Tag: Families

Authors Collaborate Across Identities on Picture Book Celebrating Jewish Families of All Types

Authors Collaborate Across Identities on Picture Book Celebrating Jewish Families

Very often, faith and LGBTQ identities are seen in opposition. A new picture book, however, celebrates both the Jewish spiritual tradition and families of all types, including ones with same-sex and gender non-conforming parents and Jewish families of color. The two Jewish authors—one Black, in a different-sex relationship, and one White, in a same-sex one—shared with me a little about their motivation for writing it.

I Looked Into Your Eyes: A Poem for New Families

When Aviva Brown went looking for a book to give to friends who had just had babies, she discovered that her favorite, one she herself had been given, was out of print. She had already written and self-published a children’s book, Ezra’s Big Shabbat Question, to reflect her own Black Jewish family, “so I decided that if I couldn’t find what I wanted, I’d just write a book myself,” she told me via e-mail. “I thought about all the hope, joy, fear, and humility that raising children inspires and I wanted to put it into a book with a decidedly Jewish point of view.” She shared her idea with her friend Rivka Badik-Schultz, who relates that Brown told her, “We need an inclusive, Jewish baby book.”

“I agreed and she sent me her first rough draft,” Badik-Schultz said. “Several reimaginings and revisions later we had a draft we both loved.”

Brown added, “I’m a huge advocate for diversity in Jewish kidlit, and I knew that I wanted to show the many, many variations of Jewish families. My family has a mom, a dad, and four kids, but that isn’t every family.  The modern Jewish family may have two parents of the same gender, or one parent, or gender non-conforming parents, and so many other variations. Rivka and I wanted to try to show at least some of those families on the page.”

“When it came to the illustrations, we were both completely on the same page,” Badik-Schultz affirmed. “We wanted to represent different family structures and the diversity of Jewish families. We wanted to show families with single parents, adopted children, and raising grandchildren. We wanted to show gender non-conforming parents, same-sex couples and interracial families. We wanted to show a spectrum of what it means to have a ‘new family.’” They succeeded—and the gender non-conforming parent even became the cover image.

She added, “I am a  white, cis woman in a lesbian relationship. Our daughter is 9. As she has grown up we have strived to provide her with a diverse literary cast of characters. But—when she was a baby there were so few options. Mama, Mommy, and Me was really the only baby book we had that remotely represented our family. But at least we had one!  I have many friends in the LGBTQ community and one of the complaints that I often hear is that baby books—even those aimed at our community—tend to assume that at least one parent is cis-female. Minority racial populations see even less of themselves represented in baby books. Getting to work with Aviva on ensuring that there was racial diversity as well as gender diversity was a special treat.”

Their book, I Looked Into Your Eyes: A Poem for New Families, is a loving poem from parent to child told as a series of comparisons between the parent and various figures from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). “The first time I looked into your eyes, I laughed like Sarah,” it begins. The parent then wept like Hannah and sang like Miriam. “As I looked into your eyes,” it continues, “I wished for Abraham’s generosity, Moses’ humility, and Joshua’s courage while the city walls crumbled.” The poem then speaks of the peace, oneness, and love that the parent feels while looking into their child’s eyes.

On one page, a parent talks of feeling “the Divine Spirit,” but there is no mention of “G-d” per se (and thus no gendering of G-d), a light touch that feels like it leaves room for Jews with varying conceptions of the divine. While the text and biblical references would work for families of any Abrahamic tradition, a few pages include Jewish symbols, like Stars of David and a tzedakah box for charitable giving, that mark it as intended for (though not necessarily limited to) Jewish families.

The illustrations, by Catherine Sipoy, depict modern families doing family things—having a meal, reading a bedtime story, going to the doctor, looking at the stars—with insets showing the relevant biblical figures. The parents and children have a wide variety of skin and hair tones. One family is Black, another East Asian; others could be read as White or Latinx. Two parents wear turquoise jewelry and look to be Native American (and yes, there are Native American Jews). Another wears a sari and a bindi—and while the latter is best known as a Hindu symbol, Brown said that she “asked in many multicultural Jewish groups and was told that the bindi is as much a cultural symbol as a religious one, and that many Indian Jewish women wear them.” Badik-Schultz added that a friend of hers who is Jewish and married to an Indian man wears a bindi “when they are doing ceremonial activities” and encouraged the bindi in the picture. They’ve clearly done their homework to be both inclusive and accurate.

