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Fact Check-Derogatory poster shows misleading statistics about children with same-sex parents

by Reuters
Friday, 4 November 2022 10:41 GMT

Mothers play with their children during low tide in La Jolla, California, January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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A poster that appears to have originated on a Neo-Nazi website presents misleading statistics about children who have same-sex parents

Editor’s note: This story links to content some readers may find offensive.

A poster that appears to have originated on a Neo-Nazi website presents misleading statistics about children who have same-sex parents, citing research that has since been called into question.

Examples can be seen (here) and (here).

The text in the poster reads: “92% of children raised by Gay Parents are abused. 51% have depression. 72% are obese.” Some versions of the poster also include a derogatory word for the gay community.

Some posts (here) include the url “Ironmarch.org” – described by the Anti-Defamation League as “a now-defunct white supremacist discussion forum” (here) – in the bottom left corner of the image.

An archived page of that website (archive.ph/sHvmd) shows that a user published the poster on March 4, 2017 with the text: “I got some new hate facts here, fresh off the press. Should I be putting ‘Ironmarch.org’ on these? I've been debating the idea since the first one I made.”

The poster was seen in Melbourne, Australia in August 2017, and gained media attention at the time (here), (here), (here).

The poster cites as the source of the statistics “D. Paul Sullins, ‘Invisible Victims: Delayed Onset Depression among Adults with Same Sex Parents,’ Depression Research and Treatment, vol. 2016, Article ID 2410392, 8 pages, 2016. Doi: 10.1155/2016/2410392.”


The research article cited by the poster was published in the journal Depression Research and Treatment on May 29, 2016 (here) but has since been called into question by other scientists and by the journal’s publisher.

Publisher Hindawi Limited added an “Expression of Concern” to the paper in 2017 after receiving complaints about its methodology, and about potential bias by its author, a Catholic priest (here).

The publisher’s notice lists flaws in the article pointed out by other researchers in letters to the editor, including its “small sample of same-sex parents, the lack of discussion of other influences such as family breakup on the wellbeing of the children included in the study, the implied causation in the title ‘Invisible Victims’, and the potential conflict of interest implied by the author’s position as a Catholic priest.”

The notice also flagged the journal’s concerns about the paper being used to support hate speech: “The article has been cited to support arguments about same-sex marriage that Hindawi believes to be hateful and wrong. These arguments do not represent the views of Hindawi, our staff, or the editorial board of Depression Research and Treatment. We strongly condemn any attempt to justify hate speech or bigotry through reference to the scholarly record.”

One of the letters received by the journal is reprinted alongside the original article (here ). Dr. Nathaniel Frank, an author and director of the “What We Know” project, then based at Columbia Law School, wrote that to support Sullins’ conclusions, the study would need to compare “same-sex- and different-sex-headed households in which it is known that no family disruptions occurred (or that the same level of such disruptions occurred in each group).”

“Instead, he draws sweeping, outlier conclusions (74 studies collected by my research team at Columbia Law School’s What We Know Project, which aggregates scholarship with public policy implications, have found that parent sexual orientation does not affect the wellbeing of children) that can only be reached by fudging the way gay- or lesbian-headed households are discussed and compared to households headed by heterosexuals,” Frank, now at the Center for the Study of Inequality at Cornell University (www.nathanielfrank.com/about), (here), continued.

The article’s “conflation of household stability with parent gender fatally mars his conclusions, which are much more damning of gay and lesbian parenting than are warranted by his data,” Frank wrote.

In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center denounced the study as “pseudoscience” in an article (here).

Philip N. Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, has criticized three other studies by Sullins in a blog post (here ), writing that “Sullins’ judgment is no doubt clouded by his overarching religious objection to homosexuality.”

Sullins told Reuters via email, “I have no responsibility for that offensive poster, had no knowledge of it before it first appeared, and I repudiate its lurid graphics and use of pejorative epithets.” Sullins added, however, “I must acknowledge that the statistics on the poster are accurately cited” from his 2016 paper and that he stood by his original results.

“The point of the study is that, while harm outcomes for such children may be small to nonexistent while they are still in early adolescence, by the time they reach early adulthood some harm outcomes (not all) increase dramatically.” Still, he told Reuters, such findings “should not, in my opinion, prompt unjust discrimination or pejorative stigma.”

Sullins also pointed to his study’s conclusion, which states: “the present findings should be interpreted with caution and balance, based on the limited evidence presented, and (it is hoped) neither exaggerated nor dismissed out of hand on preconceived ideological grounds.”


In addition to the limitations of the evidence in Sullins’ study – which drew its conclusions based on a sample of just 20 same-sex-parent families – experts pointed out that the results are out of line with the majority of evidence to date on the question of how children of same-sex parents fare compared with other kids.

A review of research that was prepared for the American Sociological Association and published in 2014 (here ) examined more than 40 studies in the United States about children raised by same-sex parents.

“These studies reveal that children raised in same-sex parent families fare just as well as children raised in different-sex parent families across a wide spectrum of child well-being measures: academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health, early sexual activity, and substance abuse,” the review concludes.

A large review of 19,000 studies and articles on the topic of same-sex parenting published in 2015 (here) also concluded that children raised by same-sex couples are no worse off than children raised by opposite-sex parents.

That analysis showed that there was some disagreement in the 1980s among scientists on the outcome of same-sex parenting, but debate largely subsided in the 1990s, one of the review’s coauthors told Reuters in a 2015 interview (here). A clear consensus had formed by 2000 that there was no difference between same-sex and different-sex parenting in the psychological, behavioral or educational outcomes of children, University of Oregon sociology professor Ryan Light said at the time.

Frank told Reuters Fact Check via email: “When researchers do use genuine scientific principles to explore LGBTQ families, they find consistently that growing up in households headed by same-sex parents does not raise overall risks for children, as found in scores of peer-reviewed studies collected by Cornell’s What We Know Project.”

To date, the What We Know Project has examined 79 scholarly works about the well-being of children with same-sex parents (here ), concluding that 75 studies found they were not affected negatively compared to other children while four of these studies found children with same-sex parents experienced more disadvantages.

“Since all four took their samples from children who endured family break-ups, a cohort known to face added risks, these studies have been criticized by many scholars as unreliable assessments of the well-being of LGB-headed households,” the study authors wrote. “Taken together, this research forms an overwhelming scholarly consensus, based on over three decades of peer-reviewed research, that having a gay or lesbian parent does not harm children.”


Misleading. The poster was created on a Neo-Nazi website and includes misleading statistics about same-sex parenting drawn from a small, controversial study. Most of the research on children with same-sex parents has found that they are not negatively affected as compared to other children.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .