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‘Conversion therapy’ predominantly perpetrated by people acting in name of religion, pseudo-healthcare

Persistence of “conversion therapy” is directly related to societal beliefs about LGBTIQ people and the degree to which their lives are deemed unacceptable within families, faiths, and societies at large.

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So-called “conversion therapy” efforts occur across the world and are predominantly promoted and perpetrated by people acting in the name of religion or pseudo-healthcare, often instigated by family pressure.

This is according to a report released by OutRight Action International, which exposes the global reach of the so-called “conversion therapy” by drawing on data from survey results with almost 500 respondents from 80 countries, and in-depth interviews with experts and survivors from more than a dozen countries.

“Conversion therapy” is the most widely used term to describe practices attempting to change, suppress, or divert one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. It is also called reorientation therapy, reparative therapy, reintegrative therapy, or, more recently, support for unwanted same-sex attraction or transgender identities.

The practices vary due to religious, cultural, or traditional contexts and range from overtly physically violent, such as electroshock or “corrective rape”, to psychologically abusive, such as isolation or psychiatric hospitalization, or more subtle forms of talk therapy or group therapy. Practices can also be religiously based, including extensive prayer, fasting and spiritual rituals. But regardless of the form they take or the name attributed, so-called conversion therapy practices are not a recognized form of therapy and certainly do not result in conversion. In fact, such practices cause deep, lasting trauma that affects every realm of life.

OutRight’s study found that:

  • The main perpetrators and advocates of “conversion therapy” are people acting in the name of religion or pseudo-healthcare, with LGBTIQ individuals often coerced or pressured by family.
  • A third of the people who responded to this study who experienced so-called conversion therapy sought it out themselves.
  • While they may vary due to religious, cultural, or traditional norms and contexts, “conversion therapy” practices never work; instead, they cause deep, lasting trauma.
  • Persistence of “conversion therapy” is directly related to societal beliefs about LGBTIQ people and the degree to which their lives are deemed unacceptable within families, faiths, and societies at large.
  • Respondents from 80 countries showed that “conversion therapy” occurs in all regions of the world.
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George Barasa, a survivor of conversion therapy from Kenya, said: “Conversion therapy is not a single event – it is a process of continued degradation and assault on the core of who you are. There are often repeated violations in the form of psychological and sometimes physical abuse… It is not one instance – it is a continued sense of rejection. The pressure is enormous.”

For her part, Maria Sjödin, deputy director of Outright Action International, said: “Our report paints a chilling picture of the global prevalence of these barbaric practices which constitute cis-gender, heteronormative indoctrination. So-called conversion therapy efforts hinge on the belief that cis-gender heterosexuality is the norm, and gender identities beyond the binary and/or same-sex attraction not only fall outside the norm, but have to be changed, if need be by brutal, inhuman force, through practices which have been recognized to be tantamount to torture by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

Strides have been taken to raise awareness and even outlaw such practices in parts of the US, Latin America, Europe, and Australia. However, to date, only four countries have an outright ban on so-called conversion therapy.

“It is clear that the demand for ‘conversion therapy’ will only diminish when social, family, and religious condemnation of LGBTIQ lives ceases, and LGBTIQ people are free to live their lives with access to their full human rights. As such, we look forward to working across civil society, states and multilateral organizations to not only ban ‘conversion therapy’, but continually seek ways to ensure the sustainable, and genuine inclusion, acceptance and safeguarding of the human rights of LGBTIQ people,” Sjödin stressed.

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Earlier studies actually also noted the role of family (particularly parents/guardians) in the implementation of this harmful practice.

For instance, a study from the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), dubbed “Parent-Initiated Sexual Orientation Change Efforts with LGBT Adolescents: Implications for Young Adult Mental Health and Adjustment“, examined the sexual orientation change experiences for LGBT youth across several domains and asked about conversion experiences with both parents/caregivers and with practitioners and religious leaders. In the study published online in the Journal of Homosexuality, more than half (53%) of LGBT non-Latino white and Latino young adults, ages 21-25, reported experiencing sexual orientation change efforts during adolescence. Of these, 21% reported specific experiences by parents and caregivers to change their sexual orientation at home; and 32% reported sexual orientation change efforts by both parents and by therapists and religious leaders.

