LGBT Parents: Good for One’s Character?

Does having lesbian moms—or other LGBT parents—affect one’s character? Opinions are mixed, but not just between left and right.

Iowa college student Zach Wahls, in his twice-viral video, famously said, “The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero impact on the content of my character.” And a University of Virginia study last year concluded what many other studies have found: “Regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation, how well children were adjusted was significantly associated with how warmly their parents were oriented to them.“

But Ashley Harness at Velvet Park Media raises the question of whether a gay sexual orientation can actually have an impact—a positive one—on the character of one’s children.

She imagines a homeless transgender youth adopted by a gay couple. Imagine, she writes, if this girl did a YouTube video:

She says she learned from her adoptive gay parents that love is something you spread around in excess. You color with love outside the lines that a heterosexist, racist, transphobic, classist world prescribes. She practices BEING love in the world—and people notice and ask her why.

She says it’s because she has gay parents.

Harness makes an excellent point. I’ve always urged caution when interpreting research results indicating that LGBT parents are “better” in some way. At best, we can say that there are certain areas in which, on average (but not exclusively), we tend to have strengths. But if those strengths help build our children’s characters, to Harness’ point, then we should acknowledge and celebrate that.

Harness also raises the question of whether Wahls’ video would have had the same impact had he been gay. She herself is a lesbian with lesbian moms. She had been an outspoken advocate for LGBT equality, but when she came out, she said, “I promptly stopped talking publicly about being the kid of gay parents. Nobody outright told me, but I wasn’t a politically savvy messenger for the movement anymore. I had become proof of the Religious Right’s propaganda—gayness rubs off. Gay parents make gay children.”

That right-wing view is, of course, utter nonsense. Some LGBT parents will have LGBT children, because statistically, that’s going to happen. No parent can “make” a child into a particular sexual orientation (or gender identity). The best we can do is support them in being themselves.

Harness also says that while she admires Wahls, she hopes our movement embraces a greater diversity of spokespeople, including LGBT children of LGBT parents. Even Wahls seems to feel the same way. In a piece for The Daily Beast this week, he writes that he has stopped answering questions about his own sexual orientation: “If the only question you have after listening to me defend my family is about my sexuality, I’m afraid you’ve missed my point. Whether I’m gay, straight, or bisexual, tall or short, male or female, white or black, successful go-getter or slacker, is entirely immaterial.”

My take on all this? A parent’s sexual orientation does not prescribe a child’s sexual orientation, nor does the parent’s sexual orientation in itself determine the child’s character. But living with honesty and integrity towards oneself and others, in the face of discrimination and adversity from society, takes tremendous strength of character. That’s a lesson LGBT parents can convey to our children that will definitely have a positive impact.


Anti-Gay Referendum Defeated in California

I was heartened to learn that opponents of the FAIR Education Act in California, which would include the contributions of gay, lesbian and transgender people in social studies classes, failed to gather enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot in 2012, according to Equality California.

About two Sundays ago, I noticed someone with a clipboard in front of our Catholic Church. She had been rebuffed by parishioners walking in. When she asked me if I was a “voter,” I replied “yes” to hear her spiel. She was collecting signatures for this very initiative.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You are at a gay-friendly parish. I don’t agree with what you’re doing.”

She chuckled nervously. I started walking away with the kids when I turned around, “We are all God’s children.”

“Yeah, but–“

“No ‘but’. We are all God’s children. Amen!”

When the mass was over, I noticed she was gone. Glad to see there was push-back on this initiative, even by our tiny parish in Oakland!


New Standards for Same-Sex Parents, Attorneys in Custody Disputes

If you’ve been following news about LGBT parents for any length of time, you’ve probably come across at least one, if not several, examples of custody cases in which a biological parent tries to deny custody to a former same-sex partner and non-biological parent, claiming that the latter is not really a parent to the child. The long-running case of Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller is the most well known example of the type. (In less frequent instances, a legal adoptive parent will try to do the same to the non-adoptive parent.)

