Charlotte Patterson, at the Forefront of LGBTQ Family Studies
Charlotte J. Patterson, Ph.D. is the world’s expert on psychological research on children and youth raised by lesbian and gay parents. A Professor of Psychology and Director of the interdisciplinary Women, Gender & Sexuality program at the University of Virginia, Patterson’s research with children and families has been published in the field’s top journals, and she has co-edited four books on the psychology of sexual orientation.
Charlotte Patterson’s landmark work, “Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents,” published as the lead article in Child Development in 1992, was among the first research that debunked then-prevalent beliefs that children with lesbian or gay parents showed compromised psychosocial development relative to children from heterosexual parents. Her research blew open doors for mainstream lesbian and gay studies and became a crucible for public and legal discourse about LGBTQ family issues for decades to come.
A major challenge for Patterson and other early LGBTQ researchers was the dearth of available data on lesbian and gay families. In statistics, as in life, these families remained hidden. To amass a review of the scant literature that existed in the 1980s, Patterson literally drove from campus to campus in search of doctoral dissertations.
“The first findings of primary importance to policy issues were that [same-sex] parents in general were pretty well-adjusted people. That doesn’t seem surprising to people today but it did then. A second conclusion was, in general, that the children were also well adjusted, pretty much like their neighbors and peers in school.”
Patterson wanted to understand the nuances of family systems—the distinctive qualities of experiences in families of lesbian and gay parents—and the differences among them.
She embarked on wide-reaching research that yielded significant findings: sex-role identity among children of same-sex headed families; adoption issues among gays and lesbians; division of household labor among gay and lesbian parents; and LGBTQ family issues within the context of changing legal and social policy environments.
Patterson takes satisfaction in the role of her work in expanding knowledge and public policy about what determines a family, but expresses something more personal about its effects on her own community: “I sometimes see that my research has made an impact when people tell me that they used the work in many ways when they were considering having children.
Copyright 2017 American Psychological Association
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