Paths to Gay Fatherhood: Introduction
Sometime in June, I stumbled across a news article with the title, "Scott Signs Controversial Adoption Bill," in reference to Florida Governor Rick Scott.
Never one to pass on a good political controversy, I opened the link. What made this bill about adoption so controversial? Did it prohibit people who wear white socks with sandals from becoming parents? Because I think I could actually get behind that. Or maybe it was one of those bills that outlawed people from adopting exotic animals—the platypus, say, or a ferret.
The controversy, it turned out, was no less ridiculous than either of my wild suppositions. The bill Governor Scott signed repealed Florida's ban on gay adoption, a move that was completely symbolic since the 3rd District Court of Appeals invalidated the ban in 2010. But this didn't keep the bill's opponents in the Florida legislature from crying foul and nearly killing the measure, which also included increased support for government workers who adopt foster children. And it didn't stop social conservatives and news outlets from drudging up the age-old debate as to whether or not LGBT people make good parents.
I'm so sick of this question. And I'm guessing if you're reading an article on Gays With Kids, a site dedicated to celebrating gay, bisexual, and trans (GBT) fatherhood, that you're sick of it, too. Haven't we already proven ourselves, time again, not only through our lived experiences, but also in research?
I think we have, and it feels like we're stooping to “their" level when we're forced to participate in this so-called debate. So, for the sake of this article at least, how about we don't participate? Let's not mention, for example, that the largest peer reviewed study on the subject found zero differences in the wellbeing of children raised in same-sex versus opposite-sex headed households. Let's just skip right over those studies that show trans parents raise happy and healthy kids. And it would almost seem like petty gloating if I pointed out that the children of LGBT parents, if anything, have been found to be more emotionally stable and physically healthy than those raised by straight parents.
I'm just not going to mention any of that. Instead, we're going to skip right over this Debbie Downer of a debate as to whether or not we make good parents (because, again, according to at least a zillion studies, we unequivocally do) so we can ask some far more interesting and important questions that are asked far less frequently:
How many GBT parents are out there?
What routes do these dads take to become parents – surrogacy, adoption, foster care – and what do our parenting structures look like?
What does a GBT dad-to-be need to think about when considering each of these paths to parenthood?
Over the course of the last year, Gays with Kids has brought you the stories of GBT dads that have directly tackled each of these questions, and then some. We brought you the story of Kenny and Greg Este-Scarle, and their experiences raising three adopted boys in a small town in Altus, Oklahoma. We highlighted the experiences of two trans dads, Paul and Stephen, who each decided to conceive a child, biologically. And I wrote about my own journey to a papa-hood of sorts, after deciding to become a known sperm donor for my friends Tori and Kelly.
So today, on the occasion of Gays With Kids' 500th post, and to honor all of the dads we've featured on this site, I will explore some of the available research (spoiler alert: there isn't much) into the various routes GBT men take to fatherhood, and also take the opportunity to check back in with many of the GBT dads we've introduced you to over the last year.
Before we start exploring the various paths to parenthood that gay, bisexual, and trans dads take, let's start with the simplest of questions: How many of us are out there?
Unfortunately, as I found out after several frustrating hours Googling the subject, figuring out a fairly exact number of gay, bisexual and trans dads is easier said than done. But I'm going to give it my best shot, so stick with me a moment while I nerd out over some numbers. According to research conducted by Dr. Gary J. Gates, who is the Blachford-Cooper Distinguished Scholar and Research Director at the Williams Institute, 37 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals have been parents to at least one child in their lifetime. And, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a similar percentage of transgender respondents – 38 percent – have likewise identified themselves as parents.
Dr. Gates estimates that around 3 million LGBT individuals have had a child, in one way or another, in their lifetime. To find this number, he looked at data from the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll Survey from 2012, which found that an estimated 3.5 percent of adults in the United States self-identified as LGBT. (The general population, as an interesting aside, greatly overestimates this number, assuming roughly 23 percent of Americans identify as LGBT.) He then applied this percentage to the estimated number of adults age 18 and older from the 2010 census—which comes to 235 million—which would imply that about 8.2 million people identify as LGBT in the United States. Looking at parenting figures from the GSS survey and the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, Dr. Gates then found that roughly 3 million LGBT individuals, or 1 percent of the country, have had a child, in one way or another, in their lifetime.
Really? Only 3 million LGBT parents in the country? Clearly, these researchers had never tried to navigate through the sea of same-sex parents in the West Village when school gets out. While my casual observations may not be the most scientific, Dr. Gates acknowledged when I posed a couple of question to him via email recently that this figure may not capture the entire population of LGBT parents. Many LGBT individuals, for instance, may not feel comfortable “outing" themselves to a random researcher conducting a survey with them over the phone (particularly since doing so would be grounds to legally fire someone in over half the country.)
Moreover, research has also shown that it can be difficult to measure sexual orientation and gender identity. There are some who might engage in same-sex behavior, and even be involved in same-sex relationships, but for any number of reasons – cultural norms or fear of discrimination, for instance – might not personally choose to identify as LGBT, and would therefore not disclose themselves as such to a researcher.
Still others, like foster parents and known sperm donors, may not choose to identify themselves as a parent when asked on a formal survey.
So, taking these exceptions into consideration, what do these surveys tell us?
“These surveys are clear that they are designed to capture the characteristics of those who are willing to identify as LGB or LGBT," Dr. Gates wrote me. “Given a high degree of consistency in point estimates and demographic characteristics across surveys, I'm confident that these represent a good picture of the visible LGBT community in the US. Some people who identify as LGBT may not be willing to tell a survey taker about their sexual or gender identity and, as such, these figures would not include them."
This, Dr. Gates stressed, doesn't mean that understanding the characteristics of visible LGBT people isn't important, or that they can't tell us something important about LGBT parents. “They are correct in as much as they capture visible LGBT people, which is the intent of the questions. It's impossible to assess the characteristics of those who opt not to identify themselves."
We've been in touch with many of these visible GBT dads over the last year, and have brought you their stories. So let's check back in with some of them now, while also taking a look at all the various ways GBT men become fathers.
Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.