Should young children be exposed to homosexuality

Slightly abbreviated from: Petra Wagner (Ed.): Handbook for children's worlds. Diversity as an opportunity - the basics of a prejudice-conscious education and upbringing. Freiburg, Basel, Vienna: Herder 2008, pp. 171-183. With the permission of Herder-Verlag

Sexual Orientation - Important for Young Children?

Stephanie Gerlach

Isn't this topic more "private"?

For all children, regardless of how their families are made up, the kindergarten is a place where they - perhaps for the first time - have the chance to come into contact with the diversity of life and family forms. This means a challenge for educators.

If you live and / or work with children, the language will certainly come up to the subject of "being lesbian / gay" at some point. Be it that boys exchange the word "gay" as a swear word without knowing what it actually means, or it is that a girl from daycare would like to marry her friend. Some children already know that for some years it has been possible for two women or two men to marry; maybe they have even been to a lesbian or gay wedding. Others have never come into contact with this topic.

Playing with the roles

Children like to play with gender roles. Suddenly Jannick puts on a dress and Sofia insists stiffly that she will be a boy from today. Not every child who particularly enjoys these games will become gay or lesbian. But some children develop "somehow differently" from most others at a very early age; and it is important to talk to children about the topic of same-sex lifestyles at an early stage. It is quite normal for parents to be a little insecure, because being lesbian / gay is still taboo. As a rule, children ask very directly and do not initially have any prejudices; and it is desirable that educational professionals assist parents in dealing with these issues. Parents have a role model function for their children, (not only) when it comes to dealing with minorities.

When Laura falls in love with Katharina, it's about feelings, about wanting to be together. And when Lars has a crush on his best friend Victor, they want to see each other every day. Sometimes it's "Laura and Katharina" instead of "Katharina and Lars". This is often a phase in kindergarten age and is part of it for many children. Whether these children will later team up with a person of the opposite or the same sex is still completely open and can ultimately change in the course of life.

New family phenomenon: rainbow families

For some years now, daycare centers have been confronted with a relatively new family phenomenon: the rainbow families. The term "rainbow family" means that in a family with child (ren) at least one parent is lesbian or gay and feels part of the lesbian-gay community in some way. Your symbol of the rainbow with its bright colors stands for the diversity of life.1)

Children live in every eighth same-sex cohabitation (Statistisches Bundesamt 2005, p. 22). Assuming 5% homosexuals in the total population, half of whom are in a couple relationship, that means that at least 200,000 children grow up in same-sex partnerships. These are conservative estimates: Since homosexuality is still stigmatized, some prefer not to reveal themselves in an official survey.

How do rainbow families come about?

Children from rainbow families are either born into a same-sex relationship, i.e. they know nothing else, and it is "normal" for them. Or they come from previous heterosexual partnerships and have had a separation experience: If, for example, a woman separates from the father of her children and starts a new relationship with a woman, a blended family emerges as a result. The child does not have lesbian parents from the start, but the new rainbow family has to find each other first.

Live with children - regardless of sexual orientation

The desire to live with children is independent of sexual orientation. And so more and more lesbians and gays realize their desire to have children after they "come out"2)through insemination, foster care or adoption. These children are intended children and the framework conditions are well considered. The number of rainbow families is increasing. Currently, the majority of the children are between the ages of babies and eight years. Experts speak of a baby boom in the lesbian and gay scene.3)

The desire for biological children

If there is a desire for biological children, then access to reproductive technology support is severely restricted. The German Medical Association prohibits specialist medical staff from helping lesbian couples to start a family. If you wish to have a biological child, the only official option is to find a sperm donor among friends and acquaintances or to visit a sperm bank in other European countries. Sometimes lesbian and gay couples also join forces to live parenthood as a foursome, or lesbian / gay individuals form an educational collective and raise the children together.

Foster care and adoption

Caring for a child is one way of living as a family. For gay couples, foster care is often the only way to a family with children. Since there is still no equal treatment between homosexuals and heterosexuals, foster care and adoption are not always easy to implement. There is no way for lesbian and gay couples to adopt a child together; officially, in the case of a lesbian or gay couple, only one of the two persons can adopt the child.

The legal situation of rainbow families

Rainbow families are becoming more visible and more confident. Since 2001, lesbian and gay couples have been able to establish a civil partnership and be registered ("registered civil partnership"). With this entry, popularly known as "gay marriage", the couples get the same obligations as married couples, but not the same rights, e.g. in tax law or civil service law.

Registered partnership & minor custody

Nevertheless, there are good legal reasons for lesbians and gays with children to register. If children are living in a civil partnership, the non-biological parent automatically has what is known as "minor custody" upon registration, which includes all questions of everyday life.

