Bethany Christian Services, the largest Protestant adoption and foster care agency in the U.S., announced yesterday that it will begin placing children with LGBTQ parents nationwide, reports the New York Times.
Correspondent Ruth Graham writes that Bethany had an informal policy of referring LGBTQ people to other agencies, but individual branches of the agency, which has offices in 32 states, sometimes chose to serve them. In Philadelphia, where a different Christian agency’s refusal to work with LGBTQ people has taken them to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case (Fulton v. City of Philadelphia) whose outcome is pending, the local Bethany branch changed its policy to comply with city nondiscrimination statutes. Because the agency took taxpayer money for its services, it was bound by the city’s statutes. Now, Bethany’s national board has unanimously enacted a policy of inclusion for all of its branches.
Graham reports that President and CEO Chris Palusky said in an e-mail to the organization’s 1500 staff members, “We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today. We’re taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.”
And board member Susanne Jordan told Graham that while she recognizes they may lose some donors because of the new policy, “Serving children should not be controversial.”
This is terrific news that will make more homes and parents available to children in care. And as the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) showed in a report released last December, more than 1,200 child placement agencies contract with city, county, and/or state governments to care for children. Of those, 39.8 percent agencies are religiously affiliated, mostly (88 percent) with mainstream Christian denominations. MAP noted that even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of discrimination, not all religiously affiliated agencies would choose to do so—and Bethany’s move reinforces that claim.
At the same time, MAP warned, “The risk is not merely hypothetical. There are already clear examples of agencies seeking the ability to discriminate. And a June 2020 survey by the Center for American Progress and NORC at the University of Chicago found that two in five LGBTQ people said it would be “very difficult” or “not possible” to find another child placement agency if they were turned away by one.
So: Good news, but not a reason to take our eyes off the ball. Want to know how you can help fight religiously based discrimination against LGBTQ parents and ensure that all children, including LGBTQ youth and youth of color, get culturally competent, safe, and supportive care? Visit the Every Child Deserves a Family campaign to learn more.
A major, evangelical-run adoption and fostering agency in the U.S. has informed staff that it will extend its services to LGBTQ people.
The Michigan-based Bethany Christian Services was established 77 years ago. Until recently, it did not allow same-sex couples to adopt or foster. It would typically refer gay couples to other agencies.
That changed in Michigan in 2019 after the state said it would stop funding adoption agencies that discriminated against gay people.
Bethany changed its policies within the state following that ruling. Now, in a memo sent to staff nationwide on Monday, it has said that it will be extending its more inclusive policy across the U.S., with immediate effect.
Related: They survived Mormonism. Can these gay dads survive triplets?
In an email sent to 1,500 staff, and reported by the New York Times, the organization’s President and Chief Executive, Chris Palusky, said, “We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today.
“We’re taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.”
Bethany operates in 32 states. In 2019, it facilitated 3,406 foster placements and 1,123 adoptions. Besides Michigan, it had already begun to work with LGBTQ families in four other states, often following the threat of losing contracts or funding being cut if it did not do so.
Bethany Christian Services turned away a lesbian couple in 2018 in Philadelphia, with a representative telling them the agency had never placed a child with a same-sex couple. The city subsequently suspended its contract with Bethany and another Christian agency: Catholic Social Services.
Bethany promptly changed its policy in the region, but Catholic Social Services took the matter to court. The Supreme Court is due to announce a ruling on that case this summer.
Bethany’s new policy was quietly, unanimously approved by its 14-member national board on January 21st. It does not use the phrase ‘LGBTQ’ but instead says it will, “implement a nationwide policy of inclusivity in order to serve all families.”
“Faith in Jesus is at the core of our mission. But we are not claiming a position on the various doctrinal issues about which Christians of mutual good faith may disagree,” Nate Bult, Bethany’s vice president said, reports Christianity Today.
“We acknowledge that discussions about doctrine are important, but our sole job is to determine if a family can provide a safe, stable environment for children.”
Related: This single gay dad adopted a baby girl with Down syndrome after she was rejected by 20 families
One board member, Susanne Jordan told the New York Times, the agency expected some criticism from some Christian groups over the policy change.
“We recognize there are people who will not be happy. We may lose some donors. But the message we’re trying to give is inviting people alongside of us. Serving children should not be controversial.”
The Equality Act, a comprehensive, federal, LGBTQ civil rights bill, passed the U.S. House yesterday in a bipartisan vote—and in their speeches before the vote, the two LGBTQ parents in Congress both spoke about their kids and about the wider impact of the legislation.
Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY)
First, let’s recap the Equality Act itself, which would extend several existing federal civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. It would also prohibit discrimination in federally funded programs and public spaces and services on the basis of sex. Its coverage would extend to employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, foster care, adoption, and more, better protecting LGBTQ people, women, and the families so many of us support—and this would strengthen our communities and our nation as a whole.
Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN), a co-chair of the LGBTQ Equality Caucus and an original cosponsor of the Act, said in her speech before the vote (my bold): “As the first openly lesbian wife and mother in Congress … I know this legislation is the culmination of a lifetime of work for so many. My wife Cheryl and I have built a beautiful life together, raising four sons who we dearly love.” Their home state of Minnesota, she said, already offers many of the protections of the Act, but in other states, “it would be entirely legal for Cheryl and I to be discriminated against based on our love and commitment to one another.” Watch her full speech below:
Today, the House will vote on the groundbreaking #EqualityAct. ??????????
As a young lesbian woman growing up in rural America, I never imagined I’d finally see this legislation come to the House floor – much less have a chance to vote for it as a Member of Congress. pic.twitter.com/06v05n64Y2
Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), the highest-ranking out LGBTQ member of the House, a co-chair of the LGBTQ Equality Caucus, and an original cosponsor of the Act, is the father of three children with his husband, Randy Florke. “I was thinking about my kids as I walked onto the floor today,” he said in his speech to the House ahead of the vote, before asserting that the argument of those who oppose the Act is that LGBT people are morally inferior and that discrimination against them must be permitted. “Let history record the vote today,” he concluded. “One side votes for love.” Here are his full words:
The GOP is making outrageous & false claims about the #EqualityAct. They’re lying to confuse & misinform the public.
Today, with the passage of this bill, we exposed those lies & reminded America what this is really about: equality for LGBTQ Americans. No more, no less. pic.twitter.com/L6dTPtuvrN
The Act passed the House 224-206, with all Democrats voting for, along with only three Republicans: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), John Katko (NY), and Tom Reed (NY). It now moves on to the Senate, where it will likely face an uphill battle. Call or e-mail your senators today and urge them to support it.
A few news items on queer parents that I haven’t covered elsewhere!
Politics and Law
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has directed the state’s Department of Financial Services to ensure that insurers begin covering fertility services immediately for same sex couples who wish to start a family. Current insurance law requires insurers to cover infertility services, but same-sex couples must sometimes pay six or 12 months of out-of-pocket expenses for fertility (to prove their “infertility,” which in many cases is only because they are a same-sex couple) before qualifying for coverage. Some individual corporations have started offering such coverage, but I believe New York is the first state in the nation to require this.
Last December, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take a case in which Indiana was trying to deny the right of married nonbiological mothers in same-sex couples to be recognized as legal parents by being put on their children’s birth certificates. Now, an Indiana legislator has filed a bill that would require birth certificates to record the names of a child’s biological parents or, if the biological parents are unknown, the names of the presumptive parents. Luckily, attorneys for the plaintiffs in the earlier case say they don’t think it has much chance of passage.
Irish mom and activist Ranae von Meding writes in the Washington Blade about her and her wife’s Audrey’s struggle, first, to start a family through reciprocal IVF (her womb, Audrey’s eggs), then to secure legal parental recognition for Audrey, which they have been unable to do yet. Even if they are recognized, she says, they will keep fighting “until every child of an LGBTQ+ parent in Ireland has the same rights and protections as any other child in the country.” Newstalk has another interview with her and with a two-dad couple in Ireland who became parents through surrogacy and are similarly fighting for recognition, but are all currently in a “legal limbo” that hinders their ability to get basic documentation and benefits for their children.
Tarini Mehta offers an overview at The Print on policies and attitudes about queer parents in India.
Gay dad Tyler Curry asks at the Advocate, “Exactly what, if any, impact does my male gender identity have on my role as a parent?” He concludes, “It isn’t that I believe in such strict gender roles in parenting. Quite the opposite. But if growing up with two dads means a constant question of who is filling that “mom” role in her life. Then to hell with it, I am Mom. Yeah, I am also Dad. But if for some reason being Mom has some different, more legitimate meaning when it comes to my daughter’s foundation of parents, then I am that too.” It’s a thoughtful take on gender and parenting.
