Writing Themselves In 3

Click for Full PDF Version: Writing Themselves In 3

Lynne Hillier, Tiffany Jones, Marisa Monagle, Naomi Overton, Luke Gahan, Jennifer Blackman and Anne Mitchell.

The third national study on the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people.

This is the third of the Writing Themselves In national reports which have been conducted six years apart since 1998. In 2010, a total of 3134 same sex attracted and gender questioning young people participated in Writing Themselves In 3, almost double the number in 2004 and more than four times that of 1998. The participants, who were ages between 14 and 21, same from all states and territories of Australia, from remote, rural and urban areas and from a range of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.


Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Click for Full PDF Version: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Sue Dyson, Anne Mitchell, Anthony Smith, Gary Dowsett, Marian Pitts and Lynne Hillier

This project was commissioned to establish whether agencies and services collective qualitative or quantitative data that might demonstrate links between suicidal behaviours and issues of sexuality for young people. Funding was received for the project under the Victorian Department of Human Services, Gay and Lesbian Youth Suicide Data Research Project. The work was carried out by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society and La Trobe University.

There has been some controversy between mainstream researchers and those who focus on same-sex attracted young people, about whether there are links between sexual orientation and suicidal behaviours. Mainstream researchers maintain there is inadequate evidence to substantiate an independent link between suicide risk and sexual orientation, while worker advocates and researchers of sexuality issues assert that same-sex attracted young people are underrepresented in mainstream research, and cite more qualitative and anecdotal evidence of a connection.


Understanding Christianity & Sexuality

By Sandra Turnbull

1) Where within the religious texts does the idea of homosexuality appear and when were they introduced into the texts?
There are several passages of scripture which have been coined in the last 40 years or so as the “clobber passages.” These scriptures have historically been used to condemn homosexuals. They are Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:24-26, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.

The word “homosexual” is in the English bible in many instances at this time. The fact is, that word was coined by a Hungarian physician named Karoly Maria Benkert in 1869. The word homosexual gradually came to be the term used by scholars in the medical and social sciences to refer to people of same-sex orientation. Therefore, some form of the term homosexual in the biblical text is only a Twentieth Century inclusion. The term was never used by English Bible translators until 1946 when the Greek words arsenokoitai and malakoi were translated into English as homosexuals.

Many have argued that the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 was the beginning of God’s wrath against homosexuals because of the destruction of these cities. However, in Luke 10:10-12 we see Jesus speaking of Sodom and Gomorrah in terms of the sin of inhospitality. Also, the Judges 19 story of a concubine being raped and killed by a similar mob in Benjamin is never described as a crime against heterosexuals. Yet, some well meaning Christians have tried to use the Genesis 19 story as proof of God’s judgment of homosexuals for some reason. Similarly, other places in the Hebrew text where Sodom and Gomorrah is mentioned such as Ezekiel 16:49-50 does not mention homosexuality. In the Greek text such as in Jude 6-7 where mention of “strange flesh” is provided, it is a condemnation of the fallen angels who had sexual relations with human women according to Genesis 6:1-4 and not anything to do with homosexuals. In 2 Peter 2:4-8 we have mention of the same event. Therefore, we should probably take the words of Jesus to heart and understand that Genesis 19 has nothing to do with human sexuality and certainly not homosexuality.

How did the Jewish people read Genesis 19?

The story was initially never seen as a condemnation of homosexuality by the Hebrew people. In fact, the Talmudic references to homosexuality never refer to Genesis 19. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later that damaging interpretations began to surface in Jewish writings like the Pseudepigrapha, which never became part of the Hebrew canon, and the Apocrypha, that is only recognized by the Roman

Catholic and Greek Orthodox Church. These Jewish writings were created from approximately 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. ending around the time of the New Testament period. In much of these writings, when the sexual activities of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are addressed, the Jewish writers seem to condemn excesses that are both heterosexual and homosexual in nature.

2) What were the reasons behind the terms for homosexuality being introduced?
There are two Greek words in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 which Biblical scholars have had great difficulty in understanding. The first Greek word is “arsenokoitai” which is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and in 1 Timothy 1:10. This word is translated in the New International Version of the Bible as “homosexual offender” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and as “pervert” in 1 Timothy 1:10. As you can see by these two translations of the same word, Biblical scholars have struggled to understand the meaning of “arsenokoitai.”

The second Greek word is “malakoi” which is only used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9. This word is translated in 1 Corinthians 6:9 as “male prostitute” in the New International Version of the Bible while this same word is translated as “fine” or “soft” wherever else it is found in the New Testament.

The Greek word arsenokoitai is believed to be coined by the apostle Paul. This Greek word is not used elsewhere in the Bible and it is also not found in any other literature prior to being used in Paul’s writings. Arsenokoitai is two Greek words put together. The word arsen means man or male and the word koite means bed. Although arsenokoitai has baffled Biblical scholars who have translated it in various ways, it is now believed by many scholars to be related to the Levitical passages. I agree with this.

The Greek translation of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint. It would have been well known to the whole Jewish community and to the apostle Paul who preached in Greek during his missionary journeys. During the third and second centuries B.C., the entire Hebrew Bible was translated into the Greek language. Therefore, it is no surprise that the apostle Paul coined the term arsenokoitai as a derivative of the Septuagint’s Greek translation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The Septuagint translates Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as follows:

Leviticus 18:22 “kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gynaikos”

Leviticus 20:13 “kai hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos…”

Both of the above phrases are Greek translation of the phrase “male who lies with a male as with a woman.” As you can see, the two Greek words arsen and koite are closely placed together especially in the Leviticus 20:13 verse. Therefore, it seems that the etymology of the word arsenokoitai is rooted in the pagan idolatrous practices referred to in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

So, does Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 provide a condemnation of homosexuality? I believe not. The study on these two identical passages with the exception that Leviticus 20:13 provides a penalty for the “abomination” points to something altogether different. For example, chapter 18 of Leviticus is addressed to Hebrew males and it describes every type of sexual encounter that is prohibited. When you get to verse 21 there is mention of the pagan god Molech. Also, in verses 1-5 God is instructing Moses to tell the people to not live like the Egyptians where they have been and like the Canaanites where they are going. The key to understanding these verses is to understand the pagan religious rites of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. These people were involved in the worship of Baal, Molech, and many goddesses. The worship practices of these fertility cult religions demanded the offering of seed or semen to the god or goddess in order to receive the blessing of the god or goddess. In other words, these religions were sexual in nature. The priest or prostitute at the pagan temple would receive the “seed” in the form often of sexual intercourse. These male priests and male prostitutes were set apart for the pagan god or pagan goddess and they were often castrated males and most of them dressed as female. Thus, the prohibition for Hebrew males in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 to have sexual encounters with a “male as with a woman” is God’s way of saying, do not go and offer your seed to these priests and prostitutes. God made plain that these two verses out of all of the others was so awful because it was considered idolatry. Thus, the word “abomination” or “detestable” which in the Hebrew is “To`ebah” or an idol or an idolatrous practice.

I see therefore that arsenokoitai is referring to a male worshiper in a pagan religious cult. Paul used this word in order to tell the Greek speaking Gentiles that if they were participating in these idolatrous practices, then they were not living according to sound doctrine nor would they inherit the kingdom of God. Paul’s usage of arsenokoitai, which refers to male worshipers lying with a male as with a woman, is understood in light of the sexual practices associated with the cult of Aphrodite. Apparently, Aphrodite was another name for Cybele, the Syrian goddess. This deity was both male and female and so was depicted with a bearded face and full breasts. The cult taught that worshipers must hide their sex. Therefore, males came in female clothing and females in the clothes of males. It appeased the goddess if worshipers physically effaced their sex and it seems that hermaphrodites congregated in Aphrodite’s temple in large numbers. It did not matter whether the goddess was known as Aphrodite, Cybele, Astarte or Ishtar, because all of her worshipers engaged in errotic beatings, sadomasochism, same-sex orgies and for the males, castration. These practices were commonplace in all of the temples dedicated to this goddess along the sea coasts where the apostle Paul traveled as a missionary.

Later on, the word arsenokotai seems to have taken on other meanings. Remember, it was the apostle Paul who coined this word. Yet, during the next two to three hundred years its usage in various non-biblical writings indicate that it evolved into a description for people who exploited others for sexual purposes. It seems that arsenokoitai evolved in usage from a description of the male worshiper who paid for sex with prostitutes in the temple to those who paid for sex with prostitutes outside of the cultic worship experience.

Therefore, it seems that the term arsenokotai that the apostle Paul used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 eventually came to describe the individual who would sexually exploit another, whether male or female. Author, Robin Scroggs, in her book entitled the New Testament And Homosexuality also indicates that in 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul has placed arsenokoitai purposefully right in the middle between the Greek word “pornos” sometimes translated as adulterer and the Greek word “andropodistes” meaning slave trader or kidnapper. She suggests that perhaps Paul is referring to male prostitutes in pornos, and then males who lie with prostitutes in arsenokoites, and finally in dealers who procure the prostitutes in andropodistes. It is all very possible. Therefore, it is clear that each of the vice lists provided by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 mention people who are exploiting others or doing wrong to others.

Suffice it to say, the Greek word arsenokoitai should not be linked to homosexuality as it currently is in the New International Version of the Bible where arsenokoitai is translated as homosexual offender.

The second Greek word “malakoi” is only used by Paul in one of the clobber passages. The New International Version of the Bible has translated malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9 as “male prostitute” whereas the King James Version uses “effeminate.” By the Twentieth Century some translators of the Bible began to link malakoi with arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9. It is thought that the term malakoi is a reference to an effeminate male prostitute or one who serves as the male receptive partner while arsenokoitai must refer to the males who would frequent the effeminate male prostitutes.

The actual word malakoi is found elsewhere in the New Testament and is used quite frequently in extra-biblical writings of the New Testament era. The basic meaning of malakos is soft or fine and in a moral sense it indicates moral weakness as in one who lacks self control. Author, John Boswell, in his book entitled, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality states that the term malakos is not associated with homosexual acts but rather has a long history of meaning masturbation.

Martti Nissinen in his book entitled Homoeroticism In The Biblical World states as well that malakos stresses femininity while adding that “a homosexual connotation may come from effeminacy, because the man who submits to the passive sexual role takes the position of a woman and represents moral values associated with women- mostly in a negative sense.” [i] This understanding seems to agree with Boswell who is adamant that malakos is not related to homosexual orientation since heterosexual males were called this term by ancient writers. [ii] Therefore, it seems that malakos was at times used to refer to males who were effeminate, whether heterosexual or homosexual. And, the term apparently was also used at times to mean males who took the passive sexual role, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

3) How are the original understandings of homosexuality in Christian different or the same in the modern world? What are some modern interpretations of the texts and how do people come to these conclusions?
I see that the “clobber passages” are all linked by the issue of idolatry. The very word “To`ebah” or “abomination” in the Hebrew text that has caused so much confusion and condemnation of homosexuals for many years is in fact a word that makes clear only that God hates idolatry. The idolatry that was taking place in the Old Testament with the nations surrounding the Hebrew nation was called fertility cult religions. These religions were very sexual in nature. God hated this misuse of worship. This same type of worship was also evident during the time of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. He encountered people in the churches who had this past and others who were still involved and enticed into this type of worship. Romans 1:24-27 is set in the context of the Apostle Paul’s polemic against idolatry and the practices involved in this type of worship which was common knowledge for the first century reader of the book of Romans.

Yet, to try to apply these ancient texts to modern day homosexuals is not good theology. Many gays and lesbians today are Christians and love Christ Jesus as their personal Saviour. Yet, they have been ostracized from the Church at large because of the misuse of these scriptural passages. Furthermore, the human sciences and social sciences also inform us that human sexuality is varied. There is a spectrum of sexuality and so the Church must embrace all of God’s creation.

Today many scholars believe that Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:11-12 are in fact comments about homosexuals. Eunuchs who were born from their mothers wombs as such are a description of homosexuals. Also, the story of Jonathan and David in 1 Samuel and the story of Ruth and Naomi in Ruth are same gender love stories where covenants are formed between persons of the same sex and love is shared.

4) How can someone find a balance between their faith and their sexuality?
I believe that first and foremost one must be educated on the scriptural passages and their correct applications. God is a God who has created human kind to be diverse. As David the psalmist said in Psalm 139, God has formed us in the womb of our mothers and we are wonderfully and fearfully made. We are knit together and

God saw and was involved in this process of human formation. Therefore, we can know that God embraces all of human sexuality and all of God’s people. To find this acceptance and love of God from the scriptures for evangelical Christians is a must.