This sweet book shows that faith, tradition, and LGBTQ identities can live in harmony. It also offers a much-needed balm against the “ashkenormativity” of much American Jewish culture, which favors the experiences and traditions of those with Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry (and I say that as someone of 98 percent Ashkenazi descent myself). It would make a great Hanukkah gift (the holiday starts on December 10) or a baby gift at any time of year.


Looking for another inclusive book for and about new families? Try Wonderful You, by Lisa Graff (my review here) or try some of the growing number of LGBTQ-inclusive board books. 

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

‘Families don’t want same-sex dancing on Strictly’

Ann Widdecombe has compared coronavirus to AIDS

Ann Widdecombe has previously backed gay cure therapy. (Steve Taylor / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Ann Widdecombe, the British former lawmaker known for her high-decibel anti-LGBT+ views, drew criticism Sunday (18 October) for saying “families” wouldn’t be interested in watching a same-sex couple dance on Strictly Come Dancing.

Nicola Adams, the lesbian Olympic boxer, joined seasoned professional dancer Katya Jones on the dancefloor Saturday evening (17 October) to become Strictly‘s first same-sex pairing in what was hailed as a huge leap in LGBT+ representation in Britain.

The 73-year-old, who herself appeared on BBC One ballroom show in 2010, rang out in reaction against the landmark moment of television because of course she did.

She told The Sunday Times: “I don’t think it is what viewers of Strictly, especially families, are looking for.

“But that’s up to the audience and the programme.”

‘Society has evolved past the need for asking Ann Widdecombe for her opinions’.

Throughout her decades-long career as a Conservative Party turned Brexit Party politician, Widdecombe has emerged as one of Britain’s most anti-LGBT+ hard-liners.

She has often wielded her megaphone platform to compare the coronavirus to AIDS, brand the acceptance of transgender people “lunacy”, suggest gay people can be “cured” and back businesses who refuse to serve gay customers.

As a result, countless LGBT+ Twitter users took aim at Widdecombe’s comments, with many seeking to stress that the opening episode of the seventeenth season was one of its most-watched launches since 2017.

Nicola Adams seriously doesn’t care what homophobes think.

As Adams takes to the BBC One show’s iconic dancefloor each week, the 37-year-old said she refuses to be stung by homophobic viewers.

Nicola Adams (L) and her Strictly Come Dancing partner, Katya Jones. (Strictly Come Dancing/BBC)
Nicola Adams (L) and her Strictly Come Dancing partner, Katya Jones. (Strictly Come Dancing/BBC)

“I’m expecting the same sort of thing I got with women’s boxing in the beginning – there will always be some resisters, but once they know you’re here to stay, they get used to it,” she told Radio Times.

“Women dance together all the time in nightclubs. Traditionally I guess men and women would dance together when they were courting, so the older generation have that in their heads.”

She added: “So someone’s going to comment on Twitter? It’s nothing, it won’t faze me at all.

“If they don’t like it, they’re going to have to deal with it or switch to another channel.”

Board Book Explores Joyful Messes and Diverse Families

Board Book Explores Joyful Messes and Diverse Families

A fun board book for the youngest children is full of surprises and diverse families as it celebrates the messiness of life.

Who Is Making a Mess? - Maria D'Haene

Who Is Making a Mess? written by Maria D’Haene and illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan (Amicus Publishing), is told in alternating two-page spreads. The first spread asks the titular question and shows a close-up portion of an image—jeans-clad legs sticking out from under a car bumper; the bottom of a frilly apron worn by an adult standing next to a child at a table; or the back of an adult standing at a sink of dirty dishes, for example.