To try and stop this practice, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Council have just published a revised set of standards for attorneys and parents to adhere to in custody disputes.

The standards also offer suggestions for things same-sex couples can do to protect their families, even if they remain together—and regardless of whether they live in a state that recognizes the relationships of same-sex couples. GLAD has also posted online pledges, for both parents and attorneys to sign, affirming that they will adhere to the standards.

I’ve covered this in more detail for Keen News Service; I hope you’ll go have a read.


Healing Hearts, Changing Hearts

It’s easy to get cynical about politics. I often tout the importance of making personal connections when trying to make change–which for me, is often about LGBT rights. It is rare, however, that I see an example of the importance of such connections as powerful as this story from RH Reality Check, by Jaime Jenett. Jenett writes from her perspective as the nonbiological mother of a critically ill child, and says, “policies designed to prevent same sex families from having legal protections took on a whole new meaning for me” after the birth of her son.

She also describes her neighbors in California, whose “Yes on Prop 8” sticker hurt her every time she passed by. She wrote them a letter (also posted at her blog)—and got a response, not from the same neighbor, but from another Yes on 8 supporter whom they had met at a camp for children with cardiac disease.

The woman wrote, “After meeting you two and reading your blogs I’m so sorry for my stupidity. I saw the love you and Laura shared with each other and Simon. As a fellow heart mother I know whats it’s like to have a child fighting for their life. Why would I or should I deny you or Simon the same rights as me.”

You should go read the whole response at Jenett’s blog. You might want a box of tissues handy.


Teaching LGBT Rights in Schools

First, the good news: for the first time in a decade since the question has been polled, a clear majority of Americans now support gay marriage, according to an ABC News/Washington Post survey. Many traditional news outlets and blogs published survey results, including the Talking Points Memo.

And in spite of the church’s leadership, even more Catholics than the general public support gay marriage! according to other studies published by the Washington Post.

But if there is one unresolved battle over LGBT rights brewing, it’s in the classroom. During the hoopla surrounding Proposition 8 in California, all the scary commercials about gay people had to do with them teaching our children, or somehow making them gay in the classroom. Even though the teachers unions and educators throughout the state went on TV to dispute these claims, the original negative ads were impressionable enough to scare some parents into voting for the ballot initiative.

And these battles continue now that one of our state senators, Mark Leno, introduced a bill that would require all of California’s history textbooks to include figures and events in gay history, and portray them “in a positive light.” From the New York Times:

Despite its reputation as a bastion of gay-friendliness — or perhaps because of it — the Bay Area has emerged as a focal point in the gay education debate. In Alameda, a group of parents sued the school district in 2009 after discovering that their children were reading “And Tango Makes Three“ — a book about two male penguins raising a young penguin — as a part of a pro-tolerance lesson. District officials said they introduced the lesson after grade-school children were heard using gay slurs in the hallways.

The San Francisco Unified School District has what some consider the most gay-friendly curriculum in the country, publishing general guidelines to help teachers teach words like “gay“ and “heterosexual,“ beginning in kindergarten. But beyond the general guidelines, there can often be distinctly different approaches from school to school.

Jenn Bowman, a world history teacher at Mission High School, said colleagues at her former school, Roosevelt Middle School, questioned whether it was appropriate for her to let her students know she is gay.

This is the thing. Would it be appropriate for an heterosexual teacher to admit that he or she is married? Maybe we should make married teachers leave their wedding rings at home to ensure there is zero discussion about marriage in the classroom. Ridiculous.

I’ve said this before, but I really think this fear is falling by the wayside as the children of gays and lesbians are raised alongside the children of heterosexual couples. I look at kids like my 7-year-old son, who by the way, did read and love the book And Tango Makes Three in kindergarten, who have many friends from two-mom and two-dad families. It isn’t unusual for him, and I have a hunch that one day in retrospect he is going to wonder why this was ever an explosive political debate.

