Study: Gay fathers experience some form of stigma as parents

WEST CHARLESTON, Vt. (WCAX) A new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that gay fathers experience some form of stigma as parents.

The study surveyed 732 gay fathers in 47 states, including Vermont, New York and New Hampshire. More than half said they avoided situations in fear of other people's judgment

Roy Steuwe and his former partner adopted two boys separately from Texas. His ex-partner later adopted a third, co-parenting them in Vermont in the 1990s.

"You look at the men they've become, it's like wow. Where did those 20 years go?" said Steuwe, in his converted schoolhouse home in West Charleston. "My boys, my men, are out there on the path, being an active, engaged part of the world."

Steuwe raised his children at a time when the idea of same-sex civil unions was only beginning to bubble. Signs to "Take Back Vermont," mostly in opposition to civil unions, were plastered across the state.

"It always irked me when I'd be driving down the road and there'd be Take Back Vermont signs," Steuwe said.

The new study says even with cultural changes across the country, more than 60 percent of gay fathers experience some form of stigma.

"The evidence for lesbian parents is the outcomes are quite good for their children, so we're trying to investigate to see if similar patterns hold for gay fathers," said Sean Hurley, a professor at the University of Vermont who participated in the research.

But Steuwe said he didn't experience stigma as a gay parent, his Northeast Kingdom community even throwing him a baby shower.

"I mean, there were crocheted afghans, there were crib things, there were baby outfits and all," said Steuwe, thinking back to the baby shower.

Jay Ramsey, who adopted his then 8-year-old son with his former partner in the early 2000s, says his struggle was more internal.

"This sort of fear of what does it mean for a child with two dads," said Ramsey, "and being worried that kids were picking on him because he had two dads, being self-conscious when we would go to baseball practice or baseball games."

The study also looks at the link between stigma and a state's equality rating from the Movement Advancement Project. Vermont has a high overall policy tally, meaning there are multiple legal protections for LGBTQ Vermonters.

"States that had more inclusive, equitable policies had fewer experiences of stigma," Hurley said.

Both Steuwe and Ramsey say everything wasn't always easy.

"I didn't see anyone like me. It was a struggle. Very isolating," Ramsey said.

And this research shows there is still a ways to go for acceptance. But for Steuwe, the former teacher in his schoolhouse home, he is sharing his story hoping the country will learn.

"In the long run, there is marriage equality nationally and it was the labor pains of that coming to birth," said Steuwe.

The stigma isn't slowing down LGBTQ parents though, a survey out this month by the Family Equality Council finds that 63 percent of LGBTQ millennials are considering expanding their families.