glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy





social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z

page: 1  2  

Lesbian Mothers and Gay Fathers

Because children have long been viewed as an indispensable part of a family unit, and because women can bear children, much of the broadening definition of the queer family began with lesbians. Many lesbians had children, and the status of these children as part of a family had to be determined. Some had children from previous heterosexual relationships and were forced into custody battles with ex-husbands who were either or not above using homophobia in order to gain possession of their children.

These custody battles were not only painful personal struggles, but were also the birthplace of a new definition of family. For example in Belmont v. Belmont, a precedent-setting case in 1979, a Washington, D. C. court granted a lesbian mother custody of her two children, defining her home with her female partner as a nurturing family.

Sponsor Message.

Groups such as the Lesbian Mothers National Defense Fund, founded in Seattle in 1974, help provide support and legal advice to women fighting for custody of their children. However, as recently as 1993, a Virginia judge awarded custody of Sharon Bottoms' son to his maternal grandmother because of Bottoms' lesbian lifestyle. Bottoms fought unsuccessfully for another three years before finally giving up on regaining her son.

Many lesbians who had never had relationships with men also wanted to bear children. Those who did not wish to have sex with men in order to get pregnant turned to artificial insemination. Established fertility clinics sometimes discriminated against lesbian women and were often quite expensive.

In response to these obstacles, many lesbian communities developed informal networks to help lesbians find anonymous sperm donors. Although this process was simpler during the 1970s, when HIV-AIDS had not yet become an issue, informal arrangements between lesbians and donors remain common in the twenty-first century. Anonymous artificial insemination allows for the creation of truly fatherless families, which appeals to many women who wish to live independently of men.

Gay men have also struggled to become and remain parents, some through fostering or adoption and some through surrogacy arrangements, as well as through maintaining custody of their biological children. Because of negative stereotyping of gay men as sexual predators, and of men as non-nurturing, the mainstream public has often found it difficult to accept gay men as parents.

Both lesbians and gay men who attempt to adopt children have run into many legal obstacles. In 2002, popular talk-show host and famous adoptive parent Rosie O'Donnell came out as a lesbian mother specifically for the purpose of challenging the law prohibiting gay adoption in the state of Florida. As part of her very public coming out, she hosted a television special highlighting several gay families.

In many states, even some that permit gay or lesbian individuals to adopt, it is difficult or impossible for gay or lesbian couples to adopt children jointly. As of 2002, only 8 states allowed second-parent adoption for gay and lesbian families.

Support for Gay and Lesbian Families

There are a variety of organizations that offer support for gay families: the Family Pride Coalition is a support group for gay parents, while Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE) offers services to children of gay families. There is even a slick journal for gay parents called And Baby, and R Family Vacations offers cruises for gay families.

In many ways, the situation for gay families has improved. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, and Vermont became the first state in the United States to officially recognize same-sex relationships as civil unions. In many European countries and Canada, gay and lesbian couples are recognized as spouses or spouse-equivalents and are extended such rights as the power to make medical decisions and to inherit automatically. In the 2003 ruling in favor of gay marriage in Massachusetts, that state's supreme judicial court based its decision in part on the advantages that marriage would confer on the children of gay and lesbian couples.

Families without Children

However, there are members of the queer community who challenge the idea that families must be comprised of couples with children. These counter-culture queers question the emphasis some in the gay and lesbian movement place on gaining acceptance for families that are traditional in every sense except heterosexuality.

Rather than merely wanting the rights and benefits that go along with marriage and children and blood relationships, these visionaries seek a truly broad definition of family, one that includes chosen families of friends and extended community. Any benefits, rights, and recognition accorded by society should be provided across the board, they argue, and not reserved for those who seek and find committed relationships with one person or who rear children.

Moreover, these radicals contend, if queer families can find acceptance only if they look just like straight families, then little has really changed in the overall definition of the family.