I encourage GLBTI Christians to find an inclusive church to attend and participate in so that they can be a part of the Body of Christ and in a way that their own gifts are affirmed as well.

It is possible for a GLBTI Christian to find a balance between their faith and sexuality. To err on only emphasizing their sexuality and forget the spiritual component of their lives, is a tragedy and not God’s purpose at all.

Neither of these terms used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 or 1 Timothy 1:10 point to a person of same-sex orientation nor do they condemn homosexuality. In fact, arsenokoitai especially is related to heterosexual males who originally participated in sexual relations in fertility cults and later to males who exploited males and females sexually without the fertility cult aspect. The term malakos also cannot be used to condemn homosexuality since it refers to males who were effeminate in general and also to males who engaged in sex as the passive partner, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

More information about Rev. Turnbull can be found at www.GloryTab.org

The internet as a safety-Net for same sex attracted young people

‘It’s just easier’ The Internet as a safety-Net for same sex attracted young people

Click for full PDF version: “It’s just easier” Internet use report

Lynne Hillier, Chyloe Kurdas & Philomena Horsley
This work was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health & Aged Care. ARCSHS is a collaborating centre to the National Centre in HIV Social Research.
>NHMRC ii © Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the Publisher. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be directed to the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society, La Trobe University, 1/215 Franklin St, Melbourne, VIC 3000. December 2001. Melbourne, Australia: La Trobe University, Australia: 3000. Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society (ARCSHS)
Tel: +61 3 92855382
Fax: +61 3 92855220
Email: arcshs@latrobe.edu.au
Monograph series number 29
ISBN : 1 8644 6559 X
Cover design: Anthony Muscat iii

We would like to thank Jan Watson, Jenny Walsh, Michael Crowhurst, Bernadette Roberts, Anne Mitchell, Lyn Harrison, Debbie Ollis, Deb Currin, Sue Dyson and Sarah Russell for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of this report.

Thanks also to the following people: Deborah Dempsey for her work in the early stages of the project, Emma Hopton for coordinating its production, Marian Pitts and other staff at ARCSHS who assisted with the project.

We want to acknowledge the important role of the SSAY Reference group that provided valuable advice in the formulation of the questionnaire and at many stages of the project (members are listed in Appendix II).

We thank the chatroom moderators for their support in recruiting and linking sites and the many organisations Australia-wide who assisted our work by promoting the research to young people.

We particularly want to thank the young people who contributed their thoughts and experiences to the project and shared such important and personal aspects of their lives with us.

Our gratitude goes to Anthony Muscat who provided us with the design for the cover of this report. Anthony is a year 12 student at South Oakleigh Secondary College in Melbourne who originally hails from a small country town in Victoria. Anthony’s passion for design and art work produced such an original and striking design. Thank you to Simon Kwok, Infographics Pty Ltd for production layout.

Darnell, R. et. al. 1997, Html 4. Sams Net Publishing: Indianapolis COMPLILED BY CHYLOE KURDIS

This report explores the use of the Internet by same sex attracted young people (SSAY). Internet access is increasing in Australian homes at a rapid rate, with more than 75% of young people under the age of 18 years accessing the Net in 1999. Yet little is known about the specific ways in which young people generally, and same sex attracted young people in particular, use the Net for friendship, information and recreation.

This report further develops certain issues raised in previous national research (Hillier et al, 1998) which documented the extent to which same sex attracted young people are denied support and information about their sexuality, and the verbal and physical abuse they experienced in many areas of their life in Australia.

A questionnaire was designed for on-line completion at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society (ARCSHS) SSAY website. The young people participating in this research were, for the most part, recruited directly via promotion strategies on the Net. In total, 206 valid questionnaires were submitted via the website. Of these 151 (73.3%) were male, 52 (25.2%) were female and 3 (1.5%) were transgender young people. The average age was 18 years and all states and territories were represented as well as urban, regional and rural areas.

We asked young people about the broad purpose of their Net use: 25% used the Internet for work and 54% used it for study, 70% used it for general leisure and 86% used it for sexuality-related leisure. Young people’s main reason for the latter use was to gain support and affirmation for their sexual feelings. About half of the young people also used the Net to access information about sexuality and safe sex. A smaller number used the Net for more directly related sexual purposes, such as a arousal before sex, Cybersex and/or to meet someone in Real Life (RL).

Eight-five percent of the young people reported that the Net played an important role in putting them in touch with others like them and 70% felt it played an important role in reducing their isolation. It offered a sense of community and support, especially when young people felt depressed or suicidal at some point (nearly 50%). Two-thirds of the young people found the Net important or very important to them in accessing sexual health information, and 62% of young men and 26% of young women found it important in facilitating Real Life contact and friendship with other SSAY.

We asked the participants how they felt about their sexuality and 65% felt ‘great’ or ‘pretty good’ about it, which is slightly higher than our previous research. While we cannot directly compare this sample with our previous research, the findings of this report suggest that the Net is playing a vital role in supporting the development or maintenance of a positive sexual identity in these young people as well as providing them with a strong sense of community.

What young people liked most about the Net was communicating with other young people like them. They used the Net to make new contacts, especially via gay chatrooms, and to keep them in touch with existing friends.


Coming out in Real Life is often not a comfortable or safe experience for SSAY, and research suggests this is a time of heightened risk for suicide of young people in this situation. We found that nearly half of the young people had told ‘everyone’ on the Net about their sexual identity and almost all (90%) had told at least one person they met on the Net. People in Real Life were less likely to be told by SSAY than those on-line. Young people also found the quality of support on the Net to be better, with most finding it ‘very supportive’ (62%) or ‘mostly supportive’ (22%). The Net also clearly provides an important ‘rehearsal space’ for coming out in Real Life.

We were interested in the qualities that Net life offered, how these differed from Real Life, and what either encouraged or inhibited an openness about sexuality among young people. Young people reported that it was ‘just easier’ on the Net, with its coexistent qualities of distance and intimacy. Communication about sexuality on the Net was more likely to be comfortable, safe and companionable. Inhabitants of the Net were often experienced as more diverse, less judgemental, and more open, worldly and sophisticated than people in Real Life.

The Net enabled access to same sex attracted young people of all ages and allowed young people to live their sexuality in a ‘normalised’ way. Real Life was a place in which most young people were hesitant to entrust their sexual identities, and Real Life encounters often loomed as threatening experiences. However, many young people yearned to live their authentic selves in a Real Life context and some found the discrepancy between their preferred ‘Net identity’ and their camouflaged ‘Real Life identity’ an uncomfortable and disconcerting experience.

We asked young people how their life would change if they were without the Internet. The vast majority responded that life would be altered in a negative way, and for some it would profoundly difficult. Those who felt they would be least affected were those who were currently relatively open about their sexuality in Real Life and to some extent connected to gay and lesbian networks. For others the proposition created an emphatic sense of distress and terms such as ‘isolated’, ‘lonely’ and ‘desperate’ were frequently used. Despite significant proportions of young people feeling good or great about their sexuality, most clearly depended to some significant degree on the support from their virtual community.

Seventy-five percent of the young people, proportionally more young men than women, had organised to meet someone in Real Life after first contacting them on the Net. Friendship (42%), a date (34%), sex (14%) and shared interests (8%) were the reasons for their last meeting of this kind. Some meetings were problematic – failed arrangements, misrepresentations and mismatches of expectations – but rarely traumatic. Most meetings were a positive experience for young people.

Current adult concerns about Net use by young people include: their exposure to undesirable information and people, loss of ability to relate in Real Life, and time-wasting. Many SSAY who participated (58%) had had concerns about their own Internet use at some point, primarily concerned with escapism from RL and the addictive nature of the Net. Chatroom harassment was reported, particularly by boys, as was discomfort when stumbling across homophobic websites. Others experienced discomfort when they heard about other people’s negative life experiences but could do nothing to help. However young people clearly had a number of strategies that they employed to protect themselves from hurtful or threatening situations either on the Net or when meeting in Real Life.

There has been little attention paid to gender in research involving same sex attracted young people over the last decade, with many studies focussing only on boys, particularly those looking at youth suicide. Our research suggests that young women were using the Internet in different ways to young men: they were less likely to meet in RL, less likely to use the Net for sex-related activities and more reluctant to use the Net for contacts and support. However, there was a significant percentage of young women who did all of these things and when they did the outcome was very rewarding for them.

Mix or Match?

Sexual attraction, identity and behaviour in same sex attracted young women in Australia: an update in redress, 15 (2), 10-15h2.
Lynne Hillier

Click for Full PDF Version: Mix or Match?

Over the last ten years we have witnessed in Australia an upsurge in interest in young people, same sex attraction and sexual health. Until 1998, much of this sexuality research interest focused on young men because of the more obvious risks of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The findings from a 1998 national survey with same sex attracted youth indicated that the assumptions made about the ways sexual attraction translates into identity and behaviour for same sex attracted young women were inaccurate and this had implications for their sexual health and well being. For many of these young women there was no clear match between attraction, identity and behaviour and many exclusively same sex attracted young women were having sex with opposite sex partners. These young women were sexually active earlier and, according to one large Australian study, were several times more likely than their heterosexual peers to have contracted a sexually transmissible infection. Now, after a great deal of social change and considerable work in schools to promote an inclusive curriculum and to reduce homophobic abuse, we have a second national survey to provide an update on what we know about how these young women are performing their sexual difference.

Over the last ten years in Australia we have witnessed an upsurge in interest in non-heterosexual young people’s sexual health and well-being. In particular, a great deal of attention has been paid to the sexuality and sexual health of same sex attracted young men. Despite the indications that these young people do gender differently from their heterosexual peers, little research attention for many years was paid to the ways that this may play out for same sex attracted young women, particularly at the intersections of sexual attraction, identity and behaviour. In a 2001 article we argued that research ‘privileges gay male populations, under-represents women and bisexuals and does not sufficiently differentiate between homosexual experience for women and men’ (Dempsey et al, 2001, p.67). The reasons for this lack of attention are many, however of pertinence to this article is the assumption that same sex attracted young women are immune from sexual health issues.

Since the advent of the HIV pandemic, research has mainly focused on HIV prevention with same sex attracted young men. The assumption has been that same sex attracted young women are not at risk for HIV and therefore HIV research dollars should not be committed to them. Same sex attracted young women have been produced as somehow immune from sexual health and well-being problems and not needing to figure in preventative research. As a result, there has been the temptation to bracket them out of the equation when sexual health research and interventions are considered. As well, the belief that woman-to-woman transmission of other sexually transmitted infections is unlikely and rare translated into a lack of interest in non-heterosexual women. The campaign Lesbians need pap smears too by the Anti-Cancer Council in Victoria in 2001 was an attempt to redress the popular belief that lesbians do not suffer from sexually transmitted infections and their secondary effects. The main flaw in this type of thinking is the belief that lesbians do not have sex with men. We learned from the first national survey of same sex attracted youth, Writing Themselves In (Hillier et al, 1998) that many young women who are same sex attracted, and/or who identify as lesbians, do have sex with men. Furthermore, these young women are sexually active earlier than their heterosexual peers and in many cases are performing heterosexuality more actively than heterosexual young women. The stark mismatch between the sexual attraction, identity and behaviour of many of these young women was confirmed by Smith et al’s work in Australia (2003b) and Diamond’s work with non-heterosexual young women in the United States (Diamond 2000). Young women were also less likely to have acted on their same sex desires than were young men.

Though not wanting to be prescriptive, or to foreclose on a more fluid sexuality for young women, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the vast majority of opposite sex attracted young people have an unquestioned and seamless congruence between these three parts of their sexuality which are positioned as natural, normal and inevitable. If we leave aside identity, and discussion in the literature about the problems of identity politics, it is hard to argue for the merit, in terms of their well-being, of a mismatch between sexual attraction and behaviour in these young women, especially when the mismatch is produced in a culture that punishes sexual difference. These findings have been discussed in detail elsewhere (Dempsey et al, 2001; Hillier, 2001).

