Tag Archives: LGBT Parents

What’s So Funny about “Transparent”?

Transparent

Review of Amazon Studio’s series Transparent for Our Family Coalition

The deep pathos about not living an authentic life is made very concrete with the double entendre of the word “transparent” in Jill Soloway’s new comedy-drama, Transparent, on Amazon. The theme of secrets and their long-lasting emotional and psychological scars are revealed through clever dialogue and plot structure in the show through the Pfefferman family. The central question of what happens when you parent as not an authentic and transparent parent while raising children drives most of the drama and backstories.

The series is structured around Mort Pfefferman’s (Jeffrey Tambor) social transition into Maura at age 69 and backstories—as family members recall different experiences of their understandings—which center around events that occur mostly between 1985 and 1994, and the revelations of the long-lasting damage his closeted transgender identity wrought on his family. Her whole life of having been pretending to be a man and a father forces his children, Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass) and Ally (Gaby Hoffman), to re-question their childhood and adult lives in ways that are fundamentally transformational.

The pilot episode begins with Pfefferman’s children talking about how daddy has summoned all of them, and how they are all worried that she has cancer. Through comedic twists and turns of the trials and tribulations of modern lives and the limitations of each child’s personalities, they are finally gathered at Mort’s Palisades home. She announces she is going to sell the house.  Mort cries, “I am done with the house!” We hear a one-way telephone conversation later that evening from Mort saying he couldn’t tell the children.

The following day at the Los Angeles LGBT Center you hear Jeffrey Tambor’s voice, the camera pans to a group session and slowly reveals Mort as Maura, and the audience understands that the previous evening was meant to be the big revelation about Maura’s transgender confession. Maura tells the group, “I don’t understand how I raised three selfish kids who can’t see beyond themselves.” This statement and the group session position the audience as an ally with Maura in her transgender social transformation throughout the series.

The series weaves in and out of backstories and recollections to great effect for the mystery of how the children become the way they do doesn’t become revealed until the final episode. This is great storytelling and the sense of how memory functions in repression in that it takes multiple attempts to uncover deep, family secrets. The Pfefferman family system created a dysfunctional system in which Maura has attempted to suppress her authentic gender identity by playing the ideal husband, which is symbolized by her beautiful Palisades home. The impact on her marriage and on her neglected wife, the time spent away from family, and the lack of authoritative parental guidance during the critical teenage years, however, is illustrated throughout the series without any clear resolution until the finale.

As with Solloway’s Six Feet Under and The United States of Tara her examination of the American family is where the series shines at its best and most heart wrenching. It is also where it made me cringe the most as a member of the transgender community. (I know there are criticisms against Solloway for hiring a cisgender actor to portray Mort and not a transgender actor. Those aside, Solloway did hire transgender actors and consultants for the series, and for that I applaud her.) I watched the metamorphosis of Mort into Maura and a lot of her self-loathing and discomfort about the female gait and posture became more natural and accepting over the series. I wish that it were a more happy narrative of having a transgender parent, but I suppose this is where Solloway was brave in providing a cautionary tale. The viewer is meant to understand that if one is able to be one’s authentic self in term’s of gender identity and by living your best life you provide a role model for your children that is transparent, honest, and authentic. We need to have more authentic and explicit conversations with our children about race, class, family, gender and sexuality. I hope for this new generation of transgender and gender expansive people protected by law and a discourse promoting more civility and respect that the need for secrecy and pain that drove Maura inside is no longer required. We can celebrate all of our diversity-race, gender, sexuality, family, class, ability-in this big “whirlpool”-together.

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                                                                                                          By Sandra S. Collins, Ph.D.

Executive Director and Founder of Bay Area Rainbow Day Camp and Assistant Professor of East Asian History, California State University, Chico

 

Everyone’s Schools Town Halls through a Queer Parent’s Eyes

Meghan Lewis, Family Advocacy Liaison, Oakland Unified School District

meghanI attended the last four “Everyone’s Schools Town Hall” gatherings sponsored by Our Family Coalition. As a queer parent of a fourth grader in OUSD, I was deeply inspired and filled with hope learning about all the positive programs happening within the different school communities throughout the Bay Area.

It is truly valuable having the opportunity to hear from – and work with – other parents, teachers, administrators, OFC’s staff and so many other bright voices in our community. I see that necessary changes are being identified, and that strategies toward improving learning environments are being gradually implemented so that all children and families can come to school knowing they will be kindly respected and appreciated.

TownHallIlloI am delighted that my child’s elementary school, Glenview Elementary, will be hosting OFC’s next Town Hall gathering in the East Bay! Glenview is becoming like an oasis of positivity and welcoming energy for LGBTQ families, so I am personally excited to share with others throughout OUSD how a welcoming school environment can evolve, look, and feel.

Those who attend the Town Hall can expect to get a feel for the kind of enthusiasm that initiates, promotes, and creates lasting change within a school culture. They will also gain:

  1. inspiration to get involved

  2. strategies for effective advocacy

  3. ideas to better implement activities unique to their school’s identified needs

  4. new connections and friends

Don’t miss the opportunity! Everyone’s School: OFC’s Annual Town Halls on LGBTQ Inclusive Schools will happen on Thursday, Oct 23 in San Francisco and Thursday, Nov 20 in Oakland.

We hope to see you and your family there! Get more information and register now!

PS: What happens after the Town Hall? We get that it takes time to implement sustainable, deep cultural shifts in our schools and communities. With the goal of continuing the fruitful conversations that emerge during the Town Halls, OFC has launched a new “Family Advocacy Program (FAP).” Parent Advocates worked with our support to contribute to the creation of authentic inclusive environments for ALL families in their schools. Here are some of the great activities that the parents co-created during the first round of FAP:

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Interested in contribute to a more inclusive culture in your school? Join us at the upcoming Town Halls or get in touch with tarah@ourfamily.org – We look forward to working with you!

BIO: Dr. Meghan Lewis is the founder of Integrative Perinatal Psychotherapy as well as LGBTQ Perinatal Wellness Associates of the Bay Area with offices in Oakland and San Francisco. With over 18 years of experience in reproductive wellness, Meghan brings unconditional support to her clients exploring a range of preconception, pregnancy, birth, postpartum and early parenting concerns. Her work with families also includes facilitating support circles and has done so at Bloom Retreat in Walnut Creek, Natural Resources and Our Family Coalition at the LGBT Center in SF, The Tulip Grove in Oakland, Blossom Birth in Palo Alto as well as BirthWays in Berkeley where she has served on Board of Directors. Meghan also has professional training and experience as an apprentice midwife, birth and postpartum doula, and in perinatal bodywork. She is a queer solo parent by choice of a 9 year old son who enjoys painting, sailing and exploring new terrain. Please visit www.meghanlewisphd.com for more information or go to www.lgbtqperinatalassociates.com

 

VICTORY: Governor Brown Signs the Modern Family Act!


Dear families and friends,

I am thrilled to share with you that the Modern Family Act (AB2344) is now the law!

Over the past twenty years California’s LGBTQ families have been gaining increased legal protections through the legislature and the courts. This victory shows the great impact that we can have when working united for laws that keep up with the evolving nature of our families. Your support is critical to our making change.

You may be asking what exactly the Modern Family Law means for our families. The law essentially does three things:

1. Establishes a statutory form that spells out the agreement between a donor and parents – much like the one that currently exists for wills – that may be used in the event of pregnancy achieved through sperm donations. The form would include  parenting rights and responsibilities, if any, for the donor. While we still advise that parents seek counsel, this form adds protections for all parties involved and will reduce future litigation on the issue.

2. Provides  clear specifications related to the financial responsibility of medical costs of the surrogate and the newborn.  This is important since some insurance coverage specifically excludes surrogacy.

3. Provides a streamlined adoption process for parents that meet these specified criteria and would waive associated fees.  This rectifies the inequity caused by states, unlike California, that do not accept birth certificates unless they include one female mother and one male father, forcing same-sex couples to go through an expensive and invasive step-parent adoption process to guarantee parental rights in other states.

I am elated knowing that the Modern Family Act will help build clarity in families that can help prevent non-biological parent from losing contact or custody of their child, in addition to removing the unnecessary financial and emotional cost that our families currently have to undertake to protect our kids across state lines.

We applaud Assemblymember Tom Ammiano for championing this bill in Sacramento, in collaboration with our many allies, and thank Governor Brown for signing the Modern Family Act. This bill is a big step in the right direction toward protecting families across California.

We need your help to build on two decades of work supporting and protecting families. Our Family Coalition is built on reciprocity, we cannot continue to exist and push for progressive policies without your generous support; please join our movement and make a donation today.

Please keep an eye out for more information about all the ways you can get involved with Our Family Coalition and help in the fight for equity and justice. We simply can’t do it without you.

Towards a new future for all of our families,

PS. In more exciting news that supports healthy schools and families, the Governor also just signed AB420 which prohibits suspending students in grades K-3 and prohibiting expulsion for willful disruption/defiance. We played a central role in advocating for this bill and will continue doing so with your support!

