When parents – especially LGBT parents – learn what my work entails as the director of Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, I tend to get the same response: “I wish you could be at my child’s school. I am afraid that our family will not be accepted and included.”
Although we are working to expand our reach, my HRC colleagues and I simply cannot be at every school. But we can offer resources to support parents and caregivers, and ensure that, as the new school year begins, all families are included and celebrated.
HRC’s Welcoming Schools offers professional development tools, lessons and resources designed to help elementary schools embrace family diversity, avoid gender stereotyping and end bullying and name-calling.
Many of you would no doubt be surprised how common it is for students and their families to feel invisible or excluded- from school registration and permission forms, to lesson plans, books, media and classroom discussions that only show families that have a mother and father.
Embracing family diversity, especially in elementary schools, is critical for students to flourish. Family is the most basic element of self-identification for young children; it shapes and informs their sense of self and who they are in the world.
One of Welcoming Schools’ favorites activities in elementary schools is hosting Family Nights where all families in the school community are invited to come together for an evening to celebrate family diversity. During Family Night we often have a panel representing different kinds of family structures––including single-parent families, multiracial families, adoptive families, bilingual families, two mom or two dad families, families with a transgender child, families with differing physical abilities, military families or families with step parents. Participants discuss how they talk about their family with their children, and how teachers and other families in the school community can support and validate their family structure at home and at school.
These events consistently show that there is no such thing as a “normal” or “typical” family, that all families are unique and the more we can learn about each other, the better we can support one another in conversations — both in conversations at the dinner table and in school curricula, policies and practices.
Even if Welcoming Schools isn’t in your school yet, as a parent, there are steps you can take to make your school more inclusive. As parents prepare for the coming school year, consider these five options:
- Organize a Family Night to share and learn about the different family structures in your school community, and how to better support all families and all children. You can read about one school’s family night experience here.
- Ask your PTA to host a Respect For All Project and HRC Welcoming Schools film night to view films addressing identity-based bullying and how all members of the school community can promote respectful behavior among students.
- Practice how you might respond to children’s questions about family diversity, such as, “Can Two Women or Two Men Get Married?” by checking out our HRC guide here.
- Ask your school if lesson plans about families are representative of the diversity of families in the school district and provide your school with lesson plans that are.
- In addition to ensuring that your child’s school media center has picture books that represent all families, build your own library at home of books that not only reflect your family structure, but also introduce new types of families to your child.
Every student should feel safe talking about their family at school. We know that when a student sees and hears their family included in books, photos on bulletin boards and in the curriculum, they are more motivated and engaged in learning. The partnership between home and school cannot be underestimated.
My colleagues and I are excited for a new school year to begin because we know that teachers and families have the same goal for children – that every child feels safe to learn and grow to their full potential at school.
Did she put up a fight? No! means No!
Paramount Television and Fox Network have teamed-up to create and present a version of Grease. It’s going to be a live television production of the 1978 musical. IMDB.com shows the release date as January 31, 2016, and our family’s getting excited. But should we?
My husband and I were transfixed with Grease in the late 70’s, with the rest of the country. We noticed Travolta’s swiveling hips and his sexy snarl. But we didn’t notice the lyrics he and his friends were singing.
Tell me more, tell me more. Was it love at first sight? Tell me more, tell me more. Did she put up a fight?”
These words struck the back of my head this morning – when I heard my 10-yr old daughter singing the lyrics to “Summer Nights”. My instinct told me that I needed to step-in and take advantage of this learning opportunity. Yep, I just said learning opportunity.
We’ve already talked about rape in previous (short) conversations, so I asked my daughter to sing the lyrics again. She did, and then I told her that rape may be occurring if a girl is fighting against someone. I told her that saying no and stop should end the situation.
Her mouth dropped open, she blinked, and then she said, “Got it”.
The song “Summer Nights” was a huge hit in the United States and United Kingdom – it reached No. 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and spent seven weeks at No. 1 in the UK. I’d be surprised if the song isn’t included in the live TV production.
Some will say that I’m making too much out of this. Should we break-down lyrics, so our kids know what’s coming out of their mouths, while singing pop songs? Does anyone in their 30’s and 40’s remember caring about Madonna’s lyrics to “Like A Virgin”? Madge had the world in a trance as she sang about being “touched for the very first time.”
These particular lyrics, “Did she put up a fight”, mean something more today than they did in 1978. Civilized societies have had discussions about date rape. We’ve educated ourselves, and the conversation’s over. No means no!.
As I said – we’re getting excited for the TV event. Nick Jonas and Julianne Hough, anyone? Our family will sing along every time we watch it, but I’ll also be watching my daughter – with hope that I gave her a useful tool – No Means No. On a related note, I’m enrolling her in a self-defense class this fall.