Of relevance to the sexual health of same sex attracted young women, was a further finding from Writing Themselves In (1998), that schools’ neglect of inclusive sex education and other curricula was particularly evident where lesbian relationships and safe sex were concerned. Less than one in 10 of these young women were given information about relevant safe sex from school or the family. Strong evidence of the need for attention to the sexual health of these young women was found in the 1997 national survey on the sexual health of 3,500 senior students where same sex attracted female students were four times more likely to have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection than their heterosexual counterparts (Lindsay et al., 1997).

Since the 1998 Writing Themselves In national report there have been many changes in the Australian cultural landscape in regard to visibility, acceptance and support of sexual difference.

A new inclusive sexual health curriculum, Talking Sexual Health has been introduced into schools in each state. There has been an increase in positive media representation of alternate sexual lifestyles and funding has been made available for community development projects that have raised awareness of sexual difference and have built community capacity to support same sex attracted young people. Relationships bills have been introduced in most states and Ministerial Advisory Committees on gay and lesbian health have been set up in two states.

Of particular interest to this article is what the second national study of the sexual health and well being of same sex attracted young people, Writing Themselves In Again (2005) can tell us about the sexual attraction, identity and behaviour of same sex attracted young women and their sexual health in 2005.

A self-complete survey was made available at the beginning of 2004 on the internet and in printed form. The project was advertised nationally in magazines, on the Internet, national radio and through youth networks. Young Australians aged between 14 and 21 years, who were sexually attracted to people of their own sex, were invited to participate. The survey included demographics and items on homophobia, sexual identity, attraction and behaviour, drug use, self-harm, disclosure and support and feelings of safety in a number of venues. The questionnaire was piloted with young people and youth workers in urban and rural areas.

Young people were invited to complete the survey anonymously online via the http://www.latrobe.edu.au/ssay/ website or fill out a coupon in a magazine with their name and address and apply for a copy. They could also leave their contact details on a toll free answering services for the survey to be sent to them. The content for the web-based version was the same as the hard copy version, with the format modified in order for participants to simply scroll down and submit at the end. To ensure anonymity was maintained, the mail-back process was configured to conceal participants’ email addresses. Using the term ‘same sex attracted’

As with our previous research (Hillier et al., 1996; Hillier et al 1998), we adopted the descriptive term ‘same sex attracted’ for a number of reasons. First, young people tend to experience sexual attractions long before they assign themselves with a sexual identity and so by using attractions as our criterion we were maximising our potential research population. Second, unlike the terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’, ‘same sex attracted’ is less threatening for organisations and young people. We were, for example, given permission to distribute a rural survey through education department schools using a question about attraction where we may not have been able to use the terms gay or lesbian. Third, by using the term ‘same sex attracted’ we are not foreclosing on young people’s sexual futures by using a firm identity. Young people who are same sex attracted today may or may not become the gay or lesbian adults of the future.

It is impossible to calculate a response rate for this survey. We used a scattergun advertising approach in an attempt to reach as many young people as possible and, because no one was directly approached to be involved in the research, we have no idea how many same sex attracted young people were exposed to the advertising.

We received 1749 valid surveys, over double the number in the 1998 study. Young people were on average, 18 years old with young women being 6 months younger. The gender balance was skewed away from young women, who made up 37% (n=643) of the group. There were nine transgender young people (7 m-f and 2 f-m) in the sample. Eighty-eight percent (n=1539) were born in Australia and (2%, n=35), New Zealand. Of the 10% (n=175) born elsewhere, the majority were born in the Americas (3%, n=51), North-West Europe (3%, n=51) and South-East Asia (2%, n=35). As well, 2% (n=35) were of an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI) background, the same percentage for the 1998 survey and a little under the population census figure of 2.9% (Census of Population and Housing: Australia’s Youth. (2001). Eighty percent of young people came from major Australian cities (n=1327), 15% (n=256) from inner regional Australia 5% (n=82) from outer regional and remote Australia.

Sexual attraction
As in 1998, we asked young people whether they were attracted to people of the same sex only, both sexes, the opposite sex only, or if they were they unsure. In Table 1 it can be seen that in 2005, more young men and young women were attracted exclusively to their own sex and fewer young men and young women were attracted to both sexes than in 1998.

Table X Difference in young women and men’s sexual attraction from 1998 to 2004

YW 1998 (374) YW 2005 (643) YM 1998 (375) YM 2005 (1103)
SSA 32% 45% 60% 78%
BSA 58% 46% 32% 19%
OSA 1% .6% 1%/td> .2%
Unsure 9% 9% 7% 3%

Young People, Coming Out and Identity Development

Clarke, V., Peel, E., Ellis, S.J. & Riggs, D.W. (2010). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer psychology: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Young people, sexuality and gender identity
  • Models of LGBTQ identity development
  • Sexual Fluidity
  • Disclosure to family and friends
  • LGBTQ young people in school
  • Exploring identity and finding a community

Young people, sexuality and gender identity

Identifying as LGBTQ can occur at any stage of the lifespan. However, the vast majority of research has tended to focus on young people. For this reason, this chapter will predominantly focus on identifying as LGBTQ as it applies to young people.

Much of the work on identity development in relation to sexuality (e.g., Savin- Williams, 2005) and gender identity (e.g., Grossman et al., 2006) suggests that LGBTQ young people can be recognised from an early age by characteristics such as childhood feelings of ‘difference’ and gender atypical behaviour, appearance or interests. Moreover, Gender Identity Disorder (GID) of childhood is believed to be more strongly associated with homosexuality than with trans in adulthood (deVries et al., 2007). The reality is that LGBTQ people represent as diverse a range of backgrounds and experiences as is the case for all people. Often the scripts of ‘childhood difference’ and ‘gender atypicality’ are a product of the research questions asked and the social imperative to construct sexual and gender identities coherently. In other words, because lesbians are assumed only to be sexually attracted to women, and gay men only to men, they are assumed not to have (had) sexual experiences with, or feelings for, people of another sex. Likewise, because gender is assumed to be innate, trans people are expected to have experienced their gender as incongruent from an early age. It is therefore common for people to present their own sexuality and gender identity in such a way as to include information which is consistent with commonly held assumptions about that identity and to omit information which is not. For instance, telling the story ‘I’ve always been lesbian’, ‘I was born gay’ or ‘I always felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body’ (or vice versa).

Almost without exception, psychological theory and research on LGBTQ identity development is premised on the notion that young people who are not out or who resist coming out are either ‘in denial’ about their sexuality or gender identity, or are not able to come out but want to. However, as Ritch Savin-Williams (2005) highlights, with increasing visibility of diverse sexualities, young people attracted to the same sex appear less willing to adopt labels for their sexuality and gender identity. Whereas there may be a number of reasons why young people don’t or are reluctant to use labels such as ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’ (e.g., they are not out; they don’t feel that they fit the label; they have not engaged in same-sex sexual practices), many young people today reject labels ‘in defiance of social identity labels which would suggest the primacy of sexuality in their personal identities’ (Cohler and Hammack, 2007: 48).

For every young person who identifies as LGBTQ, there are many more who do not identify as LGBTQ but are attracted to people of the same sex and/or engage in same-sex sexual practices. Some may later come to identify as LGBTQ, while others who currently identify as LGBTQ may later drop those labels. Others still will continue to engage in a range of sexual behaviours, including same-sex practices, yet resolutely identify as heterosexual. Likewise, work on people from marginalised racial and cultural groups suggests that young people from these groups tend to resist using sexual identity labels, perceiving them as westernised constructs which don’t apply to them (e.g., see Chan, 1996). Therefore, sexuality and gender identity is often a poor criterion for researching the experiences of, and issues affecting the lives and development of, young people with same-sex attractions and those who are trans. This level of diversity suggests that the ‘choice’ to come out (or not) is quite complex. It also calls into question the relevance of coming out for all LGBTQ young people. A related issue is that many young people today experience their sexuality as fluid. Whereas some young people will have no clear sense of their sexual selves, but are seeking this, and may even be exploring different identities and practices, for others, same-sex attractions and relationships are not considered to imply anything permanent about their sexuality (Savin-Williams, 2005). For these young people attractions are viewed as fluid beyond what might be expected by sexuality and gender identity labels and they pursue sexual partners relatively independently of sex/gender. Although some young people identify as LGB, for many others same-sex attractions, desires and behaviour are viewed as a form of ‘sexual freedom’ or ‘sexual choice’ – a trendy ‘add-on’ to otherwise conventional heterosexuality (Diamond, 2005). For a number of young people sexual fluidity may facilitate identity exploration; for others it makes coming to identify as LGB a difficult (or even confusing) path to navigate.

Another problem with much of the existing psychological research is that it commonly compares LGB young people with heterosexuals as if they were two distinct populations. However, the sexual experiences of LGB young people are markedly similar to those of their heterosexual peers, including a diverse range of sexual experiences with people of the same and a different sex. To characterise LGB young people as a homogeneous group conceals this diversity and fails to recognise important differences between people in relation to factors such as gender, class and culture (Savin-Williams, 2001). For trans young people, gender identity development can be even more complex. While some young trans people may experience their gender as fairly rigid or fixed (just different from their natal sex), others may experience their gender as fluid or changing. Gender fluidity extends beyond behaviour and interests to the experience of multiple, and sometimes contradictory, gender identifications. For example, some young people describe themselves as feeling like a ‘girl’ on one day and a ‘boy’ on another, or even that neither term describes them accurately. However, there is little opportunity for young people to engage in gender identity exploration, in a society which is rigidly structured around two, and only two, sex/gender categories (i.e., male/female and masculine/feminine) and where gender diversity is seldom embraced. The lived experience of gender fluidity presents a challenge to dualistic ways of thinking about gender, and this is something which has remained largely unexplored in psychological research.

What is clear is that the socio-political landscape has changed considerably since the 1980s, and research has struggled to keep up with the impact of these changes on the identity development and sexual practices of contemporary LGBTQ young people. Owing to a relative lack of high-quality research on LGBTQ young people, the field has been dogged by limited samples, and (often) poor research design, resulting in a somewhat patchy and partial picture of the identity development and experiences of LGBTQ young people. Furthermore, research on LGBTQ young people has tended to be hyper focused on the negative aspects of identifying as LGBTQ. This may in part be because researchers want to effect positive social change, but in so doing the field is impoverished by a lack of understanding of the strengths and resilience of LGBTQ young people (Savin-Williams, 2001). The lived realities and experiences of LGBTQ young people today are profoundly different from those of even a decade or so ago, and there is also considerable variability cross-nationally and cross-culturally. The vast majority of existing research on LGBTQ young people looks extremely dated and does not reflect the sexual and gender diversity we have just described. Moreover, it represents an overwhelming bias towards a white western perspective and towards sexuality over gender identity. As much as possible within this chapter, we have drawn from recent studies. However, as you engage with the theories and research presented here, we encourage you to bear in mind the limitations of the samples and other methodological issues which may impact on the findings.

Models of LGBTQ identity development

Identifying as LGBTQ (sometimes known as ‘coming out to self’) has typically been constructed by psychologists as a process through which people pass in coming (personally) to define their sexuality/gender identity. Like other developmental psychological processes using an essentialist approach (see Chapter 2), it has been theorised through the creation of stage models. From 1979 until the mid-1980s several stage models of ‘homosexual’ identity development were published (e.g., Cass, 1979; Coleman, 1982; Troiden, 1979). Vivienne Cass’s (1979) six-stage model of ‘homosexual identity formation’ – the most frequently cited model – was the first to be published and is the archetype on which most subsequent models have been based. Cass, an Australian psychologist, developed the model during several years of clinical work with lesbians and gay men.

Highlights: Vivienne Cass’s (1979) model of homosexual identity

Stage 1 Identity confusion – A conscious awareness that homosexuality is relevant to oneself and/or one’s behaviour.

Stage 2 Identity comparison – Incongruency between perception of self as homosexual and others’ perceptions of one’s homosexuality results in feelings of alienation from peers and a sense of self as not belonging or being different.

Stage 3 Identity tolerance – A greater level of commitment to self-image as homosexual and acknowledgement of social, emotional and sexual needs results in heightened alienation from the heterosexual world and active seeking out of other homosexuals and the homosexual subculture.

Stage 4 Identity acceptance – Contacts with other homosexuals become more frequent and regular. A preference for homosexual social contexts and the development of friendships within them is established.

Stage 5 Identity pride – Commitment to the gay group is strong, generating a sense of group identity. Preference for homosexual identity rather than heterosexual identity.

Stage 6 Identity synthesis – Homosexual identity is integrated into other aspects of self. Rather than the identity, it is seen merely as one aspect.

