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LGBT families have spent decades fighting for legal recognition and protection. Many of us recall a time not that long ago when children in our Commonwealth could not have two legal parents of the same sex. On August 20, 2002, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in In Re Adoption of R.B.F. and R.C.F. held that a person may adopt the legal child of his or her unmarried partner without the first parent terminating his or her parental rights. While this process is similar to stepparent adoption, the Court did not apply the stepparent exception of the Adoption Act (which allows a stepparent to adopt without the existing legal parent having to terminate his or her parental rights) because, at the time, same-sex partners could not marry due to the Pennsylvania Defense of Marriage Act (Pa DOMA). 

The federal court decision in Whitewood v. Wolf, which legalized same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth in 2014, opened the door for stepparent adoptions for married same-sex couples in Pennsylvania. After the Whitewood decision, on May 31, 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued guidance to hospitals advising them that both mothers should be listed on the original birth certificate where a child is born to a married same-sex female couple. Since that time, throughout the Commonwealth, birth certificates issued to children with married female parents have listed both women’s names on the original birth certificate. This is also true when a child is born to a married couple when one parent is transgender and one parent is not biologically related to the child. For male couples using a surrogate, a pre-birth order must be obtained to name both fathers on the original birth certificate.

While issuing birth certificates in this manner appeared to be a major step forward to securing the parental rights of both same-sex parents to their children, it has, instead, created a false sense of security for parents who are not biologically related to their children. Although a birth certificate is a state-issued document, it is not a legal determination of parenthood.

Sadly, the fiercest attacks on LGBT families often come from members of our community when they are engaged in custody battles. In my practice, I have often defended a nonbiological parent against a biological parent’s challenges to the legal parental rights of the nonbiological parent, even when the couple had planned for and raised the child together. 

The word “parent” is not defined by in any Pennsylvania custody statute. There is no question that a “parent” includes those who are biologically related to, or who have adopted, a child. C.G. v. J.H., the most recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case to examine this issue, suggested that an individual may also be a parent by a presumption of parentage created through marriage or a contract where a child is conceived through assisted reproduction. However, in the C.G. case, the court found that there was neither a contract nor marriage; thus, whether a same-sex partner is a parent through the “marital presumption” or by being a party to an assisted reproductive contract is a question that has not been definitively answered in Pennsylvania.

For this reason, I always recommend that nonbiological parents confirm their legal rights through adoption. Although few anticipate that their legal rights may ever be challenged by the other parent, governmental entities or other family members, an adoption ensures that the adopting parent’s rights will be recognized. This is simply the best “insurance policy” to protect against a challenge to one’s parental rights. A judgment of adoption is recognized not just in Pennsylvania, but in every state in the country. Because state laws vary and parenthood is determined in the state at the time the question is raised, it is important to know that your parental rights will be protected no matter where you live in the future.  

At long last, North Carolina’s House Bill 2 is dead.

For those who may not know the significance, I’ll explain: The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, otherwise known as HB2, was a bill passed in North Carolina in 2016. Created in part as a reaction to Charlotte, North Carolina’s Ordinance 7056, passed earlier that year prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity within a few specific categories, including public accommodations.

This past Pride Month saw an explosion of rainbows on products from sneakers to snack foods, reenergizing the debate over whether and how corporate America should be involved in Pride. For me, two things come to bear here: My belief that companies should support LGBTQ equality if they are going to market to us — and the fact that my family would not exist as it does now if it was not for the benefits my spouse and I received from the companies where we worked.

Warm days and long periods of sunlight can be great for spending time outdoors, relaxing, vacationing and socializing with friends and neighbors, offering plenty of reasons to enjoy summer weather.

Before Ashlee and I took Jackson on his first family vacation earlier this summer, she shared a bit of advice a friend had mentioned: “Once you have a child, it’s not ‘vacation,’ it’s ‘making memories.’” That became a mantra we repeated many times throughout the weekend trip to Cape May, as we frantically covered our dog’s eyes so she wouldn’t bark at passing motorcyclists and wake the baby on our drive down, as Jackson peed all over my entire chest on the beach and as he had his first accidental dunking in a pool. Making memories, making memories!

Though we were only gone for 72 hours, we left with tons of memories and just as many photos — and also a few lessons:

Scarlett Johansson is in the news again.

The actress and sometimes singer faced heavy criticism after she — a white woman — played an Asian woman in the live-action adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell” in 2015.

Two people marry for a variety of reasons, many noble and some otherwise, probably with a long-range view of togetherness — maybe that even includes children.  However, a significant number of marriages will sadly not endure and end in divorce.  As I always tell people, “No one knows what goes on between two people.”  For some, divorce is a tragic reminder of a perceived failure and for others, it is a relief and opportunity to start over — a fresh start.  We live in a world that prioritizes married couples, that is opposite-sex married couples, but the cultural and legal landscape has changed and members of the LGBTQ-plus community are now free to marry and, therefore, free to divorce.