“It’s simple,” said Julie Hoffman, adoptions administrator for the state Department of Human Services. “Now that gay couples are allowed to marry, they’ll be treated like any other married couple who’s adopting.”
While same-sex couples have long been able to adopt from private, gay-friendly adoption agencies, adopting children from the foster care system has proved more difficult in some states.
“Marriage doesn’t create this completely certain playing field,” said Ellen Kahn, director of the children, youth and families program at the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights.
And some states have taken up legislation that would allow taxpayer-funded contractors that oversee state adoptions to refuse to let gay or lesbian individuals adopt children if it conflicts with the organization’s religious beliefs. Michigan passed such a law right before the court decision.
All but Arkansas and Tennessee also had policies that did not allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt foster children jointly, according to HRC. In Alabama, where a federal court overruled the state’s ban on gay marriage, gay couples were also not allowed to adopt jointly.
But many of those states are changing their policies in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision. That’s the case in North Dakota, where the law allows single people to adopt but specifies that adopting couples must be “husband and wife.”
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Still behind when it comes to LGBT families, Florida state officials are doing everything they can to slow the pace of progress in the state. Eight months after the marriage ban ended, the state is not allowing hospitals to list both same-sex parents on their babies’ birth certificates, according to a federal lawsuit recently filed by three gay couples.
The first same-sex couple to be married in Florida, Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello (pictured), discovered the hospital would only include the birth mother’s name on the birth certificate for their twins. They have sued, saying the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics violates the U.S. Constitution by issuing “a certificate that falsely indicates that the child has only one parent.”
The Florida Department of Health, which handles birth certificates, responded with a legal motion seeking clarification from a judge on whether the Supreme Court’s ruling “may be read to require issuance of birth certificates to married same-sex parents.”
It said current Florida law regarding birth certificates is “gender specific,” referring to a mother and her husband. It added the Supreme Court ruling referred only “to the issue of same-sex marriage, not vital statistics records.”
Most states quickly changed birth certificate rules to reflect the Supreme Court ruling, although Texas, Utah and Arkansas only did so after lawsuits were filed.
Not having an accurate birth certificate denies children with same-sex parents normal birth rights and also prevents parents from taking care of their children’s everyday needs like obtaining government benefits, said Equality Florida, which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Floridians, and is also a plaintiff in the case.
The following is an excerpt from Sean Michael O’Donnell’s “Which One Of You Is The Mother?” published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; July 2015
Through The Looking Glass
He was waiting for us at the door. I imagine he had been there for days, from the moment his foster parents told him we were coming. With his perfectly parted hair and his blue shirt buttoned to the very top button, he had a smile so big it threatened to swallow the whole of the earth. I suspected his bags were already packed, tucked discreetly behind the door, in anticipation of our arrival. He would have come home with us in that moment had we let him. He would have gone anywhere with us in that moment. Us, the parents he had been waiting a lifetime to meet.
It had been six weeks since the decision. Some faceless committee on the other side of the country deciding our future and creating our family. From the start all we had been given was a basic narrative and a photo. It’s the photo that gets you. It’s the photo that dares you to imagine a lifetime of birthdays and Christmases and bedtime hugs. It’s the photo that teases you with a tomorrow that may never happen.
That photo. It invades your dreams. It speaks to you. It sometimes calls you Dad.
I had that photo, his photo, on my computer, but I tried not to look at it, afraid that I would go even further down the rabbit hole. Without the photo he was just a collection of words; a story with a beginning, middle and a distant end. Without the photo, I could close the book, put it back on the shelf. Without the photo he was not real.
Except he was real and I had already imagined all of the birthdays and the Christmases and the lifetime of hugs. I heard his voice call me Dad. I pictured a future with him, my son — this boy I’d never met. And that was dangerous. Because the faceless committee on the other side of the country deciding our future might have hated us. They could have chosen another family, a better match.
Of course, that wasn’t the case. They chose us.
We traveled backward through four time zones, arriving in Oregon shortly after we had left Pittsburgh. It was a few miles from the hotel to his foster home and as we drove I remember looking over at my husband and thinking, This is the last time it will be just the two of us. In a few minutes, for the rest of our lives, it would now be the three of us (at least).
I closed the car door and rounded the corner to the house. Everything changed.
In the movies and in books when writers employ that laziest of clichés love at first sight (see chapter three), I always roll my eyes and silently chastise the author for condescending to his audience with weak plot devices. “Show, don’t tell!” I want to scream as I throw the book across the room. “This isn’t real life!” I say as I shake my fists in protest at the movie screen.
People do not fall in love at first sight. Except for parents. Parents fall in love at first sight. From the moment they see their child they are in love. And it does not matter if they are seeing a newborn or a seven year old, that love is immediate and unconditional and eternal.
