LGBT Parents: Good for One’s Character?

Does having lesbian moms—or other LGBT parents—affect one’s character? Opinions are mixed, but not just between left and right.

Iowa college student Zach Wahls, in his twice-viral video, famously said, “The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero impact on the content of my character.” And a University of Virginia study last year concluded what many other studies have found: “Regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation, how well children were adjusted was significantly associated with how warmly their parents were oriented to them.“

But Ashley Harness at Velvet Park Media raises the question of whether a gay sexual orientation can actually have an impact—a positive one—on the character of one’s children.


She imagines a homeless transgender youth adopted by a gay couple. Imagine, she writes, if this girl did a YouTube video:

She says she learned from her adoptive gay parents that love is something you spread around in excess. You color with love outside the lines that a heterosexist, racist, transphobic, classist world prescribes. She practices BEING love in the world—and people notice and ask her why.

She says it’s because she has gay parents.

Harness makes an excellent point. I’ve always urged caution when interpreting research results indicating that LGBT parents are “better” in some way. At best, we can say that there are certain areas in which, on average (but not exclusively), we tend to have strengths. But if those strengths help build our children’s characters, to Harness’ point, then we should acknowledge and celebrate that.

Harness also raises the question of whether Wahls’ video would have had the same impact had he been gay. She herself is a lesbian with lesbian moms. She had been an outspoken advocate for LGBT equality, but when she came out, she said, “I promptly stopped talking publicly about being the kid of gay parents. Nobody outright told me, but I wasn’t a politically savvy messenger for the movement anymore. I had become proof of the Religious Right’s propaganda—gayness rubs off. Gay parents make gay children.”

That right-wing view is, of course, utter nonsense. Some LGBT parents will have LGBT children, because statistically, that’s going to happen. No parent can “make” a child into a particular sexual orientation (or gender identity). The best we can do is support them in being themselves.

Harness also says that while she admires Wahls, she hopes our movement embraces a greater diversity of spokespeople, including LGBT children of LGBT parents. Even Wahls seems to feel the same way. In a piece for The Daily Beast this week, he writes that he has stopped answering questions about his own sexual orientation: “If the only question you have after listening to me defend my family is about my sexuality, I’m afraid you’ve missed my point. Whether I’m gay, straight, or bisexual, tall or short, male or female, white or black, successful go-getter or slacker, is entirely immaterial.”

My take on all this? A parent’s sexual orientation does not prescribe a child’s sexual orientation, nor does the parent’s sexual orientation in itself determine the child’s character. But living with honesty and integrity towards oneself and others, in the face of discrimination and adversity from society, takes tremendous strength of character. That’s a lesson LGBT parents can convey to our children that will definitely have a positive impact.

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