10 Tips for Starting Families From Families Who've Been There
By Allison Tate
If You're Looking for Advice...
For the most part, LGBT people get to decide they're having kids. And that can leave a lot of time to process how life will change or whether we're prepared or consternation over the plethora of options for starting a family. What should you really focus on?
On the following pages, we've asked for advice from a number of LGBT parents who've been there. Every family is different, and every experience is different; still, it can be soothing to look into your possible future and hear it's going to be just fine — great, even.
"My advice is to be patient and persistent when embarking on the wonderful journey of parenthood. We live in a time where LGBT couples have more options than ever when it comes to starting a family, but that doesn't mean it won't take some work. You might have a plan in your head about how everything in the process is going to go, but there will always be unexpected and sometimes amazing things that happen. In my case, that meant finding out that I was pregnant at the same time as my wife with due dates three days apart. Definitely not expected, but most certainly a blessing. I can promise you that starting a family is well worth it and will be one of the most amazing experiences of your life." — Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD
From left: Thomas Ellis-Henderson, Sarah Kate Ellis, Kate Ellis-Henderson, and Kristen Ellis-Henderson. Thomas and Kate are both 7.
“My best tip for starting a family is to just do it! Everyone will have their opinion and advice, but the only person you should listen to is your heart. Are you ready? Is this something you really want? If you answered yes to both, then do it! Don't wait for this or that or the other. We may not get a partner. We may never have enough money. What we do have is the capacity to love and the ability to work really hard at being the best parent possible. So do it and do it and surround yourself with support and love! I send you mine!" — Perez Hilton, celebrity news blogger, columnist, and television personality
From left: Perez Hilton, Mia Alma Lavandeira, Mario Armando Lavandeira III
"My advice for queer couples looking to start a family would be to just do it and don’t hesitate. My wife and I have three kids, and it has been the most gratifying experience of our lives. It has not only brought us together as a couple in incredible ways, but having a family of our own is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Don’t let the logistics and costs get in the way. Find a way to make your family creation process work for you and enjoy the process together. In the beginning I resented how much we had to go through and spend to start our family; now I would do it over again and again to have what we have as a family." — Brandy Black, founder and editor in chief, The Next Family
From left: Susan and Brandy with kids Bella, Sophia, and Penn at the top
"Take a deep breath, then take some time to learn about all of your options. You don’t need to go down an internet rabbit hole, but do get some good books, like Eric Rosswood’s Journey to Same-Sex Parenthood. Speak to a few providers of different forms of family creation, and seek out parents who take different paths. But most of all, know that you can’t make a wrong decision. LGBTQ people do great as parents no matter how they come to be parents, and every path has its own challenges and gifts. While each of our stories is different, the more you know about different stories, the better you’ll be able to look ahead and embrace the unique journey that will be your family’s. When you do make a decision, choose professionals who bring lots of experience with LGBTQ parents. There are legal, cultural, and social hurdles that you’ll want experts to help you navigate, such as the fact that your names on a birth certificate, or your marriage, do not ensure parental rights." — Gabriel Blau, LGBTQ rights advocate and former executive director of Family Equality Council
From left: Gabriel Blau, Elijah, Dylan Stein
"If you don’t already live and love out loud, be prepared to do so. The path you take to parenthood may be quiet and even private, but once you have a child that changes. Babies, kids, and the members who make your family cannot go unnoticed once you become a parent. Your sexual orientation and gender identity are no longer just yours. They will become your child’s too. They will become part of play groups. They will become part of PTA meetings. They will become part of your kid’s soccer or basketball teams. Who you are will become the framework for building confidence, courage, and kindness in your child. Live and love out loud. The world deserves to see our love." — Amber Leventry, contributing writer, The Next Family
Kids from left: Ryan, Benjamin, and Eva; moms from left: Amy and Amber, photographed by Ashlee Parker, A.P. Pix
"My one tip to give to a queer couple who wants to start a family is to be very aware of how race and gender play into things, at the playground, at the store, on the bus. Our family is a transracial family. I'm Asian, my son is black, and my partner is white. People make assumptions based on race and gender, even in our own LGBT community. Race shouldn't matter, but it does. And cuts both ways. A lot of African-Americans, oftentimes just strangers on the street, show us a lot of love and concern for my son's well-being and safety. But others have asked where is my son's mother and who are his 'real' parents. My son says, 'My two dads are my real parents.' At Brooklyn's Gay Pride Festival, I was talking to some friends, and my son, who was 4 at the time, got away from me and climbed into one of those gold carts for emergencies. One volunteer, an African-American lesbian, told my son, 'Oh, no, baby, you can't be there. Where's your mommy?' I dashed over with my diaper bag in one hand and baby toys in the other and headed straight for my son and the volunteer. As I approached, she looked around me, asking, 'Where's your mommy? Where's your mommy?' When I got there, I looked her straight in the eye and said 'I'm his mommy[ and with a flick of a snap said [Happy Gay Pride.' We both laughed, but again, race and gender assumptions are very real even in our own LGBT community. " — Glenn D. Magpantay, executive director, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
