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Professor’s Research Aims to Give Voice to Same-Sex Parents

Communication Studies Professor Rich West’s research has been pushing the boundaries of the understanding of same-sex parents and their place in society. He spoke at Emerson College on Wednesday, October 26, as part of the second Research Colloquium Series for the Fall 2016 semester.

He pointed out that there are many differences between gay fathers and lesbian mothers.

“There is no easy way to being a gay father or a lesbian mother. So these kinds of challenges necessitate the need to be cautious about prescribing and advising with communities that are extremely diverse, even though they fall under the umbrella of sexual identity,” he said.

West has conducted his research with his academic partner, Lynn Turner, of Marquette University. Their work has changed the understanding of these families, but one experience with a lesbian mother drives him every time he is stuck at a point in his work.

In a café, he sat down next to a woman sitting by herself and started a conversation with her. In a hushed tone, she told West that she was a lesbian mother. His immediate reaction was to ask what that was like, and he recognized the fault in his question when she answered that it is no different than his mother’s experience.

“As we move down the road…it was [the woman’s] voice, ‘I am a lesbian mother,’ that made me think about what it is like to give voice to people…for people to feel comfortable about saying that…for people to feel that their identity shouldn’t be hushed,” he said.

He wanted to “break the silence” around nontraditional families and his first opportunity to do that was when he became the co-editor of the Journal of Family Communication. “We dedicated that journal to those people who studied gay fathers and lesbian mothers,” he said.

These steps resonated with his research as well. During one study, West found the lack of social support for these families from school districts.

“The parents are not getting support from schools. They are getting it from home. They are getting it from peers—even from other parents, they are getting that. But the school districts, for the most part, are not supporting it,” he says.

For West, his research has helped him broaden his own perspective as well.

“I have become more sensitive and thoughtful,” he said.

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