Parenting and pride

Parenting and pride

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I wrote this column just before the shooting in Orlando. To rewrite it before my deadline would be to find words for something I do not yet have words for. I hope that my reflections on Pride nevertheless help give us strength as a community during one of our most difficult times.

My Facebook feed has been stuffed with photos of parents and children decked out in rainbow gear, smiling and waving as they head out for their local Pride celebrations. My own family celebration was more muted — my spouse was away on business, and our son was immersed in end-of-year school projects. Still, I can’t help reflecting on what we LGBTQ parents have to be proud of over the past year.

Our children, as always, head the list. They are, on the whole, growing up as happy and well-adjusted as any others, despite being born into a society that has often excluded, shortchanged and stigmatized their families. Our children are just fine — not perfect (no one is), but no more flawed than others.

On a personal note, my son just had his bar mitzvah, which traditionally demonstrates a readiness to take on the responsibilities of an adult. Thirteen may not be full adulthood in our society, but it’s a significant step — and I am bursting with pride at the young man he is turning out to be. The teen years will bring their own challenges for all of us, I am sure, but we head into them with love and gratitude. I suspect our family is not alone in this.

We LGBTQ parents have a long history to be proud of as well. Writers Oscar Wilde and Vita Sackville-West, comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley and poet Lord Byron, for example, all had partners of both sexes and were parents. The Greek poet Sappho, the original lesbian, may have had a daughter. In more modern times, the first national lesbian-rights organization in the United States, Daughters of Bilitis, held discussion groups on lesbian motherhood back in 1956. And the term “gayby boom” is now over a quarter-century old. (It was first documented in a 1990 issue of Newsweek.)

We’ve come a long way. This April, we reached another milestone when a federal judge overturned Mississippi’s ban on same-sex adoption — the last such ban.

At the same time, so-called “religious-freedom” bills threaten that progress. The same week that the state allowed adoption, Mississippi enacted one of the broadest such bills in the country, which would allow religious organizations to cite “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” as a reason to deny a wide variety of services, including ones related to foster care and adoption services.

Same-sex parents in states such as Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Utah have had to continue fighting, even after marriage equality, for the right to put both parents on their children’s birth certificates. I am proud of them and of the LGBTQ legal organizations who championed their cases.

The thing that has made me most proud of the LGBTQ community (parents or not) in recent months, however, is that we have risen in support of our transgender members, who are bearing the brunt of current anti-LGBTQ sentiment. Individuals across the spectrum are speaking out — and we have created enough goodwill and understanding that our allies remain beside us even after marriage equality. Companies like Target have made a point of saying trans customers can use the bathroom facilities of their identified gender, even in states with trans-phobic legislation. The federal Justice Department has affirmed its support of transgender students and their right to bathroom access. This fight is not yet over, but we can be proud that we’re fighting it.

There are non-political signs of progress, too. The number of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books continues to grow, for example. Notable new picture books  include J. J. Austrian’s “Worm Loves Worm,” about a relationship beyond gender, and a revised, 40th-anniversary edition of Norma Simon’s classic “All Kinds of Families,” which now includes same-sex parents. For tweens, there is Dana Alison Levy’s “The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island,” a sequel to her 2014 book about a family of four kids and two dads, and Robin Stevenson’s “Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community,” which blends a history of the event with a broader look at the struggle for LGBTQ equality. On-screen inclusion for kids continues to creep forward, with lesbian moms featured in the Cartoon Network’s “Clarence.”

We have a lot to celebrate, then: triumphs big and small, personal and societal. Inequalities still abound, though — both for LGBTQ people and for other marginalized groups in our country and around the world. We have made tremendous gains in the past year, but we have also seen backlash. Now we must take our feelings of pride and use them as momentum towards action. Celebrate what we have done, but also think about where we are going, as individuals, families, a community, and a world. Happy Pride, all.


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