Separate but equal: a painful reality for gay families

By Anna Rockne

While gay marriage is still outlawed in 48 states and gay adoption has only been allowed in 20, the number of families headed by gay parents continues to rise. In 2000 between six and fourteen million children in 601,209 gay families resided in 99.3% of counties nationwide.
Numerous psychological and sociological studies have demonstrated that homosexuals and heterosexuals are equally well-equipped to parent. Considering the hostile, homophobic communities in which many LGBT parents are forced to raise their children, gay parents’ ability to raise socially and emotionally well-adjusted children suggests tremendous resilience on their parts. In these situations, gay parents are forced to choose whether to stay closeted and face psychological damage or come out and risk putting their children in danger.
The only way to alter this climate is through education, but it is especially difficult to challenge discrimination that is imbedded within legislation. Courts tend to uphold inequalities that put children in gay families at a disadvantage.
Gays can lose their jobs based solely on sexual orientation in 40 states. Disparities in the workplace seriously limit gay parents’ ability to provide for their children.
Lesbians make five to fourteen percent less than straight women in comparable jobs. Gay men make eleven to 27 percent less than their straight counterparts. The divide becomes even greater when accounting for racial inequality. Black lesbians are twice as likely as white lesbians to make below $10,000 while black gay men are half as likely as white gay men to earn $40,000 and over.
Because second-parent adoption is prohibited in most states, children of gay couples cannot receive their non-biological non-adoptive parent’s social security or insurance benefits. This parent has no legal connection to their children. If the couple separates, the co-parent has no visitation rights and the child will not be guaranteed financial support on the co-parent’s behalf.
In the case of a medical emergency, children may even be denied treatment until their biological or adoptive parent is present. The co-parent’s employee health insurance does not extend to their children. The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows an employee to take twelve unpaid weeks off to care for an ill family member, but this law does not extend to same-sex partners or the children of the co-parent.
Violent acts against gays are on the rise. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation rank third as common behind race-based and religion-based hate crimes, but hate crime legislation protecting gays is in place in just 27 states.
Curriculum addressing racial and religious diversity must be expanded to include sexual and gender diversity. The silence of our schools allows children to unquestioningly absorb heterosexism.
Developmental education models must be reformed. They have traditionally been constructed based on “developmentally appropriate practice,” a code of conduct upholding archaic research meant to create a normalizing environment. The foundation of education should be pluralism, not standardized ideals.
Learning about different types of families is an integral part of early education. Children’s play at this age demonstrates a developing understanding of love and identity.
Many teachers feel the words “lesbian” and “gay” are inappropriate because they have been oversimplified as purely sexual connotations.
A young child can see that mommy loves daddy while remaining oblivious to the concept of heterosexual sex. Children should learn that two mommies could make a loving family as well. If “lesbian” and “gay” are not introduced in an educational setting early in childhood they will make their way to the playground in the form of “dyke” and “fag.”

Today’s children in gay families and LGBT youth suffer the emotional and sometimes physical consequences of an inadequate education.

By introducing young children to the many facets of identity and forms of families at an early age, schools can prevent feeding stereotypes based on gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.