Coping with Heterosexism and Homophobia: Young Adults with Lesbian Parents Reflect on Their Adolescence

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A growing number of lesbian and gay parents are raising children in the United States and around the world. The presence of heterosexism and homophobia, however, continues to present legal, economic, and social challenges for these families. Despite this reality, social science research has demonstrated the positive, healthy development of children and adolescents with lesbian and gay parents. How is it, then, that these children and adolescents demonstrate resilience despite exposure to heterosexism and homophobia? Utilizing a grounded theory, qualitative approach, 30 young adults with lesbian parents were interviewed to explore how they perceived, experienced, and coped with heterosexism and homophobia during their adolescence. Feminist theory applied to a risk-resilience framework guided the development of this study, the primary purpose of which was to develop a theory-driven model to explain how adolescents with lesbian parents cope with heterosexism and homophobia. Findings revealed evidence of resilience of all participants despite varying levels of exposure to interpersonal, institutional, and cultural heterosexism and homophobia from their peers, extended family members, schools, religious institutions, and government. Participants utilized both "protective" and "de-marginalizing" coping strategies in response to the various types of heterosexism and homophobia they faced. Intervening factors in participants' lives that helped to foster their resilience, such as social support on the part of family and friends, were also identified. Based on these findings, a theoretical model of how adolescents with lesbian parents cope with heterosexism and homophobia was developed. Study findings, including the proposed theoretical model and implications of the study findings for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners who are interested in fostering the resilience of adolescents with lesbian parents, are discussed.