By the mid-1980s there were a number of models describing the process of coming to identify oneself as lesbian or gay, and there are four main elements common to all of the models: (1) an awareness of homosexual feelings; (2) exploration of homosexuality; (3) taking on board a lesbian/gay self-identity; and (4) integrating one’s lesbian/gay identity into one’s broader sense of self. Each of the models is underpinned by what Cohler and Hammack (2007) call the ‘narrative of struggle and success’. That is, coming to identify as lesbian or gay is constructed as normative, but entwined with the challenge of managing stigma in order to emerge with a secure and positive sense of one’s sexuality. However, because sexuality has typically been conceptualised as a simple heterosexual/homosexual binary, these models do not take seriously the notion of bisexuality, and because their focus is exclusively on sexuality – ignoring the intersections of gender and sexuality – the development of trans identity is absent. It is also worth noting that to date there does not appear to be a parallel model of heterosexual identity development.

In the 1990s, bisexuality began to appear on the psychological agenda. Following the models established within lesbian and gay psychology, early work on bisexual identity development also adopted a process-based stage model approach. The most widely cited model is that devised by US sociologist Martin Weinberg and colleagues (1994). Whereas identifying as lesbian or gay was characterised by the rejection of the label ‘heterosexual’ in relation to oneself, bisexuality involves the rejection of both the category ‘heterosexual’ and the category ‘lesbian’/‘gay’. For this reason, it would be expected that identifying as bisexual brings with it related, but different, challenges from identification as lesbian or gay. The main difference between this model of identity development and models of lesbian and gay identity development lies in the final stage of the model. Weinberg suggests that, rather than attaining a secure sense of self as bisexual (which is the case in models of lesbian and gay identity development), identifying as bisexual is characterised by ongoing uncertainty about one’s sexuality. Work by Canadian psychologist Maria Gurevich and colleagues (2007) reinforces this, but interprets this ‘uncertainty’ to reflect a resistance to and questioning of the label ‘bisexuality’, and striving to find a suitable alternative. As already highlighted, trans identity development has tended to be ignored in the psychological literature because the focus has been on ‘causes’ and treatment of transsexualism and GID rather than on the lived experience of trans people and the development of identity as trans. However, some work exploring the process of trans identity development has been undertaken by British clinical psychologists Clair Clifford and Jim Orford (2007). Clifford and Orford collected data from twenty-eight trans women and men (nineteen MTF and nine FTM) in the UK, recruited through trans and LGBTQ networks. In Clifford and Orford’s research, eight people participated in semi-structured interviews and provided detailed accounts of their experiences of identifying as trans.

A preliminary model was developed on the basis of these interviews. A different group of twelve trans people were provided with a diagrammatical representation and description of the model and a list of questions to consider. Their feedback was used to refine the model (some categories were collapsed; others were split into two or more categories). Finally, a further group of eight participants were invited to comment on the refined model. The model consists of three main phases.

Despite their popularity, stage models of sexuality development have been heavily criticised. As well as the conflation of identity development with identity disclosure (and, in the case of trans, with a physiological change of sex), one of the main problems with a stage theory approach is that it assumes that sexuality is innate and that through introspection people can come to discover their ‘true’ identity. In short, coming to identify as an LGB person is seen as a journey of self-discovery, whereby individuals come to shed their ‘false’ identity as heterosexual and correctly identify as LGB. Conversely, if there were stage models of trans identity development based on similar assumptions as those underpinning stage models of lesbian/gay identity development, transitioning would be seen as a journey whereby a person sheds a false identity as ‘male’ (if born male) or ‘female’ (if born female) and correctly identifies either as ‘gender variant’ or as other than their natal sex. This approach assumes that sexuality and gender identity are fixed and fails to account for (potential) fluidity in those identities.

Highlights: Martin Weinberg and colleagues’ (1994) model of bisexual identity development

Stage 1 Initial confusion – Confusion, doubt or struggle regarding sexual identity. Having strong feelings for both sexes but inability to categorise those feelings.

Stage 2 Finding and applying the label – The discovery of the label ‘bisexual’. First sexual experiences coupled with recognition of sex being pleasurable with both sexes.

Stage 3 Settling into the identity – Self-labelling and self-acceptance.

Stage 4 Continued uncertainty – Intermittent periods of doubt and uncertainty. Lack of balanced sexual desires and behaviours (i.e., more with one sex than the other) resulting in doubt about being ‘really’ bisexual.

In addition, social context is seen largely as a backdrop against which self reflection occurs. As a consequence, the role of social context (e.g., family; peers; community) and historical processes (e.g., the women’s and gay liberation movements; the AIDS/HIV crisis) in facilitating or impeding development is not explicitly included in the models (as stage model theorists themselves have acknowledged, e.g., Cass, 2005). Socio-historical factors may be responsible for considerable differences in experiences of identity development between cohorts. For example, a gay man coming out in the UK in the 1940s when socio-political attitudes were very conservative and gay male sex was illegal would have had a markedly different experience from a young gay man coming out today when the socio-political climate is much more liberal, and LGBTQ people have greater freedom of self-expression. Similarly, a young person living in a (socio-centric) non-western society may have a different experience of identifying as trans from a young person living in a (individualistic) western society.

Highlights: Clair Clifford and Jim Orford’s (2007) model of trans identity development

Phase 1 Developing an awareness of being different – Managing internal feelings of gender confusion. Developing a full awareness that one’s internal (psychological) gender is different from the physical body.

Phase 2 Starting the process – Externalising feelings of gender confusion and disclosing to others, and (potentially) accessing professional assistance and making decisions regarding treatment.

Phase 3 Acclimatising to a new life – Psychological adjustment to decisions made regarding gender identity and any subsequent lifestyle changes. Young, coming out and identity development

A third major criticism has been the rigidity of these models, in that they assume that developing an LGBTQ identity is a linear, sequential and unidirectional process. Although proponents of the models suggest that individuals may vary in the degree to which they follow the sequence of stages, the structure of the models themselves implies that people pass through the stages in a set order. People who do not pass through all the stages are viewed as having failed to complete the developmental process. There are, however, many people whose path to sexuality and gender identity development does not “t this rigid framework. For example, longitudinal work with women suggests that reconsidering and (re)discovering (or reconstructing! – depending on what theoretical approach you take) different sexual identities is an important, and indeed common, part of many women’s more fluid sexual attractions, practices and relationships (Diamond, 2006). The stage model approach therefore lacks a sense of the possibility of moving within and between different identities and stages, where the instability of sexuality and gender identity is as normative as stability of sexuality and gender identity (Grif”n, 2000). This framework also favours a liberal integration of identity into one’s overall sense of self, and therefore problematises alternative constructions of sexuality and gender identity which may assert the primacy of sexuality (i.e., where sexuality/gender identity are politicised; see Kitzinger, 1987). Similarly, for those from marginalised racial and cultural groups where sexuality/gender identity may be compartmentalised, sexual identity may be constructed as separate from other aspects of identity (see ‘disclosure to family and friends’ below).

Another problem is that models of sexuality/gender identity tend to place an emphasis on experiences (e.g., sexual practices; association with the LGBTQ community; transitioning) as the catalyst and/or defining characteristic of the development of sexuality/gender identity. However, coming to identify as LGBTQ does not necessarily involve these aspects. Anecdotal accounts of coming out often report LGB people having come to identify as such without having ever had a same-sex relationship or sexual experience and/or having interfaced with an LGBTQ community. When considering trans identity development it is important to note that not all trans people explore the possibility of transitioning, and not all those who do actually undergo transition. Adolescents diagnosed with gender dysphoria may have a strong and persistent wish for reassignment, be ambivalent about it, be confused or change their mind (de Vries et al., 2007). For this reason, the identity development process for some trans people will simply comprise ‘transgender emergence’ (Lev, 2004): the process of realising, discovering, identifying and naming one’s gender identity. Transgender emergence differs markedly from coming out as LGB in that trans is not as widely understood, and the use of gender pronouns (i.e., ‘he’, ‘she’) don’t make trans identities visible. Consequently, trans people often struggle to find a way to articulate their gender identity (Lev, 2004). In an interview study with sixty-five MTF trans participants (aged 24–68 years), US sociologist Patricia Gagné and colleagues (1997) found that in addition to childhood events which marked their cross-gender feelings as wrong, the main catalysts for participants identifying as trans were discovering that there was an identity label for their feelings and that there were others who had similar experiences.

Finally, stage models construct the coming out process as inherently negative. They all imply that identifying as LGBTQ is fraught with personal struggle and lack of self-acceptance. For example, Coleman (1982: 471) stated that ‘the awareness of same-sex interests and feelings is usually a slow and painful process’. While this may be the experience of some LGBTQ people, the process of identifying as LGBTQ is hardly universal in the way that the models might suggest. Stage models therefore serve to perpetuate assumptions of LGBTQ pathology and undermine the attempts of contemporary LGBTQ psychologists to promote more positive models of sexuality/gender identity. In essence, stage models over-simplify the process of sexuality/gender identity development and\ are inadequate for capturing the complex process of coming to identify as LGBTQ.

In the main, the LGBTQ psychological literature on coming out suggests that the typical pattern of sexuality development begins with an awareness that one is not heterosexual, followed by same-sex sexual experience (which acts as con- formation), and culminates in disclosure of an LGBTQ identity to family and friends. However, recent research by US psychologists Shira Maguen and colleagues (2002) found considerable variation in the developmental paths of LGB people surveyed. For a significant minority of participants, first same-sex sexual experience occurred simultaneously with awareness of LGB identity, whilst 33 per cent disclosed their sexuality prior to having any same-sex sexual experience.

Maguen and colleagues also found significant differences in developmental pathways as a function of sexuality and gender identity. Of those respondents reporting having had sexual experiences, only 14 per cent of gay men as opposed to 45 per cent of lesbians and 46 per cent of bisexuals (male or female) had their first sexual contact with someone of a different sex. For lesbian participants this initial different sex encounter was followed a year or two later by a first same-sex encounter.

Sexual fluidity

In contrast to the essentialist constructions of sexuality and gender encapsulated in models of sexuality and gender identity development, some research has suggested that sexual attractions, experiences and identities are subject to change over time, a phenomenon known as sexual fluidity (or sexual plasticity). Until relatively recently, psychology has lacked a way of talking about individuals whose sexual attractions, experiences and identities have changed rather than remained stable. Although the term ‘bisexuality’ has often been used to describe notions of sexual fluidity, we suggest that it inadequately captures the diversity and complexity of individual sexual trajectories (and also potentially conflates the experiences of bisexual people with those of people who identify as gender fluid, two categories that may be both distinctly different and at times overlapping). As understandings of sexuality have increasingly moved away from a dichotomous approach, it has become more common to encounter people who see no contradiction in moving between relationships with men, with women or with both. For these people sexual attraction, behaviour and identity have more to do with the characteristics of the person or the relationship itself than they do with gender (Diamond, 2003; Peplau, 2001). As highlighted at the beginning of this chapter, for many young people this is the dominant framework employed in thinking about their sexuality and gender identity, and is largely the reason for their resistance to adopting sexuality and gender identity labels (Savin-Williams, 2005). For example, the notion of sexual fluidity described above appears to be more readily adopted by women than it is by men (e.g., see Baumeister, 2000). However, this does not presuppose that most women’s sexual identities and practices will change over time. Some women may exhibit such changes, but others will adopt patterns of heterosexuality or lesbianism that remain stable across time (Peplau and Garnets, 2000). At least in the West, sex differences in sexual fluidity may be largely attributable to the different ways in which men and women are socialised to interact with those of the same sex. In particular, women are socialised to privilege emotional and affectionate (but not sexual) aspects of relationships with other women, which opens up the potential for unexpected experiences which blur the boundaries between love, romance, friendship and sexuality (Thompson and Morgan, 2008). Men, on the other hand, are socialised to maintain strict emotional and affectionate boundaries, which clearly demarcate the differences between friendships and sexual relationships.

