From the Introduction
Advocates proudly proclaim that more LGBT progress has occurred between 2009 and 2012 than at any other point in the nation’s history. This progress was obvious when, in 2011, the United States and eighty-four other countries presented an international declaration to the United Nations Human Rights Council urging an end to discrimination against LGBTs. “The US government is ﬁrmly committed to supporting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals to lead productive and digniﬁed lives, free from fear and violence,” declared Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, US ambassador to the council.
But why then, with all of this progress, did Jon Davidson, the legal director of Lambda Legal, the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization working for the civil rights of LGBTs, begin a late 2011 editorial with the following: “I consider myself an optimist. I usually focus on the remarkable progress LGBT people have made through the years . . . But, there are times when the venom and violence that still [get] directed at members of our community [break] through and I ﬁnd myself shocked at how strongly people still hate us and how far we have yet to go.”
Many LGBT activists and leaders have voiced similar sentiments of frustration and disbelief; the more progress made for LGBTs, the more intense the backlash against them. And, unfortunately, families with LGBT parents have become a focal point of this ire. Signs of Progress
Progress for LGBTs has ranged from the seemingly prosaic (as when the federal government, for the ﬁrst time, redesigned forms recognizing the possibility of two parents of the same gender) to the phenomenal, including
• The Obama administration’s 2011 refusal to back the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had granted individual states the right to deﬁne marriage as they saw best and the concomitant ability to deny the legality of a marriage occurring in another state (thus, for example, a lesbian couple legally married in New Hampshire found that this union was still invalid in their home state of Pennsylvania).
• The belated dissolution of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
• The introduction by the federal government of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, a federal bill that opens up more homes for foster youth by restricting federal funding for states employing discriminatory practices in adoption and foster care placements based on sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or the sexual orientation or gender identity of the foster youth involved. (The bill began the process of debating the issue in response to the patchwork of state rules and regulations regarding LGBT adoption.)
• The Obama administration’s directive that hospitals receiving federal funding be required to provide equal visitation rights to LGBT families.
• The increasing number of states passing same-sex marriage or civil union legislation. At the writing of this book, same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Maryland, and Washington, DC.
• The unprecedented media coverage of gay bullying and efforts at the local, state, and national levels to combat it.
• The release of The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans-gender People
, a report by the National Institute of Medicine acknowledging the deﬁ cit of health research on these populations and advocating for more.
• The adoption by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development of new regulations alleviating discrimination against LGBTs in rental-assistance and home-ownership programs. The Growing Backlash against the LGBT Community
In spite of the substantial gains, there are dark clouds on the horizon. Barack Obama’s election had been predicted to usher in an era of more progressive politics, and the protracted global ﬁnancial meltdown had led politicians to commit to working on urgent ﬁscal needs, leaving contentious social issues for future debate. However, in February 2011, Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner addressed a gathering of the National Religious Broadcasters and told them, “I met with a lot of religious leaders earlier today to talk about the strategy, and I think it’s important that we understand that what we want to do here is win the war, not just win a battle. And there will be an opportunity some time in order to win the big war, and we’re looking for that opportunity.” Just what was the “war” to which Boehner was referring? According to Americans United, his veiled comment referred to “several ‘culture war’ issues [that] are at stake, including abortion, denying civil rights to gay Americans, injecting religion into public education, and obtaining governmental support for religious schools and other ministries.” Indeed, the Republican and Tea Party candidates elected into ofﬁ ce in 2010—many running on widespread dissatisfaction with the slow ﬁnancial recovery of the country—were soon engaged in battles that had nothing to do with the economy, particularly issues surrounding sexual minorities. Within days of Obama’s edict that federal courts stop defending DOMA, political leaders launched a fusillade of protest against this move and challenged the president’s decision.