 

Banned Books Week Special: Some favorite kids’ lit titles

bookstackBanned Books Week (this year, Sept 21– 27): always a favorite among bibliophiles, and a particular favorite among we who keep finding books about us banned. I want to call out a half dozen or so favorite kid’s book titles from our family’s library.  There aren’t nearly enough books for children with family or gender diversity in them, but the lists I consult can still be dizzying. And given how few images our kids get of ourselves and our families in the culture around them, dull, one-dimensional, pedantic, inadequate, or pat books are even more disappointing. It’s tough, but it’s true: when there’s a paucity of imagery, what is out there is subject to high scrutiny and higher expectations.

rainbowfamilycollectionsEnter the indispensable resource Rainbow Family Collections: Selecting and Using Children’s Books with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Content (Libraries Unlimited, 2012). Author Jamie Campbell Naidoo lists and reviews some 175 picture books, over 30 chapter books, and over 40 other media resources for children (defined as birth up to 11 years old) that depict “same-sex parents, queer relatives, nontraditional families, gender-variant children, and influential LGBTQ historical figures.”  It’s written as a resource for librarians, and priced in that range ($50!). As harsh as that price tag is, it really is a fantastic resource.  Dana gave it a thorough review at Mombian back in June 2012.  The main thing I want to note here is that that the descriptions and ratings of each title (“Highly Recommended,” “Recommended,” “Additional Selection,” and “Not Recommended”) are a great help to those wishing to build a home library of even modest proportion.

What gets a book a mediocre rating is overly didactic content, or uninteresting illustrations, or words or language (one e.g.: “innate”) that are ill-suited to the reading level of the intended audience. These are just the sorts of complaints I’ve had of the lesser options in this literature.  The “Not Recommended” titles are often ones that are confusing to children, or depict some homophobic treatment in the storyline but don’t sufficiently explain or resolve it (thus creating more problems than they solve); some are outright homophobic and recommending the dissolution of a gay couple, for instance, or insinuating that gay people are pedofiles.  All of this is useful stuff to know about a book before you buy it sight unseen based on the title.  Out of the 175 titles listed in the “Picture Books” section, Naidoo either recommends or highly recommends some 79 (including some vintage titles from 1972, like William’s Doll). I was surprised to find some titles only designated as “Additional Selection”: Lesléa Newman’s The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, or Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House, both of which are major favorites of our kids.  But: à chacon son goût.

And speaking of goût! Here’s some of what’s to my family’s taste: a few of the books that have become favorites at “books ‘n’ milk” time in our household, and why:

  • abcfamilyalphabetbookABC: A Family Alphabet Book, written by Bobbie Combs, illustrated by Desiree Keane & Brian Rappa (Two Lives Publishing, 2000).
    • This is your alphabet book. One of the earlier books to include same-sex parents but without fanfare or hoop-dee-do. Basically it’s an alphabet book. But there are numerous sorts of same-sex parents (both of color, both Caucasian; interracial; one using a wheelchair, etc.).
    • The illustrations are fun, featuring kids doing something or another fun, wacky, madcap, silly, etc.
  • inourmothershouseIn Our Mothers’ House, written and illustrated by Patricia Polaccco (Philomel Books, 2009).
    • Sweet recollections of family life by the eldest child, now grown; all kids are adopted, two are interracially adopted (African American & Chinese American) by the two white moms.
    • Gorgeous illustrations, rich and sufficiently developed/ evolved story (note: our kids now 5 & 8; it was a little too long for the little guy up until a year or so ago).
    • Set in the kids’ hometown of Berkeley! Woah nellie! We let out a whooop whenever we’re on the street where they live.
    • Note that it includes reference to the moms’ eventual passing, but in a sweet way; I was skittish that it’d set our kids off to weeping, but nope!
  • frecklefacestrawberrybffFreckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever, written by Julianne Moore, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Bloomsbury, 2011).
    • Yes, that Julianne Moore.
    • A fun story  about friendship between two kids; the fact that one has two moms is (ideally!) treated totally incidentally and folded in smoothly, which is still relatively rare: too many books published in earlier years are issue-driven, and also presume a homophobic or uncomprehending reaction from other characters, which may well not be many of our kids’ experience–or perhaps, may be something some would rather not plug into their kids’ heads earlier than necessary.
    • The text doesn’t have a particularly zippy rhyme scheme, but it’s still a sweet story and the illustrations have a cool, retro-y feel that could engage keep grown-ups & kids alike.
  • boywhocriedfabulousThe Boy Who Cried Fabulous, written by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Peter Ferguson (Tricycle Press, 2004).
    • The story of an exuberant boy whose enthusiasm and fascination with the beauty around him is uncontainable–so much so that he loses track of time and arrives late to school. Also he loves spiffy clothing and nice handbags and some of the sorts of things you might imagine a future gay man might like
    • Fantastic illustrations, zippy rhyme scheme makes it somewhere between tolerable and fun for the grown up to withstand multiple re-readings
  • what-makes-a-baby-coverWhat Makes a Baby, written by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth (Zoball Press, 2012).
    • The all-time best, most direct, simple, explanatory, every family configuration-inclusive picture book about how a person comes to be. As in: a sperm (from somewhere! could be the person one calls “dad,” but not necessarily!) meets up with an egg (from somewhere! could be from inside the person one calls “mom,” but also possibly not!) and develops into a baby, which leaves the birth mother’s body in any number of ways (including Caesarean), usually being fully developed, but sometimes not quite! Which baby joins a family in any number of ways! I’m making it sound wacky, but really it’s just calmly inclusive and big-tent.
    • The first printing of this book was totally crowdsourced! How frickin’ cool is THAT?
    • Our 8 yr old, who is keen on becoming a medical doctor (cardiologist? brain surgeon? she can’t decide) is interested in it; 5 yr old engaged more by the fabu imagery. We like it that our family’s origin story can sit inside, and is not relegated to the outside, of the narrative in this book.
  • donovansbigdayDonovan’s Big Daywritten by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Mike Dutton (Tricycle Press, 2011). and Mom and Mum are getting Married, written by Ken Setterington, illustrated by Alice Priestley (Second Story Press, 2004).
    • Both of these are sweet stories focussing on the excitement of a kid (Donovan) or kids (Rosie and Jack, Mom and Mums’ kids) on the thrilling occasion of their parents getting married. Both have great illustrations, a fun plot that builds enthusiasm toward the big moment which, though about their parents, is also about them, since they play a big role in the ceremony (as ring bearer or flower petal strewer).
    • Donnovan is centered entirely around the boy, whereas Mom and Mum tells the whole family’s story more or less through the kids’ viewpoint. One of the moms in Mom and Mum is just a weeeensy, teeeensy bit butch. Ish. In one illustration (kind of goes Then There’s Maude for the ceremony outfit).  That’s the next big milestone for LGBT depictions in kids’ lit: gender traitors. Meanwhile, baby steps.
    • Neither story makes any to-do about the legality (recent, revoked, or il-) of the unions. Also, each one includes loving family members and an extended friendship network in a weave of support and excitement around the event.
  • rainbowsThe Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans and  The Day They Put a Tax on Rainbows, written by Johnny Valentine, illustrated by Lynette Schmidt (Alyson Wonderland, 1991 & 1992).
    • Three or so stories in each collection, following, for lack of a better term, the classic European renaissance-era Fairy Tale genre. As most of the best such books do, the story line foregrounds the kids, and has their same-sex parents occupying about as much air time as parents do or should in a kids’ story.
    • These were among the first books we read to our kids (our local library has both), and it was such a delight to be able to sink into a genre that was so beloved and find (quietly, in the background) families like ours.

And for good measure, I’ll include a few more books here that don’t have same-sex parents or LGBT people in them, but illustrate the huge value of the larger narratives of self-love and respect in spite of difference. These, too, mean a lot to our kids, and are high on our list of favorite reads.

  • boywhogrewflowersThe Boy Who Grew Flowers, written by Jen Wojtowica, illustrated by Steve Adams (Barefoot Books, 2005).  Basically, a boy comes from a really unusual family which includes many odd birds (from snake wranglers to people with snakes for hair, more or less). His special trait is that on the full moon, he sprouts flowers from his hair. He befriends a girl who has her own difference, and together, they see each other. Beautiful illustrations, amazingly sweet.
  • ilikemyselfI Like Myself! written by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow (Harcourt, 2004). Infectious rhyme scheme and very imaginative illustrations. An exuberant girl (African American) basically sing-chants her way through the book, declaring all the things she loves about herself, “Inside, outside, upside down, from head to toe and all around.”

My favorite page of I Like Myself gets me verklempt every time:

No matter if they stop and stare, no person ever anywhere can make me feel that what they see is all there really is to me.

So there.

What about your family? What are your favorite books? Share them with us in the comments! Or better yet, blog about it and give us the link!

By Polly Pagenhart, Our Family Coalition Programs Director and Lesbian Dad! An updated version of a 2012 post.

Evening S’Mores, Wild Turkeys, Fun-Filled Campout… Oh my.