Among young people terms such as ‘lezzie’ and ‘poof’ are used as a put-down for those who do not conform to heteronormative notions of gender and sexuality. Primarily, for this reason, and because it is associated with the unpopular ‘F’ word (feminism), young women appear reluctant to use the label ‘lesbian’ to describe themselves. While some may identify as bisexual and retain this identity for life, others may adopt the label ‘bisexual’ as a temporary alternative to lesbian. However, a recent proliferation of newer and ‘safer’ alternatives (e.g., ‘mostly heterosexual’; ‘heteroflexible’; ‘bicurious’) allows young women to keep their heterosexual label while simultaneously experimenting with same-sex attractions and desires (Thompson and Morgan, 2008). Despite a concerted effort to explore sexuality and gender identity development in (young) women, there is a paucity of comparable work exploring how young men construct their sexual identities or of any in-depth explorations of the ways in which discourses of masculinity militate against sexual fluidity in young men.

Regardless of the identity labels that individuals may or may not choose to use, much psychological theory and research has focused on sexual fluidity: that is, change in attractions and behaviour across time independent of the way in which individuals define themselves.

This approach dates back to the early work of Alfred Kinsey and colleagues. Building on Kinsey’s work, Fritz Klein operationalised the Kinsey Scale by developing a measure of sexual fluidity: the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid (Klein et al., 1985). This measure was designed to explore a range of aspects of sexuality including individuals’ same- and othersex attractions, behaviours, fantasies, preferences and identities across time (past, present and ideal). Recent research using this scale (e.g., Amestoy, 2001;Weinrich and Klein, 2002) has empirically demonstrated that sexuality is not a onedimensional construct. For example, in a study of 250 postgraduate students in the USA (Amestoy, 2001), participants’ labels for sexual attraction, sexual practices and self-identification were consistent with their current sexuality, but considerably less consistent with their sexuality in the past. Only three participants (all Asian American) demonstrated total consistency across time (past, present, ideal) and aspect of sexuality (behaviour, fantasy, preference, self-identification). The construct of sexual fluidity offers a way forward from the very rigid ways of thinking about sexuality typically espoused by psychologists. For example, one of the main problems with an essentialist approach to sexuality and gender identity is that it means accounting for (or discounting) experiences that are incongruent with one’s sexual or gender identity. For this reason, it is not uncommon to hear heterosexually defined people accounting for previous same-sex encounters as ‘experimentation’, ‘a phase’ or even ‘practice for heterosex’. Likewise, it is not uncommon to hear lesbians and gay men constructing previous heterosex in terms of repression/denial or the following of social conventions. It is also common in lesbian and gay coming out stories for people to construct previous heterosexual experiences in a negative way (e.g., as unfulfilling; as not proper sex) or even to omit such experiences altogether, and to present their same-sex experiences as overwhelmingly positive. Since identity categories can be contested, people employ these rhetorical devices in order to construct their sexual identity as both authentic and above question. This is clearly illustrated in the accounts of lesbians coming out after an extended period of heterosexuality (see Kitzinger and Wilkinson, 1995; Rickards and Wuest, 2006).

In most cases, research about sexual fluidity has relied on data from one-off samples where adults have been asked to recall retrospectively their past sexual attractions, behaviours and identities. While there is considerable evidence of sexual fluidity among young people, sexual identity development is best understood by studying change across time. Although such studies are fairly uncommon, US psychologist Lisa Diamond has recently published a study that explores the sexual identity development of seventy-nine women over a ten-year period.

Across the psychological literature there is considerable debate about whether bisexuality is a temporary stage of denial, transition or experimentation, a sexual orientation category characterised by attraction to both men and women, or a capacity for sexual fluidity. Each of these models encompasses a different perspective on change over time in sexual attractions, behaviours and identities. Lisa Diamond’s (2008) study is the first to study temporal change in sexuality longitudinally.

In this study, Diamond interviewed a sample of seventy-nine non-heterosexual women approximately every two years over a ten-year period. Participants were aged 18–25 at the initial interview and recruited from LGB community events, youth groups and university-based groups located in and around New York.

Disclosure to family and friends

For LGBTQ young people, the disclosure to family and friends of a non-heterosexual or trans identity is often experienced as an important developmental milestone. Disclosure typically signifies exiting conventional heterosexual and gendered social expectations and making a commitment to a LGBTQ identity. By the end of the study, 67 per cent of participants had changed their identities at least once since the initial interview, and 36 per cent had changed their identity more than once. The study found little evidence to support the model of bisexuality as a transitional stage in that those initially identifying as ‘bisexual’ or ‘unlabelled’ were more likely to switch between these labels than to settle for ‘lesbian’ or ‘heterosexual’ labels. The overall number of women adopting the labels ‘bisexual’ or ‘unlabelled’ remained relatively consistent (at 50–60 per cent) throughout the study, and after ten years 80 per cent of participants had adopted one of these labels at some point during the study. Therefore the shift was predominantly towards rather than away from these identities, running contrary to the model of ‘bisexuality’ as a transitional identity.

The study did, however, provide clear evidence for bisexuality as a distinct orientation and as a capacity for fluidity. ‘Bisexual’ and ‘unlabelled’ women reported consistently lower percentages of same-sex attractions than did ‘lesbian’ women, and largely the same pattern of same-sex and other-sex attractions as they had reported at the outset. Furthermore, those who changed to a ‘lesbian’ identity did not show significant increases in their same-sex attractions over time, and those who switched to a ‘heterosexual’ identity did not show significant decreases. Although the balance of same-sex to other-sex attractions/behaviours may vary as a function of interpersonal and situational factors, the findings suggest that bisexuality may be interpreted as a (relatively) stable attraction to both sexes.

Changes in attractions and behaviour over time were observed in both ‘lesbian’ and ‘bisexual/unlabelled’ women, which supports the notion of sexual fluidity. By the end of the study, 60 per cent of ‘lesbians’ had had sexual contact, and 30 per cent romantic involvement, with a man, and this explains why transitions to ‘bisexual/unlabelled’ identities were more common than transitions away from them. Overall, women’s identity changes reflected their own shifting experiences and provided a way of resolving the contradictions between a lesbian identity and their other-sex attractions/behaviour. These ‘post-coming-out’ identity changes challenge the taken-for-granted assumption that sexuality questioning is resolved as soon as an individual initially identifies with a category. Rather, sexuality and gender identity would appear to be much more susceptible to re-evaluation than is suggested by essentialist models of sexuality and gender identity development, which posit that people have fixed sexual identities that are consistent throughout their lives.

This process can be experienced as very stressful for the individual as well as for their family and friends, but to date it has not received much research attention. Where it has been investigated, studies overwhelmingly focus on negative parental responses and consequently little is known about young people who have (relatively) positive experiences of coming out (Gorman-Murray, 2008). Research in the US suggests that young people today are more likely to disclose their LGBTQ identity than were young people in previous generations (Savin- Williams, 2005). While this may in part be due to an (arguably) more ‘gay affirmative’ societal climate, young people today also receive much greater exposure to issues of sexuality (including LGB sexualities) than in the past. It is therefore more common for young LGB people to disclose their sexuality in secondary/high school, around the age of 16 (Clarke and Broughton, 2005; Maguen et al., 2002).

Disclosure of a trans identity to family and friends has not (to date) been subject of research. However, because trans can be more stigmatised in society, disclosing a trans identity is potentially more difficult for a young person than disclosing an LGB identity. For instance, in US sociologists Gagné and colleagues’ (1997) study, the sixty-five MTF trans participants reported disclosing their identity to their parent(s) out of a sense of obligation and most experienced difficulty in doing this.

With regard to disclosure itself, the research is remarkably consistent in highlighting that young people typically discuss their same-sex inclinations with their peers prior to disclosure to parents. In Savin-Williams and Ream’s US (2003) study, of those who had told both parents in heterosexual-headed families, 54 per cent had indicated that they told their mother first, while 35 per cent told their mother and father simultaneously. Although there is the potential for a range of responses from parents, few participants in this study felt that the quality of their relationship with their parents had changed as a result of their disclosure. However, this study and others which explore parental responses to coming out have tended to draw on very limited samples. It might therefore be the case that there is more variation in coming out experiences than has been captured in research to date. For example, anecdotal evidence suggests that the disclosure of an LGBTQ identity has for some young people resulted in physical abuse or being thrown out of home.

Parental and sibling responses to coming out can all have a significant bearing on the young person’s subjectivity as an LGBTQ person. For example, in Andrew Gorman-Murray’s (2008) analysis of Australian coming out stories, affirmative parental and sibling responses facilitated the coming out of LGB young people and changed their perceptions of the family home as a wholly heteronormative environment. However, the ability of families to respond positively to a family member’s coming out depends heavily on characteristics of the family itself.

Using family stress theory as a framework, US psychologist Brian Willoughby and colleagues (2008) reviewed empirical evidence on parental reactions to disclosure of sexuality. Their review identified three main factors on which responses to coming out as LGB were contingent: family-based resources to manage the disclosure (e.g., positive relationships among family members; strong problem-solving abilities), pre-existing beliefs and attitudes about same-sex attraction and practices, and other family pressures at the time of disclosure.

In a study of parents of trans adolescents, British clinical psychologist Bernadette Wren (2002) found that parents often had an inkling of their child’s gender identity issues prior to disclosure. Consequently, within the family, gender identity issues were handled with enormous care. While some of the parents Wren interviewed did not receive the news positively (seeing it as a sign of immaturity or an indicator of other difficulties), many were accepting of their child’s atypical gender identity. However, even those who were accepting went to great lengths to justify their acceptance to Wren in the interviews on grounds of biological causation (their child was born with a gender problem), unconditional love (that a parent should love their child no matter what) and continuity (that their child was the same person that they knew and loved prior to disclosure). In choosing to come out or not, LGBTQ young people have to consider who to come out to and how to come out, as well as weighing up the perceived costs and benefits of doing so. Studies of the disclosure of an LGB (e.g., Hillier, 2002; Lasser and Tharinger, 2003) or trans (e.g., Gagné et al., 1997) identity consistently show that LGBTQ people are acutely aware of the potential stigma associated with non-heterosexuality and trans and the potential consequences (good or bad) that their disclosure might bring for themselves and for their parents. In these studies, young people reported assessing their environment (home, classroom, peer group) by gathering information about attitudes and actions towards LGBTQ people in order to determine to whom it might be ‘safe’ to come out, and whether disclosure to that person might result in an ‘unsafe’ person finding out. However, in some cases the decision to tell or not was taken out of their hands. For example, in Hillier’s (2002) study some respondents reported their coming out being pre-empted by parents who either asked directly if they were ‘gay’ or unwittingly encountered evidence of their child’s non-heterosexuality (e.g., finding love letters; finding them in bed with a same-sex lover). Likewise, some teenagers with GID actively live as the sex they consider themselves to be (rather than their natal sex) yet choose not to disclose (Holman and Goldberg, 2007), running the risk that their trans status will be discovered by others (e.g., in the changing rooms at school).

Despite the lack of research on the social and psychological benefits of disclosure to family and friends, it is commonly assumed that affirming one’s identity as LGBTQ is a positive step. However, explicitly coming out to family and friends is not always viable or even safe. For example, the initial findings of the Safra Project (www.safraproject.org) show that for many Muslim LBT women coming out (or being ‘outed’) may result in negative reactions from family and friends (e.g., complete rejection; intensified pressure to get married; domestic violence).

Similarly, for those who are financially and emotionally dependent on their families, the loss of support systems through coming out may affect matters such as housing, education and employment. Therefore, the gains of coming out do not always outweigh the potential losses or risks. For many members of marginalised racial and cultural groups, maintaining a close relationship with family and the family’s respect in the community is valued very highly.

Consequently, LGBTQ young people within these communities have to manage carefully the cultural values and expectations of their family and wider community in relation to their identity as LGBTQ. For this reason, many LGBTQ young people from racially and culturally marginalised groups maintain impermeable boundaries which segregate their LGBTQ life from other aspects of their life. One of the problems of research on disclosure to family and friends is that it focuses solely on initial disclosure, ignoring the way in which for LGBTQ people disclosure is an ongoing phenomenon rather than a one-off event (e.g., see Kitzinger, 2000b). Moreover, while LGBTQ people may choose to come out in some instances they may also choose not to in others. For the most part, coming out in these mundane situations has been overlooked in psychological research. However, as Victoria Land and Celia Kitzinger (2005) highlight, because disclosure of an LGBTQ identity disrupts commonly held assumptions about the social world, disclosure (particularly in institutional settings) is interactionally difficult. Considerable identity management work is therefore done by LGBTQ individuals when they correct (or pass up opportunities to correct) the assumption that they are heterosexual.

