In Expert Interviews

Abbie Goldberg on All Aspects of Gay Bullying

Abbie Goldberg received her BA in psychology from Wesleyan University and her MA in psychology and PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is currently an associate professor of clinical psychology at Clark University, with visiting scholar appointments at both the Williams Institute at UCLA and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. She discusses several aspects of Gay Bullying with Ciaran Connolly, Co-Founder of

The interview on Gay Bullying can also be found here and here.

Below is a transcript of the interview on Gay Bullying:

Abbie Goldberg: My name is Abbie Goldberg and I am an associate professor at Clark University and I am also a visiting professor at UCLA School of Law and my research is mostly focused on gay, lesbian and bisexual parent family, most of whom have adopted. I have written 3 books. Two solo -and one edited book. The two books I have authored are Gay Dads: Transitions to Adoptive Fatherhood (Qualitative Studies in Psychology) published by NYU Press and Gay/Lesbian Parents and Their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle published by American Physiological Association and the edited book is a book about LGBT-Parent Families: Invocations in Research and Implications for Practice.

Ciaran: And thank you very much for taking time out to talk to us today and give us a few minutes of your time just to discuss what is happening with diverse families in the US. It is a very interesting time watching state laws change and internationally come to this change in perspective and laws and I did want to ask, do you think that the state and the government and other countries allowing same-sex marriage will make life easier for everyone? Will it actually decrease bullying and change people’s attitude to same-sex relationships?

Abbie: Yes, I think it is one piece of a much bigger picture. So, I think that when children who are growing up with lesbian or gay parents, when their parents’ relationships are recognized, this sends a strong message to their peers, their teachers, to school administrators, to their peers’ parents’ that in fact they are in “a real family” and they deserve the respect from all people; from the government, from the people they go to school with and the people that teach them. So, I think it sends a message of recognition and respect but I don’t think it’s sort of a singular move that will necessarily engender wide spread support. I think it will only, I think it is one tiny step in the path.

Certainly, I interviewed plenty of children in my research who felt that because their parents were not married, this provided an added sort of reason for children and peers to discriminate against them. Then further, if their parents broke up, kids often said “Well, you know, they were never really married to begin with. So, no. It is not a real divorce”. So, it is incredibly undermining for a kid who just witnessed their parents break up.

Ciaran: And do you think this sea of change that is happening is it driven by people power in the state that have changed? Is that what is happening?

Abbie: Do you mean sort of, is it?… I think why things are changing in such an amazing constellation of different factors. So, I think public opinion is changing, the laws are changing and the media’s view on gay families, gay parent families and gay people is changing. So, all things complete each other. So, one of the reasons why the law’s changing is because of public opinion but one of the reasons that public opinion is changing is because of the media and the reason the media is changing is because of public opinion. So, all these things are really kind of informing each other and they are related to broader shifts in sort of American politics just to increase diversity, increase tolerance for different family forms and so on. So, I don’t think it is necessarily limited to gay parent families. There is an increased support for a lot of different types of families.

Ciaran: Excellent. Do you think the sea of change will continue? I would have thought that maybe media might have had a stronger part to play but you see all parts playing their own equal symphony and making sure this all happens throughout The States and countries of the world?

Abbie: I am not sure I totally understand. So, can you…?

Ciaran: Of course. So, I would have said that maybe media would have had a bigger impact on people’s perception but you see media and politics and actually people power and people’s opinions changing. Each part of the three parts is playing its own part in this sea of change and allows these laws to change and people’s perception to change. Do you think each part is important as the other or is media more important or the politics more important or even just people opinion, is that the most important part?

Abbie: I mean, I think that the government would like to say that of course that the media has no effect on anything, right? But they are not going to be swayed by what’s on the cover of a magazine or anything. I mean, there is kind of this forth piece that I didn’t just mention which is research which is obviously very important. So, starting in the 1970’s 1980’s, that was really the first studies of gay parent-families were conducted and there were few studies in the 90’s but it is really in the last 10 to 15 years right that we have seen a lot of research on gay parents, same-sex couples. So, that research had been incredibly influential in terms of what is being brought into the courts, right? What is being brought into the courts to decide on those major cases, aka the drama case, and without this research, we really would not really see…I think it is hard to see how this will play out because what has been happening is that study after study has shown that the kids do not suffer in gay parents families as it provides sort of very strong justifications for anyone arguing that gay people shouldn’t have equal rights to relationship recognition and they should be able to raise children. So, I guess research is another important piece which is probably even more important, I would like to think, than media although how that plays out in the court room is hard to say. A judge may say he is not influenced by the media at all and that he is just going on research but people are more complicated than that.

Ciaran: And you have done an awful lot of research on gay couples. Have you seen any research that shows children of gay couples face more bullying or is it different types of bullying? Is it the same that every ones goes through?

Abbie: That is a really good question. So, the study, the research, has actually kind of questioned whether the experience higher or sort of levels the rates of bullying or whether they are very similar? I would say what is clear is that perhaps as you sort of exclude it to that those kids are living is different. Many kids experience some kind of bullying whether it  is about what they look like, their weight, how smart they are, how not smart they are, how good they are in certain things, how not good they are in certain things. You name it, kids are getting teased about it but maybe kids with gay parents, some research suggests, are more likely to be teased about certain things or about their families, about their own sexual orientation or gender identity. So, what they may be teased about may be different but overall, bullying may not be different.

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