The religious right is behind many of the social, legal, and political battles facing sexual minorities, but certainly not all. The neighbor resentful of the gay-parented family moving in next door may have no religious afﬁliation or spiritual convictions but still believe that homosexuality is wrong, degenerate, and a danger to children. This is, to some degree, understandable. Until 1973 homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and even today, some secular organizations argue that same-sex orientation is an aberration and a mental illness. Regardless of the motivation, a sizable minority of the US population is either actively antigay or neutral regarding acceptance. Thus it is not surprising that the sweeping electoral changes arising from the 2010 elections shifted control of state legislative chambers to antigay members, many of whom went to work immediately attempting to dismantle existing laws protecting the LGBT community or write new antigay legislation into existence.
Syndicated author and columnist Dan Savage, creator of the It Gets Better project aimed at gay teenagers, observes that in spite of the progress made in gay rights over the past two decades, clear evidence of this is seen only in large urban areas. And according to activist, author, and radio personality Michelangelo Signorile, the backlash against gay rights by the religious right has made life worse for many gay individuals over the past twenty years.
The current climate for LGBTs was summed up by Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign: “The biggest mistake we could make would be letting our recent successes make us complacent. Stung by our victories, are enemies are lashing out, unleashing their huge war chests to stop our progress and roll back our hard-won advances.” Finally, Lambda Legal National Marriage Project director Jennifer Pizer ominously described the cresting backlash by stating, “We may see some new, creatively uglier, and perhaps even less groundedin-reality arguments than we’ve seen to date, as there are some passionate antigay activists and others dedicating themselves to the ﬁeld. It sometimes looks like the desperation of the last-gaspers, but I don’t expect the debate to be over imminently, despite how much some of the arguments strain credibility.”
The Backlash against LGBT Families
National antigay forces have recently made LGBT-parented families a prime target. In November 2009, the American College of Pediatricians (an antigay group that split from the American Academy of Pediatrics) stated, “There is signiﬁcant risk of harm inherent in exposing a child to the homosexual lifestyle.” The report deprecated the rights of same-sex parents for the supposed dangers they pose to their children’s physical, emotional, and mental development. Simultaneously, Exodus International, an interdenominational Christian organization consisting of hundreds of thousands of followers and 230 ministries in the United States, declared that “the intentional deprivation of a mother or father through same-sex parenting and adoption, is not in the best interest of children” while simultaneously ﬁghting against the rights of same-sex parents in legal battles. A New York Times
article on gay and lesbian adoptions reported, “Adoption has not attracted the kind of attention nationally that gay marriage has. . . . The more it is in the public eye, the greater the chances conservative legislatures will try to block it.” And according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, “There has been backlash against the existence, the visibility, and the success of many LGBT families. Marriage and adoption—two of the institutions which most clearly deﬁne our familial relationships—have been the focus of aggressive campaigns which seek to change the laws and even the constitution of our states and of our country.”
While some gay-parented families are fortunate to live in communities that welcome and even celebrate diversity, the majority live in areas in which their treatment ranges from indifference and marginalization to censure and, often, outright hostility. Opposition is frequently most evident in the nonurban communities, and every day the ACLU, the Lambda Legal Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Human Rights Campaign (to name just a few) report on discrimination, hostility, and violence against gay families in rural and suburban areas. Same-sex parents consistently report their most pressing concern is the safety of their children, who experience a multitude of problems, including avoidance, harassment, bullying, and even violence from individuals, other families, and organizations.
After agreeing to argue the unconstitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in the state, lawyer and arch-conservative pundit Ted Olson shocked both anti- and pro-gay rights forces when he went on record saying he was “convinced that Americans will be equally proud when we no longer discriminate against gays and lesbians and welcome them into our society.” Similar battles await sexual minorities at the national, regional, and local levels, particularly those who are parents or who desire that role, and it seems that at this moment in history things are going to get worse before improving. Recall that it was only forty years ago that the US Supreme Court found it unconstitutional for states to deny marriages between individuals of different races. According to Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, “As people come to understand this is about loving, committed families dealing, like everyone, with tough times, they understand how unfair it is to treat them differently.” Inevitably, understanding will come, even if at a glacial pace, and it is the purpose of this book to contribute to the process.
Excerpted from Family Pride by Michael Shelton. Copyright © 2013 by Michael Shelton. Excerpted by permission of Beacon Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.