My Princess Boy and Family Acceptance at Its Finest

Via the Advocate comes a wonderful interview with the family of a gender variant child, five-year-old Dyson. (Video below.) Dyson’s mother even wrote a book, My Princess Boy: A mom’s story about a young boy who loves to dress up, for other families like theirs.

I have not yet read it myself, so I can’t give any specific recommendation, except to say that such media in general is sorely needed—and the video clip after the jump below is great. Not only do Dyson’s mother, father, and older brother express their support, but so do several local teachers. The school even supported Dyson, who wore a princess Halloween costume to class, by having several of the male staff dress up and perform as princesses, too (and in a respectful way, not a teasing one).

I’m not sure I agree with the wisdom of having Dyson sitting there during the interview while the adults are discussing being gender variant on a grown-up level—I can imagine it might make him even more conscious of being “different”—but his family and teachers’ love and support shine through. It’s a wonderful antidote to all of the stories we’ve heard lately about the lack of support for LGBTQ students in schools.

If you’re looking for more resources on gender variant children, see my previous post over at Mombian on the subject.


Religion as an Antidote to Anti-LGBT Bullying

There’s been a lot written on the recent suicides related to anti-gay bulling. I found this piece by Rabbi Victor Appell, “If Only Tyler Clementi Had Been to a Gay Synagogue,” particularly moving. Too often religion and LGBT rights are set up as opposites; Appell shows us how they don’t have to be, and how “coming out in a religious context” might even have helped some of the youth who have committed suicide after anti-LGBT bullying. Appell himself was the subject of such bullying. Now he is a rabbi and a gay dad, raising two children with his partner.

I am not myself religious, and would not ever say that religion is the best or only answer to bullying. I do know, however, that messages of hate disguised as religion help no one, and can do great damage to LGBTQ youth. On the positive side, religions have the power to offer great comfort and assistance to those within their communities of belief. Some might say they have a God-given duty to do so.

Appell explains:

It is difficult to have a positive self-image when much of society would tell you that what you are is abnormal or that you are a sinner and would seek to deny your civil rights and make your expressions of love against the law. Coming out in a religious context challenges all that. We can learn, in synagogues and churches that welcome us, that what we are is good; that we can love and be loved; that we are created, like everyone else, in God’s image; and that God loves us with an unqualified love. Religion has the ability to transform us. With people not only hating us but also trying to make us hate ourselves, we desperately need places where we can learn to love ourselves.

Regardless of your particular religious faith or lack thereof, go read the rest of his piece. Appell makes a point more people need to hear.

A related read is “Why Anti-Gay Bullying is a Theological Issue,” by Baptist minister Cody J. Sanders at Religion Dispatches.

Sanders writes:

More difficult to address are the myriad ways in which everyday churches that do a lot of good in the world also perpetuate theologies that undergird and legitimate instrumental violence. The simplistic, black and white lines that are drawn between conceptions of good and evil make it all-too-easy to apply these dualisms to groups of people. When theologies leave no room for ambiguity, mystery and uncertainty, it becomes very easy to identify an “us“ (good, heterosexual) versus a “them“ (evil, gay). . . . it becomes easy to know who it is okay to hate or to bully or, seemingly more benignly, to ignore. . . .

Ministers who remain in comfortable silence on sexuality must speak out. Churches that have silently embraced gay and lesbian members for years must publically hang the welcome banner. How long will we continue to limit and qualify our messages of acceptance, inclusion and embrace for the most vulnerable in order to maintain the comfort of those in our communities of faith who are well-served by the status quo?

It’s a great piece, well worth reading in full (and printing out and bringing to your place of worship, if you have one).

For comparison purposes, see the piece in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” column, “Christian compassion requires the truth about harms of homosexuality,” by Tony Perkins of the ultra-conservative Family Research Council. Perkins asserted that Christians should not tolerate any kind of bullying — but then called homosexuality “abnormal” and said, “the life which is holy (from a spiritual perspective) or even healthy (from a secular perspective) requires abstinence from homosexual conduct.”

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has put together a roundup of posts debunking the “science” that Perkins cites — but I’m guessing most readers here are already skeptical of his claims.

