The Geography of Nontraditional Parenting

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An interesting article in the New York Times today focuses on recent data from the Census Bureau  indicating that parenting by same-sex couples is more common in the South than in any other region of the country. (Note that the data that forms the basis for this story is not from the 2010 census, which promises to have all sorts of interesting data now that the Census Bureau is counting same-sex couples, but from the American Community Survey.)

This data is interesting because it helps to break down stereotypes and paints a picture of the LGBT community as a mosaic. As the article points out, the data undermines the notion that lesbians and gay men live only in big cities in the Northeast and on the West Coast. In addition, it shines a light on Black and Latino/a members of the LGBT community in finding that they were twice as likely as white same-sex couples to be parenting. As we get more and more data relating to the LGBT community, more and more stereotypes fall under their own weight.

On a less positive note, the article offers an explanation for the higher rate of parenting by same-sex couples in the South. The theory proffered by experts is that the strong disapproval of homosexuality in the South pushed many of these lesbians and gay men to marry and have children before coming out of the closet. The children that are being parented are thought to often be the children of these prior heterosexual relationships.

Something that the article only briefly touches upon is that the South, from a legal perspective, is a particularly hostile place for these LGBT families. The children in these families will be attending school and may be discriminated against, bullied, or harassed, yet, in the South, only DC, Maryland, and North Carolina have school laws in place that specifically address discrimination, harassment, and/or bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Only DC and Maryland afford legal recognition to the parents’ same-sex relationships, prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And only DC permits joint adoption by same-sex couples.

Taken together with the explanation for the prevalence of LGBT parenting in the South, this view of the data paints a rather discouraging picture. It seems that a climate of discrimination and disapproval led to the creation of these families and now keeps them in a vulnerable position. Indeed, the story notes that one family hides the fact that their daughter has two mothers, because one of her mothers works at the school that their daughter attends and they worry about protecting that mother’s “privacy” at work.

Let us hope that the silver lining here is that these LGBT parents and their children pave the way for a more accepting future for all LGBT persons living in the South.

-Tony Infanti

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