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Queer as your folks
A new study says gay parents create gay kids. How will this research be used by conservatives — and liberals?

BY MICHAEL BRONSKI


DO LESBIAN PARENTS raise queer kids? A recently published study says they do. It’s easy to predict how socially conservative lawmakers will use the study. But national gay organizations — the ones who’ve spent millions of dollars trying to convince mainstream America that gay people are just like straight people — face a tricky decision.

In "(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?", a 24-page article published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review, University of Southern California professors Judith Stacey and Timothy J. Biblarz found that the children of lesbian parents were more likely to experiment with same-sex relationships than those raised by heterosexuals. Girls raised by lesbians tended to be more "more sexually adventurous and less chaste" than those raised by straight parents, while boys tended to be just the opposite. Boys also tended to be more fluid in their definitions of gender roles, while girls were much more independent and assertive. Children of both genders were found to be more sexually and culturally tolerant than their peers.

Biblarz and Stacey, who is also a member of the Council on Contemporary Families, came to their conclusions after reviewing 21 psychological studies conducted over the past 20 years on children raised in lesbian families. (Studies of children raised by gay men had smaller statistical samples.) The 21 studies, conducted from 1981 through 1998, examined a range of family groupings and dynamics (from lesbian couples raising children conceived through donor insemination to families headed by parents who came out during previous heterosexual marriages). Each of these studies originally concluded that there are no significant differences between children raised in lesbian families and those reared in heterosexual ones. Stacey and Biblarz have little criticism of the methodology used in these studies, but after reviewing the data, they found that the authors’ conclusions didn’t completely represent their findings.

Take, for example, the question of the children’s sexual orientation. Whereas the original studies found that lesbian parents do not produce a higher percentage of gay or lesbian children than heterosexual parents, the reality, as Stacey and Biblarz point out, is a little more complicated. In one of the original studies, 25 percent of adults raised by lesbians (six of 25) reported having a homoerotic relationship, as compared to none of those (out of 20 surveyed) with heterosexual parents. In another study, 64 percent of the adults with lesbian parents (14 of 22) reported that they would consider having a same-sex relationship, as opposed to just 17 percent of those with heterosexual parents (three of 18).

It’s true that the people raised by lesbian parents were not more likely to be gay in the sense of identifying themselves as homosexuals in adulthood. That was the question the original studies asked. But their sexual identities do seem more open-ended. And the new study does seem to show that, as Barnard women’s-studies professor Ann Pelligrini says, "queer families are going to produce queer kids. By ‘queer,’ I mean kids who can resist thinking in cultural norms. Kids with a sense of difference who have the capacity to be critical of ‘common-sense notions’ of what families should be."

So what’s the problem? What parents wouldn’t want their children to be tolerant? Their girls to be ambitious and assertive? Their boys to be communicative and emotional? And given the endless cultural fretting about women being from one planet and men from another, who wouldn’t be happy to raise young women who are sexually assured and young men who exhibit a little less eagerness in their sexual adventures?

Traditionalists and moralists, that’s who. To social conservatives, many aspects of Stacey and Biblarz’s study simply confirm what they’ve long believed: gay men and lesbians should not be parents. Just ask Lynn D. Wardle, a family-law specialist from Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, who continues to be interviewed on this topic even though many legal scholars and sociologists consider his work deeply flawed by his bias against gay rights. He told the Associated Press, "This is a flashing yellow light that says before you legalize gay adoptions you better think clearly. The social science doesn’t support those kind of radical reforms."

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Issue Date: August 2 - 9, 2001