Conventional and Cutting-Edge: Definitions of Family in LGBT Communities

Abstract

This paper uses data from a study of 105 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to examine conceptions of family in LGBT communities. Respondents were asked how they would define “family” and whom they consider to be their current family. The study sought to determine whether constructionist definitions of family (“families of choice”) remain dominant among LGBT people. Earlier research had clearly established the importance of friends as chosen family in this population, but a growing emphasis on same-sex marriage and increased gay and lesbian parenting might be expected to cause some LGBT people to shift toward more traditional definitions of family. Results show that constructionist definitions remain prominent in abstract conceptions of family, but also that LGBT people frequently define biological and legal relatives as members of their current family, and few define their current family as only consisting of chosen family. The notion of families of choice continues to resonate, but chosen family members mostly complement rather than replace other kinds of family in definitions of one’s current family.

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Funding

This study was funded by the Graduate Research Partnership Program, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota (UM); Life Course Center, UM; Office of the Dean of the Graduate School, UM; Schochet GLBT Research Award, Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs, UM; and the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.

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Correspondence to Kathleen E. Hull.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Timothy A. Ortyl is deceased.

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Hull, K.E., Ortyl, T.A. Conventional and Cutting-Edge: Definitions of Family in LGBT Communities. Sex Res Soc Policy 16, 31–43 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-018-0324-2

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Keywords

  • Family
  • LGBT
  • Families of choice
  • Definition of family
  • Sexual minorities