As for the indoctrination claim, again, ridiculous. I think it’s fair to say that most gays and lesbians were raised by heterosexual couples, were surrounded by straight couples, yet are still gay. Clearly, sexual orientation isn’t something that is “taught”.

Nonetheless, IMHO, it is one of the big issues of our time. What do you all think? Is it possible to reason with people who are afraid of gay people or gay themes in schools?


College Basketball Star Talks About His Lesbian Moms

Morehead State University basketball star Kenneth Faried spoke with recently about the influence of his two moms, one of whom is battling lupus. It’s a touching story and well worth your time, even if ESPN isn’t your regular read.

“When they got married,” Faried said, “that showed me what commitment is all about, that there are people out there that can commit, even though for them it really has been the worst of times. I look at them, what they’ve been through and I think, ‘Wow. That’s amazing.’ They’re amazing to me.”

Notable, too, is that ESPN writer Dana O’Neil says Faried never encountered any teasing about his family while he was growing up in New Jersey, and that his moms never had to sit down and discuss issues of acceptance with him. He just accepted, without needing an explanation.

O’Neil writes of his moms: “They loved one another, they love their kids and now they love their nine grandkids. Life is only complicated if you make it that way.”

Homophobia is rampant in professional and collegiate sports, as educators like Pat Griffin have extensively documented. The fear extends to secondary schools as well, as Stuart Biegel and Sheila James Kuehl have shown in their work for UCLA’s Williams Institute.

People like Faried, however (who now lives in Kentucky, not the most gay-friendly of states), may help break down the barriers. Major kudos to ESPN as well, for publishing such a positive article.

Life is only complicated if you make it that way.


Lesbian Moms Practice “Transformative Diplomacy” in Albania

For many of us, becoming moms means barely having time to get the laundry done, much less help establish a grassroots LGBT organization in a foreign country, assist them in passing a LGBT-inclusive national antidiscrimination law, and set up “a vibrant and active” LGBT community where none existed.

That’s exactly what Mindy R. Michels and Melissa E. Schraibman did, however, and the U.S. State Department has honored them for it. The women are two of this year’s six winners of the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Overseas.

Schraibman, a U.S. Foreign Service employee, and her partner Michels helped a small group of activists in the Albanian capitol Tirana to establish the Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination (Aleanca Kunder Diskriminimit LGBT). They helped the group draft the legislation that became the non-discrimination law, organized both strategy sessions and social events, and, according to Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), created “a social and activist network that transformed the lives of the people it reached.” Their accomplishments, said, AAFSW, ”showcase what volunteer service can achieve on behalf of transformative diplomacy.”

Creating change seems to be a family affair as well. Michels told me in an e-mail, “We’re moms to our crazy, wonderful, adorable 5-year-old boy, who had as much fun with the Albanian gay revolution as we did . . . and who was absolutely beloved by the Albanian gay activists.”

We should not only congratulate Schraibman and Michels, but also the State Department for recognizing their efforts. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been one of the strongest LGBT supporters in a senior government role—but it’s good to see her support extends to grassroots efforts like this as well as larger policy changes and diplomatic actions.

(Thanks to Liza of Liza Was Here for the tip.)


LGBT Youth Helped by Family Acceptance

It may seem obvious to many of us: LGBT youth whose families are accepting of their LGBT identities are more likely to become happy, healthy adults, and less likely to have depression, suicide risk, substance abuse, and similar problems.

But Dr. Caitlin Ryan of the Marian Wright Edelman Institute at San Francisco State University, in a study appearing this month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, notes that most previous research has looked only at the negative aspects of the relationship between LGBT youth and their parents. And most health care providers, social workers, and educators who work with LGBT youth tend to serve them alone and through peer support, not by engaging their families.

Ryan and her team have provided strong evidence, however, that youth experience better outcomes when their families are involved in their lives and when they express acceptance through specific behaviors such as advocating for their children when they are teased about being LGBT.

