Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book by psychology professor Abbie Goldberg is most comprehensive yet on children of LGBT parents

If you want to read one book about the research on children of LGBT parents, the best choice is Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children, by Clark University psychology professor Abbie Goldberg.  Dr. Goldberg is also a researcher in her own right.  She presented her current research on adopted children at a session sponsored by the Williams Institute earlier this month in Washington, DC.  There are legends in the field of research on children of LGBT parents -- Charlotte Patterson at the University of Virginia and Susan Golombok at the University of Cambridge in Great Britain, for example.  (Both these women also spoke on the Williams Institute panel.)  They have been doing this work for decades.  Dr. Goldberg joins their ranks as a young researcher and scholar; her Ph.D. dates only to 2005. Yet her publications number in the dozens, and her commitment to researching LGBT parents and their children suggests we have dozens more to look forward to over the course of her career.

As immersed as I am in the legal literature on LGBT parents and their children, I still had managed to miss the quantity and quality of work coming out of the social sciences.  The legal lens tends to focus on how the children turn out, with the purpose in mind of convincing law makers and judges that we should not be restricted in our right to raise children.  In the all-too-common litigation between a bio and a nonbio parent over custody and visitation, we have not drawn enough on the increasing body of research on such families in making our legal arguments.  The half dozen or so studies of what last names lesbian couples choose for their children, discussed in two pages in Goldberg's book, could, for example, help explain to a court what such decisions mean.  Ditto for research on how lesbian couples with children divide child care, housework, and paid work.

There continue to be custody and visitation disputes when one parent comes out after the end of a heterosexual marriage.  Goldberg's analysis of the research on children's reactions in such situations, and on the harm that secrecy can cause children, could provide a road map for arguing on behalf of the gay or lesbian parent.  With courts increasingly saying that it's not the parent's sexual orientation, but the child's reaction to it, that justifies a custody or visitation restriction, the studies Goldberg describes should form a prominent part of a legal strategy.  While children understandably show surprise, worry, and concerns about privacy when a parent comes out, the research does not support the notion that lesbian and gay parents place an unfair burden on their children when they comes out or that the children will experience ongoing stress.

Goldberg always keeps in mind the "T" in LGBT.  There isn't much research on trans parents, and when there is none Goldberg says so.  But when there is any, it's here.  Since so much more is needed, and Dr. Goldberg is early in her career, I expect she herself will fill some of this void in the years to come.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with you--Goldberg's book is indeed great. I put it on my "Top Ten" list of books for LGBT parents. I also interviewed her a few years ago about some of her own research on lesbian and gay parents. (Her book, however, covers research by both herself and others.) She also has a chapter in the new Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men: A New Dimension in Family Diversity, ed. David Brodzinsky and Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, another good compilation of relevant social science, as well as psychology and law.