Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Dr. Roberta G. Sands

Second Advisor

Dr. Yochay Nadan


Objectives: The purpose of this study was to: 1) generate an understanding of perspectives of lesbian African-American parents from the Philadelphia area on well-being, risk, and protection; 2) explore explanations of the reasons for risk and what the parents think they need to protect members of this cultural group, their families, and their community; 3) examine the possible impact of the legalization of gay marriage on members of this community who have partners and are raising children; 4) identify potential strategies to support lesbian-parenting families in which at least one partner is African American; and finally 5) collect data to inform and create educational programs for professionals that promote positive development and support within the lesbian African-American community.

Methods: Data collection was through semi-structured, open-ended interviews with a purposeful sample of 15 African-American lesbian mothers. The participants were between the ages of 27 and 52, currently residing within fifty miles of Philadelphia, and had been with a partner for over a year. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed, and analyzed using a modified constructivist grounded theory methodology.

Results: The experiences of participants in this study did not fit easily into the categories of risk and protective factors. Some mothers experienced both safety and risk for the same factors. Each of the family constellations was unique and the mothers used diverse pathways to parenthood. Families experienced racism but often felt more protected from racism in predominately African-American neighborhoods but still experienced homophobia. Risks that most commonly presented themselves were feeling unsafe in their neighborhoods especially in the current political context, discrimination towards themselves, their families and their children, institutional racism, and having to come out over and over again. Protective and safety factors that were most prevalent were family support, the Black Lives Matter Movement and spiritual support. Prominent themes supporting family well-being were spending time together as a family, the home environment as a safe place, and the mothers experiencing family support within the household and from extended family. Class was a protective factor for individuals who were middle to upper class. Spirituality, marriage, and gender non-conforming presentation were considered both risk and protective factors. Participants also recommended that community providers create open communication with families, not make assumptions about who is in the family, use family-friendly language, and be willing to prepare themselves with being culturally competent. All of the participants engaged in parental teaching that prepares children to enter into an unjust world, which is a balance of modeling, teaching, and creating structure as the children move into increased independence in their teenage years.

Conclusions: African-American lesbian parented families need additional community support and for community providers to recognize them as a family unit. Providers should prevent making microaggressions and create a welcoming and inclusive environment to foster safety and well-being for diverse families. Since most factors can be both protective and risk factors, families should be viewed through an individualized intersectional, context-informed lens. Families should have opportunities to voice their concerns, to contribute to creating change on a macro level and on a clinical level by having access to family friendly LGBTQIA events for people of color and culturally competent evidenced based treatments.

Included in

Social Work Commons