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Campout2014007This past weekend, several dozen LGBTQ families and allies finished off the summer in style, with our ever-popular BBQ & family camp-out in the East Bay hills, this time at Tilden Park’s Wildcat View Group Camp. This year we added an extra night, and more than half the families were able to take advantage of it, arriving Fridayevening and making a longer weekend of it. That amounted to two nights of Jiffy Pop popcorn over the fire!

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Planned events included a foam pool noodle obstacle course, messy art, an excursion to Little Farm (complete with celery), and evening s’mores. A great selection of books was available in a shaded toddler story time area, and several of the older kids volunteered to help OFC staff lead the youngins in games. A BBQ lunch, a burrito bar dinner, and continental breakfast were provided by OFC staff, along with between-meal snacks.

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Campout2014008Unplanned? A visit by numerous wild turkeys, a glow-stick path laid out through the meadow leading the way to the outhouse (a nighttime boon!) and a rollicking earthquake directly under our sleeping bags!  The next morning, we polled and discovered that 100% of the parents were awoken by it, and 0% of the kids. But none of us were worried by it: under the trees was the best place to be. And the hot coffee awaiting us the next morning didn’t hurt.

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We’re already dreaming of next year’s late-summer family camp-out. If you couldn’t make it this time around, try to make it next year! We can promise it’ll be at least as fun. Though we can’t promise another earthquake 🙂

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Lessons Learned: Ashley’s reflections on being OFC’s Policy Intern

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I open the door with butterflies in my stomach. It’s not every day that you get to follow your dream by applying to a policy internship at a progressive nonprofit. It’s not every day that you get the internship, apply for a stipend, find housing, and move across the country, all in one month. I followed a career-related whim to work as the Public Policy intern at Our Family Coalition and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

My heart pounds as typical vestiges of doubt rear their ugly heads. “What if you’re not good enough?” “What if it’s too hard?” “What if the staff is mean because you’re the mew intern?”

All of my fears were quickly put to rest as I met Renata Moreira. The quick talking, but even quicker-witted, Policy and Communications Director welcomed me with open arms. Staff members were quick to introduce themselves with genuine smiles and fun tips on where to visit in San Francisco. I was visiting OFC to get a feel for the office and discuss the specifics of my internship, but before I knew it, I had tickets to go to QWOCMAP, a queer, women of color film festival. I also received an invite to an alternative networking mixer for prospective LGBTQ parents.

All of this before my first day of work! I was overwhelmed, to say the least, but I couldn’t shake the fact that I was overjoyed. Not only was the work environment welcoming, but everyone knew their stuff. As a student leader at Washington University in St. Louis, I am used to working with some of the best and brightest academics in the country; however, to be in a work environment with an array of individuals well versed on advocacy, law, communications, and educational policy made me feel like I was going to leave this internship with more than I had hoped.

AshleyPullQuote1Before long, I started my first official day and was imbued with knowledge of local, state and national laws and policies that affect millions of LGBTQ individuals across the country. I was aware of some of the policies because of my interdisciplinary background in Urban Studies, but most of the information was new due to the mutable nature of our justice system. Working at OFC requires knowledge of these policies and an ability to brainstorm effective ways to combat said policies’ bias and discrimination. One of the main projects that I have been working on, the Reframing Our Families Project, utilizes my organizational, people, time-management and oral communication skills all in one. At first, working on the Project seemed daunting, but with help from Renata and Judy Appel, OFC’s Executive Director, I felt equipped to break down the Project’s main components and develop efficient strategies to complete them.

Besides the beautiful view from the office, there are two things that I will definitely take away from this experience.The first is that the policies in this country need some serious work. Let’s be honest! States like Virginia don’t even allow unmarried couples to adopt and since same sex marriages are not legally recognized in Virginia, LGBTQ couples in the state are not legally allowed to adopt children. Though this may change in due time, this means that, currently, more unplaced children will be denied loving and welcoming homes because of legal bias and discrimination. The more work and research that I do, the more I learn about the significant challenges I will have to overcome as I form my own family. But as I work, I am in awe of the seemingly furtive battles that have already been championed on my behalf.

AshleyPullQuote2The second is that our society needs organizations like Our Family Coalition. As one of the only organizations that deal with LGBTQ headed families, OFC is a rare, but essential gem dedicated to the advancement of LGBTQ individuals and their families. After discovering policies like those in Virginia, I began to develop a large sense of doubt in our political system. However, working at this internship reassured me that there are a slew of organizations, both locally and nationally, fighting for the rights of LGBTQ people everywhere. Being able to say that I was a part of one of them, is truly an honor.