The Family Acceptance Project (FAP) that Ryan and colleague Rafael Dìaz developed in 2001 aims to apply the results of their research. The FAP has worked with a variety of community organizations, care providers, and advocates to create culturally diverse educational materials, including a downloadable guide for parents, caregivers, and health care providers (in English and Spanish), and a video series showing the paths of an ethnically diverse group of families toward acceptance of their LGBT children. The FAP is also offering free family support services — from general information to crisis assistance — in English, Spanish, and Cantonese throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

LGBT youth have been much in the news lately because of the ills that may befall them. It is heartening to see someone not just telling them it will get better later in life, but that it can get better now, with their families—and providing tools to help them navigate the journey together.

Below, the first FAP video, “Always My Son.”


Ladies’ Home Journal Addresses Anti-Gay Bullying

Ladies’ Home Journal, the venerable women’s magazine that launched back in 1883 and has helped define the genre, has published a major article this month on anti-gay bullying, “Gay Teens Bullied to the Point of Suicide.“ The sub-header hints at the broad range of political and religious beliefs held by LHJ readers: “It’s a shocking trend. Isn’t it time for all of us to encourage compassion and respect, no matter how we feel about homosexuality?“

It’s well worth a read, especially because writer Kenneth Miller has geared the piece to appeal even to the more conservative members of his audience. He cites experts from Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio, not exactly liberal bastions, as well as Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical professor who has at times advocated for helping people to overcome same-sex desires. Throckmorton is not as extreme or confrontational as many others associated with the far right, however, and in fact has developed for Christian schools an anti-bullying program based on “the Golden Rule Pledge”—treating others as we would have them treat us. An odd choice, perhaps, for those of us used to reading about bullying in more progressive contexts, but one that may carry more weight with LHJ’s audience of varied political persuasions.

Miller also cites clinical social worker Caitlin Ryan, head of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, who has shown that the more parents reject their children for being LGBT, the more likely the children will suffer from depression, take drugs, or attempt suicide. Conversely, the more supportive the parents are, the better the kids do. Acceptance, Ryan explains, “doesn’t necessarily mean changing your deeply held beliefs. It means finding a way to balance those beliefs with the love you have for your child.“ (For more on Ryan’s work, see my piece at

Miller succeeds here because he is not trying to convince readers that being gay is okay, or not sinful, or just another expression of human sexuality. He doesn’t opine one way or the other—but his very neutrality indicates to me that he is in fact being careful not to raise his audience’s hackles. Instead, he stays focused on the point that children are at risk, and politics and religion aside, we need to act to help them. It’s a great approach for a varied audience like that of LHJ.

I hope you’ll take a moment to sign the petition I’ve created at and thank LHJ for publishing the piece. I imagine some readers will take offense at their support for gay youth, no matter what.


New Hampshire Queer Families Needed to Preserve Marriage Equality

Marriage equality in New Hampshire is under threat from the veto-proof Republican super-majority in the Legislature—a result of the November 2 elections. Keori, who blogs over at Pam’s House Blend, is working with New Hampshire Freedom to Marry and on how to meet this challenge.

She noted in an e-mail to me that, “Post-Prop 8 and Post-Question 1 studies showed that mothers with children are the swing voters who make the difference in ballot questions about marriage rights. Who will appeal to them most? Other mothers with children.” She is therefore seeking queer families in New Hampshire, especially lesbian families with children, who might want to help. (For reference, here’s my post on how the Prop 8 campaign neglected the voices of LGBT parents, to its detriment.)

If you live in New Hampshire and are interested in helping as the above groups prepare their strategies, please e-mail for further details. They’re planning a statewide meeting on November 28 for activists, bloggers, and stakeholders, and will be discussing messaging, among other things. Even if you can’t make it then (I know, it’s a holiday week and short notice), drop her a note and see how you might be able to contribute at another time.