NEWSMAKERS

Validation may be best way to support stressed out friends and family

In uncertain times, supporting your friends and family can help them make it through. But your comforting words can have different effects based on how you phrase them.

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In uncertain times, supporting your friends and family can help them make it through. But your comforting words can have different effects based on how you phrase them, according to new Penn State research.

The researchers studied how people responded to a variety of different messages offering emotional support. They found that messages that validated a person’s feelings were more effective and helpful than ones that were critical or diminished emotions.

The findings were recently published in the keystone paper of a virtual special issue of the Journal of Communication. The researchers said the results could help people provide better support to their friends and families.

“One recommendation is for people to avoid using language that conveys control or uses arguments without sound justification,” said Xi Tian, a graduate assistant in communication arts and sciences. “For example, instead of telling a distressed person how to feel, like ‘don’t take it so hard’ or ‘don’t think about it,’ you could encourage them to talk about their thoughts or feelings so that person can come to their own conclusions about how to change their feelings or behaviors.”

Tian said that previous research has shown that social support can help alleviate emotional distress, increase physical and psychological well-being, and improve personal relationships. But — depending on how support is phrased or worded — it could be counterproductive, such as actually increasing stress or reducing a person’s confidence that they can manage their stressful situation.

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Denise Solomon, department head and professor of communication arts and sciences, said they were trying to learn more about why well-intentioned attempts to comfort others are sometimes seen as insensitive or unhelpful.

“We wanted to examine the underlying mechanism that explains why some supportive messages may produce unintended consequences,” Solomon said. “We also wanted to understand how people cognitively and emotionally respond to insensitive social support.”

For the study, the researchers recruited 478 married adults who had recently experienced an argument with their spouse. Before completing an online questionnaire, participants were asked to think about someone with whom they had previously discussed their marriage or spouse. Then, they were presented with one of six possible supportive messages and were asked to imagine that person giving them that message.

Lastly, the participants were asked to rate their given message on a variety of characteristics.

“We manipulated the messages based on how well the support message validates, recognizes, or acknowledges the support recipients’ emotions, feelings, and experiences,” Tian said. “Essentially, the messages were manipulated to exhibit low, moderate, or high levels of person-centeredness, and we created two messages for each level of person-centeredness.”

According to the researchers, a highly person-centered message recognizes the other person’s feelings and helps the person explore why they might be feeling that way. For example, “Disagreeing with someone you care about is always hard. It makes sense that you would be upset about this.” Meanwhile, a low person-centered message is critical and challenges the person’s feelings. For example, “Nobody is worth getting so worked up about. Stop being so depressed.”

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After analyzing the data, the researchers found that low person-centered support messages did not help people manage their marital disagreement in a way that reduced emotional distress.

“In fact, those messages were perceived as dominating and lacking argument strength,” Tian said. “Those messages induced more resistance to social support, such that the participants reported feeling angry after receiving the message. They also reported actually criticizing the message while reading it.”

In contrast, high person-centered messages produced more emotional improvement and circumvented reactance to social support.

“Another recommendation that can be taken from this research is that people may want to use moderately to highly person-centered messages when helping others cope with everyday stressors,” said Solomon.

The researchers said people can try using language that expresses sympathy, care and concern. For example, “I’m sorry you are going through this. I’m worried about you and how you must be feeling right now.” Acknowledging the other person’s feelings or offering perspective — like saying “It’s understandable that you are stressed out since it’s something you really care about” — may also be helpful.

Kellie St.Cyr Brisini, postdoctoral teaching fellow in communication arts and sciences, also participated in this work.

Penn State’s Department of Communication Arts and Sciences helped support this research.

Support – or its lack – is a big issue for members of the LGBTQIA community.