Health Care and Inclusion
Finally, in very important news for all the soccer moms out there, U.S. Women’s National Team members Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger are now parents! They adopted a child last week. Harris wrote a letter to the child’s birth mom, which she shared on Instagram, saying in part, “We promise Sloane will be loved every single day by us, our friends and our family…. We promise to share her adoption story with her from the very beginning and celebrate every milestone! We promise to encourage her to follow her dreams no matter how big or small. We promise to be open minded and respect your wishes to have future communication and that she will always know how much you love her!”
Fresh from being acquitted of encouraging insurrection in the Capitol last month during his history-making second impeachment, Trump received praise for, among other things, “giving a voice to Americans that felt overlooked”, “exposing how incredibly corrupt the media is,” and for showing that sometimes “an outsider is the best person for the job.”
Related: Richard Grenell demands White House press secretary “apologize to the gay community”
Between 2017-2021, advocacy group GLAAD keeping a running count of all the Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ people. It totaled 181 by the time Trump left office, including his ban on trans people serving in the military and a move to allow federal employers to discriminate against LGBTQ just days before his departure from the White House.
However, the MAGA-loving supporters here wanted to thank him for being “the first President in history to enter office as a supporter of marriage equality” and “the first pro-gay President when entering office.”
One contributor said he was “eternally grateful” to Trump for the way in which he had opened “the tent of the Republican party [to] accept LGBT Americans.”
Trump is also lauded for launching a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality. Although this initiative was indeed announced in 2019, whether it achieved any tangible results is moot. Claiming, as is done here, that Trump, “set precedent for Joe Biden and the Biden administration to follow … picking up where Donald Trump left off,” is perhaps a stretch.
Related: Richard Grenell celebrates Veteran’s Day by thanking a war criminal. Really.
The video received a largely bemused reaction online, with many thinking at first that it may have been a parody or asking if April Fools Day had arrived early.
A new service, founded by a queer mom and attorney, aims to provide LGBTQ parents and prospective parents with family building resources and a personally vetted directory of family lawyers.
Gena Jaffe (L), wife Jordana (R) and their two children. Used with permission.
Gena Jaffe, a Philadelphia-based lawyer and mom, founded connecting rainbows after posting on social media about her and her spouse’s own journey to parenthood and receiving lots of questions. She told me via e-mail, “My wife and I have openly shared our fertility journeys on Instagram, as well as the second parent adoption process we had to go through. As a result, I have received a ton of questions over the years. While I am a practicing attorney, I do not specialize in estate planning or adoption, so I could never help anyone who came to me. Further, fertility is near and dear to my heart, and I feel a special connection to all those going through the treatments.”
After Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court last October, too, Jaffe said, “I started to talk more on my Instagram about the things same sex families should consider putting into place, God forbid same sex marriage was overturned.” She realized many prospective LGBTQ parents were encountering both a lack of information and misinformation. “I cannot even tell you how many people told me that lawyers either (1) would not work with them because they were a same sex couple or (2) gave them completely false information,” such as telling them that being on the birth certificate is enough to grant full legal rights to both same-sex parents. (As I’ve said myself many times, it’s not.) Jaffe then got the idea “to create a directory of attorneys across the US and Canada who specialize in working with LGBTQ+ couples on fertility law, adoption and estate planning.”
The LGBTQ Law Association already maintains a Family Law Attorney Directory and Family Equality has an LGBTQ+ Family Building Directory of fertility clinics, cryobanks, midwives, doulas, surrogacy clinics, and more who have completed one or more of the organization’s Open Door Professional Training Courses, but Jaffe says her directory will be different in having both legal and fertility resources in one place. In addition, she said, “My database will be unique in that it will be personal. I am limiting how many attorneys I recommend so that I can ensure that the people listed are (1) well-versed in working with the LGBTQ+ community and (2) it’s not overwhelming for people to decide who to call. I have garnered trust with my audience over the years, so they can feel confident in whom I am recommending.”
She explained further:
I will be capping it around five lawyers per state (in the larger states)—closer to three in the smaller states. I want to take the stress, overwhelm + research out of the equation for the individuals who are coming to the site. I am personally speaking to every lawyer who is listed on the site. I want to get a good sense of who they are, how they operate and how they will care for my community. I don’t need someone who has the most experience. I want someone who is not only competent but also compassionate. Someone who gets the younger generation.
The new website will include not only a directory of lawyers and fertility resources, but also expert interviews and a blog where “families can share their own fertility or adoption journeys, coming out stories and transition experiences.” She asserted, “I believe education is empowering, and I want to help people understand the journey and what to expect. My vision is that this space will help people feel less alone in whatever it is they are going through; a space where they can find comfort and hope.”
