased awareness and empathy in children towards social diversity. While the differences they point out are fascinating, the most exciting contribution they make is the shift from a limiting framework of defensiveness to one of exploration, curiosity, and possibility. This shift is made possible by the social and legal recognition and security queer parents, in some places, have achieved.
The Research and Advocacy section of this website provides up-to-date information on current research, advocacy and policy initiatives with regards to LGBTQ parenting and families in Canada, and beyond. Also see the Resources section, for a large collection of print materials, journal articles, books and other resources based on past research.