Despite legal, media and social advances, gay fathers and their children continue to experience stigma with potentially harmful physical and psychological effects, revealed study published in Pediatrics. Study participants specifically cited structural stigma, such as state laws and beliefs of religious communities, as affecting their experiences in multiple social contexts.
The study's researchers, including Sean Hurley, an associate professor in the University of Vermont's College of Education and Social Services, analyzed anonymous, online survey responses from 732 gay fathers of 1,316 children, from 47 states. Among the questions asked of participants was whether the fathers and/or their children had been "made to feel uncomfortable, excluded, shamed, hurt, or unwelcome" in various social contexts. Almost two-thirds of fathers responding (63.5 percent) reported they had experienced stigma over the past year based on being a gay father.
Most stigma occurred in religious environments (reported by 34.8 percent of fathers), while about one-quarter of respondents reported experiencing stigma in the past year from family members, neighbors, gay friends and/or service providers such as waiters and salespeople. Nearly 19 percent of fathers reported that their children had avoided activities with friends for fear of encountering stigma.
This study's authors encouraged pediatricians caring for children and their gay fathers to have discussions with these families about potentially stigmatizing experiences to help them learn strategies to counteract their harmful effects. Researchers agree that pediatricians, as leaders in their communities, also have an opportunity to help oppose discrimination in religious and other community institutions.