exclamationA new study looks at how children of gay and lesbian parents — parents who came out after their kids were born — overcome stigma and create a positive family identity. While most of the messages they heard about their families were negative, the children used a variety of methods to minimize the impact of such messages.

Dawn Braithwaite, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and chair of communication studies, and Diana Breshears, of the University of Pretoria in South Africa, conducted in-depth interviews with people whose parents came out as gay or lesbian to them at various ages. Unlike many studies that have looked at the social functioning and psychological well-being of children with gay and lesbian parents, this one looks at “the role of relational and cultural discourses in the ways children think and talk about their non-traditional family identity.” The study is forthcoming in the  Journal of Family Communication.

Participants perceived all cultural messages about their family identity as negative, although they “received positive messages about their family identity from friends and family,” Breshears said.

The good news is that they “overcame stigmatization through suppressing negative messages and using positive language when speaking of their family dynamics.” They used four basic approaches to marginalize the negative messages:

  • Emphasizing opposing views as ignorant;
  • highlighting flaws of religious views;
  • stressing others’ lack of authority to judge; and
  • emphasizing the precedence of love.

Most importantly, “The children were not upset that their parents are gay,” Breshears said. “In fact, most of them embraced it. The negativity that children with gay parents experience is rarely the result of having gay parents. Instead, it’s the cultural stigma that causes all the problems.

“Any concerns they had were the result of how they would be treated in the public sphere. Research constantly shows that children with gay parents are normal, healthy, well-adjusted people. It’s the social scrutiny and stigmatization that children have to negotiate and contend with.”

Braithwaite put it this way, “These individuals understood people’s strong feelings toward gay and lesbian relationships. They were able to frame what was happening within some of these strong negative messages and they learned to communicate within that frame of others’ beliefs. For kids, that’s a pretty tall order.”

We build ’em resilient, I tell ya — although clearly we still have a long way to go as a society.