We need to be careful, though, not to taint all religious organizations and believers because of the harm caused by some. On a positive note, for example, Jewish LGBT group Keshet, with over 100 initial community partners, has just launched the “Do Not Stand Idly By” campaign, encouraging people to commit to ending homophobic bullying and harassment in synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities. The Jewish community indeed knows the dangers of standing idly by in the face of oppression. (Thanks to Liz of Eat, Drink, and Be Mommy for the tip.)

I’m sure other religions, denominations, and congregations have started similar campaigns. Leave a comment if you know of any, or if you want to share ways that your secular school or other organization has addressed anti-LGBT bullying.


Teens of Lesbian Families Better Adjusted than Most

A new report from the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), the longest-running and largest study of American lesbian families, has found that the 17-year-old children of lesbian mothers, all conceived through donor insemination, “were rated higher than their peers in social, academic, and overall competence, and lower in aggressive behavior, rule-breaking, and social problems, on standardized assessments of psychological adjustment.” The results were published today in the prestigious journal Pediatrics.

The long-term, “longitudinal” study of the same group over many years offers a picture of lesbian families few other studies can match. The NLLFS began interviewing the mothers in 1986, when they were inseminating or pregnant, then again when the children were a year and a half to two years old, five, and ten. They directly questioned the 10-year-olds and the 17-year-olds.

I had the pleasure in 2008 of interviewing principal investigator Dr. Nanette Gartrell, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and a 2010 Williams Distinguished Scholar at the UCLA School of  Law. Here are a couple of key excerpts about some of the preliminary findings from this phase of the study:

One finding from the teen phase that “knocked my socks off,“ she [Dr. Gartrell] observes, was that, “in terms of overall quality of life, almost 80% say they enjoy, are satisfied with, and find life worthwhile.“ She reflects, “I don’t know how your teenage years were, but I wouldn’t have given mine a rating anywhere close to that. That says something pretty remarkable about what the moms are doing in terms of helping these kids navigate adolescence.“ . . .

The mothers have also been educating their children about a range of diversity issues, including racism, sexism, and antisemitism, as well as homophobia. “It’s the whole spectrum,“ Gartrell says. “That’s a really promising and needed transformation in our culture and in future generations.“

It is a great sign that these findings have now appeared in a major, peer-reviewed academic publication. Pediatrics is the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (not to be confused with the homophobic American College of Pediatricians).

I should also, however, point out an earlier paper by Dr. Gartrell and Dr. Henny Bos of the University of Amsterdam, who is conducting a similar study in the Netherlands. The paper, in the Journal of Orthopsychiatry compares children of lesbian families in the U.S. and the Netherlands. Results showed that Dutch children were more open about growing up in a lesbian family, experienced less homophobia, and demonstrated fewer emotional and behavioral problems than American children (even though the emotional and behavioral problems of the American children were low on an overall scale). Homophobia was found to account for part of the difference in psychosocial adjustment between the Dutch and the American children.

There is much more work to be done to provide a full picture of lesbian families—if such a thing is even possible. Adoptive families, families of color,  interracial families, lesbian families with children from a previous heterosexual relationship, divorced families, blended families, families in different economic groups, not to mention the various permutations of families with gay, bisexual, and transgender parents, and combinations of all of the above—each deserve further study. The NLLFS findings are still of great significance, however. The NLLFS has been studying one wavelength of the great LGBT family spectrum longer than anyone else, and continues to inform our understanding of ourselves—and with luck, the understanding of others as well.


U.S. Census and Non-Traditional Families

Most of us have received U.S. Census forms this week. For some of us, though, the very basic questions about our family relationships present certain problems.

Oh, I know. Same-sex couples have the choice of picking either “Unmarried partner” or “Husband or Wife” to indicate our relationships. (While many of us don’t use the terms “husband” or “wife,” it’s still better than our only option on federal tax forms, which is “Single.”) Initiatives like Queer the Census and Our Families Count have been working hard to educate the LGBT community about the importance of indicating our relationship status.

There’s another problem, though, which applies to many same-sex parents.

Let’s say you’re a couple with kids. One of you is a biological parent and the other is non-biological. Imagine you live in a place where a non-biological parent cannot do a second-parent adoption, or in a place that allows a non-biological parent to go on the child’s birth certificate without needing an  adoption. Doing an adoption as well is a good idea for when you travel,  but let’s say you haven’t done this yet—or have, but don’t consider  yourself an “adoptive“ parent to the child you planned with your partner from the start.