Pictured: Glenn D. Magpantay with his son, Malcolm G. Magpantay
"Make family dinners a priority. From the time our eldest was a baby, my wife, Alison, and I have made sure to make the time to sit down to dinner pretty much every night, almost always to a home-cooked meal. We put our phones away, say the same ritual each night, then eat and talk. We usually laugh, and yes, sometimes we fight. When the kids were younger we played games like Two Truths and a Lie or A Rose and a Thorn to trick them into telling us about their days. There was a period of time when we would have 'reading dinners' where we all brought our books to the table. Lately we talk about politics, their feelings, and our impressions of life. Dinners is where we heard about their experience of having lesbian parents and having an unknown donor. Regardless of what we were doing, our family meals foster warmth, security, and love that has helped our children build a strong sense of family identity. So as you embark on this crazy, joyful, humbling and sometimes stressful love journey, make time for dinner. Oh, and P.S. — remember to trust yourself. You got this!" — Judy Appel, executive director, Our Family Coalition
From left: Kobi Appel-Bernstein, Judy Appel, Alison Bernstein, Tris Appel-Bernstein (and Shiloh the dog, with Charlie and Alaska not pictured)
"As a single adoptive parent who adopted in Tennessee, my best piece of advice would be to never give up on your dream of being a parent. While the world has changed lots in the last 15 years, I would bet that there are still lots of places that put barriers before LGBT folk who wish to parent. My personal experience was that two agencies refused to work with me as an out gay pediatrician. Having spent years caring for children professionally, I knew that I could be a good dad. So employ all of the resources available to you — nonprofit organizations, friends, other LGBT parents, and websites. I also would recommend doing lots of reading about gay parenting. Personally, I found Dan Savage's The Kid and Jesse Green's The Velveteen Father to be very helpful. Both explored in very different ways how becoming a parent as a gay man represented something quite outside the norm. Using humor and deep contemplation, these books forced me to think through many issues involved in this grand journey.” — Christopher Harris, pediatrician, single father
From left: Maria and Christopher Harris
"First, to the extent that you are still in the closet, either in whole or in part, those days are over. You cannot instill in your kids a strong sense of their own dignity and self-esteem unless you first respect your own dignity by being completely out and open about yourself. My second piece of advice is the same as the advice I often give to budding attorneys, which makes sense since parenting is a kind of advocacy: Go with your gut. You alone know your kids better than anyone else as well as what's in their interest — trust your own instincts, no matter what others may have to say. " — Roberta Kaplan, lawyer, professor and author of Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA
From left: Roberta, Jacob, and Rachel Kaplan in Central Park
"My husband and I adopted our son through the Los Angeles County foster adoption system when he was 5 years old. We chose this route because it had resonance for us. We educated ourselves on all the different ways to become parents— private adoption, surrogacy, open adoption — but we kept coming back to foster adopt as the way to go. The minute we did, our life had an uncanny sense of the inevitable, like we were going to get a kid no matter what. It was terrifying and exhilarating. My advice to any queer couple is to do your homework. Find out which route has the most resonance to you both, trust your gut and go with that one.You'll know. Make a choice and put your shoulder behind it. Throughout the process other adoptive parents told us 'Your kid will find you,' and as metaphysical and untenable as that sounds, that's exactly what happened. The first time we saw a photo of our kid, we knew he was ours. After one month of living togethe , it felt as if we had always been together. Do your homework, make a choice, and this is very important: Enjoy your time as a child-free couple as much as possible. Enjoy the freedom and the carefree days you can sleep in, because someday soon, those times will be a dim and distant memory." — Alec Mapa, actor, comedian, and writer. To find out about Alec's adoption journey in greater detail, watch his Showtime specialAlec Mapa: Baby Daddy.
From left: Jamie, Zion, Alec Mapa. Photo by Steven C. De La Cruz (407) 758-1442 FB: Steven C. De La Cruz Photography IG: @stevencdelacruz
“I think being on the same page as a united front is so important, for both your relationship and your kids knowing that you are in synch. So talk about your parenting philosophy, everything from family bed, to discipline to values you want to instill in your kid(s). And when you do disagree about a key parenting issue, try to not do so in front of your kids. Long after your kids are grown, they will still benefit from your consistency, and the two of you will still like each other.” — Kate Kendell, executive director, National Center for Lesbian Rights
From left: Julian, Kate, Ariana, Sandy, and Posey
"After you have decided your path, whether it be surrogacy, adoption, fostering, etc., start being as proactive as possible. The one advantage queer couples have when it comes to starting a family is that it is always planned. By this I mean there are never any accidental pregnancies, and therefore we have the gift of time on our hands. Utilize this time wisely — get all of your ducks in a row, and your support system lined up and ready to go. Do as much research as you possibly can, but don’t get overwhelmed by it all, which can happen very easily. If you don’t have relatives in your area, interview babysitters — preferably ones with tons of experience. Have fun with this period — set up a neutral, genderless nursery, or child’s room, depending on their age, and select all of your essential gear. Enjoy yourself and this time as much as you can because your world is about to be turned upside down — in the very best way possible!" -— Frank Lowe, blogger. Follow Frank on Twitter @GayAtHomeDad and Instagram @gayathomedad