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Dr Damien Fitzgerald: More needs to be done to help gay dads - and their families

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Published: 21/12/15

When I was writing my PhD, I realised that there is simply not enough support is being given to gay fathers who "come out" after having a family.

There are some excellent support services out there, and this blog is not an attempt to put extra pressure on service providers but just about raising awareness. 

But this study suggests that fathers who come out as gay after having their children in an heterosexual marriage are not foremost in the thinking of professionals in early years, childhood and education settings - and, crucially, nor are their children.

The term we are so used to is "coming out" - but my research showed that this process is not one definite act, but, instead, a series of "coming outs" over a period of time that have to be managed not only by the individual concerned but also by his children too.

Support services should include all family members when managing "coming out" and identifying as gay in a family situation is a process that can take place over many months, and potentially years.

Keegan Hirst came out earlier this year

This lack of recognition of gay fathers and their families by key support workers can lead to stigmatisation in a variety of settings, including the classroom.

In my PhD, I quizzed 16 gay fathers using in-depth interviews to understand how fathers managed their parenting role after identifying publicly as a gay man.

Of these, 12 were previously ‘heterosexually married’, suggesting, in this limited research base at least, that the majority of men who identify as gay and are parents have conceived children in heterosexual relationships.

For this group, the issue of managing coming-out, outside the family environment, was as much an issue for their children as their father.

The pressure to conform to dominant expectations, namely being straight, often led children to require their father to keep his gay identity closeted because of fears of non-acceptance or hostility.

So the fear of perceived homophobia can have the same impact as actual homophobia or exclusion.

Gay fathers and their children can suffer from a lack of recognition from support services which can make them feel ‘invisible’ and creates injustice.

My research suggests that we need to raise awareness of the diversity of families and create spaces that are more inclusive of all, including families where fathers identity as non-heterosexual.

Most people's understanding of parenting and families remain geared around the classic image of a family with a man and a woman, but there clearly are many more ways of raising a family.

My research found individuals have two choices - to remain silent or be open, but the latter exposes them to challenge as gay fathers and their children can become accountable for this perceived deviation from heterosexual expectations.

The common belief that coming-out is a one-off event for an individual who identifies as gay is simply not the case.It has to be handled by all family members and is likely to be something that they have to negotiate again and again.

Education, social care and health services need to acknowledge the position of gay-parented families and make sure their needs are met, and that gay fathers and their children need to be empowered to achieve equal footing with so-called "heterosexual" families.


The author:


Dr Damien Fitzgerald

Damien is the author of Early Years Policy and a principal lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University.

"Gay fathers and their children can suffer from a lack of recognition from support services which can make them feel ‘invisible’ and creates injustice."