The Census questions ask about the first person in the household. For  each additional person, they ask, “How is this person related to Person  1? Mark ONE box.“ Which of the following boxes would you choose if you are the non-biological  parent, answering the question about your child:

  • Husband or wife
  • Biological son or daughter
  • Adopted son or daughter
  • Stepson or stepdaughter
  • Brother or sister
  • Father or mother
  • Grandchild
  • Parent-in-law
  • Son-in-law or daughter-in-law
  • Other relative
  • Roomer or boarder
  • Housemate or roommate
  • Unmarried partner
  • Other nonrelative

That’s right. There is no appropriate way for a non-biological  parent to indicate their child, even if they are legally on the child’s birth certificate, unless they have done an adoption and are willing to identify as an adoptive parent. Not that there’s anything wrong with being an adoptive parent—far from it—but there’s a difference between adopting a child from outside of one’s family and being forced to adopt the child one has planned from the start with a partner. From a  demographic and sociological perspective, that’s useful information.

One could of course choose “Other relative,” but that seems insulting as well as inaccurate.

Yes, you could just make sure the biological parent was listed as “Person 1,” but some families might not want to do that. Consider that Our Families Count advises:

Census reports some statistics based on the race/ethnicity of the “household“. In these cases, they categorize households by the race/ethnicity of Person 1 (head of household). Given that people of color are often under counted, LGBT people of color in bi-racial relationships should consider identifying as the head of household.

When I first wrote about this a year ago at Mombian, S commented:

They’d be much better to have an option like “child by birth“ rather than “biological child,“ to denote someone who became a legal parent by virtue of the child having been born into that person’s custody. Because even a heterosexual couple who used donor sperm to conceive the kids wouldn’t technically qualify to check off “biological child“ either, if the dad is Person 1 filling out the form.

Not only that, but because the Census form only asks for the relation of everyone in the household to “Person 1” (whomever you decide that is), the relation of “Person 2” to the child is completely lost. S observed:

A family composed of children living with one biological parent and one stepparent, or one biological parent and one adoptive parent, can look exactly the same as a family whose children are living with two biological parents, if a bio parent is listed as Person 1. Alternatively, if the stepparent or adoptive parent is Person 1, then you lose all record that the child is living with any bio parents.

This is thus “an enormously inaccurate way to gather data about family structure, and not just because of gay/lesbian issues,” she said.

Hear, hear. Maybe by the time Census 2020 rolls around, we’ll have a form that better reflects the lives of all Americans.

If you’re a non-biological, non-adoptive parent, please let us know in the comments how you’re completing the form!


Preview Review: A Family Is a Family Is a Family

Rosie O’Donnell’s new documentary A Family Is a Family Is a Family, premieres this Sunday, January 31, at 7 p.m. ET on HBO. I’ve seen a screener, and here are my thoughts.

Overall, this is a great film, aimed at the elementary school ages, that focuses on children of various backgrounds speaking about their families. There are children with same-sex parents, opposite-sex parents, single parents, parents of different races, adoptive parents, children living with grandparents, and more. It is a wide-ranging sampling of the great diversity of family life in our country. If there is one gap, it is that there are no children with transgender parents—or at least none that speak about having them.

This is not primarily a film about Rosie and her family, although there is one segment in which she speaks with her daughter Vivienne Rose about her recent separation from her partner Kelli. Divorced and separated parents will appreciate their dialogue, in which Rosie assures Vivienne Rose that they are still a family.

The musical guests, including They Might Be Giants, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Ziggy Marley, are terrific. I hope HBO puts out a CD or DVD of just the music, in addition to a DVD of the whole show.

Here’s the tricky part. The latter part of the film talks a lot about how families came to be, and necessarily gets into explanations of sperm and egg. The explanations here are age-appropriate for elementary school children. One scene involves an animated sperm wooing an egg to the strains of Frank Sinatra. Some of the children also discuss amongst themselves their understanding of sperm meeting egg. Most are clinical and unrelated to any sexual activity, and may even help parents to realize that they can explain these issues without freaking out about discussing sex with their kids. One child, however, does state that a man and a woman “have sex” in order to make sperm meet egg, but there is no further explanation of what “sex” is.

