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By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Go Rosie Response: Rosie O’Donnell’s interview by Barbara Walters

Posted By on June 30, 2009

Go, Rosie
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev
It takes a lot to move me to tears. Working as a therapist you hear horrors all the time—not that it has made me immune to people’s emotional pain, but it does destroy an innocence about "how bad it can really be out there." I know about child abuse, and could write a thesis about the problems with the foster care system, but I’ve got to tell you, Rosie’s story brought me to tears. Her story was once on the web for all to read.

For those of you that had the pleasure to watch Rosie’s interview with Diane Sawyer, you know that she’s in top form. Embodying the best of her New York cultural roots, Rosie is direct, honest, clear, and coherent. My friend Simone thinks she should run for office. Her passion for forgotten children of the foster care system is surpassed only by her insistence that this country embrace the challenge of finding permanent safe homes for these children. Her reasons are simple: She was once a child in pain herself. Although self-disclosure has become a cheap trick on daytime television, Rosie is not exposing herself for any personal gain, or proselytizing to boost her ratings. She is stating her truth: She knows what it’s like to be young and alone, and she’s willing to use her power and influence to make the lives of foster children easier.

Like the proverbial telethons, I could just hear the telephones ringing. My partner is looking at me out of the corner of her eye — well, maybe we can take in one or two, don’t you think? Since we live in a state that would actually let us adopt children from foster care as an out lesbian family, we really could. And I suspect at some point we will. Rosie, who loves musicals, I’m sure will remember the closing scene in Peter Pan, when Wendy, John, and Michael return from Neverland, bringing home all the lost boys. She says, "There are a few more of us, Father. Can we adopt them?" The boys then break into song, assuring the Father that they will always behave and "even shine our shoes." "Oh to think of all those shoes" the father mumbles, but of course, says, "yes," and the children have a forever home.

I have an image of gay and lesbian people all over the country turning off their televisions, turning to their lovers, and saying, "Oh all right, Mary, let’s just go fight City Hall." I also have a mirror image that homophobic families all over the country, turning off their televisions, turning to one another and saying, "Let’s go take in some of those kids so those damn queers don’t get ’em." And I must tell you, as long as these are safe homes, free of violence, I can even live with that. I mean why should I deprive them of the joys of parenting, just because they may have "lifestyles" I disagree with? Maybe we can just empty out the foster care system in the next few years? I’m a social worker, and I not only believe in social change but I also believe — as Margaret Mead has said — that concerned citizens really can change the world. Social Workers Jane Adams and Lillian Wald reformed the social service system in this country a century ago and, by the way, they were lesbians also.

Speaking of lesbians, was there really anyone who didn’t know Rosie O’Donnell was a lesbian? The first time I saw Rosie was on the TV show Star Search, where entertainment hopefuls tried out for their first "break." I was living up in the mountains, with a black and white television and no cable. My lover and I were cuddled in bed, on a cold upstate New York night; the TV got one station, thick with static. There was Rosie O’Donnell. We looked at each other, squinting at the screen, and back at one another "a dyke?" we asked each other, nodding "yes, yes."

When I told my mother-in-law that Rosie was a lesbian a few years ago she said, "You think everyone is a lesbian," which is honestly not true. I don’t think my mother-in-law is a lesbian. But I knew Rosie was, and I thought everyone else did too. It’s nice, however, to hear it right from Rosie’s mouth. It’s nice to watch her beautiful round face mouth the words "This IS the face of a gay parent." I know that some people think she waited too long, that some people think she held out on us queer activists for not telling sooner. k.d., Melissa, Ellen — each in her own time and place. For everything there is a season; it’s a good season to finally have a public face for lesbian motherhood.

Melissa, of course, told the world that we could do it, and we could do it our own way. Rosie is taking it one step further; she is saying there are kids that need US. That the foster care system in our country has betrayed its children, and that queer people, who know a damn lot about fighting for our rights, need to fight for the children. For the longest time, lesbians and gay men have been saying that we deserve the same right as other citizens; Rosie is saying we need to also do our duty as citizens. I am old enough to remember the Anita Bryant campaign (before her son came out as a gay man). Anita wanted America to "Save Our Children." It’s taken almost a quarter century, but gay American has heard the call and responded. We can be part of a movement to Save Our Children.

For the record, I don’t agree with everything Rosie said. I personally would never tell my adopted kids that God saw they were in the wrong Mommy’s belly and made things right. I don’t really see adoption, or for that matter God, quite like that. And frankly it annoyed me that she said that it is hard to be gay, and that she hopes her kids are straight because it would be "easier" for them. This is just my opinion, but I don’t think it’s all that hard to be gay; I really like being a lesbian, and I think it would be just fine if my kids were gay. I wish that she, or one of the academic experts, had not just repeated over and again the "good news" that our kids do not "wind up" gay, but challenged that idea that there is something wrong if kids raised by gay parents are gay themselves.

But the great thing about Rosie O’Donnell is that I don’t get the sense that she cares much about whether I agree with her on every damn issue or not. Rosie does not pander to what gay American thinks, or what the Florida legislature thinks, or even what suburban housewives (her bread and butter if you will) think. First all, as she said herself, she gives them more credit then to think they would reject her for coming out gay. But more importantly, she is willing to stand up and say what she thinks and she doesn’t flinch from her truths. And in 2002, any major American entertainer that will look the television camera right in the eye, when questioned about the President’s belief that adoptive families should be a "man and a woman" and say, "Well, George Bush is wrong" — period, pause — is speaking into the heart of a system gone maddeningly wrong. And she is speaking from one of the biggest and most courageous hearts in America — which just so happens to be a big ole lesbian heart. Lucky for us.