Issues Facing Queer Families in the Inner West and Western Sydney

Researchers: Cristyn Davies (University of Western Sydney), Associate Professor Kerry Robinson (University of Western Sydney), with Anthony Semann (Semann & Slattery Consultants)

© Robinson & Davies - Please do not quote without the authors' permission

About the Project

This project is about increasing community awareness about family diversity and the issues facing gay men, lesbians, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities.
 
The project has a number of components:
  • research of existing resources
  • community consultations
  • facilitated focus groups
  • DVD production

Project Rationale

  • Family is a contentious space, which encompasses a variety of social, cultural, economic and symbolic meanings that shift across socio-economic class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexuality (Robinson & Jones Diaz, 2006).
  • Official and social definitions of family can vary greatly according to legal, cultural and religious influences and often exclude many people's "realities" of family life. Families excluded from these definitions can experience significant serious social and economic consequences.
  • How we do family, define families, live in families, and who we live in them with are all highly contested issues. Despite the diversity of how we operate in families, there are normative perceptions of the traditional nuclear family (that is, heterosexual, married, monogamous, mother and father with children) that underpin dominant representations of appropriate and successful family life (Robinson & Jones Diaz, 2006).
  • Same sex families are not recognised as a category within national census data collections on family relationships in Australia, but they make up a significant portion of family types in Australia.
  • Families with gay and lesbian parents generally have to battle for social and legal recognition, often facing discrimination from both institutional practices and the broader community. It is critical for children and adolescents' wellbeing to have their family backgrounds recognised and respected (Robinson & Jones Diaz, 2006).
  • It is critical to educate communities about the broad range of GLBTIQ families and the diversity within these groups in order to counteract many of the stereotypes that prevail around these families.

Aims of the research

  • The aim is to develop an educational package specifically relating to the issues facing children/youth and their families who identify as non-heterosexual.
  • Such resources that are used for educational and professional development purposes currently used in Australia largely have a North American focus.
  • This DVD will be designed for the use of teachers in local schools, but will have a much broader relevance for service providers, community groups, and educational organisations within Australia, and internationally.

The aim of the community forums and focus groups was to:

  • discuss the aims and objectives of the DVD and professional development resources;
  • identify the specific issues facing families within this targeted group;
  • identify potential families who may be interested in being involved in the DVD resource;
  • undertake interviews with participants in order to develop a script for the DVD.

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Community forums and focus groups

  • The community forums and focus groups were held in the Inner West of Sydney in 2007
  • There was equal representation of men and women at the community forums and focus groups
  • Existing parents and parents to be were present at the community forums
  • Participants included people living in the Inner Western Sydney, North Western Sydney, South Western Sydney and Greater Western Sydney

Research questions

  • What does a queer family look like?
  • What are the main issues that face queer families in Western Sydney?
  • What issues specifically face your children?
  • In developing an educational DVD on issues facing queer families in Western Sydney, what would you see as critical to include?
  • How would you prioritise these issues?
  • Beyond the equity issues facing queer families, how else would you like to have these families represented in an educational DVD?
  • How do you think the experiences of queer families in Western Sydney differ, if at all, from other queer families in Sydney?
  • What benefits are there, if any, for queer families living in the Western Sydney region?

Representations of queer families

  • The most critical issue arising from the research is the diversity of queer families.
  • There is a lack of awareness of the diversity and complexity of queer families and consequently, a lack resources to represent these families.
  • Defining the structure of queer families is difficult.

Issues raised in the research 

Decisions to have children are based on much thought, planning and negotiation.

'My friends were a couple and they asked me to be a donor dad. I knew they were thinking about it and I knew they were probably going to ask me, so I guess I was prepared for that and was going to say yes, but I didn't have an independent goal of having children, I guess I thought it was never going to happen for me because I couldn't see any way that was going to be the case. And so we proceeded and it happened pretty much straight away so the next thing we were dealing with was the pregnancy and the birth. But as I said before I was kind of a little bit on the outside and that was our arrangement as well that I would not be on the birth certificate. I am certainly known as Rachel's father and we would have contact, and that was really important to them as well, but they didn't just want someone who was a biological father and would just be, you know, not required any more, and that's why they put a lot of thought into their dad being someone they knew and liked, and be available for Rachel. In terms of her own, to make sense of her own origins, but also have a father figure in her life.'

  • The prevalence of homophobia and heterosexism in more regional areas outside the inner western metropolitan regions of Sydney.
  • Experiences of homophobia and heterosexism resulting in an inability to access critical family support structures e.g. baby health clinics.
  • Fears raised by queer families of the potential and already existing problems associated with homophobia and heterosexism faced by their children in schools.

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Fears of children's experiences of homophobia in schooling

'I am an early childhood teacher so, I mean I haven't had very many kids in the situation at my centre but young kids are so accepting, it is when you get to primary and beyond. I mean young kids, you know, preschool age under five will ask questions and they go okay, I mean they just accept things, they want to know obviously. But I think for me it is just like he is always going to know and I just hope to just make him resilient in those early years so that when he does get to primary school [and] faces those issues that he is able to, has the skill to deal with it.'

'I think the thing for me personally, is like kids going through school and school is hideous and just, you know, sooner or later someone is going to say to my child, my boy, oh your dad is a poofter, and how do you deal with that, how do you deal with responsibility of just - who you are potentially harming your child?'

Issues raised in the research

An acknowledgement of the critical importance of the support many did experience from schools and early childhood settings in the inner west region.

'But certainly I mean all the people involved in the school are really keen for you to come and it is mainly just to pick up the children, it is mainly to expose the other kids to different models of the different arrangements because it helps them show that you know, there are all sorts of ways of being in a family, and the kids, I mean they do ask questions sometimes, and ask Rachel - why doesn't her dad live with them and she is quite candid as well... I've had it reported back to me what she said from the teachers. She says, you know, oh dad is a darling, we love him but he doesn't live with us (laughing) but we see him all the time - that kind of thing.'

Extended family reactions

The importance of extended 'family' support.

'I have three kids in a lesbian couple and I think that what was more difficult to start off with was our extended families more than anybody else…we spent many, many months of sitting around and chatting and talking about possibilities and whatever before we broke the news and then of course we had to deal with everybody else's reactions, and that was even way before the first pregnancy occurred, before the first child came along. So I suppose we had quite a long time to deal with reactions but it was still very much the families that had to adjust, our extended families had to adjust more so, so I suppose the negative aspects have just been having to deal with our own families, and then supporting each other because of our own family issues.'

'It was an even greater issue for my family than what it was for me coming out as gay, being a gay dad just exploded. Um, it is all about the innocence of the child, a fairly religious siblings and so it was all about the innocence of the child, what you do with your life is fine, you make those choices. There were inverted commas around choices. And they said you are imposing your lifestyle and your choices upon this child and these children. And that's what they fully objected to, because of their Christians beliefs.'

 Issues raised in the research

  • Issues faced by same-sex parents in relation to immigration if a partner was not an Australian citizen;
  • Adoption and fostering rights of LGBT couples.
  • The critical importance of negotiation and contracts amongst gays and lesbians who plan to co-parent children.

References

Robinson, Kerry H., and Criss Jones Diaz. 2006. Diversity and difference in early childhood education: Issues for theory and practice. Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press.

Contact Details

Associate Professor Kerry Robinson
Email: k.robinson@uws.edu.au

Cristyn Davies
Email: c.m.davies@uws.edu.au

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