Don’t get me wrong—I think it is important for children to receive honest and age-appropriate explanations of these issues. For parents looking for a way to start these conversations, Rosie’s film is a great tool.

My concern is that by mixing discussion of family structure with discussion of reproduction (no matter how simplified and age-appropriate), Rosie will turn away parents who do not feel their children are quite ready for the latter. They will therefore not reap the benefits of the former.

Also, the right-wing has already tried to ban family diversity films that do not touch on reproduction at all. In fact, one of their main arguments for keeping LGBT-inclusive media out of schools is that it is not “appropriate” for young children—with the implication that it necessarily involves talking about sex. It doesn’t. As most readers here likely know, embracing family diversity is first and foremost about family structure.

By blurring the line, and discussing both family structure and reproduction in one film, however, Rosie risks adding fuel to the right-wing argument that “all” discussion of LGBT families is at root a discussion about sex. That is not to say that she shouldn’t have done this—but we as a community should be prepared to deal with the reaction.

Perceptive and open-minded parents will understand the difference, though, and will appreciate A Family Is a Family Is a Family for what it is—a celebration of family diversity and the various ways our families came to be.

(Disclosure: HBO, through various ad networks to which I belong, has purchased advertising for “A Family Is a Family Is a Family” on my Mombian site.)


Lesbian Moms Rejected as Leaders of Son’s Cub Scout Troop

Cate and Elizabeth Wirth, a lesbian couple in Vermont, were told by a Vermont district director of the Boy Scouts that they could no longer volunteer for their son’s Cub Scout troop after it became known that they are a couple. According to the Rutland Herald, Richard Stockton, Scout executive for the Green Mountain Council, confirmed, “The national policy of the Boy Scouts of America is we don’t accept gays and lesbians as volunteers.”

This is awful, but given the Boy Scout’s previous history with gay matters, it is perhaps not surprising. (For the record, I also have a serious problem with the fact that the Boy Scouts don’t allow atheists or agnostics to be leaders, either.)

What is interesting, however, and what I hope will stir some discussion among those of you who are around over the holiday, is this comment from one of the mothers:

Cate Wirth said Tuesday that she expects her son to remain in Scouting, despite this incident. And as of Tuesday afternoon, she had not told the boy about the comments.

“I still think Scouts is a good thing for him because he doesn’t have a dad and he’s really drawn to a lot of stereotypical male stuff that Scouting does, outdoorsy stuff,” Wirth said. “I don’t want my personal issues to impact his life in that way. I was concerned if he knew about it he might be uncomfortable going.”

She said of her decision to allow him to continue in Scouts, “Politically, if he weren’t a 10-year-old boy I’d feel differently about it. I wouldn’t support the organization. But his needs come first.”

First, kudos to Wirth for putting her son’s needs and interests above all. I’m not sure I could have resisted the urge to yank my son out of the organization.

At the same time, I find myself uneasy about her words. “Stereotypically male stuff” does not in fact need to be done by a male. That’s one of the arguments trotted out by those who say all children should have a mother and a father, so let’s put that old canard to rest right now. My opinion is that yes, there are certain ineffable things about being male that are usually best conveyed by someone who identifies with that gender (parent or otherwise). Specific activities, on the other hand, should not be so gendered.

If the Wirths are not outdoorsy types themselves, however, that is fine. I’d like to imagine, though, that there are options other than the Boy Scouts for their son—but then again, without knowing their particular location, schedules, etc., it is hard for me to say. Perhaps the Boy Scouts are indeed the best alternative for them. The whole situation reminds me of the many trade-offs we must make as parents. Again, they deserve credit for making what must be a hard decision.

I have to wonder, though: Tanney told them, “We wouldn’t want you pushing your lifestyle on the boys.” How long before their son lets slip a remark about having two moms or accidentally reveals a family photo that he tucked away in his backpack? Would the Scouts go so far as to reject the son of lesbian moms, regardless of his own sexual orientation, because of the danger of exposing other boys to their “lifestyle”?

What would you do in their situation?