Tina Gianoulis

  <previous page   page: 1  2    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Social Sciences

   Related Entries
social sciences >> Overview:  Adoption

Although there are frequently social and legal barriers to overcome, adoption is an important way in which lesbian and gay male couples create families.

social sciences >> Overview:  Artificial Insemination

Artificial insemination is often used by heterosexual and single women who wish to conceive without sexual contact with males; it is frequently the method of choice when gay men create families through surrogacy or co-parenting.

social sciences >> Overview:  Census 2000

Census 2000 revealed that there were 594,391 gay male and lesbian couples in the United States, living in 99.3 percent of all U.S. counties; nearly a quarter of these couples are raising children, and these families live in 96 percent of U.S. counties.

social sciences >> Overview:  Children of GLBTQ Parents

Over three decades of research has repeatedly shown that children of glbtq parents are no different from their peers reared in heterosexual families; recently queerspawn themselves have added their own voices to the discourse.

social sciences >> Overview:  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

The socially and politically conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long been antagonistic to the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.

social sciences >> Overview:  Civil Union

Vermont's Civil Union law conferred all the rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage on same-sex couples.

social sciences >> Overview:  Domestic Partnerships

"Domestic partnership" is the generic term for a variety of forms of legal and institutional recognition of same-sex couples that fall short of same-sex marriage.

social sciences >> Overview:  Family Therapy

Glbtq family therapy is a relatively new field that merges gay-affirmative therapy with family systems theory; its goal is to help glbtq people create and maintain healthy families.

social sciences >> Overview:  Grief

The experience of loss is a universal condition of humanity, but glbtq individuals may face particular challenges in finding support to help them in their grieving process.

social sciences >> Overview:  Grief Resources

There are many excellent resources, both general and specifically tailored for glbtq individuals, which can assist in the process of healing after a bereavement or other major loss.

social sciences >> Overview:  Mixed-Orientation Marriages

Mixed-orientation marriages--those in which one partner is straight and the other is gay or lesbian--often end in divorce, but such an ending is not inevitable.

social sciences >> Overview:  The Netherlands

The successes of the Dutch emancipation movement have served as an inspiration to the international struggle for glbtq equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Parenting

Even though glbtq people have been parents throughout history, recent political movements and advances in fertility technology have given rise to a much more visible and self-identified gay and lesbian parents.

social sciences >> Overview:  Provincetown

Provincetown, Massachusetts, which has been a glbtq haven since World War II, may well be the only small town in America where the unconventional lifestyle is the majority lifestyle.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Women's Liberation Movement

The Women's Liberation Movement, which flourished during the 1970s, constitutes the largest and most widely publicized social movement of women in history.

arts >> Etheridge, Melissa

Award-winning rock singer and songwriter Melissa Etheridge has not only managed to carve out a spectacularly successful career as a popular mainstream performer, but she has also become a lesbian icon and activist for gay and lesbian causes.

social sciences >> National Center for Lesbian Rights

Founded in 1977 as the Lesbian Rights Project, the National Center for Lesbian Rights is a public interest law firm committed to advancing the civil and human rights of glbtq people through litigation, advocacy, and education.

arts >> O'Donnell, Rosie

Comedian, actress, television talk show host, and openly gay mom, Rosie O'Donnell has achieved remarkable success in her relatively short career.

social sciences >> Whipple, Diane

Diane Whipple, the coach of the women's lacrosse team at Saint Mary's College in California, was killed in a dog-mauling; the response of her partner helped establish the right of same-sex partners to equal treatment with heterosexuals.


Drucker, Jane, and Harold M. Schulweis. Lesbian and Gay Families Speak Out. New York: Perseus, 2001.

Ganong, Lawrence H. Changing Families, Changing Responsibilities: Family Obligations Following Divorce and Remarriage. Rahwah, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999.

Kantrowitz, Barbara. "Gay Families Come Out." Newsweek (November 4, 1996): 50-57.

Mintz, Steven. "Family: Social History in the United States." The Reader's Companion to American History. John A. Garraty and Eric Foner, eds. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1991. 378-83.

Patterson, Charlotte J., and Richard E. Redding. "Lesbian and Gay Families with Children: Implications of Social Science Research for Policy." Journal of Social Issues 52.3 (Fall 1996): 29-53.

Pollack, Jill S. Lesbian and Gay Families: Redefining Parenting in America. London: Franklin Watts, 1995.

Smith, Dodie. Dear Octopus: A Comedy in Three Acts. London: Heinemann, 1938.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gianoulis, Tina  
    Entry Title: Family  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated March 2, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.