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Transformation of Family Norms in a Transnational World: How LGBT Migrants can Affect Change through Social Remittances

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TOFNITW (Transformation of Family Norms in a Transnational World: How LGBT Migrants can Affect Change through Social Remittances)

Reporting period: 2017-02-01 to 2019-01-31

This project examined perceptions and receptions of same-sex marriage and same-sex families across different socio-institutional contexts. In the first stage of the project, the research has focused on the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), who are married and/or are raising children with a same-sex partner in Belgium or the Netherlands – the first two countries in the world that recognized same-sex marriage and that currently provide full parental rights to same-sex couples. While CEE is a region encompassing many countries with different traditions and histories, the project focused on those that were both EU members and that constitutionally defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. During 2017-2019, these were Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. One of the goals of this project was to examine how moving from a country with restrictive LGB legislation to a country that had achieved greater LGB equality influenced the everyday lives of LGB individuals and their families. Pursuing this goal, the project set out two research objectives: 1) identification of individual consequences of establishing same-sex families for CEE LGB migrants, both in their countries of origin and in their receiving countries; 2) identification of interpersonal consequences of establishing same-sex families for the CEE gays and lesbians, with a particular focus on the changes in the evaluation of their LGB identity as a result of their new family status.

In the second stage of the project, the research focus shifted to LGB migrants’ family members and close friends still residing in CEE communities in which same-sex marriage was not possible and same-sex families often faced great difficulties in achieving societal and legal recognition and protection of their families. The goal of the second stage was to examine how intercultural contact between LGB transnational migrants living in same-sex families and their family members and friends in CEE home communities exposes tensions between various family models and underlies transformations of traditional family practices. The research objective underlying this goal focused on the identification of possible changes and shifts in family members and friends’ values and opinions on same-sex families and normative models of family in general. With this, the project sought to enhance understanding of how intercultural contact and bottom-up exposure to new institutional family models might change perceptions of what is imaginable and thus possibly serve to initiate a long-term socio-cultural change.
The project's fieldwork included biographic narrative interviews with eleven LGB CEE migrants in Belgium and the Netherlands. The research also included seven semi-structured interviews with migrants’ parents, four interviews with their siblings and six interviews with close friends – all currently living in Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Poland or Slovakia. In regard to individual and interpersonal consequences of migration to Belgium or the Netherlands for LGB individuals, the results suggests that this experience was deeply transformative both for their life trajectories and for their relationships with family members and friends in CEE home countries. First, the participants experienced their migration as liberating at the level of everyday life, primarily observable through a profound change in nature of disclosing their LGB identity. This migration, furthermore, allowed them to realize family lives which, for some of them, had not been possible or even imaginable before. Second, the shift was also reflected in the changing nature of the relationship with the parents in particular. Specifically, while their same-sex marriages prompted LGB migrants to demand stronger parental acknowledgement of their non-heterosexual lives, they still compromised on the visibility of their marriages in the CEE context. In contrast, with the birth of children, such compromises stopped, and LGB migrants took control over the visibility of their family structure back from their parents. Finally, in the relation to the third objective, the study’s results suggest that, while the acceptance of same-sex marriage remains very gradual and difficult, children play an important role in facilitating the integration of LGB-headed families into the extended families-of-origin.

The main results of this projects, targeting general audience, are published in a booklet available both in print and in electronic form, and in eight languages. This booklet also contains comics based on the interview excerpts that were disseminated through Facebook and Twitter. Academic output includes two completed scientific articles (one already available as OnlineFirst publication and one forthcoming in September 2019), and two articles under preparation. Results were further disseminated through four international academic conferences and an invited workshop for academic participants. Targeting stakeholders and general audience, the projects’ results were further presented in an invited talk at the Rainbow Families Conference, at the stakeholders’ seminar which the fellow co-organized with the Network of European LGBTIQ* Families Associations (NELFA) and Homoparentalité, Belgian rainbow families’ association, and at the public lecture organized by the Croatian Sociological Association. Finally, during the duration of the project, the fellow has also organized a well-attended international academic conference on families and sexualities in Europe.
The project has implications for state of the art in both migration and sexuality studies. First, this study highlights the specific transnational experiences of a group that has so far been mainly invisible – that of non-heterosexual migrants and their families. These experiences and transnational interactions become particularly valuable in analyzing complex ways in which familyhood is negotiated across connected but different socio-institutional contexts. In addition, this study also provides a novel approach to the examinations of social remittances by exploring cross-cultural effects of the institutional innovation of the same-sex marriage, which then allows this study to contribute to a wider sociological debate about links between institutional and cultural change. Second, this study directly tackles the literature gap related to parents’ responses to non-heterosexuality and it provides ground-breaking insights on parents’ adjustments to non-heterosexual transitions of marriage and children. Next, by exploring the patterns of parental adjustments in depth and by further analysing the implications of the changing life trajectories and differences in intra-European socio-institutional frameworks for LGB migrants and their families, the study’s results further contribute to wider sexual citizenship debate on the consequences of inclusion of LGB individuals into the mainstream institutions. This contribution, in turn, carries tangible policy implications. Most notably, these are related to the importance of the visibility of same-sex marriage and children of same-sex parents and their institutional protection. These results suggest that the responsibility of policy makers lies not in ‘waiting for the people to become ready’ but in creating and supporting laws and institutions that fully recognize and protect non-heterosexual families.
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