LGBTQ young people in school

Exploring one’s sexuality, developing a sense of self and coming out (or not) are central to the sexuality and gender identity development of young people in adolescence. However, successfully negotiating this developmental task is unnecessarily complicated for many LGBTQ young people because the social contexts within which they find themselves (i.e., home, school) provide inadequate social support in relation to their sexuality and/or gender identity development.

Research in the UK (Hunt and Jensen, 2006; Ryan and Rivers, 2003), the USA (Ryan and Rivers, 2003), Australia (Hillier et al., 2005) and New Zealand (Nairn and Smith, 2003) consistently reports that schools are particularly problematic places for LGBTQ young people. In particular, homophobic bullying by other students (and in some cases teachers) means that many LGBTQ young people spend a significant proportion of their day in an environment which is detrimental to their learning as well as to their health and well-being. A British survey of 1,145 LGBTQ young people (Hunt and Jensen, 2006) found that 65 per cent of respondents had experienced homophobic bullying in school. Almost all respondents had heard words and phrases such as ‘dyke’, ‘poof’ and ‘you’re so gay’ used in a derogatory way, and of those who had been bullied, 92 per cent had experienced verbal homophobia, 41 per cent had been physically bullied and 17 per cent had received death threats. LGBTQ young people also frequently report being ostracised or excluded by peers. These incidences contribute to the creation of a hostile climate which leads to the alienation of LGBTQ young people

In 1987, a study was published in the Journal of Personality that purported to show that young men who were victims of bullying at school experience difficulties in forming lasting intimate relationships in adulthood. As I intended to do my honours dissertation on the very same topic not only was this study of great interest to me but, as I read on, I was intrigued by the sampling frame used by the author. Like many other studies, the author surveyed American college undergraduates. However, in his analysis and write-up he only included those students who identified as heterosexual, setting aside those (some 13 per cent) who had identified otherwise. I conducted various literature searches to see if a follow-up study had been conducted with this small group to determine whether or not they exhibited similar findings and I was surprised to find that, despite a clear gap in our knowledge, no such follow-up had been conducted. My research agenda was set.

When I took up my first post as a lecturer in 1993, I was lucky enough to have a Dean of Faculty who gave me a small budget to conduct an exploratory study. Her reasoning for giving me this money was simple: ‘I suppose they (lesbians and gay men) get bullied too.’ From a budget of £500 grew the first study of homophobic bullying and its long-term correlates (Rivers, 2001). Over a period of three years I collected data from190 former victims of bullying who recounted their experiences at school, providing me with evidence of the long-term and systematic abuse they experienced. Participants were then asked to complete further questionnaires that focused on long-term correlates (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, relationship satisfaction, suicide ideation and bullying in the workplace). Finally, I conducted a series of interviews.

A decade later and this study has yet to be matched. There are larger and more comprehensive prospective and retrospective surveys of homophobic bullying, but none it seems captures the sadness, anger, frustration and torment that pervade this first study. I continue to study homophobic bullying because I have watched how my own research (e.g., Rivers, 2000; 2001) has been used by policy makers to move the UK from a position of ignorance to one of complacency. Does ticking a box in a school inspection really mean that schools are now safe? I continue with my work because I see policies drawn up which fail to understand the subtleties of my own and other studies. Do victims of homophobic bullying really fail to achieve academically at school? I never said so.

Finally, I continue with this work because I am constantly in search of a better way to measure homophobic bullying and to assess its long-term effects. Although there is widespread incidence of homophobic bullying in schools, it is reported that little if anything is done to address the issue. In the UK, fewer than 6 per cent of schools have a bullying policy that specifically addresses homophobic bullying, despite a government directive (DfEE Circular 10/99) which notes that head teachers have a legal responsibility to ‘prevent all forms of bullying – including that related to sexual orientation’ (Warwick et al., 2001: 133).

Similarly, despite significant investment in programmes aimed at promoting acceptance of gender and sexuality diversity and the reduction of homophobia in Australian schools, there is little evidence that these interventions have had any impact (Hillier et al., 2005). Since teachers fail actively to promote sexual and gender diversity, infrequently address homophobic bullying when it occurs, and in some cases perpetrate prejudice themselves, it is hardly surprising that homophobic bullying in schools is under-reported and that LGBTQ young people do not feel supported.

This is compounded by the lack of engagement with LGBTQ issues and concerns in curriculum content. In the UK, fewer than 30 per cent of LGBTQ young people have ever been taught about lesbian and gay people or issues in class (Hunt and Jensen, 2006), while in Australia it is reported to be fewer than 20 per cent (Hillier et al., 2005). Furthermore, in directly relevant subject areas such as Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) in the UK and Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) in Australia, LGBTQ issues and concerns are seldom discussed. Similarly, while information and advice about different-sex relationships and safer heterosex are freely available, information about same-sex relationships and safer same-sex sexual practices are non-existent.

Although LGBTQ people may be bullied for reasons other than their sexuality/ gender identity, the problem of specifically homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying should not be underestimated. The targets of the bullying may not necessarily be LGBTQ, because one of the purposes of homophobic bullying is reinforcing gender conformity and the construction of heterosexuality as the norm (Sharpe, 2002). For example, girls whose appearance or behaviour is not stereotypically feminine (‘butch girls’) and boys whose appearance or behaviour is not stereotypically masculine (‘effeminate boys’) may also be subject to homophobic bullying.

While its effects are often felt more acutely by LGBTQ young people, it creates a climate of prejudice which is experienced by all young people regardless of sexuality or gender identity. Although much homophobic bullying centres on name calling – i.e., using terms such as ‘poof’ and ‘lezzie’ as put-downs – some forms of bullying are much more serious. Such incidences include physical violence (being hit, punched or kicked); sexual assault; and theft of, or damage to, property. As a result of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying many LGBTQ young people develop strategies to avert victimisation. There is significant evidence to suggest that some resort to absenteeism to avoid being bullied (see Carragher and Rivers, 2002; Rivers, 2000) and many engage in ‘visibility management’. US psychologists Jon Lasser and Deborah Tharinger (2003) define visibility management as the ongoing process by which LGBTQ adolescents make careful, planned decisions about whether they will disclose their sexuality and gender identity, and to whom, and how they will monitor their self presentation to avoid being identified. This may include modifying one’s dress, speech and body language or dating individuals of a different sex, to ensure that they conform to gender stereotypes and can ‘pass’ as heterosexual. (Interestingly, recent research indicates that dress and appearance are important factors in the formation of LGB identities for young people, see Clarke and Turner, 2007.)

However, one of the biggest challenges facing LGBTQ young people in the school setting is a lack of support from teachers. In some cases, there is evidence of teachers actively and passively supporting negative attitudes and even participating in acts of physical, verbal and emotional aggression (Rivers, 2000). In addition, LGBTQ young people frequently encounter teachers who are confused about, unable or unwilling to address their needs. Although in the UK this may in part be due to the legacy of Section 28, a Canadian interview study (Mishna et al., 2008) of people who work with LGB young people (e.g., teachers, counsellors, social workers) indicated that the main reasons for not addressing homophobic bullying were a denial that LGB young people exist, not viewing homophobic bullying as a serious problem, and a fear of being victimised themselves. A recent survey of LGBQ young people in UK schools (Hunt and Jensen, 2006) suggests that in schools which affirm that homophobic bullying is wrong, where teachers respond to homophobic incidents, and where pupils are taught positively about lesbian and gay issues, LGBQ young people are significantly less likely to have been bullied, and more likely to feel safe and happy in school. Although not included within the sample, it would seem likely that this would apply to young trans people as well. In the absence of school-based support, community-based LGBTQ youth groups have sought to promote emotional well-being and provide a space in which young people can safely meet and come to understand themselves and their sexuality/gender identity (Crowley et al., 2007; Warwick et al., 2001). However, in the main these initiatives are located in a few large cities, and therefore are not readily accessible to the majority of LGBTQ young people.

The psychosocial effects of homophobic bullying and lack of social support for LGBTQ young people are cause for concern. For example, Canadian psychotherapist Faye Mishna and colleagues (2008) indicated that homophobic bullying typically resulted in both psychological effects (e.g., low self-esteem, anxiety and depression) and social effects (e.g., being ‘silenced’, feeling alienated from peers). LGBTQ young people appear to be significantly more at risk of suicidality and are over-represented in statistics for alcohol and substance abuse, absenteeism (truancy) and dropping out of school (Rivers, 2000). Despite the limitations of work in this area (e.g., small samples in localised settings) it can confidently be concluded that there are negative outcomes of homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying and a school climate that is unsupportive of LGBTQ issues/concerns. However, there is limited information about the extent to which LGBTQ young people are ‘at risk’ and which LGBTQ young people are particularly vulnerable.

Exploring identity and finding a community

As we have highlighted, opportunities at school and at home to discuss LGBTQ issues can be extremely limited. There are also few safe social spaces in which to explore sexuality and gender identity. For example, although there are – in larger towns/cities, at least – ‘gay’ nightclubs, these can be highly sexualised (and noisy!) environments. They are therefore far from ideal social contexts for the development of emotional and social aspects of sexuality and gender identity; and provide little opportunity to establish social and support networks and to seek information. For these reasons it is common for LGBTQ young people to seek alternative sources of support and friendship.

Historically, as we noted above, the main way in which young people have met other LGBTQ young people has been through community-based LGBTQ groups (e.g., coming out groups; LGBTQ youth groups). Such groups have served an important function in supporting young people through the coming out process, being a source of information, and providing a point of contact for connecting with the wider LGBTQ community. Although these groups continue to thrive in some places, they are often unfunded and staffed by volunteers, so may not be readily available or even accessible to many LGBTQ young people. As well as typically being located in large urban areas, in-person attendance requires a certain level of independence and outness; and, in most cases, to have reached a minimum age such as 14 or 16.

For many LGBTQ young people, the advent of the Internet has revolutionised the ability to explore sexuality and gender identity, seek information and support, and connect with other LGBTQ people. Research in the USA and Australia (e.g., Hillier and Harrison, 2007; Thomas et al., 2007) has explored the role of the Internet in the identity development and coming out of LGB young people (see also Chapter 8). One of the main advantages offered by the Internet is the ability to seek out information and connect with others while maintaining anonymity. This is particularly important for young people who are still exploring their sexuality as well as for those who don’t feel safe to come out in their immediate social and familial environment. The Internet provides a space in which young people can feel more confident to be themselves, and where they can explore what it is like to be LGBT through practising disclosure, building online friendships, and even engaging in cybersex without risking their anonymity. It also provides an important function as a repository of information about LGBTQ issues such as coming out and safer sex – information which is largely non-existent elsewhere.

In particular, chat rooms have been found to provide an effective social tool for overcoming emotional (e.g., shyness; fear) and social (e.g., geographical location; living with parents) barriers. In this respect, chat rooms appear to provide a central role in the coming out process by aiding self-discovery, reducing anxiety about LGBTQ life, receiving social support, entering LGBT communities, and searching for potential partners. In many cases, young people have reported using such forums as a way to develop new social circles which subsequently developed into offline friendships and relationships. Trans people are particularly vulnerable to isolation and social exclusion. For young trans people, the Internet offers additional potential in that it does not involve face-to-face contact, so there is the opportunity to interact with people without the complication of physical cues. This is illustrated in the following excerpt where Billy (FTM trans) describes his experiences of using the Internet to connect with other trans people: I can be myself. I can think before I type so I don’t screw things up as I find it hard to talk to others. I can communicate with people around the world who are in a similar situation to me. I can communicate as myself, a boy and learn of other people’s experiences. The fact that I am (ugh) biologically female is no matter (neither). My face nor voice is projected so the only thing they get is what is on my mind. (quoted in Hillier et al., 2001: 56)

It would seem then, that the very aspects of internet chat rooms that are often viewed by parents and teachers as problematic because of the potential for vulnerable young people to be exploited are those which provide a liberating opportunity, especially for trans people. Furthermore, as Australian social scientists

Lynne Hillier and Lyn Harrison (2007) highlight, LGBTQ young people demonstrate a great deal of agency in choosing how far to take friendships and relationships established online. This of course does not mean that LGBTQ young people are not at risk of becoming victims of predatory adults (sexual or otherwise), but because they are already exposed to identity-related risks in the physical social world they appear to have a more acute awareness of the potential risks of the virtual world. However, issues such as these have not been well researched, so it is difficult to establish the extent to which there is a match between actual and perceived risk in both physical and virtual contexts. Although the Internet is widely used by young people, it is important to remember that access will vary considerably. For example, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) only an estimated 57 per cent of households in the UK have access to the Internet, which means that a sizeable minority of young people (including LGBTQ young people) will not easily be able to access Internet-based communities and information. Furthermore, even for those who do have access at home, in most instances this is via a PC shared with other family members, which may considerably limit the extent to which they feel able to access LGBTQ specific information.

Gaps and absences

There is very limited information about the experiences of trans young people in identifying as trans and coming out to others.

Psychologists have paid little attention to the way in which sexuality and gender intersect with other factors (e.g., race, culture, religion, ability, socio-economic status and social class) and the impact of these other factors on the process of identity development and disclosure.

Virtually nothing is known about the experiences of LGBTQ young people who have left education (either working or unemployed) and the issues specific to that particular group.

Most research on coming out as non-heterosexual has focused on younger people; less is known about coming out later in life.

Main chapter points

This chapter:

Outlined some classic models of LGBTQ identity development and critiqued the stage model approach to coming out.

Discussed sexual fluidity as it applies to young people and more generally across the lifespan.

Overviewed the experiences of LGBTQ young people in disclosing their sexuality/gender identity to family and friends.

Explored the school experiences of LGBTQ young people with particular reference to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

Reviewed the ways in which LGBTQ young people explore their identity and find community.

Further reading

Gagné, P., Tewksbury, R. and McGaughey, D. (1997) Coming out and crossing over: identity formation and proclamation in a transgender community. Gender and Society, 11(4), 478–508. Drawing on data from interviews with sixty-five MTF trans people, this paper examines the coming-out experiences of transgendered individuals, and the extent to which trans identities provide challenges to the binary system of sex/gender.

Griffin, C. (2000) Absences that matter: constructions of sexuality in studies of young women’s friendships. Feminism and Psychology, 10(2), 227–45. This article reviews research on young women’s friendship groups in western societies, arguing that much of this work has relatively little to say about the sexual and erotic dimension of such relationships and the construction of young women’s sexualities. It also explores the way in which research on young women’s lives often overlooks the possibility of same-sex female desire, and also lesbian (or bisexual) existence, thereby assuming that young women are always already heterosexual.

Maguen, S., Floyd, F. J., Bakeman, R. and Armistead, L. (2002) Developmental milestones and disclosure of sexual orientation among gay, lesbian and bisexual youths. Applied Developmental Psychology, 23, 219–33. This research paper presents findings from a US questionnaire study of coming out, disclosure and self-esteem for LGB young people. The findings suggest diverse individual trajectories of coming-out experiences and highlight the need for greater attention to individual differences in sexual identity development.

Rivers, I. (2002) Developmental issues for lesbian and gay youth. In A. Coyle and C. Kitzinger (eds.), Lesbian and gay psychology: new perspectives (pp. 30–44). Oxford: BPS Blackwell. This chapter offers a good overview of the issues encountered by lesbian and gay youth in coming to identify as lesbian/gay and in negotiating the social aspects of living as a lesbian/ gay adolescent.

Savin-Williams, R.C. (2001) A critique of research on sexual-minority youths. Journal of Adolescence, 24(1), 5–13. This paper reviews psychological research on LGB young people and offers a critique of this body of work.

The Educational Experiences of Lesbian-Mother Families: A South Australian Study

LES Online, Vol. 2, No 2 (2010)
Damien W. Riggs
Discipline of Social Work, Flinders University

Research continues to find that despite living in a context of ongoing discrimination, lesbian mother families continue to thrive. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the educational system. The research reported here sought to explore the educational experiences of a sample of lesbian mothers and their children in the context of South Australia. The findings suggest that a minority of the sample of mothers reported experiencing discrimination within their children’s schools, and that a minority of children also experienced such discrimination. Experiences of discrimination were related to the age of the child, outness of the mother, and the socio-economic rating of the school. The research also assessed the degree to which both mothers and children had heard the words “lesbian” or “gay” used pejoratively. A large proportion of children had reported hearing such negative useage, as had a minority of mothers. Having heard the words used negatively was predicted by the age and gender of the child, and for mothers, the socio-economic rating of the school. Degree of comfort within school spaces amongst mothers was also assessed, with comfort negatively influenced by experiences of discrimination and the socio-economic rating of the school. The findings highlight areas that require improvement within South Australian schools and indicate the need for further research in the area.

KEYWORDS :Lesbian mothers, children, education, discrimination, heteronormativity

To date, research has identified something of a paradox in regards to the educational experiences of children raised in lesbian-mother families, namely: that in terms of educational achievement, children of lesbian mothers fare as well as, if not better than, children of heterosexual parents, yet in terms of their experiences of educational environments, children of lesbian mothers (as well as lesbian mothers themselves) report considerable discrimination within schools.

In regard to educational achievement, findings from Gartrell and Bos’ (2010) twenty-year longitudinal study of children raised by lesbian mothers indicate that the 78 children in the study – now adults – reported significantly higher levels of academic/educational competence when compared to children from a matched sample of children with heterosexual parents (as measured by Achenbach?s CBCL/6 –18. M=5.2, SD=0.9 for children of lesbian mothers, M=2.8, SD=0.9 for Achenbach normative adolescent sample, F=33.78, p<.001). LES Online, Vol. 2, No 2 (2010) 4

In regard to discrimination, a US study (Kosciw & Diaz, 2008) of 588 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) parents and their 154 children reported experiencing multiple forms of discrimination from other students, educators and other parents. This discrimination included verbal and/or physical abuse, exclusion from representation in classrooms or requests not to talk about LGBT-parented families, and generalised victimization/harassment. Specifically, 51% of the children in the sample reported experiencing at least one form of discrimination (with 15% reporting this as coming from teachers, the remainder coming from other students). 26% of the parents reported discrimination, primarily from other parents at the school. In regards to school curricula, less than a third of all participants indicated that they considered there to be adequate coverage of LGBT family issues in the classroom, and only 39% indicated that their school included sexual orientation in anti-discrimination policy. In Australia, similar findings were identified by Ray and Gregory (2001) in their study of 117 lesbian or gay parents and their 48 children. Of the children, 44% of those in grades 3-6 reported experiencing some form of bullying or harassment, with children across the sample reporting little confidence in teachers’ abilities to adequately address perpetrators. Of the parents, 18% with children in primary school and 28% with children in secondary school indicated that their child had been subject to harassment (with 17% of the secondary students reporting that this as perpetuated by teachers). Ray and Gregory did not assess the coverage of LGBT issues in school curricula or in school policies.

Research (e.g., Lee, 2010; Lee & Duncan, 2008; Mercier & Harold, 2003; Skatterbol & Ferfolja, 2007) suggests several reasons why the above mentioned paradox might be the case. These include 1) high levels of involvement on the part of lesbian mothers in their children?s schools, 2) that lesbian mothers are typically assertive and upfront early on with teachers to assess the inclusivity they will offer to their children, and 3) that lesbian mothers often utilise recommendations from other parents about inclusive schools. Yet whilst some of the participants in these studies reported success as a result of these strategies (i.e., their families were recognized and included within school spaces), such success was not guaranteed. Further, other Australian research (e.g., Lindsay et al., 2006) suggests that the strategies outlined above may not be available to all lesbian-mother families, and that there exists a continuum between secrecy and disclosure about family composition amongst lesbian-mother families. On one end, parents who perceive schools as homophobic (and who believe they have little control over this) are more likely to refrain from disclosing the composition of their family to educators. On the other end of the continuum, families who attend supportive and inclusive schools are much more likely to disclose the structure of their family and to openly advocate for further inclusion. Yet regardless of their location on a continuum of secrecy or disclosure, lesbian mothers, research suggests (e.g., Lee; Lee & Duncan; Skatterbol & Ferfolja), experience an injunction to be „perfect parents? in order to facilitate their inclusion within schools, an injunction that can itself be experienced as highly oppressive. Furthermore, and LES Online, Vol. 2, No 2 (2010) 5

Regardless of their possible self-presentation as “perfect parents”, lesbian-mother families continue to experience discrimination within educational contexts, as outlined above. Turning to the present study which focuses upon the educational experiences of South Australian lesbian-mothers families, the history of South Australia provides a relatively unique context for examining the educational experiences of lesbian-mother families in Australia. South Australia was the first Australian state to remove legal prohibitions against homosexuality, yet 35 years later it is now the last remaining state to provide full legal protection for lesbian mothers and their children. In the interim, South Australia has been a key site in contestations over sex education in Australia (Gibson, 2007). Yet despite ongoing resistance to the full sanction of LGBT people in South Australia (and lesbian-mother families in particular), a rapidly growing community of such families exist. As such, the fact of the lack of state sanction, the growing numbers of lesbian-mother families, and the unique history of South Australia in regards to LGBT people would, in and of itself, suggest the importance of better understanding the experiences of this community. Moreover, and given the considerable impact that educational contexts can have upon children and their families, and given that research on the educational needs of lesbian-mother families in Australia is in its relative infancy (with only five studies published to date, none of which include South Australian participants), the present research was conducted to identify the particular experiences of lesbian-mother families in the South Australian educational system.


Participants were self-identified lesbian mothers who responded to an online survey about their experiences within the South Australian education system as well as those of their children.

The sample was comprised of 23 lesbian mothers, who between them were parenting a total of 57 school or kindergarten aged children (there were 84 children in total across the entire sample). All bar one of the mothers self-identified as white Australian. Four (17.4%) of the participants were single mothers and 19 (82.6%) were partnered. Participants indicated their age in response to pre-determined categories, with 4.4% (1) identifying within the range 18-25, 17.2% (4) within the range 26-30, 13% (3) within the range 31-35, 47.8% (11) within the range 36-40, and 8.8% (2) in both age ranges 41-45 and 46-50.

Of the school or kindergarten aged children sample, 36 were males and 21 were females. Children in this cohort ranged in age from 4 to 15 years (M = 7.7, SD = 2.85). Of these children, 36.8% (21) were born via services offered through reproductive health clinics using anonymous LES Online, Vol. 2, No 2 (2010) 6

Donor sperm, 35.1% (20) were born via home insemination using known donor sperm, and the remaining 28.1% (16) were born in previous heterosexual relationships

Ethics approval for this project was granted by the Social and Behavioural Research ethics committee of Flinders University, South Australia. Information on the study and an invitation to participate was distributed via a lesbian mother-focused South Australian email list, on a lesbian-mother focused South Australian website (www.pinkparents.com), and via snowball sampling (where participants were invited to pass details onto other potential participants). Participants were first presented with a welcome screen detailing the project, where they were then invited to either agree to proceed with participation in the project given the information provided or to decline participation.

The questionnaire was administered through the website surveymonkey.com. Participants were required to respond to a minimum of 20 items, including seven demographic questions, ten questions that required a response on a Likert scale, and four forced response questions. Likert scales were scored such that higher values on the Likert scales represented more positive responses. Two of the questions on the Likert scales and three of the forced response questions included further probe questions (18 possible probe questions in total), with five of these being open ended responses.

Of the nine Likert scale questions, seven constituted a measure of comfort. Rated on a scale where 1 = Totally uncomfortable, 2 = Somewhat comfortable, 3 = Mostly comfortable, and 4 = Totally comfortable, the measure of comfort covered topics such as willingness amongst lesbian mother participants to talk with teachers/other parents/other people?s children about their family form, willingness to challenge discrimination, willingness to be involved in school events and willingness to do so with a female partner.

The overall questionnaire was constructed so that all participants viewed the 20 required questions, and probe questions were then only presented to participants whose responses triggered the probe questions. So, for example, with the required question „Have you ever heard the words “gay” or “lesbian” (or other similar words) used in a derogatory way in a school/kindergarten that your child(ren) attends??, participants who responded with “no” were then directed to the next required question. Those who answered „yes? were then directed through a series of probe questions that asked for information such as “in what setting did this occur?”, “Who used the word in a derogatory way”, “Did the school/kindergarten do something about this?”, and “What specifically did the school/kindergarten do about it?”. Again, these questions were presented on the basis of the response to the previous probe question (so those LES Online, Vol. 2, No 2 (2010) 7

Participants who answered “no” to “Did the school/kindergarten do something about this? were not presented with the final question).