The moment I saw my son standing at that door — with his perfectly parted hair and his blue shirt buttoned to the very top button and his smile so big it threatened to swallow the whole of the earth — I was in love. We may have lived in two different worlds for the first seven years of his life, but he was my son as sure as if I had made him. Looking at him I realized that every moment in my life before this moment had been nothing more than an audition.
He opened the door, offering his hand to me in greeting. It had been a rehearsed bit meant to show respect, but also a subtle wink from his foster parents to let me know that they had done their job, that he had manners. He shook with his left hand. I shook with my right hand. It was very awkward, less of a hand shake and more of a hand embrace. Just another reason to love him.
He had decided that I would be called Dad and Todd would be Papa. “I’m Christopher,” he said.
My son, Christopher. And me, his Dad. Was I really someone’s Dad?
We made our way to the living room and sat on the couch, my husband on the left and me on the right with our son between us as if he had always been there. A camera appeared, immortalizing our first moments as a family. The picture captures two smiling grown men, wide-eyed and deliriously happy, and a young boy, home at last. The photo sits in my son’s room. Sometimes I find myself staring at that photo and suddenly I am inside the picture, living a memory as if today were yesterday and yesterday were now.
I hear my son reading to us. I can’t remember the name of the book, just the sound of his voice. The voice I first imagined before there was a voice, when all I had was a photo and a collection of words. Christopher, Chris, sits across from me, his face buried in his book as he reads with tentative confidence. I close my eyes and his voice takes me out of the room, out of the house, past the hotel, past tomorrow, fast forwarding me through a life that has yet to happen. We are on the plane, back in Pittsburgh, at our home. He is eight, nine, eighteen, twenty-seven years old. There are birthdays and Christmases and a lifetime of hugs. No longer a child, now a man. From the beginning of our story to the end of mine. He reads and I see it all.
In July of 2013, my husband and I traveled to Oregon to meet our son for the first time. It was the beginning of a life-changing adventure. Five days later when we boarded a plane back to Pittsburgh with our soon-to-be-adopted then seven year old son in tow, we were a family. Sometimes everything just falls into place. Sometimes love at first sight transcends cliché. Sometimes only a stale platitude will do: it was meant to be.
Mississippi is the only state left in the nation that bans gay couples from adopting without regard for their qualifications as parents or the best interests of the child. The ban has been challenged in a federal lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the state’s law banning adoption by same-sex couples.
The case was filed August 12th, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of four same-sex couples: Kari Lunsford and Tinora Sweeten-Lunsford, who are seeking to adopt a child; Brittany Rowell and Jessica Harbuck, also seeking to adopt; Donna Phillips and Janet Smith, parents to a young daughter; and Kathryn Garner and Susan Hrostowski, who have a 15-year-old son. Two organizations – the Campaign for Southern Equality and Family Equality Council – join the case as plaintiffs representing the LGBT families across Mississippi.
As of 2014, 996 same-sex couple households in Mississippi were raising 1,401 children, according to the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law. According to data from the 2010 Census, 29 percent of the 3,484 same-sex couples currently living in Mississippi are raising children under the age of 18 in their homes.
There are currently approximately 100 children in Mississippi who are in foster care and legally available for adoption, but who have not been matched with parents who can adopt them.
via Family Equality Council
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Billboards that read One Man, One Woman, Yes on 36 lined the gorgeous farmland of Marion County, Oregon during the fall of 2004. Proposition 36 called for a vote to change Oregon’s Constitution. The initiative eventually passed by a vote of 57% to 43% in the 2004 general election, and the Constitution was amended to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
At the time, Mark and I noticed the irony of our situation as we drove our newborn daughter around Silverton, Salem, and Portland. The anti-gay signs were large, loud, and angry – but our experience over a few days in this otherwise charming part of the United States was free of negativity. In contrast we witnessed a remarkably generous woman give birth to our daughter in a very welcoming environment.
The birth took place in Oregon because Jessica (our surrogate) lived there and the state’s position on gay second parent adoption was slightly more liberal than California’s at the time. Jessica chose Silverton Family Birth Center considering its small size and proximity to her home. I didn’t take notice of the word ‘Family’ in the title of the facility until days after the birth. Upon reflection of our experience, I realize the center’s atmosphere and service affirm its name.
Portland’s Hotel Lucia had chilled Domaine Ste. Michelle waiting in our room when we arrived in Portland, a few days before the birth. The note read, “Congratulations! We wish you the best of luck. Enjoy your time in Portland.” Apparently Mark let the staff know about our cause for celebration. The following day, we went with Jessica for her weekly check-up and she decided to induce labor the next day because dilation and contractions had started.
