Gay Dads and Stigmas

A new study finds that families with gay dads still face discrimination and stigma, especially in states and settings that offer fewer legal and social protections.

LGBTQ families

Public acceptance for gay marriage in America has grown since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions in 2013. By May 2015, a Gallup poll reported that 60 percent of Americans approved of gay marriage.

Despite that shift in attitudes, though, a recent Tufts study found that gay fathers still feel the brunt of stigma, experiences that the researchers linked to states with fewer legal and social protections for gays and their families.  

The study, a collaboration between Ellen Pinderhughes, professor of child study and human development at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, and Ellen Perrin, professor of pediatrics emerita at the School of Medicine, analyzed survey responses from 732 men in forty-seven states, revealing how social contexts shape personal experiences of stigmatization. It was published last month in the journal Pediatrics.

“The key takeaway is that states’ legal protections do matter,” Pinderhughes said. “In states that provide more protections, the dads are experiencing less stigma.”

Pinderhughes said the most striking finding was that about 63 percent of respondents reported that they had experienced stigma based on being a gay father in at least one aspect of their lives. Half also reported that they had avoided situations out of fear of stigma in the past year. Forty percent of those who attempted to adopt a child said they faced barriers on their pathway to fatherhood.

More than 30 percent reported stigma in religious environments, and about one-fourth reported experiencing stigma in the past year from family members, neighbors, gay friends, and/or service providers such as waiters, service providers, and salespeople.

These encounters in settings “that are traditionally expected to be sources of support and nurturing is particularly troubling,” reported the researchers. “It is important for pediatricians caring for these families to help families understand and cope successfully with potentially stigmatizing experiences.”

To understand the influence of the social environment on responses, the Tufts researches used equality ratings that reflect each state’s lawsfor protection of LGBT families. They also used rankings of religious groups based on the explicit beliefs of each group regarding homosexuality and marriage equality.  

Among fathers who identified with a particular religion, the likelihood of having experienced stigma in a religious context was directly associated with the tolerance ranking of the religious group with which they affiliated. Almost one-third of respondents affiliated with a religious community had avoided such contexts in anticipation of stigma.

Pinderhughes said that the research also has implications on how to support gay fathers and their children. Increasing evidence, she said, links feeling stigmatized “with reduced well-being of children and adults,” including psychiatric problems.

Potentially harmful to families and children, stigma must be recognized and called out, she said. “We all have biases, and we must own them,” she said. And if one feels stigmatized, “you must resist it and learn how to arm yourself and your children against it.”

The Big Picture for Families

Pinderhughes and Perrin have been working together for more than ten years on their shared interest in sexual minority parents.

by Laura Ferguson, tufts.now.edu, March 11, 2019

Click here to read the entire article.

Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown

Attorney and Advocate at Time For Families
Who am I? On the deepest level, I am blessed. I have an amazing partner, who I have known since 1989 and been married to since 2004. I am the donor dad of two beautiful daughters who have two moms who are equally amazing. My husband and I have expanded our family through surrogacy and have a seven-year old son. I have had three careers (acting, massage therapy and the law) and I am still discovering myself. I am the Board Chair of Men Having Babies. The one thing I know for sure is that life is about trusting your instincts. Family is an instinct.
Anthony Brown