Scholastic Changes Its Mind, but Not Completely

Many of you have been following the story of Scholastic and their request that author Lauren Myracle change the lesbian moms of one character into a mom and a dad. According to the original article on this by School Library Journal, Scholastic would not consider the book for its book fairs unless the change was made.

Over 4000 people–many of you–signed a petition at asking Scholastic to reconsider. The hard-working folks at, especially Michael Jones, editor of their Gay Rights blog, also worked behind the scenes with Scholastic, and now bring us some good news: Scholastic will now include the book in their spring book fairs.

All is not yet resolved, however.

On the positive side, the company, which only received a 50 out of 100 on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, is now on record as stating: “We are committed to a review process that considers all books equally regardless of their inclusion of LGBT characters and same sex parents.” I hope that stance will benefit many authors–and, more importantly, many children–in the future.

It’s a far cry from Scholastic’s response to SLJ’s first inquiries, when they said: “Authors are often given the opportunity to make changes in the books to meet the norms of the various communities that host the fairs.”

Did they change their minds, or was there an initial misunderstanding? You decide. Consider, though, that Myracle was kind enough to respond to an e-mail I sent her, before this latest news broke. She states:

I appreciate the support of Scholastic’s Book Club, which makes books available to kids through their catalog, and which is indeed offering Luv Ya Bunches to its readers. I have recently been informed that Scholastic Book Fair is considering Luv Ya Bunches for its spring school book fairs. That’s great. It’s so very important, I think, to reflect the wonderful diversity of our country and culture. I do, however, stand by what I told School Library Journal.

Here’s the remaining problem, though. Scholastic has only stated they will carry the book in their middle school book fairs. The book, however, is listed as appropriate for ages nine to twelve. Nine years old usually means fourth grade. Not only that, but the four protagonists of the book are in fifth grade. That’s elementary school, folks, in every school system I’ve ever known.

The fine folks at are continuing to speak with Scholastic and see what more we might do to help make the book available to all kids for whom it is appropriate. School Library Journal has an update of their own on the case. My own sense is that Scholastic has made a move in the right direction, and we should acknowledge that–while at the same time letting them know that it is not enough.

On a related note, the story even caught the attention of Conan O’Brien. At about the 4:20 mark in Tuesday’sTonight Show, he talks about a book that was banned from book fairs because it had lesbian moms. He mentions neither Scholastic nor the title, but I think it’s clear he means Luv Ya Bunches. (His joke is kind of lame, however.)


Scholastic Bans Book with Lesbian Moms from Book Fairs

Most of us with young children in public school know about Scholastic Book Fairs. Many of us remember them from our own childhoods. Now comes news that Scholastic has banned a book from the fairs because one of the characters has lesbian moms.  (Thanks, Roger!)

School Library Journal reports that Scholastic has refused to include Lauren Myracle’s new book Luv Ya Bunches (Abrams/Amulet, 2009), about the friendship among four elementary school girls, “because it contains offensive language and same-sex parents of one of the main characters, Milla.” Myracle’s books have been on the American Library Association’s list of the top 10 most challenged books, cited for “offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group.”

In this instance, Myracle agreed to change some of the offensive language (mild stuff like “geez,” “crap,” “sucks,” and “oh my God”), but refused to change the character’s two moms:

“A child having same-sex parents is not offensive, in my mind, and shouldn’t be ‘cleaned up.'” says Myracle, adding that the book fair subsequently decided not to take on Luv Ya Bunches because they wanted to avoid letters of complaint from parents. “I find that appalling. I understand why they would want to avoid complaint letters—no one likes getting hated on—but shouldn’t they be willing to evaluate the quality of the complaint? What, exactly, are children being protected against here?”

“Over 200,000 kids in America are raised by same-sex parents, just like Milla. It’s not an issue to clean up or hide away,” says Myracle. “In my opinion, it’s not an ‘issue’ at all. The issue, as I see it, is that kids benefit hugely from seeing themselves reflected positively in the books they read. It’s an extremely empowering and validating experience.”

Scholastic says Love Ya Bunches will still be available in their Book Club catalog, and a spokesperson said, “the company will continue monitoring the book’s popularity as well as the input from book fair field representatives to decide whether it should be included in future book fairs.”