In March, for instance, a study found that community LGBTQ supportiveness was found to be associated with lower odds of lifetime illegal drug use for sexual minority boys and girls and lower odds of lifetime marijuana use and smoking for girls. Living in a large population center was related to lower odds of lifetime alcohol use for boys.

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An earlier study, done in 2019, similarly noted that family acceptance seems to be crucial to ensure that LGB children develop a healthy sense of self while family rejection of LGB children can negatively affect their identity and well-being.

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NEWSMAKERS

With quarantine in place, Pornhub sees surge in traffic

Pornhub’s worldwide traffic was 5.7% higher than usual. Searches with “coronavirus” and “Covid” have also steadily grown since the end of January.

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It’s still all about sex.

With over a billion people now under quarantine (as of March 25), people are finding ways to… spend their time. And apparently, one of those ways is to enjoy sex, not necessarily engaging in the act but as consumers of what’s available online.

Pornhub reported that nowadays, approximately 120 million people visit its site on a daily basis, with the company noting that “perhaps more interesting, we found that people were choosing to visit Pornhub at different times.”

Wednesdays marked the biggest traffic growth, with the worldwide traffic surging 5.7% higher than usual.

At 2 a.m., traffic was 11% higher than usual, but dipped 9% below average at 8 a.m. This difference was noted by Pornhub because usually, 8 a.m. is one of the most popular times to visit the site. But the change may be because “people who did not need to commute to work the next day stayed up later and slept in longer than they normally would.”

Throughout the day, Pornhub noted that traffic was 11% above average at 1 p.m., then dipped 6% at 4 p.m., with another increase of 8% at 7 p.m.

Here’s an interesting thing: a new kink may be emerging.

Pornhub reported that searches containing “coronavirus” first appeared on January 25 and have continued to grow. In the past 30 days, more than 6.8 million searches containing either ‘corona’ or ‘Covid’ were reported; so enter “Covid porn”.

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NEWSMAKERS

Teens who feel empowered are less likely to bully, harass, commit sexual violence

The findings suggest that bullying, harassment and sexual violence can be reduced when adolescents learn to cope with stress, build community connections, engage with individuals from diverse backgrounds and feel empowered and able to build a positive future.

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Teens who feel personally empowered are less likely to bully, harass or commit acts of sexual violence, according to a study by Rutgers University, the University of Nebraska, and the University of New Hampshire.

The study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, also found that teens who think their friends support violence prevention and healthy relationships are less likely to mistreat their peers.

“Coping mechanisms that help adolescents thrive and do well, even in the face of stress and adversity, are important to preventing interpersonal violence. This is an important finding, as studies of bullying typically examine risk factors rather than protective factors,” said lead author Victoria Banyard, professor and associate director of the Center on Violence Against Women and Children at the Rutgers School of Social Work.

The findings suggest that bullying, harassment and sexual violence can be reduced when adolescents learn to cope with stress, build community connections, engage with individuals from diverse backgrounds and feel empowered and able to build a positive future.

Adults can help young people develop these strengths, said Banyard. “Positive conversations with teens about healthy relationships support the positive social norms we know are important.”

Adolescence is a high-risk age for perpetration of different forms of peer-based violence including in-person and online bullying, harassment, racial bullying, and unwanted sexual contact, the researchers explained.

The researchers surveyed a set of 2,232 middle and high school students online during the school year by seeking their level of agreement or disagreement with statements including “If I am feeling sad, I can cheer myself up,” “My opinion is important because it could someday make a difference in my community,” “I work hard now to make a good future for myself,” “I am comfortable being with people who are of a different race than I am,” and others. They were asked about bullying and harassment, alcohol use, positive social norms related to violence prevention, and a combination of interpersonal strengths.

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The teens were surveyed again six months later.

The findings are part of a larger study on involving youth as leaders in order to help prevent sexual violence among middle and high school students.

Banyard partnered with the University of Nebraska Lincoln Center on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools and the University of New Hampshire.

Bullying affects many in the LGBTQIA community.