The second page of each spread changes the perspective to show who is really making the mess. “Mama is making a mess,” we read as we zoom back to see that the jeans-clad legs belong to a woman in overalls fixing a car as her presumed husband stands by holding their baby; their other daughter is fixing her scooter, in imitation of Mama. The frilly apron is worn by a grandpa, helping his grandchildren bake. The person at the sink is a mother wearing a baby carrier over her chest as her baby splashes water; she looks slightly harried as she turns to speak with another woman bringing in groceries, presumably her spouse.

The people are racially diverse and come together on the last page for a big, messy picnic. It’s unclear if they’re all part of one big family or just a community, but their joy at being together is obvious.

I love the interactivity generated by the question-and-answer format and the zoomed-in/zoomed-out illustrations. Young readers will delight in guessing at what’s to come (even after the umpteenth reading; trust me, I had a toddler)—and in seeing the characters make their messes. Ryan’s images are full of color, motion, and joyous splatters, and make the whole concept work.

Subtle messages about breaking gender stereotypes may also serve them well in the years ahead. Who Is Making a Mess? is a book worth adding to the mess on your bookshelf.


(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

Joyous New Book Celebrates Diverse Expecting Families

Joyous New Book Celebrates Diverse Expecting Families

A sweet and lyrical new picture book takes us along with a diverse group of expecting families—including ones with two moms and two dads—as their babies-to-be grow from the size of a sweet pea to that of a pumpkin and then are born as their own delightful selves.

Wonderful You - Lisa Graff

Wonderful You, written by Lisa Graff and illustrated by Ramona Kaulitski (Philomel Books), uses simple, soothing couplets to bring us on a journey with multiple families waiting for their new arrivals. Graff takes the fruit-and-vegetable comparison familiar from online pregnancy trackers and weaves it into a story of family anticipation and planning. We then see more parents-to-be, along with siblings, grandparents, and other relatives, as they wonder, wait, prepare nurseries, receive baby gifts, and dance in celebration.

One spread shows a two-dad couple and an older child poring over a book and a computer screen. It relates, “When you were a plum and we hadn’t a clue, we read and we researched and waited for you.” It’s an open question whether the family is using surrogacy, adoption, or other means.

In another spread, a two-mom family is viewing their ultrasound as the text tells us, “When you were a lemon, we followed your cue, we watched and we whispered and waited for you.”

The two moms are both Black. The two-dad couple is one of several interracial families in the book; one dad is Black and the other is likely White or Latino; their daughter has the latter’s tan skin tone. Other characters throughout the book have a variety of racial and ethnic identities. One dad-to-be uses a wheelchair as he brings a laundry basket of linens into the nursery. While most of the parents seem coupled, a few of the pregnant ones are positioned with others who could be extended family, not spouses/partners, leaving room for single parents to see themselves.

Kaulitski’s drawings are softly colorful and her people are happy and dynamic. Her inclusion of siblings and extended family remind us that it does often take the proverbial village, even before the child arrives. Each page also includes the relevant fruits and vegetables somewhere in the scene, which young readers should enjoy finding.

The babies eventually make their “debut,” and we see all of them in side-by-side bassinets bundled in brightly colored swaddling, sleeping peacefully or looking in wonder at the world. Gone are the produce analogies—Graff makes it clear now that “you’re utterly you.” The final spread shows them as young children, running and playing together, as the book ends with a message of unconditional love—past, present, and future—from parent to child.

This is a charming book that is bound to become a favorite gift for expecting parents in many types of families. The loving rhymes will likely make it a bedtime story to last for many years.

Wonderful

You

comes out August 18, but is available for preorder.


(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

New Hampshire Governor Signs Legislation Protecting LGBTQ and Other Families

New Hampshire Governor Signs Legislation Protecting LGBTQ and Other Families

New Hampshire has become the second state within the past week that has updated its parentage laws to better protect all children and families, including those formed through assisted reproduction.