The day of the delivery, everything was very clinical and the staff was upbeat, happy, and professional. Jessica’s husband was with us and he added humor to the experience. Pitocin was administered mid-morning and Chloe was born at 8:14PM. I cut the cord after the birth, then a nurse rapidly cleaned and swaddled our newborn before placing her in my arms for her first feeding. Mark was recording everything on video but he lightly pried his daughter from my arms for his first fix.
We introduced Chloe to Jessica within minutes of the delivery, so she could also marvel at her accomplishment. Surrogate and child shared a few precious moments before Mark and I followed a nurse as she took our daughter to the nursery. We trailed in a state of bliss and shock. We couldn’t look away from the miracle who’d just entered our lives. Nine months prior, I witnessed a few quivering cells under a microscope, and Chloe had become a breathing, screaming baby!
The hospital staff encouraged us to bond as a family by offering a quiet room with chairs, a bed, and a TV. We spent most of two days at the Center sharing the bed and watching our Chloe’s facial expressions change from minute to minute. American League baseball was muted on the TV, which added a bit of testosterone to the experience. Several nurses stopped by to demonstrate the proper way to swaddle a newborn (there seem to be 4 or 5 proper ways). We also watched and learned during her first bath. Each member of the staff was warm, welcoming and helpful. We never sensed homophobia, and employees didn’t overcompensate with extra attention as if our situation was extraordinary, different, or the least bit queer.
Jessica stayed at the hospital one night after the birth and Baby stayed two nights. Her husband assured us Jessica was feeling optimistic but melancholy about leaving Baby behind. We felt the sense of sadness from Jessica as she took photos of us and said goodbye before leaving the hospital, but we promised to share pictures and updates to keep Jessica somewhat tethered to this person she’d grown to know during the pregnancy.
Over a week’s time our family traveled along central Oregon’s Interstate 5 several times from our hotel, to our attorney’s office, to the birthing Center. We didn’t passively drive by the political signs – we drove through them as if they stood in the path of our progress. We learned that billboards don’t speak for everyone in a community. Pockets of friendly and progressive people exist in every corner of our country. Our family doesn’t rely on a majority vote to live our lives. Regardless of the political outcome of Oregon’s Proposition 36 – and other anti-gay maneuvers like it – Chloe, Mark, and I will live our lives as if the results don’t matter. There’s no other choice for us. For our family, there’s no other way to live.
Originally published December 2004
A Nebraska District Court Judge ruled that Nebraska’s discriminatory treatment, policy and practice, toward gay and lesbian foster parents is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause. The ACLU of Nebraska, the ACLU LGBT Rights & HIV Project, and the New York law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell filed suit on behalf of three same-sex couples who wanted to be foster parents for children in Nebraska. The policy stems from a 1995 memo, “Memo 1-95” issued by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Statement from Danielle Conrad, Executive Director:
Nebraska’s motto of ‘Equality before the Law’ rings out more truly for all of us on this thrilling day. This is a special victory for thousands of children in Nebraska who now have more options to find loving and stable homes.
The couples in our case, like thousands of other gay and lesbian Nebraskans, have demonstrated their ability to provide loving homes for children. We are grateful for the court’s unequivocal, broad, and positive opinion in favor of LGBT Nebraskans constitutional rights to be full participants in our child welfare system.
Nebraska finally joins America in ending state sponsored discrimination in policy and practice that hurt Nebraska families and that prevented children in need from accessing loving and stable foster families.
via ACLU Nebraska
Image via ACLUNebraska.org
Marriage equality doesn’t guarantee that both parents are automatically recognized as legal parents of their child, even if they are both named on the birth certificate. For example, in North Carolina – and virtually all other states – being named on the birth certificate is only a presumption that the parent is a legal parent. If the person is not biologically related to the child or did not adopt the child then she or he is not a legal parent, except under specific surrogacy situations where a court has signed a parentage judgment.
A legal parent has a right to custody of the child and the right to make all decisions about the child, including about the child’s health and medical care, education and well-being. A legal parent is financially responsible for the child. A non-legal parent does not have any of these rights.
Married same-gender parents are being advised to protect their families by having the non-biological parent do an adoption or get a parentage judgment (if available). According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights: “Regardless of whether you are married or in a civil union or a comprehensive domestic partnership, NCLR always encourages non-biological and non-adoptive parents to get an adoption or parentage judgment, even if you are named on your child’s birth certificate.” NCLR also recommends parents have family protection documents such as medical authorization, guardianship agreements, wills, and advance directives.
It isn’t just same-gender married couples who face this unfair situation. If a DNA test shows the husband in a different-sex married couple is not the biological father, then he has to adopt the child to become a legal parent, even if his name was already on the birth certificate.