For instance, in July 2019, a study found that bullying is more prevalent in birth-assigned females and in out individuals, commonly consisting of homophobic/transphobic (particularly in socially transitioned individuals) or appearance-related (particularly in out individuals) name calling.

A November 2018 study also found that 35.2% of gay/bisexual men who had experienced frequent school-age bullying experience frequent workplace bullying. Among lesbian women, the figure was 29%.

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Health & Wellness

Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health

A study finds that possessing gender-concordant IDs is associated with reduced psychological distress, and a lower prevalence of suicidal thoughts and suicide planning.

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A study finds that possessing gender-concordant IDs is associated with reduced psychological distress, and a lower prevalence of suicidal thoughts and suicide planning. And the authors suggest policy changes to increase access to gender-concordant IDs. For example, by reducing fees, administrative hurdles and eligibility requirements, and also by either expanding gender options beyond male or female, or by removing gender markers entirely.

Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The authors note that the survey only questioned respondents at one time point, making it difficult to confirm whether lack of gender-affirming IDs caused psychological distress or the other way around. It is possible that trans people suffering from psychological distress might find it harder to obtain IDs. However, a previous Canadian study found that having at least one document showing a trans person’s preferred gender marker was associated with fewer suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, and previous research has found that mental health risks in transgender adolescents are reduced when their preferred name is used socially.

“Our results suggest that governments and administrative bodies can play an important role in helping to reduce psychological distress for trans people, simply by making it easier to access identity documents that reflect their identity,” says Dr Ayden Scheim from Drexel University, USA.

Of the 1.4 million Americans who identify as transgender, over half are estimated to have clinical depression, compared to around 30% over a lifetime in the general US population, while 31% to 41% attempt suicide at some point during their lives, compared to less than 9% generally in the US. These mental health disparities can be attributed in part to a lack of recognition and acceptance of trans people’s identified gender. Lack of gender-concordant official documents can prevent access to services such as healthcare, education, and employment, and increase exposure to verbal harassment and violence.

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The authors suggest that at the moment, the ID change process can be difficult to impossible. For example, in most US states updating a name on government-issued ID first requires a court-ordered name change, which can cost several hundred dollars. Most states require medical letters or affidavits to validate reclassification requests, and some may require gender transition surgery. In most jurisdictions, gender markers reflecting non-binary gender identity (such as an ‘X’ marker) are not yet available.

To explore the impact of access to IDs on psychological distress, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, researchers analysed data from 22,286 trans people, who were surveyed in 2015. Respondents were asked whether all, some or none of their IDs – including birth certificates, passports and driving licences – listed their preferred name and gender marker. Psychological distress was measured using a validated scale with a score between 0 and 24, with 13 or greater indicating serious psychological distress. To assess respondents’ suicide risk, they were asked whether they had seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months, whether they had made any plans to kill themselves and whether they had attempted suicide.

To ensure that the analysis was able to pick up any association between mental health and access to updated IDs, the authors of the current study adjusted the results to account for other variables that could contribute to psychological distress and suicidal thoughts – such as age, ethnicity, medical transition status and years living full-time in the identified gender.

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The results found that 45.1% of respondents (10,288 out of 22,286) had no IDs with their preferred name and gender marker, 44.2% (9,666/22,286) had some ID that matched their name and/or gender, and only 10.7% (2,332/22,286) had their preferred name and gender on all their documents. The authors weighted the sample to reflect the age and ethnicity of the US population, although they note that trans demographics may not mirror broader US population demographics.

The reasons for not changing gender markers included a lack of suitable gender options (in the group with no concordant ID, people with non-binary identities were over-represented), cost, and perceived ineligibility (for example, believing that additional medical treatment was required). The authors also identified geographic variation in the results, with participants in western states more likely to have gender-concordant ID, while those in the Midwest were less likely.