Flag of New Hampshire

Governor Chris Sununu (R) has signed HB1162, which clarifies that the spouses of biological parents may seek to adopt their children. In these cases where “one of the adoptee’s parents will remain a parent”—as is the case for many LGBTQ couples—no home study is necessary. Alternatively, parents who create their families through assisted reproduction may petition for a court judgment of parentage “either before, during, or subsequent to the pregnancy,” which the court must issue within 30 days. In most cases, a court appearance will not be necessary. (Once again, adoptions or court judgments are more legally solid, especially across state and national borders, than simply having both parents’ names on the birth certificate.)

The new law also expands access to adoption by unmarried couples and updates the state’s parentage laws in gender-neutral and inclusive terms.

New Hampshire follows Rhode Island in updating its laws this month to better meet the needs of families today—the Ocean State passed a similar parentage law last week. Each state’s provisions are somewhat different, though, so do call the GLAD Answers hotline or consult your own a lawyer if you have any questions about these new laws.

Will Massachusetts also revise its parentage statutes before the end of this month, giving us a New England trifecta for the legislative session? Let’s hope so—and if you live in Massachusetts like me, call or e-mail your state senators and representatives immediately and ask them to support passage of H.1485 and S.1013. Also call Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D; 617.722.1500) and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo (D; 617.722.2500). GLAD and MassEquality in a webinar on July 10 suggested emphasizing not only the personal impact on children and families, but also increased efficiency (less clogging of the courts; less burden on DCF) and reduced costs—practical considerations that may sway lawmakers. A few other talking points are on this Fact Sheet from GLAD (pdf).

Yes, there are still hurdles aplenty for our families and our country—but let’s take heart that there can still be progress.

Rhode Island Passes Bill Protecting Families Formed Through Assisted Reproduction

Rhode Island Passes Bill Protecting Families Formed Through Assisted Reproduction

The Rhode Island Legislature this afternoon passed a bill that updates the state’s parentage laws to provide stronger, more equitable protections for families formed via assisted reproduction.

Flag of Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s parentage statutes were last updated in the 1970s, and had failed to keep up with the reality of modern family formation. The new legislation, as GLAD explains, provides standard processes for married and unmarried nonbiological parents (including de facto parents) and parents through surrogacy to establish their parentage. It also gives courts ways to resolve competing claims of parentage and will “improve access, efficiency, and consistency in the courts.”

Notably, the legislation establishes a process for a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage (VAP), a way for parents using assisted reproduction to establish legal parentage for the nonbiological / nongestational parent simply by filling out a form. VAPs may be filed for no fee if they are done in the hospital right after the birth.

A VAP, according to the bill, “is equivalent to an adjudication of parentage of a child and confers upon the acknowledged parent all of the rights and duties of a parent.” In other words, this should be equivalent to a court order of parentage or a second-parent (confirmatory) adoption, but without the expense, home study, court appearance, or delay. GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Patience Crozier told me recently, “I think that VAPs have the force and effect of a decree of parentage and should be recognized in all jurisdictions.” (Having said that, VAPs are reasonably new and fairly untested, so you may wish to reach out to GLAD via their GLAD Answers hotline or check with your own lawyer if you’re considering them, even though a lawyer isn’t necessary to file them. See also my 2018 piece on VAPs.)

Governor Gina Raimondo (D) has yet to sign the bill, but her administration has supported it, so it seems likely she will. This is a major win for equality in the state, especially since the legislation failed to pass last fall.

Sara Watson, a physician and parent member of Rhode Islanders for Parentage Equality (RIPE), said in a statement:

When my partner Anna and I welcomed our son Eli in 2016, I was a legal stranger to him because our laws didn’t address the parentage of a child born to unmarried same-gender parents or conceived through fertility treatments. It took eight agonizing months to finalize Eli’s adoption. I couldn’t make legal decisions for Eli. I couldn’t add him on my insurance. I couldn’t pick him up from daycare. Rhode Island’s outdated law might even have denied me custody of Eli if something had happened to Anna before the adoption was finalized. For 4 years Anna and I have been advocating so families like ours never need to go through that same pain and fear. We’re grateful to our Representative Carol McEntee for championing this bill, and to all the House and Senate members who voted today to make sure no family ever has to experience what we did.

