There is no single model of an “LGBT family.” There are families led by an LGBT parent or parents, LGBT couples without children, families that parent gender-variant or intersex children, and families that include LGBT sons, daughters, cousins, grandchildren and other relations.
There also is no telling how many LGBT families there are. One measure – the 2000 U.S. Census – counted 600,000 households headed by same-sex couples.Smith, David M. and Gary Gates, Gay and Lesbian Families in the United States: Same-Sex Unmarried Partner Households: A Preliminary Analysis of 2000 United States Census Data. (Washington: Human Rights Campaign, 2001) http://www.urban.org/publications/1000491.html. That number that may be at least 25% too low, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.Gates, Gary J. and Jason Ost. The Gay and Lesbian Atlas. (Washington: Urban Institute, 2004), 13. What is certain is that LGBT families are widespread, present in at least 96% of all counties in the United States.
LGBT families may turn to their clergy and fellow congregants for counseling and support on any number of concerns. Here are just a few scenarios:
- A same-sex couple is considering marriage or is in need of marital counseling. (Discriminatory marriage laws in 43 states place additional emotional and financial burdens on same-sex couples and their children.)
- A family is coming to terms with a teenager who’s coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. (At least 5% of U.S. high school students identify as lesbian or gay, and some studies suggest that adolescents are coming out at increasingly younger ages.)
- The wife of a man transitioning from male to female struggles to maintain her marriage, worries about her children, and can’t imagine what other members of the congregation will think.
- A gay couple, frustrated in the adoption process, is considering hiring a surrogate to have their child. (Same-sex couples have been unable to adopt in most states, and cultural prejudices often preclude international adoptions.)
- A lesbian couple, unable to conceive, is exploring in vitro fertilization and other methods of assisted reproduction. (About 12% of American women of child-bearing age have used an infertility serviceAssisted Reproductive Technology Success Rates: National Summary and Fertility Clinic Reports 2005. (Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007)., but high cost and discriminatory practices pose roadblocks to poor women and lesbians.)
- The parents of a three-year-old boy says he only likes to play with girls and with toys made for girls, and sometimes likes to dress as a girl. They worry what will happen when he starts pre-school. (Boys and girls start to exhibit and assert gendered behaviors around age three.)
- The parent of an infant born with intersex conditions is distressed at the doctor’s recommendation of immediate gender-assignment surgery. (As many as one infant in 1,500 is born intersex, or with external genitals that are not easily identified as male or female.)”How Common is Intersex?”, Intersex Society of North America. http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency/
Few religious professionals are trained to address all of these issues. But would you know how to counsel congregants, and refer them to responsible care providers, should any of these scenarios arise? Do you know the LGBT families in your congregation well enough to anticipate their needs?