Abstract: Perceptions of Family Acceptance into the Military Community Among US LGBT Service Members: An Exploratory Mixed Methods Study (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

386P Perceptions of Family Acceptance into the Military Community Among US LGBT Service Members: An Exploratory Mixed Methods Study

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kathrine S. Sullivan, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, New York University, New York, NY
Jessica Dodge, MPH, PhD & MSW Student, University of Southern California
Kathleen McNamara, PhD, Major, United States Air Force, NV
Rachael Gribble, PhD, Lecturer, Kings College London, United Kingdom
Mary Keeling, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, University of West England
Sean Taylor-Beirne, Student, King's College London, United Kingdom
Caroline Kale, BA, Student, New York University, New York, NY
Jeremy Goldbach, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Nicola Fear, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology, King's College London, King's Centre for Military Health Research, United Kingdom
Carl Castro, PhD, Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose:

There are an estimated 63,000-105,000 lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) and 3,960 transgender service members (SM) in the US military. LGBT SM are significantly more likely than their cisgender and heterosexual colleagues to experience harassment, discrimination, and violence in the workplace. As a result, many are cautious about disclosing not only their identity, but their families as well. Despite calls to increase representation of diverse family structures in research, little is known about the acceptance of LGBT SM families within the military community. Using a minority stress theory framework and a mixed-methods design, this study considers: 1) demographic characteristics of LGBT SM with families; 2) differences across sexual and gender minority groups regarding family acceptance and access to services; and 3) the lived experiences of LGBT SM with families.


The DoD-funded Military Acceptance Project (2016-2018) collected quantitative and qualitative data assessing acceptance and integration of active duty US LGBT SM. The present study uses quantitative data from 115 LGBT SM who indicated having a spouse/partner and/or child(ren) and qualitative data from 42 LGBT SM. In addition to demographic questions, perceived family acceptance by the LGBT SM’s unit, leadership, and duty station and beliefs about the appropriateness of military family resources for LGBT families were examined.


On average, LGBT SM with families were 31 years old (SD=6.53), white (65.22%), enlisted (66.96%), and had no children (78.26%). In both quantitative and qualitative findings, the majority felt their families were accepted, though many still perceived a lack of acceptance particularly with respect to the appropriateness of military family support services. Over the course of their military career, 32% reported their unit was unwilling to acknowledge their spouse/partner, 12% reported their spouse/partner was not welcome at unit functions, 14% reported their leadership was unwilling to acknowledge their spouse/partner, and 14% reported it was unsafe for their family to live at their current duty station. Among those who ever had these experiences, 29% to 48% reported these experiences in the preceding 30 days. Strikingly, 63% of LGBT SM agreed family support resources did not meet the needs of LGBT families; within this group, 70% reported this experience in the last 30 days. No differences in perceived family acceptance were noted across sexual and gender identity categories. Unadjusted logistic and linear regression demonstrated significant relationships between lower perceived acceptance and poorer beliefs about the appropriateness of family support programs (OR:9.79, 95% CI:2.20, 43.53), poorer perceptions of family safety (OR:1.9, 95% CI:1.17, 3.16), increased physical (β=1.88, p=.034), and mental health symptoms (β=1.41, p=.040) among LGBT SM.

Conclusion and Implications:

These findings shed light on the experiences of LGBT families within military communities and highlight both successes with respect to inclusion as well as areas for more scrutiny. In particular, results raise concerns about access to supportive services that are perceived to be appropriate for LGBT families. Evaluating LGBT families’ use of supportive services, barriers to accessing services, and outcomes of these experiences should be prioritized.