Those with all gender-concordant IDs had a 32% lower prevalence of serious psychological distress than those with no updated documents. They were also 22% less likely to have had suicidal thoughts in the past year and 25% less likely to have made plans to kill themselves. Those with some updated IDs had smaller reductions in distress and suicidal thoughts (e.g., 12% reduction in distress). The results did not indicate an association between access to IDs and suicide attempts, once the authors had adjusted for other influences on mental health.

“When a trans person changes their gender on their official documents, it can be a critical step towards gaining social acceptance and legal recognition, and our findings suggest that policy changes to support trans people with taking this step should be considered, in order to help improve their wellbeing, reduce their exposure to discrimination and reduce suicidal thoughts,” says Professor Greta Bauer from Western University, Canada.

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The authors note that other variables not covered in the study may mediate psychological distress, for example access to social support.

Writing in a linked comment, lead author Dr Monica Malta (who was not involved in the study) from the University of Toronto says: “The cross-sectional study design prohibits causal interpretation of the identified relationships, and reverse causation is plausible–those with better mental health might be better able to navigate the difficult bureaucratic requirements to obtain gender congruent IDs. Even with those limitations, the large dataset and careful inclusion of potential confounders strengthen the study design. Thus, the authors’ findings support the need to increase the availability of and streamline the processes to obtain gender congruent IDs. Gaining gender-congruent IDs should be easy, affordable, and quickly completed by adequately trained officials at TGD-friendly environments.”

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NEWSMAKERS

Sexual minority adolescents consistently more likely to report physical, sexual violence

Given the substantial physical and emotional consequences of violence for those subjected to it and the large existing health disparities among sexual minority adolescents, addressing both physical and sexual violence against sexual minority adolescents should become a public health priority.

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Physical and sexual violence are known public health hazards, imposing physical and emotional burdens on those who experienced such violence; and adolescent members of the LGBTQIA community are believed to be at higher risk than their heterosexual peers for violence.

This was stressed in “Physical and Sexual Violence Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Questioning Adolescents”, a study by Theodore L. Caputi, MPH, Chelsea L. Shover, PhD and Ryan J. Watson, PhD that appeared in JAMA Pediatrics.

For this cross-sectional study, the researchers used pooled data from USA’s 2015 and 2017 YRBS public use files to broaden the sample size and scope of the analysis. The survey in each of these years had a response rate of 60%.

The YRBS uses a three-stage cluster sample of US counties within all states, schools within counties, and classrooms within schools to achieve a nationally representative sample of American adolescents. Participants in the YRBS in each year were asked to indicate their sex (female or male) and sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay or lesbian, bisexual, or not sure) and whether they had experienced any of three types of physical violence (past-year physical violence committed by a romantic partner, past-year physical fights anywhere, or past-year physical fights at school) and two types of sexual violence (lifetime forced intercourse, past-year sexual assault by a romantic partner). In 2017, participants were asked an additional question: whether they had experienced past-year sexual assault committed by anyone.

Of the 28 ,811 participants in the 2015 and 2017 YRBS, 87.1% reported their sexual orientation as heterosexual, 2.2% as gay or lesbian, 7.0% as bisexual, and 3.7% as not sure.

Sexual minority female adolescents were at an elevated risk of physical violence relative to the risk to heterosexual female adolescents.
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Twelve percent of sexual minority adolescents reported physical violence committed by a romantic partner, 27.6% engaged in a physical fight, and 11.1% engaged in a physical fight on school property. Furthermore, 20.6% of sexual minority adolescents reported experiencing sexual assault, 18.0% reported experiencing forced intercourse, and 12.5% reported experiencing sexual assault by a romantic partner.

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After adjusting for confounders, sexual minority adolescents were consistently more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to report physical and sexual violence, including physical violence committed by a romantic partner (adjusted risk ratio [aRR], 1.97; 95% CI, 1.65-2.34) and sexual assault committed by anyone (aRR, 2.10; 95% CI, 1.68-2.58) in the preceding 12 months. Bisexual sexual minority adolescents were at a particularly elevated risk for violence, including physical violence committed by a romantic partner (aRR, 2.22; 95% CI, 1.82-2.67) and sexual assault committed by anyone (aRR, 2.36; 95% CI, 1.76-3.10).

