Abstract: A Qualitative Study Exploring African-American Lesbian Mothers' Family Experiences Using Both an Intersectionality and a Risk-Resilience Framework (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

395P A Qualitative Study Exploring African-American Lesbian Mothers' Family Experiences Using Both an Intersectionality and a Risk-Resilience Framework

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Brie Radis, DSW, Assistant Professor of Social Work, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA
Background of the Problem: Nationally, over 2 million children are being raised in lesbian and gay-parented families and this figure is continually growing (Movement Advancement Project, 2011). Black lesbian-parented families are more likely to raise children, become foster parents, and live in poverty, as compared to white heterosexual couples (Gates & Ost, 2004; Hicks-Lettman, 2014). However, research focused on this population is limited and is often not focused on well-being, risk, and protection (Biblarz & Savci, 2010; Wheeler, 2003).

The purpose of this study was to: 1) generate an understanding of perspectives of lesbian African-American parents from an urban area on well-being, risk, and protection; 2) explore explanations of the reasons for risk and what the parents think they need to protect members of this cultural group, their families, and their community; 3) identify potential strategies to support lesbian-parenting families in which at least one partner is African American; and finally 4) collect data to inform and create educational programs for professionals that promote positive development and support within the lesbian African-American community.

Methods: Data collection was through semi-structured, open-ended interviews with a purposeful sample of 15 African-American lesbian mothers. The participants were between the ages of 27 and 52, and had been with a partner for over a year. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed, and analyzed using a modified constructivist grounded theory methodology.

Results: The experiences of participants in this study did not fit easily into the categories of risk and protective factors. Some mothers experienced both safety and risk for the same factors. Each of the family constellations was unique and the mothers used diverse pathways to parenthood. Families who experienced racism often felt more protected from racism in predominately African-American neighborhoods but still experienced homophobia. Risks that most commonly presented themselves were feeling unsafe in their neighborhoods especially in the current political context, discrimination towards themselves, their families and their children, institutional racism, and having to come out over and over again. Protective and safety factors that were most prevalent were family support, the Black Lives Matter Movement and spiritual support. Prominent themes supporting family well-being were spending time together as a family, the home environment as a safe place, and the mothers experiencing family support within the household and from extended family. Class was a protective factor for individuals who were middle to upper class. Spirituality, marriage, and gender non-conforming presentation were considered both risk and protective factors. 

Conclusions and Implications: African-American lesbian parented families need additional community support and for community providers to recognize them as a family unit. Providers should prevent making microaggressions and create a welcoming and inclusive environment to foster safety and well-being for diverse families. Since most factors can be both protective and risk factors, families should be viewed through an individualized intersectional, context-informed lens. Families should have opportunities to voice their concerns, to contribute to creating change on a macro level and on a clinical level.