Overall, this internship was a lot of work mixed in with a lot of fun. I’ll be honest, it’s not for everyone. But if you are committed to LGBTQ equality and social justice, then it will be for you, too.

Groundbreaking Law Would Make It Easier For LGBT Couples To Start A Family

Gay couple Jeffrey Parsons (R) and Chris

Jeffrey Parsons and Chris Hietikko pose with their son Henry Hietikko-Parsons in the garden of their house. Henry was conceived by the couple via artificial insemination and a surrogate mother. | EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images

When Judy Appel and her partner of 22 years, Alison Bernstein, wanted to have children, the state of California didn’t make it easy.

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Judy Appel, Alison Bernstein, and their children

Bernstein gave birth to their son using an anonymous sperm donor. But in order for Appel to gain legal custody of her child, she had to go through lengthy, complicated and costly measures to adopt him, which included allowing authorities into the family’s home multiple times for evaluations.

“It was really invasive,” Appel told The Huffington Post of the process. “They came into our home and studied it. It’s this extra legal hoop that, just by its nature, sends the message that our family isn’t equal.”

Appel and Bernstein’s son is now 16 years old, and much has changed in California since then. Gay marriage is now recognized under state law, and the adoption process for non-biological children of LGBT couples has become more streamlined. But certain counties in the state still require home visits as part of the adoption process. And if a same-sex couple with children moved to a state that didn’t recognize their marriage, the parents’ legal custody could be in jeopardy had no formal adoption taken place beforehand.

“In California, there’s the presumption that my wife is the parent of my child,” Appel said. “But elsewhere, that puts us at risk. What if a kid ends up in the hospital and one of the parents couldn’t visit?”

A new California bill aims to protect children from ending up in this kind of situation. Authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and dubbed the Modern Family Act, the first-of-its kind legislation would make adopting easier for LGBT couples in the state who want to start a family, providing legal protections from the moment formal planning begins. The measure would also benefit straight couples and single parents looking to conceive through alternative methods such as in vitro fertilization, sperm donation and surrogacy.

“The science behind having families has advanced more quickly than the laws,” Ammiano told HuffPost in a statement. “This bill is just an attempt to catch up with the realities and help these couples enjoy their modern families.”

themeasureThe measure, which passed the California Assembly by an overwhelming 60-2 majority earlier this week and now faces a vote in the state Senate before heading to the governor’s desk, includes multiple components. First, it would streamline the adoption process for same-sex parents, waiving typically required legal fees (which can range anywhere from $700 to thousands of dollars, according to Ammiano’s office) and protecting the family’s privacy by disallowing home visits and other invasive procedures.

“It will especially help for lower-income families in these situations,” Appel, who serves as the executive director of Our Family Coalition, a San Francisco-based advocacy group that supports LGBT parents and their families, noted. “This would provide security for kids across all economic levels.”

The bill would also apply to couples and individuals using what’s called a “known donor” to achieve pregnancy — in other words, using the sperm or egg of someone with whom they have a relationship, rather than an anonymous donor. Not only would the legislation require that all parties involved sign a statement of parental intention before any medical procedure take place, but it would also require would-be families using alternative reproduction technologies to explore their health insurance options in advance.

Alice Crisci, a government affairs liaison with California Cryobank, the country’s largest sperm donation bank, explained that using a known donor can sometimes lead to complicated legal situations. A donor or surrogate might seek custody of the child after he or she is born, for example, or the intended parents might go after the donor for child support. The Modern Family Act would eliminate any ambiguities at the onset.

“A lot of people use known donors because they want the donor to have a relationship with their child,” she said. “It’s really important that the law is as protective to all parties as possible.”

Crisci added that when legal issues arise after the fact, cases put pressure on California’s already-bloated family court system and impose significant financial burdens on everyone involved. “You can go broke defending your right to be a parent,” she said. “And it’s leaving the children vulnerable.”

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Renata Moreira, Lori Bilella, and their dog Pete

Renata Moreira, the policy and communications director at Our Family Coalition, married her wife, Lori Bilella, in San Francisco last year following the overturn of Prop 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. She and Bilella hope to start a family in the near future using Bilella’s egg and a known sperm donor. Moreira will then carry the pregnancy herself so that, as she explained to HuffPost, she and her wife both have the opportunity to bond emotionally with their unborn child.

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“The Modern Family Act will directly protect my intention to parent the child I will subsequently carry,” she said in a statement of support for the bill, adding to HuffPost that the legislation would “reduce the need for any future litigation in case something goes awry.”

