In my last couple of blog posts, I’ve been looking at the concept of framing effects – the spin that’s put on research findings, depending on how you want those findings to be interpreted by others. When we frame “the gays” or “the lesbians” or “the queers” as “the problem,” that results in a very different conversation than when we shine the spotlight on homophobia, heterosexism, transphobia, or biphobia. For decades, anti-gay activists have argued that “homosexuals” are dangerous to children, and that has been a very powerful political tactic, both in the past as well as with current LGBT civil rights initiatives. And yet, a very different conversation results when we address the impact of homophobia – not homosexuals – on children.
Before I continue, let me back up and give a little bit of history. After the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a groundswell of political activism on behalf of the lesbian and gay community began to take hold, and throughout the 1970s a variety of efforts to grant legal protections to lesbians and gays rippled throughout the country. One of these efforts, an ordinance passed by the Dade County Commission in Florida that outlawed discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, and public services, was, for many anti-gay activists, the straw that broke the camel’s back – and Save Our Children rose out of the embers of that backlash.
The figurehead behind Save Our Children was Anita Bryant, a singer and former beauty queen who made it her mission to overturn the Dade County ordinance. Save Our Children was based on fundamentalist Biblical preachings regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality, although it was their message regarding the influence of homosexuals on children that packed the strongest political punch. Homosexuals teach children immoral behaviors. Homosexuals recruit children into their lifestyle. Homosexuals are sexual predators and child molesters. Bringing children into the mix was a wildly successful tactic – on June 7, 1977, the ordinance was repealed, and Bryant took Save Our Children on the road, leading several other campaigns throughout the country to repeal anti-discrimination ordinances. The message was sent – homosexuals are dangerous and harmful to children. They shouldn’t be allowed to have any influence on children – not as teachers, not as Scout leaders, and certainly not as parents.
And yet, here in 2011, many same-sex couples have children. In fact, according to the recently-released report titled “All Children Matter,” over 2 million children are currently being raised in LGBT families. And, based on thirty years of social science research, children raised in LGBT families are just as happy, healthy, and well-adjusted as children who are raised by heterosexual parents. Contrary to what the Save Our Children campaign preached, gay and lesbian parents aren’t harmful to children at all. In fact, some studies indicate better outcomes among children raised by same-sex parents – for example, the Bay Area Families Study, led by Charlotte Patterson of the University of Virginia, found that kids who had two moms were more emotionally expressive than kids raised by a mom and a dad. The National Lesbian Longitudinal Family Study, led by Nanette Gartrell at UC San Francisco, found that teenagers raised by same-sex parents were more socially and academically competent and exhibited fewer behavioral problems than children raised by heterosexual parents. Clearly, these are children that don’t need to be saved – they’re doing just fine, thank you very much.
But what happens if we put a different twist on the “save our children” message? What if, instead of looking at the impact of homosexuality on children, we examine the effects of homophobia? According to the “All Children Matter” report, even though children raised in LGBT families are incredibly resilient, they are powerfully impacted by the obstacles created by stigma and. In many states, children are denied legal ties to both parents. They may not be protected if their parents split up or if the biological parent dies. Because of the way the U.S., state, and local governments define “family,” children who live in poverty may be denied access to government safety net programs. Children in LGBT families may not have adequate access to health insurance, and they may face unwelcoming health care environments. These are the very real effects of homophobia, which undoubtedly have an extremely negative impact on their well-being. And given that the highest percentages of children raised by LGBT families live in the states that offer the fewest legal protections (Mississippi, Wyoming, Alaska, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, to name a few), we’re talking about a LOT of children who are experiencing loud-and-clear-style homophobia.
If we’re going to “save our children,” let’s protect them by doing all we can to eliminate homophobia. Let’s make sure that every state offers protections that ensure stable and loving homes, economic security, and quality health care. Let’s ensure that children are protected from bullying and harassment in school.
To read the entire “All Children Matter” report, go to http://www.children-matter.org.