Possibility of stepchild adoption

Since 2005 there has been the possibility of stepchild adoption. For example, if one of the two women in the civil partnership has a biological child, her partner can adopt the child, provided the biological father (if known) agrees. As in all other cases, the youth welfare office checks whether this adoption is in the best interests of the child. Studies on lesbian families in the USA have shown that stepchild adoption strengthens the position of the non-biological, social parent and thus increases the family bond and the sense of togetherness (Gartrell 1999/2000).

What does the research say?

Previous studies have shown: The daughters and sons of lesbian and gay parents develop emotionally, socially and sexually inconspicuously (Berger et al. 2000). They often have a high level of social competence (Rauchfleisch 1997). The gender of the parents is of secondary importance.

Experts from the Anglo-American region attest the children of lesbian and gay parents a remarkable psychological strength (Stacey / Biblarz 2001). A study (Patterson 1994) shows that the children of lesbian mothers are exposed to higher social stress (teasing etc.) than children in a comparison group, but are obviously strengthened at home in such a way that they deal with it adequately and are generally more satisfied than the children of the comparison group. The parenting behavior of the parents could have a considerable influence here (Jansen / Steffens 2006). Some authors establish a connection with other studies, according to which lesbians are more self-confident, more independent and less depressed than heterosexual women (Falk 1993; Kershaw 2000).

Sexual orientation - not a measure of parental ability

The sexual orientation of the parents is not relevant to the level of parental ability. The quality of the parenting relationship (Golombok 2000) and satisfaction with one's own way of life are important for child development.

A comprehensive research study "Children in same-sex unions" commissioned by the Ministry of Justice has been in progress at the State Institute for Family Research at the University of Bamberg since the end of 2006.

Parents' sexual orientation - not a category for young children

For young children born into rainbow families, their family is normal. As a rule, they know that there are many different family and life forms and that they themselves grow up with two mothers or (less often) with two dads.

"I have a mom and a mommy"

"I have a mom and a mommy because my parents are two women," says five-year-old Rosa. Parents' sexual orientation is not a category for young children. Having two mothers may be experienced as "different", but not as a deficit. Any evaluations come from outside - from other children, educators or parents.

"Don't you have a papa?"

As a rule, the question of the father is of great interest to lesbian families; gay families say: "Don't you have a mom?" Now it depends on the family setting in which the questioned child grows up. The sperm donor may be a family friend and the child and him / her meet regularly. Biological parenting does not necessarily have to mean social parenting - he can act as a godfather, friend or dad. It is also possible that there is initially no contact because the semen comes from a sperm bank and the child may not get to know his father until the age of 16 or 18.4)

Greatest possible openness within the family

Foster children usually have contact with their family of origin, i.e. they have two families. Adopted children often know very little about their biological roots. It is important that the child can respond adequately to questions about his or her family, i.e. that the parents provide them with appropriate words for their family. The greatest possible openness within the family is a basic requirement for this. A child wants and must know how it came about (be allowed to). The key is that the child now lives with two mothers or two dads who have wished for a child.

The question of male role models in lesbian families is also popular and has already been examined frequently. Researchers have found that lesbian mothers care more about contact with male caregivers for their children than single heterosexual mothers (Dunne 1998). Incidentally, all children look for representatives of both sexes as role models, preferably outside the family.

Still widespread: homophobia

No place in the training content?

Basic knowledge of the reality of life for lesbians and gays as well as children in rainbow families is still not a mandatory part of training at specialist academies and universities of applied sciences for social work. It would be important to give space to such aspects, similar to other marginalized population groups and aspects of diversity such as migration, age, disability, ethnicity, etc., which have now a permanent place in the training content.

Possibly it is the still widespread "homophobia" that prevents a discussion of homosexuality: Homophobia is the ideology of the superiority of heterosexuals over homosexual orientation, which goes hand in hand with a diffuse fear of homosexuals and with the devaluation of all that has to do with homosexuality. Not so long ago, lesbians and gays were persecuted and criminalized for their way of life. Even today there are countries in which lesbians and gays face the death penalty if their orientation becomes known. Even if the situation for lesbians and gays has improved significantly in Germany, many of the homophobic mechanisms continue to have an effect.

The everyday reality of lesbian and gay parents

Not a self-evident and equal way of life?

Being lesbian and gay is not yet a way of life that is self-evident and on an equal footing with other ways of life. Same-sex orientation people are often reduced to their sexuality. This happens in everyday situations in which lesbians and gays come out and make some people feel embarrassed. For example, while remarks from personal life suggesting a heterosexual lifestyle are commonly perceived as "normal" in workplace conversations, similar information from homosexual relationships is often viewed as inappropriately "intimate" and uncomfortable.

