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Children of gay parents ‘proud, but need schools to tackle issues’

Jessica Geen June 9, 2010

Gay equality charity Stonewall has published its first research into the children of gay parents.

The qualitative research follows the publication of a 17-year study on children brought up by lesbian couples, which found they were happier and had fewer behavioural problems than children brought up by straight parents.

Stonewall’s paper, titled Different Families, was based on interviews conducted by the University of Cambridge with over 80 children and young people from the age of four, all of whom have lesbian and gay parents.

In the study, children reported that they were proud of their parents and felt their families were special, but often faced prejudice at school.

They complained that homophobic language was not treated as seriously as racism and said teachers tended to shy away from tackling the issue.

Many were comfortable being open about their family situation and said teasing and bullying often stopped once they had spoken out. However, they said they had to explain all over again when moving schools or classes because teachers did not.

Children frequently said they experienced rudeness and teasing about having gay parents, although some reported that understanding friends and school groups had worked hard to discourage this and statements such as “that’s so gay”.

Sacha, 19, said: “I would get people coming up to me and saying, your mum’s gay. And I was like – it started to get to me because I realised then it wasn’t normal, it was different. I sort of felt picked on and the amount of times I went to see the teachers and they said, just ignore them, they’ll get bored. They never did get bored.”

Hannah, 19, said: “If a teacher had come up to me and said, look, we understand your parents are gay, fine. If you ever get any problems from it, or anyone saying anything negative then
come and tell us. That makes me feel it’s absolutely fine, no one is really bothered. But if there is someone who is bothered, I have someone to talk to.”

William, 15, said: “Normally people just say like … ‘gay dad’ … and stuff like that. Normally I try and say something back because it like makes me feel better. Or I just try and ignore it. That’s harder obviously … The teachers tell them off but … secretly they always carry on.”

Previous Stonewall research found that nine in ten secondary school teachers hear homophobic bullying in schools but few said their felt equipped to deal with it.

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, said: “For the children of lesbian and gay parents their families look remarkably like everyone else’s. This research highlights how it’s the prejudices of others which often causes them far more distress than their own personal or family characteristics – and is further evidence of the urgent need to tackle homophobia in our schools.”

The report recommended that schools should start early when teaching children about homophobic bullying, avoid making assumptions about typical families and respond robustly to homophobic language.

The full study can be viewed here

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