Award-winning photographer Gabriela Herman knew that for her new book, “The Kids: The Children of LGBTQ Parents in the USA,” “the images would be portraits of the children, with no one else in them.” She wanted to show what life with LGBTQ parents “is like through their eyes.”
That vision has given us a striking, powerful book of 75 images and essays that remind us never to forget the perspectives of the children in any discussion of LGBTQ families. It should become a must-have for LGBTQ parents and their older children as well as for schools and libraries interested in supporting them.
Herman’s subjects come from all over the country, from areas urban and rural, liberal and conservative, and in all shades of skin. Some, like her, are children of parents who divorced when one came out or transitioned; others are part of families created by already-out LGBTQ people. Some are biologically tied to their parents and others are not.
They range from college age to middle-age, a testament to the fact that LGBTQ people have been raising children for much longer than many think. Herman didn’t seek out younger children, she said in an interview, because she wanted to make sure her subjects “had the language to talk about their experience.” Each person offers a short essay next to their photo in which they describe what growing up with an LGBTQ parent or parents was like for them. Not all found it easy, and to her credit, Herman doesn’t edit out the difficult journeys some had in a world of minimal information, misinformation and bias about LGBTQ families. Nevertheless, the children’s resilience and ultimate love of their families shines through.
Her own experience reflects those struggles. When Herman was in high school, more than 20 years ago, her own mom came out. It was “traumatic” at first, Herman said. “I resented her and her partner for a while and didn’t feel comfortable discussing it with anyone.” She and her mom barely spoke for a year.
By the time her mom married her new partner, however, “things had been patched up a bit,” and Herman went to the wedding — one of the first legal same-sex weddings in the country. Now, “our family is still strong and together,” she said, and they all go on vacation with her dad and his girlfriend.
She knew that her family’s success story was a privilege, though — and seven years ago, that led her to envision a project about other people with LGBTQ parents, drawing on her skills as a commercial photographer. Around the same time, her sister connected with COLAGE, the national organization for people with LGBTQ parents, and invited Herman to one of their gatherings. It was the first time Herman had met anyone else with LGBTQ parents and realized, “I’m not alone.”
She began photographing people she met through COLAGE and through friends. In 2015, she sought publication of the project to coordinate with the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage-equality ruling, and both the New York Times Sunday Review and the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper ran excerpts. Herman knew the project wasn’t over yet, though. People with LGBTQ parents began seeking her out after the newspaper coverage, and she kept shooting. Last summer, she connected with The New Press, a nonprofit publisher with a focus on using books for social change, which is now publishing her book as part of its ongoing series about LGBTQ communities around the world.
She often chose the settings for her photos by asking her subjects to “think about the moment your parent came out or the moment you realized your family was a little bit different.” Where they were then or what they were wearing often became inspiration for the photo. All the photos used natural light, she said, as befitted “such an intimate moment.”
The hardest part of the whole project, however, was sharing her own story, something she hadn’t intended to do but that the New York Times had requested. “I was very nervous about sharing it with my mom,” she said. “I went from not being able to say ‘My mom is gay’ to screaming it in the New York Times,” she reflected. It turned out that her mom posted her essay to Facebook and said she was proud of her daughter.
She hopes that her work will resonate with “any kid or adult who has a parent who’s come out.” For those growing up without knowing anyone else with an LGBTQ parent, she said, she wants it to convey that “you’re not alone. There’s a community out there of people who love and support you.” And for queer parents, she hopes it helps them “see things from the children’s perspective.”
Their stories are inspiring but not saccharine; thoughtful but more quickly read than a book-length single memoir; and touching but at times harshly honest and gently funny. They show a cadre of people with a diversity of backgrounds, family structures and experiences, united by a common bond and sharing a fierce love of their families, warts and all.
In the future, she thinks having LGBTQ parents “won’t be an issue at all, and people will think it silly that there was a book dedicated to this.” Until that time, though, “The Kids” deserves wide dissemination. As she writes in the introduction to the book, “We — the children of LGBTQ parents — are not hypotheticals. Our stories need to be told.”
Learn more about the project at thekids.gabrielaherman.com, or look for the book in stores and online.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.