Lesbians and gays question a whole system - a system that is built on clear ideas of what "right men" and "right women" are, what leeway and action they have available and how they relate to one another . But what is a "real woman", a "real man"? Lesbian women and gay men define the reality of their lives according to their own standards. This can provoke aggression in those who see it as an attack on their ideas of normality. Homophobic acts of violence are often committed by young men, who may use them to ward off insecurities in their own gender role identity.5)

The range of how lesbians and gays look and behave is just as wide as that of heterosexuals. Representatives of homosexual clichés can always be found; the majority, however, walk around the world relatively inconspicuously.

Coming out - anytime, anywhere?

Certainly there are situations in which it is better not to come out. In general, however, it is very stressful to withhold important information for a long time, e.g. at work or in your own family. Most of the time, the fear of what might happen after you come out is much greater than what will actually happen afterwards. Nevertheless, most of them still experience the coming out as a difficult time. Once this "second puberty" is over, the majority of lesbians and gays develop good self-confidence. Coming out is never "done", on the contrary: it is a lifelong process. There are always situations in which lesbian women and gay men have to explain each other anew.

A daycare center can only be as open as the parents are

Rainbow families are particularly challenged here, because mothers or fathers accompanied by children are always considered heterosexual. Lesbian and gay parents are in contact with other, mostly heterosexual families through their children. Without coming out, irritation will arise after a short time. That is why lesbian mothers and gay fathers have the thankless task of having to draw attention to themselves frequently. Since lesbians and gays are unlikely to be asked if they are a couple, they must provide this information on their own. A daycare center can only be as open as the parents are.

"We are both Rosa's mothers"

Charlotte and Katharina, parents of five-year-old Rosa, have had positive experiences with their strategy at the parents 'evening: "We always introduce our family straight away:' We are both Rosa's mothers because we have been together as a pair of women for a long time and wished we had a child. If you have any questions, just come to us. ”We like to talk about our family. Most of the time, the shyness is gone and the others dare to approach us. Even the teachers quickly become biased towards us lost."

What do rainbow families need?

First and foremost, rainbow parents need a day care center where they are expressly welcome. This is not yet the case everywhere. Ingrid and Claudia, a couple with two daughters, report: "We already had a place for our daughter in the parents' initiative, when we suddenly received a rejection two days later. Our suspicions were confirmed when an educator told us underhand that we as lesbian parents don't fit in that well. "

Kita mission statement: Open to all children!

Ideally, an institution that deals with children has a mission statement that shows that it is open to all children. As a rule, however, this model is not formulated in such a way that it also includes lesbian and gay families. A first step could be to consciously address rainbow families.This makes it easier for lesbian and gay parents to come out, and so they can be perceived as the family they are in the day-care center right from the start. It would be ideal if the educators know about the family setting. If the child in question is in distress, educational professionals must have adequate sentences ready to support them.

Reduce discrimination and promote equality

If a city has anti-discrimination guidelines that explicitly include sexual orientation, then a city day-care center has the task of reducing discrimination and promoting equality on the one hand, and on the other hand it can also invoke its city mandate if parents oppose dealing with the Topic run storm.

Every child has the right to come up with their reality in everyday daycare

Even in kindergarten, older boys sometimes use the swear word "gay pig". Usually ignoring or forbidding is the common strategy. But educators have to react in this situation and explain to the children what these words mean, that they are not acceptable as swear words and that it is actually about love and liking yourself. And why some want to live like this and others want to live differently, there really isn't an answer. Just maybe one: lesbians and gays have always existed everywhere.

If an educator does not react, children from rainbow families experience that the terms with which they naturally grow up get in a negative light, that they are embarrassed or even that something is wrong with their family. The day care center should be a place where the children can cultivate their pride in their family. Perhaps lifestyles and family forms are a core topic that the children talk about over and over again. Now the topic could be expanded to include new content. Every child has the right to present their reality in everyday kindergarten life. This is also an expression of protection and respect.

Get involved in new family forms

Rainbow families are still a relatively new phenomenon, but lesbian and gay parents are confident these days. They expect that their children will be cared for in a loving, competent and prejudiced manner in day care centers and that educators will also get involved in new types of families in terms of content. According to the guidelines of the Anti-Discrimination Act, daycare centers and specialists are also obliged to do so.


  1. The rainbow flag was designed by the American artist Gilbert Baker in 1978.
  2. Coming out: This means the inner process of self-perception ("I think I'm a lesbian / gay") and the outer process of publication ("I just have to and want to tell someone"). This process is still not easy for both teenagers and adults.
  3. Also called the "gayby boom".
  4. The problem of "heterologous insemination" (= artificial fertilization with sperm donation by a third party) and its consequences for the identity processes of children, especially in the case of anonymous sperm donation, cannot be discussed here. Children from heterosexual relationships are particularly affected, as insemination in Germany is usually only carried out on heterosexual couples. It is expected that more and more of these children will assert their right to know their parentage (Federal Constitutional Court 1989) and, in the case of anonymous sperm donors, will demand access to the donor data when they reach the age of majority.
  5. According to a 2006/2007 survey, 87% of perpetrators of homophobic violence were male; the age of the perpetrators was between 14 and 24 years in 74% of the cases ( For the motifs see Dobler (2003, p. 36). However, homophobic violence must also be seen in connection with social discrimination, which contributes to disinhibition: Members of discriminated groups are often victims of violence and other forms of discrimination.

