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Two Thirds of Gay Fathers Have Been Discriminated Against, Study Says

gay dads

Not surprisingly, the study found that religious institutions were the most highly cited source of stigma

Despite 2013 US Supreme Court decision establishing the full right of same-gender partners, including the legitimacy and legal recognition of their children as beneficiaries, a new study published on January 14 by the American Academy of Pediatrics highlights the overwhelming barriers and stigma gay fathers continue to endure.

According to their findings, almost two-thirds of respondents (63.5 percent) reported experiencing stigma based on being a gay father and half (51.2 percent) had avoided situations for fear of stigma. Perhaps most alarming is increased evidence of the impact on their children with "reduced well-being ... including psychiatric symptoms and suicidality."

The AAP asked 732 fathers of 1,316 children how they became fathers, the barriers they encountered in fatherhood, and whether the respondent and his children had experienced stigma in an online survey. The study defined stigma in three categories: active stigma, avoidance of activities on the basis of anticipated stigma and structural stigma ("beliefs, policies, and laws that either intentionally or unintentionally limit the well-being of particular individuals").

So why gay dads and not lesbian moms? Ellen C. Perrin, MD, one of the five pediatricians who worked on the study, said many studies have been done on lesbian moms and few on gay dads.

Not surprisingly, the study found that religious institutions were the most highly cited source of stigma (34.8 percent of fathers) and families in states with increased legal protections felt less. "The laws and regulations that have been put in place by states -- and to some extent the federal government -- really help to change the social climate in which these dads live," Perrin explained to Out.

The study notes that despite the fact that "gay fathers have risen in numbers and visibility over the last decade, challenging assumptions that embracing a gay identity meant forgoing the possibility of parenthood... most national surveys do not include questions about parental sexual orientation, limiting large-scale research regarding these families."

Here is some of the other key findings uncovered as a result of this survey:

  • Gay men report suspicion and criticism for their decision to be parents from gay friends who have not chosen parenthood, barriers in the adoption process, and isolation in their parental role.

  • Gay men who became parents while in a heterosexual relationship may face difficulties maintaining custody or obtaining legal parenting rights for a new spouse.

  • Gay fathers have to contend with the still-prevalent belief that children need a mother to thrive and stereotypes associated with gay men as frivolous, unstable, and unfit parents.

One important caveat to this research was its limited base of respondents. "The ethnic and racial distribution of the sample was not as broad as we had wanted, though we tried very hard to locate respondents who were African-American, Latino and Asian." It's easy to imagine increased stigma and discrimination to those even more marginalized communities within the gay community.

To read more on the full study click here.

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Evan Ross Katz