Lesbian and Gay Parenting Questions & Answers Column With Arlene Istar LevDear Ari

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Fear of Homophobic Harassment

Posted By on September 12, 2010

Dear Ari:

I’m a 28 year-old female who is considering parenthood. One of my biggest concerns about becoming a gay parent is that my child may be subjected to harassment due to my sexual orientation. I’ve done some reading on the subject, and countless studies have shown that children of gay parents are just as well adjusted as children of heterosexual parents. That is a comforting idea. However, I know how tough childhood bullies can be to handle, and I fear putting my child on the playground with one strike against him/her. Not to mention societal prejudices concerning gay parenting.

In short, I’m asking your insight, both as a therapist and a gay parent…how do you handle homophobia as a parent? Is it really as big of a deal as I’m making it out to be?

Hello Amy:

I was once a young mom wanna-be, but now I feel more like an old what-was-I-thinking-bee! I’m mostly just joking of course, but as I often say: parenting is hard work. I’m not trying to say that to discourage you as much as to suggest that the things you worry about now as being a “big deal” might take a back seat to the really big deals, like two loads of laundry a day, every day. And that’s when no one wets the bed: when someone wets the bed, my week is shot! And did anyone tell you about the three meals-a-day plus healthy snacks thing?

It’s natural, normal, I’ll even say healthy to worry about how our children will be treated. After all, queer people have been making a big splash in the news these past few years, and even though the all this attention is slowly increasing our civil rights, the news is not always pretty. It’s hard to hide from children that there are people that think our families, their families, should not exist. So let’s talk about how realistic harassment will be for your children.

Some of it depends on where you live. Life in big cities and blue states is generally less difficult for LGBT families. In states where we have laws protecting our families, we generally have a higher quality of life. School is, of course, one of the largest variables in the life of our families.

Let us not forget, Marcus McLaurin, the seven-year old boy who was chastised in 2003 by his Louisiana school when he told a classmate that his mother was gay. The school responded by making him write “I will never use the word `gay’ in school again,” which thankfully brought the issue to the attention of the ACLU. However, no one wants their child in the middle of a controversy like this, regardless of the outcome. We are living in an era where ultra-conservative Republican’s like Tom Coburn think there is a wave of lesbian debauchery in Oklahoma’s public schools (I only wish,) and the Texas State Board of Education determined in 2004 that frank discussion of gay marriage, safe sex and contraception would be restricted from health education textbooks used by middle and high school students.

So large public policy issues (whether we know about them or not) impact the daily lives of our families in innumerable ways. This does not mean, of course that there are not gay teachers and advocates within the school systems in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, only that they face more discrimination, and that their jobs are more vulnerable. This means if you live in a conservative area, you may have to become more of an advocate for your family. This may be a difficult proposition for some (and a totally exciting idea for others.) For those of us who are more reserved, and maintain strong privacy regarding our sexuality (note: this is not the same as being closeted,) it may feel very challenging to take on a school system for its treatment of gays, or confront teens about their use of, “Oh, that’s so gay.” For those of us who are activists by nature, there is nothing more exciting and fulfilling than to do this work, knowing we are making the world safer for our children.

Amy, I’ve been a lesbian mom for nearly a decade now, and I confess that my children have experienced very little homophobic harassment. We have been asked questions like, “How come you have two mommies?” “Where’s your daddy?” I try to model honest and direct answers for my children: “Our family has two mommies and two children.” “No, we don’t have a daddy in this family.” Sometimes the responses to my answers are amusing: “Oh, I saw something about that on television.” Sometimes they are thoughtful. “Are you sad you don’t have a daddy?” or “I wish I had two mommies, wow!” Although these questions and responses are embedded in heterosexist assumptions about what families should be, I really can’t call them harassment or homophobia.  I mostly see them as ignorance, and use these opportunities to educate.

There have been a few more challenging situations. Usually ones I am not present to address and I only find out about it later, when my children chose to tell me. I’ve learned that kids of gay parents will often suck it up and not come home and talk about some of the uglier things that happen because they know it will make us angry and feel bad. As much as we want to protect them from unnecessary pain, it appears they also want to protect us. Not to mention that they correctly assume that many of us angry activist parents will address the situation dead-on, and what kid wants their out and proud homosexual parent raising hell at the school administration?

It is difficult to see our children hurt or facing discrimination. But is it any different being made fun of because you have an accent, or are wearing new eyeglasses? It seems to me that it’s just a part of life to deal with stupidity and prejudice, certainly not particular to having gay parents.

No one suggests that people of color shouldn’t have children because of the racism their children will face. I’ve never had anyone suggest that I reconsider having children because it is hard to be a Jew in a Christian culture. All children need compassionate parents who will help them learn coping skills to deal with potential harassment; it’s not particular to gay parents. I think if we can address “gay harassment” without making it any bigger (or smaller) then fat comments, racism, “girly” jokes, and other daily injustices, we will be modeling our comfort with ourselves, which is the best gay pride message there is.