In addition to the demographic information collected (as outlined above in 2.1), participants indicated the school that each of their children attended. Schools were then coded according to the Australian myschool data which includes an Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA). The myschool website suggests that the ICSEA is comprised of a number of variables including “socio-economic characteristics of the areas where students live (in this case an ABS census collection district), as well as whether a school is in a regional or remote area, and the proportion of Indigenous students enrolled at the school. The average ICSEA value is 1000. Most schools have an ICSEA score between 900 and 1100”. Participants also responded to a simple yes/no/unsure forced response item about whether or not they felt their child(ren)’s school included adequate coverage of lesbian-mother families (e.g., in library materials or curricula).

For the purposes of analysis, each case represented either one school/kindergarten-aged child (for analyses relating to children) or one lesbian mother participant (for analyses relating to the experiences of the mothers). Participants responded with information about each of their children, thus allowing for differences across all children as well as differences between participants (i.e., mother respondents) to be assessed.

Independent variables were the participant’s degree of outness within the school/kindergarten setting (1 = not out, 2 = selectively out, 3 = totally out); the age of the child; the gender of the child; and the ICSEA rating of the school attended by the child. Dependent variables were the frequency with which both the participant and their child had heard the words “gay” or “lesbian” used in a derogatory way (on a scale where 1= Never, 2 = Sometimes, 3 = Often and 4 = Always); whether or not the child had reported being harassed for having a lesbian mother; whether or not the participant had experienced discrimination as a lesbian mother in educational contexts; and the measure of comfort described above.

Data were analysed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences 17. Each of the variables of interest are now presented with their accompanying descriptive and inferential statistics. LES Online, Vol. 2, No 2 (2010) 8

‘That’s so gay’
Two of the questionnaire items inquired as to the frequency with which the lesbian mother participants as well as their children (reported to the best knowledge of the mothers) had heard words like “lesbian” or “gay” used in pejorative ways. Of the participants themselves, 57.1% had never heard these words used in negative ways in schools attended by their children, 38.8% had sometimes heard the words used negatively, and 4.8% had heard this often. All incidents of hearing the words used negatively occurred in schools (i.e., not in kindergartens), and all bar one of these incidents involved children making the statement (in the one remaining incident it was another parent who made the statement). Unfortunately, and for reasons that will be discussed in the conclusion of this paper, 70% of the participants who heard the words “lesbian” or “gay” used in pejorative ways did not notify the school. Of those who did, all schools bar one did something about it (which typically involved speaking to the children or parent involved).

Treated as a dependent variable, the degree to which the lesbian mothers participants had heard the words “gay” or “lesbian” used pejoratively was significantly related to one of the independent variables. There was a weak negative correlation between ICSEA ratings and having heard the words used negatively, r(21) = -.116, p < .05, meaning that the lower a school rated on the ICSEA, the more participants reported hearing the words “gay” or “lesbian” used negatively.

In terms of participant responses on the questionnaire as to whether or not their child had reported hearing the words “lesbian” or “gay” used negatively, 35% of participants indicated that their child had never reported hearing negative usage of the words, 50% indicated that this occurred sometimes, 10% indicated that this occurred often, and 5% that this occurred frequently. All incidents of such negative usage occurred in a school context and all such statements were made by other children. When it came to dealing with their children’s reports to them, 53.8% of participants stated that they didn’t notify the school, 23.1% reported that they did notify but that the school did nothing, and an equal 23.1% reported that the school did something (which included speaking to the children involved and notifying their parents). There was a moderate positive correlation between child’s age and the degree to which they had heard the words used negatively, r(55) = .398, p < .01, meaning that older children were more likely to report hearing the words used negatively. There was a significant effect for gender, t(55) = 1.39, p < .001, with boys (M = 1.83, SD = 0.71) having reported hearing words used negatively more so than did girls (M = 1.76, SD = 0.61). Interestingly, there was no significant relationship between the ISCSEA and whether children had reported hearing the words used negatively.

Finally, there was a strong positive correlation between the degree to which participants had heard the words “gay” or “lesbian” used pejoratively, and the degree to which their children also reported hearing such negative usage, r(21) = .532, p < .001. LES Online, Vol. 2, No 2 (2010) 9

Lesbian Mothers’ Experiences of Discrimination
One of the questionnaire items asked participants whether or not they had experienced discrimination within the context of their child(ren)’s school or kindergarten. Of the responses, 30% said yes and 70% said no. Examples of discrimination cited included mothers being told to accept discrimination against children as being the “fault” of their lesbian mothers, mundane examples of heterosexism (e.g., not being introduced on family days, names being forgotten, school administrative forms only addressing mothers and fathers), differential treatment of birth and non-birth mothers (with the latter being treated as second-class parents), and defensive responses from educators about their capacity to include a diverse range of families.

A series of logistic regression analyses were conducted to predict discrimination experienced by participants using two separate predictor variables: degree of outness and ICSEA scores. The test for degree of outness was statistically significant, indicating that this independent variable could reliably predict participants’ experiences of discrimination, X2 (2, N = 23) = 15.83, p < .01. Nagelkerke’s R2 of .238 indicated a weak relationship between prediction and outcome. Prediction success overall was 52.6% (36.7% for yes and 78.8% for no). EXP(B) value indicated that when degree of outness is raised by one unit the odds ratio is 13 times as large.

The test for ICSEA scores was statistically significant, indicating that this independent variable could reliably predict participants? experiences of discrimination, X2 (2, N = 23) = 18.73, p < .01. Nagelkerke’s R2 of .251 indicated a weak relationship between prediction and outcome. Prediction success overall was 64.9% (43.7% for yes and 87.9% for no). EXP(B) value indicated that when ICSEA scores are raised by one unit the odds ratio is 9 times as large.

Children Teased or Harassed

Another question similarly asked whether or not children of the participant had reported being teased or harassed for having a lesbian mother(s). Of the responses, 15% of the children had been teased and 85% had not. Examples of teasing included physical violence, verbal harassment, social exclusion, and having food or money stolen by other children. All of the experiences of teasing or harassment were committed by other children. When teasing or harassment did occur, schools were always made aware by the participants, and 66% of the schools did something about this (including talking to the offending child and their parents) whilst the remainder did nothing.

A series of logistic regression analyses were conducted to predict teasing/harassment experienced by children using two separate predictor variables: child age and ICSEA scores. The test for child age was statistically significant, indicating that this independent variable could reliably predict children’s experiences of teasing or harassment, X2 (2, N = 57) = 16.18, p < .05. Nagelkerke’s R2 of .135 indicated a weak relationship between prediction and outcome. LES Online, Vol. 2, No 2 (2010) 10

Prediction success overall was 86.0% (35.5% for yes and 64.7% for no). EXP(B) value indicated that when a child’s age is raised by one unit the odds ratio is 9 times as large. The test for ICSEA was statistically significant, indicating that this independent variable could reliably predict children’s experiences of discrimination, X2 (2, N = 57) = 47.34, p < .001. Nagelkerke’s R2 of .735 indicated a strong relationship between prediction and outcome. Prediction success overall was 93.0% (55.5% for yes and 83.9% for no). EXP(B) value indicated that when degree of ICSEA is raised by one unit the odds ratio is 10 times as large. Interestingly, there was no significant effect of child’s gender upon experiences of teasing or harassment.

In terms of predictors of degree of comfort, there was a weak positive correlation between ICSEA scores and comfort scores, r(21) = .281, p < .05, meaning that participants whose children went to schools with higher ICSEA scores reported feeling more comfortable. A weak negative correlation was also found between whether or not participants had heard the words “lesbian” or “gay” used negatively and their overall comfort level within the school, r(21) = -.223, p < .05, such that the more participants had heard the words used negatively the less comfortable they felt. Finally, there was a significant effect for whether or not the participant had been discriminated against, t(21) = -2.06, p < .05, with those who had been discriminated against (M = 17.58, SD = 6.07) reporting less comfort than those who had not (M = 21.06, SD = 6.41).

Coverage of materials
In regards to coverage of materials relating to lesbian mother families within schools, the majority of participants stated that they felt there was inadequate coverage (55%), with 35% stating they were unsure as to the degree of coverage (35%) and only 10% stating that they felt there was adequate coverage. Participants made a number of suggestions as to what would constitute adequate coverage. These included posters featuring lesbian mother families in school spaces, greater representation of lesbian mother families in school libraries and within books used by teachers in classrooms, more resources or community information available to lesbian mothers within school spaces, and clearer statements from educators and schools about policies relating to teasing or harassment and the degree of inclusivity of curricula.

The findings presented in this paper confirm the findings of previous research on the educational experiences of lesbian mothers and their children. Specifically, it was found that LES Online, Vol. 2, No 2 (2010) 11

Both the mothers and children in this sample experienced discrimination/teasing/harassment within school spaces, albeit not at rates as high as is indicated by previous research. It must be noted that the mother participants themselves in the present research reported slightly more incidents of discrimination than they did of their children’s experiences, however this must be interpreted with caution as children may not always inform their parents when they experience teasing or harassment. As such, it may well be the case that incidents of teasing/harassment experienced by children were higher. Further, and given the finding that older children were more likely to report experiencing teasing or harassment, and given the relatively young age of the children in the sample, higher levels of discrimination may well have been identified had the sample included older children. It will thus be important to track this population as they mature to identify whether or not teasing or harassment does increase with age.

Whilst incidences of teasing/harassment/discrimination against lesbian mothers and their children were relatively low, incidences of hearing the words “lesbian” or “gay” were quite high, especially amongst children. This finding usefully extends the finding of explicit discrimination identified in the present and previous research, by highlighting the very subtle ways in which negative messages are transmitted to lesbian mothers and their children in educational spaces. That male children were more likely to note this than female children is interesting, especially considering there were no significant gender differences in terms of children reporting teasing/harassment. Future research would do well to further explore precisely how any gender differences amongst children of lesbian mothers play out in terms of discrimination.

In terms of reporting discrimination, it is important to note that a significant number of participants had not informed the school upon hearing the words “lesbian” or “gay” used negatively, and that even when they had, this had not always been addressed adequately by schools. This is perhaps one of the most concerning findings of the present research: not only that a minority of schools did not act, but also that the participants felt unable to report. One explanation for this lack of reporting may be indicated by the fact that participants who had experienced discrimination or the negative use of words were less likely to feel comfortable within the school. That feeling uncomfortable could discourage reporting would appear a logical explanation. Nonetheless, it will be important for future research to explore further what prevents or promotes the reporting of discrimination, and what facilities positive or appropriate responses to such reporting within schools.

The finding that children and mothers at schools rated higher on the ICSEA were more likely to report they hadn’t experienced discrimination/teasing/harassment, were more likely to report feeling comfortable, and were less likely to report hearing the words “lesbian” or “gay” used in negative ways must also be treated with caution. Whilst ICSEA scores across all 57 children ranged across three standard deviations, none of the scores fell more than one standard deviation below the norm of 1000. In this sense, whilst there is some predictive value in terms of the ICSEA, a larger sample with greater variation (particularly at the lower end of the scale) LES Online, Vol. 2, No 2 (2010) 12

Would be necessary to clarify the meaning of these findings. It must be noted, of course, that it may well have been an active choice amongst the mothers to have their children attend schools rated higher on the ICSEA. Testing this suggestion will require further qualitative research to discuss with mothers their motivations in regards to choosing schools. Finally, and echoing US research, the present study found that the schools attended were not adequately providing coverage of lesbian-mother families. Future research to be conducted as part of this project aims to further explore the degree to which coverage is included in schools (through an assessment of South Australian curricula) and the opinions of educators as to the degree of coverage provided. 6:41 PM 5/01/2012

In terms of limitations, it must be noted that the sample size analysed here was relatively small, yet a recent national survey of LGBT families in Australia would appear to indicate that this South Australian sample is relatively indicative of the size of the population of lesbian mother families in the state (Power et al., 2010). It must also be noted that some of the dependent variables relied upon single items, and that future research with this population should therefore utilize variables that provide for a wider range of responses.

To conclude, and as Riggs, McLaren and Mayes (2009) suggest, if lesbian-mother families currently do well despite living in a context of homophobia and heteronormativity, then we can only imagine how well they will do if these impediments to success are removed. Identifying and understanding the educational experiences of lesbian mother families is thus vital to providing a clear picture of the ongoing reality of discrimination, as well as providing ways to address this. As such, the present findings begin this work by mapping out the current situation within South Australia as it pertains to what may be considered a relatively representative sample, the next stage being to utilize these findings to effect positive change.

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