That sounds like a call to action for me. Get yourselves to your local book fairs and ask the field reps for Myracle’s book, as well as others that depict LGBT families, such as And Tango Makes Three and Uncle Bobby’s Wedding. has also posted an action alert about this, complete with an easy automated message you can send to senior leadership at Scholastic.

You can also try Scholastic Investor Relations:

Investor Relations
Strategic Development
(212) 343-6741


Rosie and Kelli Working on Their Issues; So Is the Media

Two of the most famous lesbian-mom spouses in the world are having trouble. Rosie O’Donnell told USA Today that all is not well between herself and spouse Kelli Carpenter O’Donnell, but would not confirm if Kelli had moved out, as some sources are reporting.

Here’s the interesting thing about how the story is being reported, though. See if you can figure it out before the end of the post:

The Advocate says: “O’Donnell and Carpenter married in San Francisco in 2004, and the couple has four children together: Parker, Chelsea, Blake, and Vivienne.”

USA Today writes: “The couple married in San Francisco in 2004 and have three adopted children—Parker, 14, Chelsea, 12 and Blake, 9, as well as Vivienne (‘Vivi’), 6, whom Carpenter carried.”

CNN says: “Their family includes four children. The three oldest—Parker, 14, Chelsea, 12 and Blake, 9—are adopted. Six-year-old Vivienne—conceived through a sperm donation—was born to Carpenter.”

Newsday: “The couple married in San Francisco in 2004 and have three adopted children—Parker, 14, Chelsea, 12, and Blake, 9—as well as Vivienne, 6, a daughter Carpenter gave birth to through artificial insemination.”

Daily News: “O’Donnell and Carpenter were married in a non-state-recognized ceremony in San Francisco in 2004 and have three adopted children – Parker, 14, Chelsea, 12 and Blake, 9 – as well as daughter Vivienne, 6, whom Carpenter gave birth to via artificial insemination.”

Yes, the Daily News has to throw in the snide “in a non-state-recognized ceremony,” but that’s not what first caught my eye.

Only the LGBT source, the Advocate, doesn’t care how the children came into the family. Adopted or biological, it doesn’t matter. All of the other sources take the “let’s highlight the breeding habits of the urban lesbian” approach and specify how they became parents to each of the kids.

The worst offenders are CNN, Newsday, and the Daily News, who feel it necessary not only to mention that Vivienne is biologically Carpenter O’Donnell’s, but that there was sperm donation/artificial insemination involved. If she was born to Carpenter O’Donnell, then clearly there was sperm involved. We lesbians have been hoping for parthenogenesis for a while now. Trust me, you’d know about it if there had been any big breakthroughs.

Not to mention that the phrase “gave birth to through artificial insemination” is incorrect in any case. All the women I know give birth through their vaginas (or C-section incisions), not through AI.  It’s true that parents’ relationships with their biological and non-biological children may differ in complex (and not necessarily predictable) ways. That is an internal family matter, however. What matters in the current context is not how they became a family, but simply the fact that they are one.

It seems, however, that the two moms are focused on the right things. USA Today reports Rosie’s statement:

“[Our children are] adorable and wonderful and they are by far a priority. Kelli and I love each other very much and we are working on our issues. Those are the only words I am ever going to say. Ever. But everything’s fine and everybody’s good and we’re still both raising them together. We will both continue to parent them and we’re friendly and everything’s all right.”

(Crossposted from Mombian.)


Mother Jones Debunks Census SAHM Report

Mother Jones casts a critical eye on a new Census Bureau report about stay-at-home moms. The report claims to debunk the myth of the “opt-out revolution.” Women, it seems, are not leaving high-paying jobs in droves to have children. Mother Jones, however, says the reasons for an apparent drop in SAHM’s are more complex, and the report’s methodology is iffy. Among other things, the Bureau defines “stay-at-home moms” as: “those who have a husband who was in the labor force all 52 weeks last year, while she was out of the labor force during the same 52 weeks to care for the home and family.”

One problem is glaringly obvious to me, and I imagine, to others here–I am a SAHM with a wife, not a husband. To Mother Jones’ credit, they notice it as well. They also poke all kinds of other holes in the methodology, which ignores single moms, freelancing moms, and others. Good stuff, and a reminder to take all such reports with a dose of skepticism.