Op-ed: How LGBT Families Have Changed in 30 Years
BY Advocate Contributors
February 08 2012 8:21 PM ET
It’s hard to remember and hard
to imagine, frankly, a time when simply being gay or lesbian meant you could
have no relationship with your children. The courts automatically presumed you were an unfit parent. Your ex-wives or ex-husbands would try taking
the children away and, many times, would literally steal them from your arms.
For LGBT moms and dads who lived
during this time, there was an incredible and realistic fear of losing access
to your kids — the children who you brought into the world or became parents of through
adoption. That was the reality in
1979 when a group of divorced gay dads gathered in Boston for a coffee and
That original group coalesced in
1981 into what is now the Family Equality Council. First called the Gay Fathers
Coalition, it was started to help those gay men who were coming out of their
marriages maintain relationships with their kids, build support with one
another, and really have a community of other gay fathers who shared their
commitment to family.
For those parents, many of whom
were newly out of the closet, there was also a sense of isolation from the gay community.
So early on, the focus was about sharing information about gay-friendly
attorneys or learning how to navigate the family court system.
In time, as those parents gained
custody or visitation rights, they began to look for places where they could
spend time with other families like theirs so their kids would understand they
weren’t so different.
Out of that was born Family Week
in Provincetown, Mass.
In the beginning, a few dozen
dads and their kids grilled some burgers on the beach. But within a few years
it grew into an important LGBT family destination. For one week a year, it was the place where families with
LGBT parents from across the country could come together and feel welcomed.
The positive, affirming
experience of Family Week still holds true to this day for our families. But
much has changed over the last 30 years for our families.
Today, every leading and
respected child welfare organization believes in the ability of LGBT people to
parent effectively. More than 30 years
of research has shown what we all know to be true — that a child thrives where
there is love, commitment, stability, and structure, no matter who serves as parent.
Decades later, we now have a
generation of young men and women with LGBT parents who have come of age and
who inspire us through their own advocacy — people like YouTube sensation Zach
Wahls and Ella Robinson, the daughter of gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson.
Today, instead of living in fear
and living in the shadows, our families are incredibly visible — from participating
in national traditions like the annual White House Easter Egg Roll to speaking
publicly in the media and in statehouses about the benefit of marriage to their
families in New York, Maryland, Washington, Maine, and California.
What has not changed is the fact
that the first priority for these families is their children. Like all parents,
they still worry about the simple things — bedtime and baseball practice,
report cards and dental bills.
That’s why the Family Equality
Council has changed and grown into the national advocate for LGBT families. We speak out for families in the media,
in the halls of Congress, and in statehouses across the country. We provide information, community, and
services to thousands of parents every year, and we ensure that the truth about
our families is told every time and everywhere it’s needed.
We have not done this work
alone, nor could we. Over the years, we have been joined by a growing community
of advocates and allies. They are LGBT and straight, young and old, politician
and plain citizen, Democrat and Republican.
This month, we gather
to celebrate these advocates at our annual Los Angeles Awards Dinner. Among our
honorees: Chad Griffin, cofounder and board president of the American
Foundation for Equal Rights, the group behind the winning effort to overturn
California’s Proposition 8; former Pennsylvania congressman Patrick Murphy, who helped
lead opposition to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; and Todd Parr,
the award-winning children’s book author.
Through their tireless efforts,
our honorees have worked to create a world where the 1 million families with
LGBT parents are more recognized, respected, and protected.
To help us celebrate, we’ll also
count among our special guests acclaimed writer and director Rob Reiner, who is
a founder of AFER, and Modern Family
stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet.
This event will also give us the
opportunity to celebrate 30 years of Family Equality – both the movement and
While we mark this milestone,
we’ll also acknowledge that our work is far from over. Loving LGBT couples,
some of whom are parents, still can’t get married in 44 states. In more than half of the states across
this country, both parents can’t have a legal relationship with their own child.
And there are still restrictions on placing some of the 424,000 children in
foster care with qualified and loving parents who happen to be LGBT.
These laws and policies not only
impact the physical, financial and emotional well-being of our families, but
they also send a subtle message to the children of LGBT parents that their
families are unsafe and unworthy.
So as we mark the coming of age
of the LGBT family movement, let us together envision a world where all
families are celebrated, where all children are protected, and where all people
Let us hope that this world is
something we will see in the not too distant future and not 30 years from
JENNIFER CHRISLER is executive director for the Family
Equality Council, which will host its annual
awards dinner in Los
Angeles at Universal Studios Globe Theatre on Saturday. For tickets call (617)
502-8708 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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