Appel is quick to point out that the legislation reflects society’s evolving definition of what constitutes a family. “We’re in an age in which people create their families in different ways. This act allows for clear understandings going in, so we can create a loving environment for our kids,” she said. “It’s not to protect our rights, but to protect the security of our children.”

Originally posted on the Huffington Post

Mignon And Elaine’s Story From The Let Love Define Family Series

Originally published on the Huffington Post Gay Voices

foreverfamilyLong before Mignon R. Moore, 43, and Elaine Harley, 44, of Los Angeles considered raising a child, they focused their sights on building another type of family of choice by creating community networks for women of color first in New York and then in California. From their New York home 11 years ago, Mignon and Elaine launched “Persuasion,” a social network for “women of color of every persuasion.” Once they moved west, they established “Chocolate & Wine Upscale Events for Women,” a large and growing social group for lesbian, bisexual and same-gender-loving (SGL) women. The communities they have created have helped them forge friendships with women across the nation.

mignon2As a university professor and the author of Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships and Motherhood Among Black Women, Mignon has studied the unique factors influencing family-building among African American SGL women. Key among them is the fact that black LGBT individuals are less likely than other populations to cut ties with their families and religious communities when they encounter homophobia or outright rejection.

“I think that African American LGBT people work to retain ties with their racial and ethnic communities,” said Mignon. “Though many have found acceptance, some have faced resistance. But when there are issues they disagree with, they try to stick it out and work things through. The racial community acts as a buffer from the racism in society and because of that they are willing to negotiate, argue about and push through disagreements about their sexual orientation. That connection remains critical to their sense of self.”

Fortunately for Mignon and Elaine, their own families have been nothing but supportive. The couple, who have been together since 2002, were legally married in New York in 2012. The legal ceremony was followed by a wedding ceremony on the beaches of Los Cabos, Mexico.

The loving support of their families was much appreciated through the ups and downs of trying to create a family. They had already been involved in raising Elaine’s son from a previous relationship. Now that he was in college, the women looked forward to raising an infant together. After Mignon had tried various assisted reproductive technologies, they still wanted to grow their family with “babies that we could call our own.”

mignon1“We had some friends who became parents through foster-adoption,” said Elaine, a graphic designer who specializes in web design and branding. “Mignon’s own parents adopted children through the foster care system as well, so we had models for successful outcomes that we could draw upon. We did not want to spend thousands of dollars for private adoption when there were children who needed permanent and loving homes who were available in the public care system.”

Working with Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency (SCFFAA), Mignon and Elaine began the process of training and certifying to become foster-adopt parents. Although they were delighted when the first baby was placed with them, they were devastated when distant relatives came forward and were approved to raise the infant. Nevertheless, they got through it together and prepared themselves to be matched with a child who had no other relatives to care for it.

Baby Joi, now 14 months, was placed with them in March 2013 and her biological brother Ryan, now five months, joined the family in January. Mignon and Elaine look forward to making them a permanent part of the Moore-Harley family when their adoptions are finalized this year.

Since becoming foster parents, they have discovered through their social networks the high numbers of African American and Latino LGBT parents who foster to adopt. Those numbers echo findings by The Williams Institute, which has shown that African American lesbians and gay men are more likely to be raising children than their Caucasian counterparts.

Despite the disappointment of the first placement ending, Mignon said the couple has experienced more highs than lows and says the foster-adoption process has been “relatively smooth for us.”

“We have had positive experiences with state agencies,” she said. “Social workers, child advocates and others who work in the child welfare system have learned that sexual orientation is not a determining factor in a family’s ability to provide a loving home for a child or sibling group.”

Mignon praised the services of RaiseAChild.US and its Parent Advocate program, which provides free personalized support to prospective parents through phone calls and emails as they explore the option of fostering and adopting, choosing an agency to work with and moving through the steps of orientation, training, certification and placement.

“There are many LGBT people who have fostered and adopted, and we just didn’t know about it before we started the process,” Mignon said, “but problems can arise when you do not have an LGBT-positive agency like RaiseAChild.US to help. RaiseAChild.US’s Parent Advocate Jason Cook understands that you‘re trying to form your ‘forever family’ so he provides personal assistance to help navigate the bureaucracy. We have referred many families from different areas across the country to RaiseAChild.US and they have been able to talk with Jason and find help.”

Both Joi and Ryan were born before their due dates and faced challenges at birth. Mignon and Elaine are proud of how the babies have flourished while in their care. They take every opportunity to share the joy that their children have brought to them. Mignon currently serves on RaiseAChild.US’s Honorary Advisory Council where she sees opportunities to make a difference for children in foster care.