Quoted and in-depth literature

Berger, Walter / Reisbeck, Günter / Schwer, Petra (2000): Lesbians - Gays - Children. An analysis of the state of research. Ministry for Women, Youth, Family and Health of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Dusseldorf

Dobler, Jens (2003): Hate crimes against gays - facts, motives and prevention approaches. In: Proceedings of the symposium 2003: Primary prevention of violence against group members. German Forum for Crime Prevention and Federal Ministry of Justice. Berlin, pp. 31-38

Dunne, Gillian (1998): Living "Difference": Lesbian Perspectives on Work and Family Life. Binghamton

Falk, Patricia (1993): Lesbian mothers: Psychosocial assumptions in family law. In: L.D. Garnets / D.C. Kimmel (ed.): Psychological perspectives on lesbian and gay male experiences. New York, pp. 420-436

Gartrell, Nannette, et al. (1999): The National Lesbian Family Study II: Interviews with mothers of toddlers. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 69 (3), pp. 362-369

Gartrell, Nannette, et al. (2000): The National Lesbian Family Study III: Interviews with mothers of five-year-olds. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 70 (4), pp. 542-548

Golombok, Susan (2000): Parenting. What really counts. new York

Jansen, Elke / Steffens, Melanie Caroline (2006): Lesbian mothers, gay fathers and their children as reflected in psychosocial research. Behavioral therapy and psychosocial practice (special issue Psychotherapy with lesbians, gays and bisexuals) 38, pp. 643-656

Kershaw, Sheila (2000): Living in a lesbian household: The effects on children. Child and Family Social Work 5 (4), pp.365-371

Patterson, Charlotte (1994): "Children of the Lesbian Baby Boom: Behavioral Adjustment, Self-Concepts and Sex Role Identity." In: Green / Herek (eds.): Lesbian and Gay Psychology: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications. Thousand Oaks, pp. 156-175

Stacey, Judith / Biblarz, Timothy (2001): (How) Does the sexual orientation of parents matter? American Sociological Review 66, pp. 159-183

Federal Statistical Office (ed.) (2005): Living and working in Germany. Results of the microcensus 2004. Wiesbaden

Book tips for children

von Eiff, Dani (2007): Franz and Uwe hatch something. (two gay penguins in pixi book format; from 4 years)

Link, Michael (2002): Come on, I'll show you my parents. Hamburg (The story of little Daniel from St. Petersburg, who was adopted by his two fathers; picture book from 3 years)

Pah, Sylvia / Schat, Joke (1994): Belonging together. Ruhnmark (picture book from 3 years about the separation of parents and mom's new love Sophia)

Springer, Sonja (2006): Phöbe in the new school. Self-published (Phöbe introduces her rainbow family to the new class and receives unexpected support; for preschool and elementary school age)

Streib-Brzic, Uli / Gerlach, Stephanie (2005): And what do the children say about it? Conversations with daughters and sons of lesbian and gay parents. Berlin (from 10 years and of course also recommended for adults)

Willhoite, Michael (1994): Daddy's Friend. Berlin (picture book for 2 to 6 year olds. An eight year old tells about the separation of his parents and his father's gay life)

Book tips for adults

Federal Center for Health Education (2004): Heterosexual? Gay Understanding, accepting and living sexual orientations and coming out (for parents whose children are lesbian or gay). Available free of charge: [email protected]

de la Camp, Cordula (2001): Two foster mothers for Bianca. Interviews with lesbian and gay foster parents. Hamburg

Lesbian and Gay Association Germany (ed.) (2007): Rainbow families - everyday and yet different. Advice guide for lesbian mothers, gay fathers and family-related professionals. Cologne (comprehensive manual; available from

Senate Department for School, Youth and Sport (2001): Rainbow families. When parents are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Berlin (Brochure on the subject, with statements, interviews, legal information; available free of charge from: [email protected])

Streib-Brzic, Uli (2007): The lesbian-gay baby book. A guide to having children and parenting. Berlin

Web addresses Website of the Rainbow Families project in the Lesbian and Gay Association of Germany (LSVD) The "Lesbian-Gay Parents Initiative" is organized under the umbrella of the LSVD and has regional groups throughout Germany that offer regular meetings and activities. The internet offer with chat facilities for children from rainbow families. Website for the book of the same name with lots of tips, references and links.

Contact the author

Email: [email protected]