Sexual minority female adolescents were at an elevated risk of physical violence relative to the risk to heterosexual female adolescents, including engaging in a physical fight anywhere (aRR, 1.74; 95% CI, 1.53-1.96) and engaging in a fight on school property (aRR, 1.91; 95% CI, 1.49-2.43). Sexual minority male adolescents had elevated risks of sexual violence relative to the risks to heterosexual male adolescents, including the risk of sexual assault (aRR, 4.64; 95% CI, 2.97-6.84) and the risk of forced intercourse (aRR, 4.70; 95% CI, 3.40-6.32).

Twelve percent of sexual minority adolescents reported physical violence committed by a romantic partner, 27.6% engaged in a physical fight, and 11.1% engaged in a physical fight on school property.
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The researchers noted that “sexual minority adolescents—particularly bisexual youth—are at an elevated risk for both physical and sexual violence. Given the substantial physical and emotional consequences of violence for those subjected to it and the large existing health disparities among sexual minority adolescents, addressing both physical and sexual violence against sexual minority adolescents should become a public health priority.”

And since the results suggest the existence of a crisis of violence against sexual minority adolescents, the researchers recommend working with policy makers and clinicians to design, implement, and assess interventions to reduce the risks and mitigate the harms of violence committed against sexual minority adolescents.

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Education the key to equal parenting rights for same-sex couples

Same-sex marriage may have been given the green (or rainbow) light in many countries around the world, but it appears there are still some entrenched attitudes in society when it comes to same-sex parenting.

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Same-sex marriage may have been given the green (or rainbow) light in many countries around the world, but it appears there are still some entrenched attitudes in society when it comes to same-sex parenting.

Misconceptions about the impact on children raised by same-sex parents are harmful both in a social and legal sense, says University of South Australia psychologist Dr Stephanie Webb.

Same-sex couples are still struggling to gain equal rights to biological parents – particularly in the event of separation – and on a social level they want to address the fallacies about the impact of children growing up with parents of the same gender.

“The most common myths are that children will be confused about their own sexuality, be less resilient, experience conflict, and suffer other issues as a result of growing up in a same-sex family,” Dr Webb says. “The reality is, children raised in a same-sex family environment are no different to children raised by heterosexual couples. In some cases, they are far more resilient, tolerant and open-minded because they have seen their parents’ own struggle for acceptance and equality.”

To counter the misconceptions, Dr Webb and colleagues from the University of Canberra and Boise State University in the United States carried out an online survey to assess the impact of an educational campaign on people’s attitudes.

A total of 629 people – including 74 per cent who identified as heterosexual and 23 per cent bisexual or homosexual – were split into two groups and presented with fact sheets about smoking (control group) and same-sex parenting.

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Before completing the survey, they were asked about their attitudes to same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting.

The fact sheets dispelled many of the concerns that people had over the perceived negative developmental impacts on children with same-sex parents.

“Our study showed a significant reduction in prejudices held after reading the fact sheets,” Dr Webb says.

However, the sticking point is that many people believe the central purpose of marriage is to procreate. Since biological children cannot be produced by a same-sex couple, the role of marital equality is not seen as important by some.

This creates legal issues for same-sex couples in the event of separation involving children, where a third party (a biological parent) has legal rights that supersede that of the parent whose genes are not involved.

“Legal rights for same-sex parents are ignored by policymakers and the public alike,” Dr Webb says. “By making marriage policies inclusive, regardless of sexuality, it would validate same-sex families and protect them against discrimination.”

Dr Webb says education is a crucial step towards achieving legal equality for same-sex families.

Her findings have recently been published in the Australian Journal of Psychology. The survey is a follow up to a 2018 paper which examined the connection between gender role beliefs and support for same-gender family rights.

“Attitudes toward same-sex family rights: Education facilitating progressive attitude change” was co-authored by Associate Professor Phil Kavanagh from the University of Canberra and Associate Professor Jill Chonody from Boise State University.

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