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Stigmas Around Gay Parenting and How to Dismantle Them

JUNE 2023

My name is Joël Ndongmi and I’m a fourth year student at the University of Toronto studying political science, English, and diaspora studies. 

For my research paper, I decided to write about the stigmas queer (specifically gay) parents experience when trying to adopt in Canada. This paper summarizes the work of academics regarding the societal prejudice that exists surrounding gay parenting. Furthermore, this paper discusses the structural barriers gay parents experience when adopting and ways to dismantle those prejudices. I hope this paper provides readers an entry point into a wider dialogue surrounding queer parenting in Canada and abroad


Joël Ndongmi

UofMosaic Fellow

Cohort: 2021 - 2023

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UofMosaic is a two-year university and college-level Fellowship that provides meaningful engagement and equips youth with the leadership skills to dismantle prejudice on campuses across Canada and around the world. Learn more about UofMosaic today.


Before I delve into the paper, I would like to clarify words and definitions. My paper is primarily about gay men and their adoption journeys. By extension, my paper encompasses the experiences of lesbian parents as well. I use the word “queer” to encompass gay men and lesbians as having similar (but not entirely) the same set of struggles when pursuing adoption. I also acknowledge that lesbian parents and gay parents do not encompass the full range of queerness that exists. I engage gay and lesbian parents as a starting point for greater discussion about queerness and its relation to family planning, especially with adoption.

Adoptions can be a stressful endeavour for parents. In addition to this stress, queer parents deal with the additional burden of societal acceptance. When matters of adoption are at play, social workers aim to ensure the “child’s best interest” (Curme et al. 2020, 366). However, the process of determining a child’s best interest is dependent on a “wide range of subjectivity in the evaluation process” (366). This subjectivity is shaped by culture and societal biases. Given the biases involved in deciding what truly is the best interest for the child, this paper explores the heteronormative2 basis of the latter in relation to queer adoption in Canada. Whose narrative of the child’s best interest is being promoted and what are the societal factors that cause this? I turn to the academic literature to answer these questions.


This article is organized as follows: I begin by presenting an overview of gay rights in Canada. I then engage with academic literature that analyzes the barriers gay men face when trying to adopt children. I conclude by outlining solutions that academics have identified to dismantle the prejudice against queer couples.


Over the past few years, the Government of Canada has done much to ensure the rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ people in Canada. Since 2000, the federal government has passed Bill C-23 “which gives same-sex couples the same social and tax benefits as heterosexual couples in common-law relationships’’ (Government of Canada, 2022). Moreover, the Civil Marriage Act of 2005 “marked a milestone in sexual orientation equality rights, by allowing same-sex couples to be married anywhere in Canada’’ (2022). The passing of the Marriage Act of 2005 came 34 years after “Canada’s first major gay-rights protest” (TVO 2021).


While the Charter challenge3 of 1995 (CBC News, 2012), enabled gay and lesbian couples to jointly adopt children (Ross et. al., 2009, 451), gay men and other 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals still experience discrimination during the adoption process due to fears of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (Ross et. al., 2009, 453). According to Ross et. al., of the 709 Canadians surveyed, 54 percent believed that gay men were not deemed “not very acceptable,” or “not at all acceptable” as adoptive parents (Ross et. al., 2009, 454).


Fundamentally, the struggles gay men face when adopting is due to the societal importance attached to heterosexual relationships.


There is a hierarchy when it comes to adoption: heterosexual couples are seen as the ideal (Curme et al. 2020, 366). Then, single parents (especially single mothers), lesbian couples, and lastly, gay couples (367). This hierarchy affects the mental health of queer parents. In the paper “Stigma, Social Context, and Mental Health: Lesbian and Gay Couples Across the Transition to Adoptive Parenthood,” Abbie Goldberg and JuliAnna Smith explore how queerphobic legislation and stigma interact to shape the mental health of queer parents (139). According to the paper, factors that affect the mental health of new gay parents include workplace support, family support, and relationship quality. Hostile “legal climates” are an example of the stigma faced by gay parents (Goldberg and Smith 2011, 139). Such climates manifest themselves through queerphobic legislation at multiple levels of government. Combined with internalized homophobia, parents that lived in those environments were at higher risk of developing symptoms of depression (147).

Internalized homophobia cannot be discussed without situating the phenomenon within the backdrop of the legal institutions that perpetuate anti-gay agendas.


