Popular television shows such as “The Fosters” and “Modern Family” portray the daily, unexceptional experiences of lesbian and gay parents, the particular challenges their families face and the new relationships they make possible in their extended families and communities.
Like other parents, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) parents are involved for many years with all aspects of their kids’ lives: schools, extracurricular activities, friendship circles. They, too, share concerns about their kids’ health, the use of social media and the balance of work and family life. Academic research has concluded that children raised in lesbian or gay households develop and succeed as well as children raised by heterosexual parents (and by certain measures, slightly better). But there are issues that LGBTQ families face that are different and often are invisible to their straight friends and community.
LGBTQ parents face legal and social challenges that can threaten their family’s security and affects their daily experience as parents. Before the recent legalization of same-sex marriage, lesbian and gay parents could piece together (at significant expense and anxiety) contracts, “second-parent” adoptions (allowing non-biological parents legal status) and other legal documents to try to get some of the protections guaranteed by marriage. Marriage equality solved many legal issues for lesbian and gay couples who marry. It is not clear, however, what legal protections marriage offers them in regard to their children. Many LGBTQ parents also have high medical costs for reproductive technologies not covered by insurance (for example, donor insemination) or face discrimination by some adoption agencies.
LGBTQ parents often are not recognized as parents or face hostility in social settings. They look for friendly communities and work to create supportive environments wherever they live. Because Oregon was one of the first states to implement second-parent adoption and full domestic partner benefits, many LGBTQ people moved to Oregon or chose to stay here for a safe and comfortable place to raise their children. Known for its “lesbian baby boom,” Eugene is a community where you can find teachers, principals, coaches, doctors, counselors and clergy who have nurtured many children and families who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
Over the past 25 or so years in Eugene, LGBTQ parents have come together to form support groups of families with kids of similar ages, wanting to meet other LGBTQ parents and raise their children knowing other two-mom or two-dad or other constellations of LGBTQ families.
While many extended families (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) provide loving support for their LGBTQ family members and their children, some do not. LGBTQ family groups provide the connections that are vital for raising happy and secure children. They help the parents and kids as they struggle at times to have their families recognized as legitimate and valuable by the larger community. They provide the kind of “village” that all families need.
Other types of support have developed recently. National and local LGBTQ parenting groups have formed online through social media. A Facebook group that started this February added 13,000 members by its second week, connecting LGBTQ parents who engage in dizzying discussions ranging from identifying welcoming preschools to building relationships with “diblings” (donor siblings) to discussing racism with their children. Parenting Now! hosted two “LGBTQ Parenting Cafés” to assess the specific challenges LGBTQ families face and to find what kind of support would be helpful.
When LGBTQ families are included in our community, everyone benefits. LGBTQ parents enthusiastically contribute their time and talent to schools, kids’ activities, city politics and more.
For many LGBTQ families this is a time of long-sought acceptance and celebration. Tragically, there is also backlash in the form of new anti-LGBTQ legislation and violent attacks across the nation. With our local Pride festival coming up on Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. in Alton Baker Park, this is a good time to recognize the contributions LGBTQ parents make to help create a vibrant and nurturing community for all our children and families.
Judith Raiskin is associate professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon. She is currently working on a book based on interviews with LGBTQ parents and their children. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit offering groups and workshops so that all children are raised by nurturing, skilled parents. Contact: www.parentingnow.org, on social media and at 541-484-5316.