In the Oscar-nominated movie The Kids Are Alright, mainstream audiences watched the fabulous story of a modern lesbian couple raising two surrogate children; a terrifying prospect for many people be they gay or straight. Then, along came Mark Ruffalo, the sperm donor Dad, to mix things up. Yikes. Yet somehow the movie made the whole situation stream by effortlessly. Simple. Something of a riot, in fact. Where are my lesbian mums?, I cried.
And yes, while one Hollywood movie can’t eliminate all the discrimination directed at queer parents, parents-to-be and their children, its presence in cinema’s mainstream culture is a surely a start. The reality is that gay parents are slowly becoming more common: gone is the stereotypical idea of 2.4 children, and the rulebook has been thrown out as to what exactly a loving family must consist of. We should be proud to embrace that.
Of course, the cynics are still out there, and while they can’t be ignored, in many ways there has never been a better time for same-sex couples to start a family. We’ve come a long way in the new South Africa and all for the better.
‘Attitudes towards gay adoption and gay parenting are changing,’ explains Jeff Crockett from UK based publication, Pink Parenting, a parenting magazine designed for those in the queer community interested in having children or those who already have them. ‘This is especially true with the fact that in many countries it is now legal for same-sex couples to marry. Having a family is the next logical step.
‘In the US, for instance, according to the 2010 census, gay families are on the rise. Thirty-three per cent of lesbian couples and twenty-two per cent of gay couples are now raising children, and in these modern times more gay people are becoming parents than ever before. ‘
Erika Tranfield of Pride Angel, a business dedicated to matching sperm donors, egg donors and co-parents worldwide, agrees. ‘Attitudes are improving slowly, with more awareness on TV and in the media about gay families,’ she notes. Now, the ‘alternative family’ is slowly but surely disproving the prejudices raised by those who criticise same-sex parenting, and with films like Kids helping to push the point home, it’s easy to see why.
‘The family unit can mean different things to many people,’ explains Crockett. ‘At Pink Parenting we define the family as a loving, nurturing parent(s) and a child that requires love and attention. This can be similar to a single heterosexual mother or father raising a child on their own, or a gay or lesbian couple raising children as a family. My mother and father both passed away some years ago, and I currently describe my family as my partner, myself and our two spoiled dogs, and everyone that knows us would agree.’
The presence of more celebrity gay parents is also helping to change attitudes as well. Sir Elton John and David Furnish are probably the world’s most famous gay parents, having introduced us to Baby Zachary back in December last year; Glee star Jane Lynch is now stepmother to two daughters from her partner Dr Lara Embry’s previous relationship, after their same-sex marriage last May; Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon and girlfriend Christine Marinoni then introduced their baby boy in February this year. It’s all good to see.
However, that’s not the end of the story. In fact, it’s barely the beginning. Just as the rulebook for the traditional family finds a new home on the scrapheap, new challenges, issues and problems present themselves with aplomb. While some are trivial – ‘What exactly will Baby Zachary call Elton and David?’ – others are more serious. Can we really expect society to be as accepting as we hope? Aren’t children with gay parents just easy pickings for bullies and the narrow-minded? Is there not some serious re-education required if we’re really going to get to a place where it’s easy for gay parents to raise children?
Earlier this year, leading children’s charity Barnardo’s reported that too many people continue to think gay parents make inferior parents. It said that nearly a third of the public think heterosexual couples make better parents than same-sex couples. At the time of publishing the study, the charity’s chief executive told British newspaper, The Daily Mail, that ‘prejudice against gays is harming the chances for young people in the care system winning new homes through adoption.’
In addition, while Stonewall’s study reported that children with gay parents were proud of their families, they often faced prejudice at school, with many complaining that homophobic abuse at schools was not treated as seriously as racist slurs.
Furthermore, while the children in the study – which focused on teens with gay parents – were comfortable being open about their family situation, research found that nine out of ten secondary school teachers who heard homophobic bullying in schools felt ill-equipped to deal with it.
So how do we beat homophobia for our kids? Well, Stonewall’s report recommends that schools should ‘start early when teaching children about homophobic bullying, avoid making assumptions about typical families, and respond robustly to homophobic language.’ Only by talking about different kinds of families can we expect future generations to be inclusive and open-minded
Only through these conversations can we expect future generations to be inclusive and open-minded. Only if they are engaged in the discussion, find their family experiences reflected and dicussed in the classroom can they grow in confidence and feel included.
Or, perhaps, this argument is best summed up with one word: love.
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