“We would like other families to know that it is possible to find a child or children to love and raise through the foster care system,” said Mignon. “There are beautiful, kind, wonderful little souls just waiting for the right adult to nurture them and help them reach their full potential as human beings. They are counting on you to come and find them!”

“We also want families to know that the road can be difficult at times, but well worth the hard work,” added Elaine.

“Call Me Mom,” a free brunch event hosted by RaiseAChild.US at Andaz West Hollywood hotel on May 3, will provide information to all women interested in becoming parents through fostering and adoption. The presentation will feature a welcome from a Los Angeles sheriff who is also an adoptive mom through the foster care system, a parent panel and Q&A and an opportunity to meet participating partner agencies. For more information or to RSVP visit www.RaiseAChild.US.

Corinne Lightweaver is the Special Projects Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. RaiseAChild.US works with foster and adoption agencies that have received training in LGBT cultural competence through the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “All Children-All Families” initiative. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,000 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”

Straight Talk From a Lesbian Mom

Judy Appel and Family (Oakland Tribute Pictures 1)I am a real live lesbian mom. My wife and I have been together for 23 years, way back before we could even think of being wives. We have a 16-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.

We are pretty much like any of you and your families. We get up every morning, make lunches for our kids and then scramble to get them out the door to school on time. Then, my wife Alison and I rush off to work, texting when we can catch a moment during our busy days to navigate the chores and details of dinner, shopping, dentist appointments and the ever changing complexities of our kids’ schedules. At the end of our work day, we rush home, make dinner, help with homework and, like many other parents these days, nag our kids to put away their electronic devices. When we are lucky, they share their struggles and their triumphs with us. And, in between all of this, we worry about our kids. Actually, we worry all the time, for all the reasons every parent does.LesbianMomPullquote1

We are fortunate in that we live in a place where our kids are growing up in an oasis of inclusion, with a community of friends and family that span the rainbow of sexual orientation, gender identity, race and class. Inside our bub  ble there is a culture of acceptance. Lesbian moms are hardly worth noticing, certainly far less noteworthy to our children and their friends than our questionable fashion choices or embarrassing dance moves.

But, our bubble is transparent, and both the awesomeness and the ugliness of the world are right outside. Our kids are tuned into American culture through social media, literature and Hollywood movies; but, until very recently, they saw little, if any, reflection of our family in the media, on television, on the web or in the books they read. However, partially due to the popularity of shows like Modern Family, Glee and The A-Bs outsideFosters, this has begun to change. Now that marriage equality is cascading through the blue states, and even some of the red ones, corporations like Coca-Cola and Chevy are clamoring to embrace family diversity to grab a piece of the market share and consequently, send a message out to the world that change is no longer coming, it’s here.LesbianMomPullquote2

Unfortunately, there are some that still react with fear and hate to families like mine. The conservative opposition continues their 50-year crusade leveraging the anxieties of well-meaning straight people, advancing the tired and unfounded notion that somehow gay people, like my wife, and me, will harm their kids. They continue to demonize our families with unfounded truths like, “Kids need both a mother and a father to be well-adjusted members of society” or “Children will be harmed if they grow up in gay or lesbians families.” These statements are slightly watered down version of the repressive Russian laws that led to an international outcry as LGBT families were pushed deep into the closet and out of their homeland. The same way of thinking leaves American children of LGBT parents vulnerable when they are denied legal connections to both their parents in so many states.

Our families are scattered throughout the United States: a quarter of all same-sex couples are raising kids in the American South. Salt Lake City has the highest ratio of same-sex couples raising children. States in the South and Midwest that have the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children, also have the most precarious legal protections for their families. We have become accustomed to the one step forward and two step backwards pace of achieving equality. Yet, I feel confident that our path is inexorably set and that we will ultimately, some day, triumph in the Supreme Court.

LesbianMomPullquote3The battle for acceptance is not solely taking place in the courts, but also at playgrounds, schoolyards, little league games, chess tournaments and in churches, synagogues, mosques, everywhere LGBT families are quietly going about the business of raising children and living their lives. LGBT parents are your neighbors. We are your kids’ coaches, team managers and fellow carpool drivers. We can be people you rely on, people you turn to, people you trust with that most precious being, your child. We don’t just stay in our bubble and neither do you.

The only way I know to start paving the way for a future of full-scale equity, one that goes beyond marriage equality, is for us to reach our hands across the playground and really meet one another. I ask you to put away any discomfort you might have about my family or other families that are different or simply don’t look like your own. Welcome that two-dad couple when they come to Back-to-School night; take the leap and let your kid attend my kid’s birthday party. Let’s get to know each other. It is the only path to real change.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post blog