A report released earlier this month found that grandparents are more likely than not to accept their LGBT grandkids.
Kristin Scherrer, an out assistant professor in the Rutgers School of Social Work, interviewed 60 individuals from 25 different families about the dynamics of having an openly LGBT grandchild.
Scherrer said she focused her clinical practice work primarily on LGBT youth and saw a gap in research when it came to grandparent relationships.
“I heard so many stories of youth coming out to their extended families and their grandparents, and that’s a topic that’s just brushed aside in literature,” she said. “There’s really nothing out there about the idea of coming out to grandparents and their responses, other than anecdotal evidence that had us thinking that they would react negatively.”
That was not so, according to Scherrer’s research.
Of the 32 grandparents interviews, 19 were rated as “accommodating” toward their LGBT grandchildren — a label ascribed when the grandchild experienced at least three instances of support, such as having his or her partner invited to family functions by the grandparent or having a grandparent defend his or her orientation to others.
Acceptance was more readily garnered if the grandchild followed conventional gender norms.
Despite the support, nearly all of the accommodating grandparents had some level of anti-LGBT bias, revealed through questions about marriage equality and other LGBT issues.
“I was surprised at how even the grandparents who had negative ideas about what it means to be gay or lesbian were still accepting of the grandchild,” she said. “They just wanted to keep the grandchild in their family and keep up a relationship. They said they would find ways to overlook or deal with the fact that they were gay and were so dedicated to wanting to keep their grandkids in their lives that they were willing to do a lot of work to make that happen.”
The dynamics among the family members varied, Scherrer said.
In some families, the parents helped their kids to disclose to the grandparents but it also happened in reverse in some families.
“Occasionally grandparents with the more accepting attitudes — toward their grandchildren, not necessarily toward gayness itself — did the work of talking to the parents,” she said. “I expected to see the first way, but I was surprised at how much work the grandparents did to speak with their own kids about how they need to be accepting.”
Much of Scherrer’s research focuses on LGBT issues, and she said she’s eager to use this study as a jumping-off point to examine the familial relationships among young people who are not out, or semi-out, to grandparents and other family members.
“Most of the work we do is just on the parent-child relationships and I’d like to see that expanded more broadly to think about entire family systems, how multiple family members are affected and how other family members can be sources of strength and support,” she said.