New Global Family:
Cheryl and Zoe’s Stories
By Cheryl Paley
Change has come. And the struggle continues…
As we contemplate the enormity of the election of our nation’s first African-American President there is much to rejoice. Ironically, as we were dancing in the streets celebrating a monumental victory in favor of civil rights, in Arkansas and California, propositions were passed dealing a heavy blow to the civil rights of gay couples and gay parents.
Proposition 8 in California overturned the rights of gay couples to marry, and, in Arkansas, Initiative Act No. 1 banned “non-married,” translation - gay couples - from adopting or fostering children. When I wrote the article below in 2003 I had gay friends. Now I have gay “parent” friends, and until we are dancing in the streets for them and their children, the victory, while awe-inspiring and wondrous, will be incomplete.
At the time that article was written there were believed to be approximately 1 million children under the age of 18 being raised in homes by lesbian and gay parents. Now that statistic is more like 2 million. And growing. So, in this issue celebrating “home” I dedicate this to my gay parent friends, who will have to fight on for their right to create a loving home for themselves and their children.
Adam and Steve... and baby make three: homophobia and the family
On a lovely fall day I took a walk with my daughter Zoe to the park. I had just brought her home from Guatamala. I felt exuberant. Upon our walk we happened upon another mother. We spoke about the sleep deprivation and the Guatemalan adoption process. And then she offered her side of life as a parent. "Well, my family is a bit (she hesitated) ‘different’ from yours. I did this with my ‘partner.’” She carefully revealed her same sex status and shared her situation, wary of what my reaction might be.
We did the obligatory, "why is it we haven't gotten together? - Oh yeah, there's no time!" And then I took a leap: "I'm writing a book," I sort of stammered. "...a book on non-traditional families and I'd really love it if you would consider allowing me to interview you and your partner." This time a pause turned into a longer pause as I watched her shrink, deflate, pull away.
"Wow, that sounds really interesting," she said, shifting in her shoes. "I would like to talk to you but..." Another pause as I ran through my co-dependent Rolodex of anything in my offer that might have offended. "It's just... not a smart thing for me to do." "Okay, well, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable" I said, mortified, "and if you change your mind, just contact me and..." "No, that's not it. It's just... well...I don’t know what might happen, you know... if anyone figured out who we are. I can't take that chance. I hope you understand."
My heart sank. And yes, I was stunned. Sitting in my single mommy “pity-pot,” whining about how hard it all is, I never have to worry about that. That someone would take Zoe from me based on my being a single Mom. It's simply not on my personal radar. Nobody has legally challenged straight single parent adoptions, at least not yet.
Her concern is always there. They carry it around, her and her partner, with the diaper bag and the baby wipes. That worry, that fear, that possibility. Creating a loving home, a safe and nurturing space where their child will have the option of a college degree and unlimited possibilities, this could all be jeopardized if the wrong people catch on.
And so it was in the case of Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau*, a gay couple, both pediatric nurses and foster parents to 5 HIV-positive children. It is possible, in some cases, with medication and care, for a child to shed the HIV virus and “sero-convert” from positive to negative. Rare, but possible. Due, in part, to the extraordinary care he was getting from Lofton and Croteau, their foster son Bert did just that. Once the paperwork trail caught up with them, after 8 years, Bert’s status was changed from "special needs" to "adoptable." Florida bans gay parents from legal adoptions and so the state immediately began the process of taking Bert from his home with Lofton and Croteau, the only parents he had ever known.
At the same time that popular culture has begun to acknowledge homosexuality as a choice, gay marriage has become a defining, deal-breaking political pawn, and there is still ample reason for parents like my friend in the park to worry. We watch Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, we share water-cooler "gay chic" but there is still a hard line in the sand drawn. Kind of like the "just not in my neighborhood" racism of the sixties, it's the new gay double standard. Let them exist, we say, but just don't rub it in our faces. “Don’t ask don’t tell.” Live and let live... but not really?
Gay parenthood is fast becoming an institution in its own right and there is a new generation of children who are being raised in these homes.* Gay parents will cry at the first day of school, nurse their children through ear infections and countless sniffles and tantrums and “keep the home fires burning,” just as we all do. The veil can either be gently lifted around this, and our society can make a place for gay families or there will be a consequence. Because intolerance and shame creep into the soul of each and every child exposed to it. Respecting the rights of gay Americans is no longer simply about accepting differences in sexual orientation; it is about embracing a new family model and respecting the rights of the children raised in these homes. It is about how we care for our children, all of our children, and that means supporting the loving parents who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice to parent them. Parents they love. Gay families are real, they’re here, and I believe we have a choice, an opportunity. The question is, are we ready for it?
* From what I have been able to uncover, Lofton and Croteau relocated to Portland, Oregon and have kept up the fight to reclaim Bert, to no avail. He remains in legal limbo, away from the parents who raised him. However, there has been some movement in Florida – as of 2007, a Florida appeals court judge deemed Florida’s gay adoption ban illegal, opening the door to new lawsuits for others similarly affected.
** According to The Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law, as of 2007 the number of children being raised by gay parents in the US has risen to 2 million. And that's just the documented.
On November 4th we made some wonderful progress. Change has come… and the struggle continues.