Crozier added in a statement, “We’re grateful to lead sponsors Senator Erin Lynch Prata and Representative Carol McEntee, and to Representative and Judiciary Chair Robert Craven for their commitment and work to make sure we passed a bill this session that makes Rhode Island parentage law clear, accessible and Constitutional, and removes unfair barriers that have made it harder for parents to protect their children.”

Let’s hope this establishes some momentum—Massachusetts and New Hampshire also have pending legislation that would make it easier for children created via assisted reproduction to have the security of two definitively legal parents, as I wrote earlier in the week. This slowly growing, state-by-state expansion of such laws may not have the glamour and visibility of marriage equality, but it is arguably just as important.

(Re)building Our Nation: July 4th, Hamilton, and LGBTQ Families

(Re)building Our Nation: July 4th, Hamilton, and LGBTQ Families

I am thinking this July 4th week of a song from the musical Hamilton, which sees its television premiere today. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr sing together to their children about their new country, “We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you./ If we lay a strong enough foundation/ We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you/ And you’ll blow us all away.” What is the world we want to leave to our children? What do we need to do to make it happen?

American flag with children's silhouettes

Those questions feel more imperative than ever. The direction of our country is frightening for many reasons, but I want to focus here on some specific issues for LGBTQ families. Last week—the fifth anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established marriage equality nationwide—Indiana asked the Court to take a case that would, if decided in the state’s favor, revoke the right of married nonbiological mothers in same-sex couples to be recognized as parents and be put on their children’s birth certificates without second-parent adoptions.

Indiana’s challenge seeks to deny children of same-sex parents the protection of having two legal parents from birth, one of the primary benefits of marriage equality for many same-sex parent couples (even though the major LGBTQ legal organizations still advise second-parent adoptions as well, for greater legal security). The Supreme Court has yet to say whether it will take the case—but the mere fact that Indiana is pursuing it says much about the animosity that remains towards LGBTQ families.

Additionally, the U.S. State Department is continuing to deny equal citizenship rights to children born abroad to married same-sex couples—although a federal court last week said they were wrong to do so in one case. At least three other same-sex couples have also sued the State Department for similar reasons; their cases are still pending.

And 11 states (Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) now allow foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. All but Alabama and Michigan allow them to do so even if they receive taxpayer money. One case now before the U.S. Supreme Court involves a child services agency seeking to do the same in Philadelphia; the Trump administration in early June filed a brief in support of the agency. Not only that, but the administration in November 2019 proposed a rule to allow such discrimination nationwide by all recipients of grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which could impact not only child services but also programs dedicated to youth homelessness, HIV, and more.

We did have a huge win June 15 when the Supreme Court ruled that people cannot be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Just days before, however, the Trump administration finalized a rule that says health care anti-discrimination protections don’t cover discrimination based on LGBTQ identities. And transgender people continue to face trans-specific discrimination and anti-trans violence.

Add to all this the ongoing racism that impacts LGBTQ families as much as any others, the systemic injustice woven into the fabric of our nation from the time European settlers seized it from the indigenous peoples.

How can we celebrate the birth of such a country, especially under a current federal administration that seems only to exacerbate bias and divisiveness?

How can we celebrate the birth of such a country, especially under a current federal administration that seems only to exacerbate bias and divisiveness?

There’s no simple answer, but Hamilton may again be instructive. When Hamilton tries to convince Burr to support the new U.S. Constitution, Burr objects, “It’s full of contradictions.” Hamilton replies, “So is independence. We have to start somewhere.”

Our country is imperfect. For many, it is oppressive. Our country, like our constitution, is messy and full of contradictions. Yet here we are at this messy, contradictory moment in time. This is the somewhere from which we must start.

During this July 4 week, then, perhaps we can best celebrate our country not with fireworks, but by taking action to improve it. A few ideas, if you need them:

Those are only a few ideas. I hope you find others with causes that matter to you.

Hamilton speaks in the musical of “the notion of a nation we now get to build.” Let’s use our nation’s birthday to reflect on our vision of that notion and then get to work, building and rebuilding.

(Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.)

Supporting LGBTQ Families Requires that Black Lives Matter

Supporting LGBTQ Families Requires that Black Lives Matter

Black lives matter. Black LGBTQ lives matter. And we will never have a just world for LGBTQ families until we have racial justice.

Black Lives Matter

Black and Latino same-sex couples are roughly twice as likely as White same-sex couples to be raising a biological, step, or adopted child, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute. And 50 percent of children under 18 living with same-sex couples are non-White compared to 41 percent of children living with different-sex couples. (Statistics were not available for other LGBTQ identities) Even if the numbers were far less, of course, these families would still deserve equality and justice—but the numbers underscore just how many LGBTQ families are impacted by ongoing racism in our country.

Racism is a formidable enemy, though, sometimes overt but often subtle. I can only speak to it from my perspective as a White person with a White child, but here are some of the things I am trying to do—and resolve to do better—to help dismantle it. I offer them as suggestions for others engaging in this work as well.

Educate myself. My day job is with a nonprofit program focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, which requires a fair bit of reading on the subject, but I’ve found there’s always more to learn about racism’s history, impact, and the perspectives of those impacted. I continue to read, consume podcasts and videos, and listen to colleagues and friends of color when they choose to share their thoughts.

There are a lot of good resource lists on racism going around right now, but I want to caution us White folks not to get caught up in feeling that we need to get through every article, book, movie, and podcast on a multi-page list before taking action. Educating ourselves on racism is an ongoing process. We shouldn’t feel we need to “finish” (no one ever can) before getting out into the real world and trying to make a difference. We should also not see resource lists as ends in themselves or view our progress through them as a sign of how “woke” we are. Read and listen humbly. Know there is always more.

I’m not going to offer my own list here, as there are many others already, but if you need a place to begin, I suggest the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s new Talking About Race portal.

Self-reflect and self-improve. I try not to act in racist ways, but as a White person, I know there are times when I am, albeit unintentionally. And simply by my privilege as a White person in our society, I am tainted by the systemic racism woven into its fabric, benefiting me in ways I may not even realize. This is not a reason to punish myself; instead, I need to ask what I can do to be more thoughtful about my words and actions, to use my privilege to be a better ally and accomplice, and to work towards a more just world.

Teach my son. One of the most important anti-racist actions parents can take, I believe, is to show our children how to be anti-racist as well. My spouse and I have tried to teach our son not only that people of all skin tones are to be valued and respected, but that his peers of color may have very different experiences in the world because of systemic racism. We want him to be thoughtfully color aware, not color blind. We’ve tried to expose him at every age to books, shows, and movies that not only include characters of color, but that are told from their perspectives.

Hand in hand with finding “diverse” media, however, we parents should talk with our children in age-appropriate ways when we find biases and lack of representation in any children’s media. Why don’t we see people of color here? How is this character a stereotype? And why might there sometimes be representation in one way but biases in another?

My suggested place for parents to begin is EmbraceRace, which offers not only resources but also a community of support for parents, teachers, and others of all racial identities. Additionally, award-winning author and Black queer mom Jacqueline Woodson has offered a list of recommended books on racism and race for children of all ages at the Oprah Magazine website. These are just starting points.

Take action in the world. First, we should each speak out any time we see racism, from overt slurs, to subtle microaggressions, to lack of representation in workplaces, schools, and other venues. That necessary work can be supplemented by attending rallies and vigils, signing petitions, contacting our elected officials, and donating money and time to civil rights organizations and others that work with marginalized communities, as we are able.

Yes, we may not always do or say the right thing; we may feel awkward; we may stumble. We should not let these fears keep us from doing anything, however. We need to come into the work knowing it is a process and being willing to listen, apologize, learn, and keep trying.

Pride was born from protest and resistance, led by people of color like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major, and Stormé DeLarverie. Many of our LGBTQ families would not exist today if it wasn’t for the smoldering revolution that they sparked into open flame. May we honor their legacy as we work for inclusion, equality, and justice.

(Originally published with slight variation as my Mombian newspaper column.)