A few generations ago, families consisted of a mum, a dad, and their children. Although gay and lesbian parents existed, they were not typically public about their sexual orientation and were not recognised in their communities. Today, however, families with gay or lesbian parents are widely seen and increasingly accepted. Many homosexual couples are choosing to become parents through adoption, artificial insemination, surrogacy, or foster parenting, while some gay and lesbian parents have children from previous heterosexual relationships. Although families with gay or lesbian parents face all of the same challenges that traditional families encounter, they also have a few unique issues.
While many gay and lesbian people struggle with the decision of whether or not to be open about their sexuality, gay and lesbian parents must make this same decision while taking into account the possible repercussions for their children. Despite the injustice, many people still harbour negative feelings toward homosexuality, and children of gay or lesbian parents may be unfairly singled out for taunting and teasing. Universally, parents make choices to shield their children from unnecessary difficulty, but choosing not to be “out” in the community means living in a secretive, less than honest way, which of course, doesn’t sit well with most gay and lesbian parents. Unfortunately, the existence of homophobia makes this a tough decision.
What Kids Need
Children need to be raised in a safe, warm, nurturing environment with responsible parents who see that their needs are met. Good parenting involves consistency and caring, traits which are not gender specific. Realistically, gay and lesbian couples are just as likely as straight parents to raise kids who are well-rounded and have healthy self-esteem. Studies support the idea that the well-being of children is equal, whether they have gay/lesbian parents or straight ones.
Kids whose parents are gay or lesbian are sometimes subjected to the same type of discrimination that other minorities face. Teachers and other school officials need to be diligent about protecting all children from unfair treatment by their peers. Kids who are teased, especially when it happens regularly enough to be considered bullying, can sometimes suffer from low self-esteem and depression. Fortunately, more and more schools are recognising the importance of controlling the actions of bullies.
Although acceptance of non-traditional families is more widespread than in past years, there are still many people who refuse to acknowledge that gay and lesbian parents can offer children a proper home. Since attitudes vary considerably, especially geographically, it may be wise for homosexual couples to seek forward-thinking communities in which to raise their families. Typically, diverse, urban areas are more likely than rural ones to show tolerance for non-traditional families. Hopefully, the time is near when all communities will recognise that there are many types of happy, healthy families.
Children who are raised in gay or lesbian families are likely to be empathetic and accepting of others — largely because they know first hand that pre-judging someone is unfair and unwarranted. Both heterosexual and homosexual parents should strive to teach their children to be tolerant and accepting of other people. Heterosexual parents can talk to their children about the struggles that they see other kids facing and talk to them about issues of right and wrong. Lessons in caring, kindness, and consideration are important for all families.