Barriers and Stigma Experienced by Gay Fathers and Their Children

Gay men have become fathers in the context of a heterosexual relationship, by adoption, by donating sperm to 1 or 2 lesbian women and subsequently sharing parenting responsibilities, and/or by engaging the services of a surrogate pregnancy carrier. Despite legal, medical, and social advances, gay fathers and their children continue to experience stigma and avoid situations because of fear of stigma. Increasing evidence reveals that stigma is associated with reduced well-being of children and adults, including psychiatric symptoms and suicidality.


Men throughout the United States who identified as gay and fathers completed an online survey. Dissemination of the survey was enhanced via a "snowball" method, yielding 732 complete responses from 47 states. The survey asked how the respondent had become a father, whether he had encountered barriers, and whether he and his child(ren) had experienced stigma in various social contexts.


Gay men are increasingly becoming fathers via adoption and with assistance of an unrelated pregnancy carrier. Their pathways to fatherhood vary with socioeconomic class and the extent of legal protections in their state. Respondents reported barriers to becoming a father and stigma associated with fatherhood in multiple social contexts, most often in religious institutions. Fewer barriers and less stigma were experienced by fathers living in states with more legal protections.


Despite growing acceptance of parenting by same-gender adults, barriers and stigma persist. States’ legal and social protections for lesbian and gay individuals and families appear to be effective in reducing experiences of stigma for gay fathers.