The stigma surrounding queer parenting begins in learning spaces such as educational institutions– elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools. The latter (post-secondary schools) of which will be discussed here. Jessica McCutcheon and Melanie Ann Morrison explore the viewpoints Canadian students (from the University of Saskatchewan) hold about gay parents and their eligibility for adopting a child. In this study, the authors found that “gay and lesbian couples were rated significantly less favourably than heterosexual couples when asked about outcomes for the adoptive child” (McCutcheon and Morrison 2015, 138). Interestingly, for lesbian parents, students were more receptive when the partners emulated stereotypically female and male gender stereotypes (138). Similar to how religious fundamentalism plays a significant and influential role in other aspects of society– culture, laws, policies and institutions, religious fundamentalism according to Curme et al., influences how university students view matters of queer adoption (2020, 365).

Apart from university students, the general public holds opinions such as the “perceived threats that gay male parents might molest their child or somehow ‘make them gay’” (Curme et al. 2020, 367). Another stereotype impacting queer parents seeking to adopt is the belief that queer households are “emotionally unstable” and generally unsafe compared to heterosexual households (Weiner and Zinner 2015, 328). To answer the question posed in the beginning, the child’s best interest narrative is heavily rooted in heteronormative ideals (Curme et al. 2020, 366). Anything that divulges from that ideal, such as queerness, is positioned as not in the child’s best interest.


Now that we are aware of the societal attitudes against queer parenting, how can this prejudice be fought and, eventually, eradicated?


There is a great deal of subjectivity involved in gay adoption (Curme et al. 2020, 366). There are entrenched biases that manifest themselves in different ways and have tangible consequences for the potential parenthood of gay individuals. One solution, to dismantling stereotypes and discrimination towards same-sex parents who adopt, is a general awareness to the public of the different forms of discrimination the 2SLGBTQIA+ community experiences, such as homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. These forms of discrimination are deeply entrenched in society, institutions and in particular learning spaces which normalizes cis-heteronormativity. Another solution to dismantle this prejudice is expanding the education of social workers. According to Goldberg and Smith, counsellors and social workers at agencies should “be mindful of... the role of the broader legal context on sexual minorities’ mental health” to deliver their services in an appropriate manner (Goldberg and Smith 2011, 147). Training is required to create adoption counsellors as allies of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Workshops must be offered to ensure that these workers understand that children raised in queer households face no “significant differences in psychosocial adjustment” compared to children raised in heterosexual households (McCutcheon and Morrison 2015, 162). Through these workshops, social workers can unlearn the heteronormative ideals involved in the current paradigm of the “child’s best interest” (Curme et al. 2020, 366).


CBC News. 2012. “Timeline: Same Sex Rights in Canada.” CBC News,

Accessed May 25, 2023.

Curme, Patrick, Katelyn Schwieters, and Kerry S. Kleyman. 2020. ‘From Leave It to Beaver to Modern Family: The

Influence of Family Structure on Adoption Attitudes’.

Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community 48 (4): 365–81.

Goldberg, Abbie E., and JuliAnna Z. Smith. 2011. ‘Stigma, Social Context, and Mental Health: Lesbian and Gay Couples

Across the Transition to Adoptive Parenthood’. Journal of Counseling Psychology 58 (1): 139–50.

Government of Canada. 2017. ‘Rights of LGBTI Persons’. 23 October 2017.

Jamie, Bradburn. 2021. ‘“A Turning Point in Our History”: Remembering Canada’s First Major Gay-Rights Protest | TVO

Today’. 30 June 2021.

LGBTQ+ primary hub. “Heteronormativity & Cisnormativity.” LGBTQ+ primary hub, Accessed May 23, 2023.

McCutcheon, Jessica, and Melanie Ann Morrison. 2015. ‘The Effect of Parental Gender Roles on Students’ Attitudes

Toward Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Adoptive Couples’. Adoption Quarterly 18 (2): 138–67.

Ross, Lori E., Epstein, Rachel, Goldfinger, Corrie, Yager, Christina. 2009. ‘Policy and Practice regarding Adoption by Sexual

and Gender Minority People in Ontario.’ Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques 35 (2): 451-467.

Weiner, Brittany A., and Leah Zinner. 2015. ‘Attitudes Toward Straight, Gay Male, and Transsexual Parenting’.

Journal of Homosexuality 62 (3): 327–39.

YMCA Canada. 2021. “2SLGBTQIA + Inclusion.” YMCA Canada,

Accessed May 23, 2023.


Want to know more about this or other UofMosaic initiatives? Please contact Alexis-Carlota Cochrane at

This project was produced during the 2-year college and university fellowship, UofMosaic. This program is proudly supported by BMO.


This publication was produced during the UofMosaic Fellowship.

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