In recent years, legal scholars have paid considerable attention to the social and legal pressures to assimilate into mainstream culture that minority groups experience (“assimilation demands”) in the public sphere. Commentators have written about assimilation demands on sexual minority identities in politics, the workplace, schools, and in communities of color. Yet little, if any, scholarship has addressed assimilation demands in the private sphere, namely families. “Family Assimilation Demands and Sexual Minority Youth” explores parents’ assimilation demands on their children’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
This Article argues that, harmful as assimilation demands on adults may be, they are often more harmful to children in the home, and can no longer go unaddressed by the law. Parents’ assimilation demands compromise children’s healthy identity development and attachments with parents. For LGBT youth in particular, rejection from families increases their risk for homelessness, involvement in the juvenile system, drug use, poor academic performance, or suicidality. Yet the legal system continues to leave them under-protected because courts have been unable to coherently explain why assimilation demands are harmful or consistently protect children from them.
Assimilation demands that undermine children’s identities and hinder their well-being should be recognized as an additional exception to parental rights. Analyzing relevant case law and social science research, this Article contends that assimilation demands are not a form of acceptable parenting because they are coercive and harmful. Rather than positing assimilation demands as a form of emotional abuse, however, this Article recommends a new framework—that of the “Family in Need of Services”—that could empower children who experience egregious conflict with parents to seek state intervention. Family courts that would direct these families to mediation and counseling would better ensure family cohesion and support for LGBT youth.