When the dashing and magnificently bearded Dr. Giovanni Guaraldi took to the stage at last fall’s HIV and Aging conference in New York City and described a nearly 100-year-old person living with HIV, I was more than a bit skeptical. Not of the researcher — he’s done some of the most brilliant research on aging with HIV. Guaraldi also advocates a “rethink” of care services provided for people living with HIV as we age, particularly now that about half of us are over 50 and by 2030, as many as 40 percent of us will have reached the age of 65.

On Sunday night, June 30, as I write this, we’re in the waning hours of Pride Month 2019. There’s still confetti, glitter and the ruined remains of corporate handouts stuck in the nooks and crannies of the road, though much of it has already fallen victim to the machines of the Department of Public Works.

Pride has been put away for another year.

That said, much like the crushed and crusted items lining the gutter, the questions this Pride raised still linger. Like everything else in 2019, Pride proves the heart with unanswered questions.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of a summer night at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. The stories of that night, like any yarn, have grown over the years, with many people claiming their own narrative.

What we do know is this: The police, as they have many times before, raided the bar, practicing yet another shakedown for cash. Regulars weren’t happy, and after some ill treatment by officers, hit a flashpoint. Things were thrown. It soon boiled over into a riot between the LGBTQ people present at the Stonewall — as well as many others in the neighborhood — and the local police.

Among those to have been at Stonewall include Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, both presumably transgender or gender nonconforming — in modern parlance — people of color. Also, there was Stormé DeLarverie, a mixed-race butch lesbian who scuffled with the police. 

Other events came before the Stonewall Rebellion, but this was the one that caught the public’s imagination. A year after the riot, a parade was held to honor it. That parade was the progenitor of every Pride parade to come, but it didn’t take long for things to go south.

By the early 1970s, people began to press for changes in Pride. Drag was frowned upon, and at the time this firmly included all things transgender or otherwise genderfluid. Kink and BDSM were no-nos. Really, the goal was an event that felt as strait-laced as your annual 4th of July parade, with the added wrinkle that all participants were gay or lesbian.

This attitude has ebbed and flowed over time. Transgender people were pretty firmly back in the fold after the 1980s leather and other such things.

At today’s event, my own very informal count saw a bit less than 10 percent of the crowd displaying a transgender flag, including yours truly. Likewise, genderqueer flags were plenty visible, as well as other gender-related flags, mixed with a healthy smattering of bi and pan flags and many other variants among the sea of rainbows.

Perhaps the only thing more common than trans-related pride goods this year were corporate logos.

I marched with the Transgender Law Center, except it wasn’t just the Transgender Law Center, as Levi’s sponsored TLC. My partner, sequestered at the end of the parade, walked with her own employer. In between us was everything from entries by the local police, Dropbox, REI and any number of other companies. There were big, loud contingents, occasionally broken up by smaller noncorporate contingents.

I’m not going to dwell on the corporations, though I think their involvement is a symptom, not a cause. To me, if a company wants to bring their LGBTQ employees to Pride, that’s fine. If they want to show support regardless, also cool.

That said, a lot of companies only appear to be interested in Pride for the money they can wring out of the community — money they may turn around and give to LGBTQ-hating politicians in order to further their business goals — but I digress.

On the evening of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, according to eyewitness reports, a transgender woman of color entered the Stonewall Inn, then full of revelers. She wanted to speak about transgender people who had been murdered out in the streets.

Patrons were unhappy. They initially did not want her to speak, even as some moved to protect her. Many jeered her, while others demanded her removal — even suggesting the police be called to remove her.

Pride is changing.  It is not a monolithic event that is and will always look the same. Its makeup is moving toward something very different from the white-dominated “gay rights” themed events of the 1970s into an event that centers people of color and sexual orientations between the poles of “man” and “woman.”

For some, this event that was borne out of a day when gender nonconforming, queer people of color stood up to the police that were oppressing them because their gender and sexuality was simply becoming too radical.

Stormé, Marsha, and Sylvia are gone. Many others who were there that night are fading away. Yet is the movement they helped birth reflective of what they faced, and what they did in reaction?

Our Pride should be for all who need it and should center those most in need. It is not an event where companies, let alone police, should step in expecting praise for what they may have done to help LGBTQ people; let it be a moment when they atone for their failure to serve LGBTQ people as they rededicate themselves to how they will rectify these issues going forward.

If the radical spirit of Pride today doesn’t sit well with you, then perhaps it is no longer the event for you. Enjoy your privilege while others try to get things done. n

 

Gwendolyn Ann Smith thinks it’s time for pride to face a rebirth. You’ll find her at www.gwensmith.com

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