The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

It's So Important to Talk and Talk: Gay Fathers and the Complexities of Difference

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 10:45 AM
Executive Center 2A (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Mohan Vinjamuri Krishna, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Hunter College, New York, NY
Purpose:  Families headed by openly gay fathers live in environments that are still largely homophobic and heterosexist.  This study describes the challenges, opportunities, and rewards gay adoptive fathers experience parenting in heteronormative environments.  Increasingly more gay men are becoming parents or desire to become parents (Gianino, 2008).  There has been little research, however, on parent-child relationships in gay father families.  While families headed by gay men are becoming more visible, myths and fears about gay male parenting remain pervasive among social service providers, schools, and community institutions.  To advocate for LGBT people aspiring to adopt and for the many children waiting for adoptive homes, social workers must become attuned to the day to day experiences of same sex parents, and to how their own beliefs about gender, sexuality, and family impact their practice.

Method:  Gay men who adopted children through domestic and international routes were interviewed about their experiences as parents at home and in their communities.  In-depth phenomenological interviews were conducted with gay adoptive fathers from 20 families (18 gay couples and 2 single gay men).  The children of the fathers ranged in age from 9 months to 22 years. Using a social constructionist lens and the descriptive phenomenological method (Giorgi & Giorgi, 2003) and with the aid of NVivo qualitative analysis software, themes within each interview and across interviews were identified.

Results:  Many fathers reported that they and their children frequently encountered questions and comments about the nature of their family.  Being different from the “norm” took different forms as children got older.  Consequently, fathers talked to their children about being adopted, not having a mother, and having gay fathers in ways that prepared them for living in a heteronormative world.  Through their communication practices, this group of fathers shows how openly addressing these issues with their children can become a source of strength and cohesiveness for a family. The difficulties they encountered in their own lives as gay men helped fathers parent their children as they confronted the complexities of difference.

Conclusions and Implications:  This study contributes to a growing body of research on the day to day lived experiences of gay fathers.  It provides new information for social workers doing direct practice with gay and lesbian individuals, couples, and families; foster care and adoption professionals; and, those advocating for LGBT rights.  The study illuminates the overt and subtle ways ideologies about sexuality, gender, and family surface in everyday social interactions for gay father families.  This information can help practitioners challenge heteronormative biases in social work practice, education, and research and broaden their perspectives on fatherhood and parent-child relationships.


Gianino, M. (2008). Adaptation and transformation: The transition to adoptive parenthood for gay male couples. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 4(2), 205-243.

Giorgi, A. P., & Giorgi, B. M. (2003). The descriptive phenomenological psychological method. In P. M. Camic, J. E. Rhodes, & L. Yardley (Eds.), Qualitative research in psychology:  Expanding perspectives in methodology and design (pp. 243-273).