Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name







Senn, Charlene (Psychology)




West and Zimmerman (1987) postulated that "it is through socialization...that children...learn how to do gender in interaction and how to avoid sanctions for doing it wrong" (p. 457). Drawing from a feminist, social constructionist approach, the current study examined the processes through which lesbian/gay/bisexual (LGB) parents constructed and socialized gender and sexuality with their children, the contents of the messages parents conveyed to children about gender and sexual orientation, and parents' perceptions of the influence of external socio-cultural systems on children's learning of gender and sexuality. Processes of socialization were explored using a tripartite model of parental socialization roles: parents as interactors with children, parents as direct instructors or educators, and parents as providers of opportunity (Parke, Ornstein, Rieser, & Zahn-Waxler, 1994). In depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with twenty-one lesbian/bisexual mothers and thirteen gay fathers. Results were analyzed and discussed using an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) approach. Analyses of parental accounts revealed a shifting between acknowledging and downplaying parental influence on children's beliefs and expressions of gender and sexuality, and between reproducing and challenging normative constructions and practices of gender, sexuality, and parenting/family. Patterns of differences were observed between mothers and fathers and in the treatment of daughters versus sons. Other family members, peers, schools, and the media were construed as having a significant impact on children's beliefs and expressions of gender and sexuality. Parents spoke to perceived strengths/benefits of LGB parenting and offered recommendations to other LGB and heterosexual parents.