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Abby L. Ferber Headshot

Prejudice Alive and Well in the 2008 Elections

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While the election has been trumpeted as a triumph over prejudice, those declarations are premature. In numerous states, prejudice and discrimination against lesbian and gay people was further institutionalized. Arizona, California and Florida passed bans on gay marriage, while Arkansas banned gay couples from adopting children.

Taken as a whole, these measures seek to further exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from our definitions of family. Yet a focus on facts has been sorely missing from the arguments against gay and lesbian marriage and adoptions. The national organization, Sociologists for Women in Society, produced a fact sheet on LGBT Parenting and Children (and another on same-sex marriage and civil unions), analyzing three decades worth of research by sociologists, psychologists, and other scholars. Dr. Kristen Joos, author of the fact sheet, concluded that "no evidence exists to demonstrate that lesbians and gays are unfit as parents or that their children are psychologically or physically harmed by having lesbian, Gay, bisexual, or transgender parents." Examining the research published in academic, peer-reviewed journals, there was no evidence found that LGBT parents are any less fit than heterosexual parents; their children grow up to be as well adjusted both psychologically and socially.

Of course people always want to know if the children of LGBT parents are more likely to grow up to become gay or lesbian themselves. The answer is no. However, the more important question is, why are we asking this question in the first place? The question assumes there is something wrong with LGBT people to begin with.

Children of LGBT parents are actually better off than peers raised by heterosexual parents on some measures: they tend to be more open-minded and socially responsible; girls have higher self-esteem and boys are less physically aggressive, and both aspire to a wider array of career goals, outside of traditionally gendered occupations. For example, girls are more likely to seek to become doctors and astronauts. (I think a case should be made for offering gay and lesbian couples incentives to marry and adopt children!)

Are there any negative consequences? The only negative consequences for children of LGBT parents are the product of discrimination. Their families face higher levels of stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and legal obstacles. LGBT couples not allowed to marry are deprived of over 1,000 federal rights that marriage confers, including hospital visitation, tax benefits, joint insurance policies and many more. The reality is that many of these couples have children; they are living together and loving each other as families do. Eliminating marriage rights will not make these families disappear. It will only make their lives and the lives of their children far more difficult and dangerous. If we actually look at the facts, we find that the only difficulties children of LGBT parents are more likely to face are those that result from prejudice and discrimination against their families. Ballot measures like proposition 8 in California, eliminating LGBT marriage rights, will only add to the obstacles these families face.

If we truly value our society's children, we must make the elimination of homophobic oppression a top priority. LGBT adolescents in the U.S. face tremendous discrimination and prejudice. Suicide is the number one cause of death for lesbian and gay youth across the country. Last month, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network released the results of the 2007 National School Climate Survey, the most comprehensive study ever conducted on the experiences of LGBT students. The survey found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT high school students experienced harassment at school based on their sexual orientation in just the past year, and 60% reported feeling unsafe at school. Their fears are not unfounded: 44% reported being physically harassed and 22% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year alone.

This climate of hostility limits all students, not just those who are LGBT. In 2005, almost two thirds of all middle school students claimed that homophobic bullying and harassment were major problems at their school. When it comes to safety and our children -- LGBT parents pose no risk. It is heterosexist prejudice, discrimination, harassment and abuse that pose the only real threat.