Misconceptions and misinformation about LGBTQ+ families can perpetuate stereotypes and lead to actions and policies that harm our children. Let’s therefore debunk 10 long-running myths and offer some useful facts for countering them.
Myth: LGBTQ+ parents are a new phenomenon. Fact: We first hear of out LGBTQ+ parents in the 1940s, mostly in the context of cases that denied them child custody after divorce from different-sex, cisgender spouses. By 1956, the lesbian civil rights group Daughters of Bilitis held discussion groups on lesbian parenthood. And queer parents in the broadest sense go even further back, arguably to the Greek poet Sappho (c. 600 BCE), who may have had a daughter.
Myth: Having LGBTQ+ parents negatively impacts children. Fact: Cornell University’s What We Know project analyzed 79 scholarly studies from 1980 to 2017 about children with gay or lesbian parents. Of those, 75 concluded that they fare no worse than other children. In the four other studies, most of the children were actually raised by different-sex parents, one or both of whom later came out. Their families therefore had “added stress and often disruption or family breakup,” and it was that, not having gay parents in itself, that led to more negative outcomes, says the Cornell team.
In addition, a 2023 meta-analysis of 16 previous studies, published in BMJ Global Health, found that overall, children with LGBTQ+ parents have similar outcomes to those with heterosexual parents, and may even have better ones in some areas, such as psychological adjustment and parent-child relationship quality. Other studies have shown that children of same-sex parents are more likely to have higher self-esteem, a broader conception of gender roles, and to deal better with differences and conflict. There has been less research specifically on children of transgender and bisexual parents, but the little there is also points in the same direction.
Myth: LGBTQ+ families are white, middle class, and living in LGBTQ-friendly states. Fact: Same-sex couples of color are more likely than white ones to be raising children, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Williams researchers also found that children of same-sex couples are more likely to live in poverty than children of heterosexual married couples. Additionally, the highest proportions of same-sex couples raising children live in southern, mountain west and midwestern states, which are often less LGBTQ+ friendly.
Myth: Our kids won’t be affected at all by having LGBTQ+ parents. Fact: As noted above, children of LGBTQ+ parents may in fact have some positive differences from children of other parents. Yes, children of LGBTQ+ parents may also be teased or bullied about their parents’ LGBTQ+ status, and their families may face legal, social and financial obstacles. Yet the root cause there is not the parents’ LGBTQ+ identities per se, but rather biased attitudes and unfair laws.
Myth: All LGBTQ+ families have same-sex parents. Fact: Although most current data, research and media attention has focused on same-sex parents, we are far more varied. According to studies from the Williams Institute, as many as 2 million to 3.7 million children under age 18 may have an LGBTQ+ parent, but only about 200,000 are being raised by a same-sex couple. The others are being raised by bisexual parents (who comprise nearly two-thirds of all LGB parents) or other LGBTQ+ parents in different-sex couples, or single parents. (Or, I would add, LGBTQ+ parents in polyamorous or co-parenting relationships of more than two adults.) Heather had her two mommies, but the possibilities go beyond.
Myth: All our kids will be LGBTQ+. Fact: Even though it shouldn’t matter if this were true, every legitimate study that’s looked at this has found that most of our kids are not LGBTQ+, just as with the general population.
Myth: None of our kids will be LGBTQ+. Fact: Statistically, of course some will, just as with any large group of humans. Additionally, a few studies have found that children of same-sex parents were more likely to report a same-sex attraction or to question future heterosexual romantic relationships than children with different-sex parents — but that doesn’t mean that queer parents “make” their kids queer. As Dr. Nanette Gartrell, principal researcher of the long-running National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, has explained about her findings, this may simply be because the children were “more attuned to their own same-sex sexual feelings because of the environment in which they were raised” and their parents were “nonjudgmental about their exploration of non-heterosexual relationships.”
Myth: We’re completely different from any other type of family. Fact: Diapers. Laundry. Sports and music practice. Homework. Family dinners. On balance, our similarities outweigh our differences.
Myth: We’re just the same as any other type of family. Fact: We are still fighting for full, legal parentage equality in most states, and we still struggle for acceptance, understanding, and inclusion. We may have overcome more obstacles to start our families and may have additional people under our family umbrellas, such as gamete donors, surrogates, and birth parents, although we are neither limited to nor unique in that. We are also part of a long, proud history of LGBTQ+ people and their accomplishments.
Myth: We are redefining family. Fact: The definition of family has varied throughout history and across cultures. In the 20th century, changing divorce laws, more open attitudes towards adoption, and advances in reproductive technologies are only a few of the other factors that are continuing these evolutions.
Myths, like all good stories, have the power to mesmerize. In the real world, however, it’s best to stay clear eyed.