Informative and trustworthy resources are vital for us LGBTQ parents and parents-to-be. That’s why for years I’ve also maintained my own Mombian Resource Directory—which is in some ways a meta-directory of resources like connecting rainbows and the other directories mentioned above—on LGBTQ family building, legal issues, raising kids, caring for ourselves, and more. I appreciate that Jaffe is bringing her professional expertise to bear in offering LGBTQ folks a more focused approach to finding legal and family creation help, and I look forward to seeing how her site evolves.
Today, the United States Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump (R) on the charge of incitement of an insurrection.
57 Senators voted in favor of convicting Trump for his actions in provoking the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6 in an effort to overturn the election of now-President Joe Biden (R). In addition to the 48 Democrats and two Democrat-caucusing Independents, seven Republicans voted for conviction. That is ten short of 67, the required number of votes to meet a two-thirds majority and convict an impeached party.
“The verdict does not reflect the truth understood by a majority of Americans, that Donald Trump recklessly and maliciously directed his supporters to attack the Capitol and our democracy,” GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “The Trump administration will forever be defined by misinformation and violence, tactics the former president weaponized against LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities before turning them loose on our government on January 6th.
“Senators voting to acquit are now and for all of history recorded for their cowardice in failing to hold the former president accountable for his lawless, destructive behavior. Let this be a turning point for our country, where we demand a return to shared core values of truth, safety and integrity to protect the least among us, especially from those chosen to lead us.”
Prior to the final vote, Democratic trial managers came to an agreement with Trump’s legal team against calling witnesses for the trial, instead opting to end it with closing arguments.
“Tired of feeling like nobody is fighting for us,” wrote Mary Trump, Donald’s out niece, after.
While the White House has not made a statement as of yet, several other prominent political figures took the moment to react to the outcome.
A travesty. A tragedy. Tired of feeling like nobody is fighting for us.
Senate Republicans apparently threatened to use the filibuster to stop all other senate business — including COVID19 relief for desperate American families — if this trial were to continue and hear witnesses. Never before has the GOP stooped so low to defend Donald Trump.
Even after McConnell agrees they proved their case, it’s amazing watching the House Managers on the defensive because they couldn’t unstick 43 Republican Senators from Trump’s butt. 7 Republicans couldn’t even do that.
The seven GOP Senators who voted in favor of convictions were: Richard Burr (R-NC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Pat Toomey (R-PA).
The 7 GOP votes to convict Trump, with context:
Burr (retiring) Toomey (retiring) Cassidy (just won, not up until 2026) Collins (just won, not up until 2026) Sasse (just won, not up until 2026) Murkowski (has won despite losing R primary) Romney (voted to convict last time/YOLO)
Ellis and GLAAD weren’t alone. Several civil rights advocates, leaders, and groups expressed outraged by the outcome of the month-long impeachment process.
“Today comes as no surprise to us,” wrote the Human Rights Campaign on Twitter. “We have always had to demand our most basic rights.”
The daughter of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Bernice King, simply shared a picture stating “The system isn’t broken, it was built that way.”
Americans from marginalized communities have spent all their lives in a system that harms many to the advantage of few. Today comes as no surprise to us. We have always had to demand our most basic rights.
Michael van der Veen, who defended former President Donald Trump in the Senate trial, allegedly said afterward to a colleague that “we’re going to Disney World!”
In a statement, Trump thanked his team of supporters and ranted that “this has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country. No president has ever gone through anything like it.”
“Our MAGA movement… has only just begun,” he added.
I want to add on McConnell, not only did he block the Senate from holding a trial while Trump was still in office and then use it as an excused to acquit, his wife resigned as a cabinet member 24 hours after the insurrection. He is a total self-interested coward!
Senate Democrats either need to figure out how to twist enough Republican arms to get 60 votes or they Schumer needs to figure out how to get Manchin/Sinema/etc. onboard with getting rid of the filibuster.
If they can’t, barely anything gets done, they get wiped out in 22 and 24
Nick Jr. children’s show Blue’s Clues & You! has released a new alphabet video for kids celebrating “how each letter of the Alphabet is special!” We see that “P Is Full of Pride” with an array of varied Pride flags, including the trangender, nonbinary, bisexual, pansexual, intersex, genderfluid, asexual, lesbian, and rainbow flags. Watch it here.
“Every single letter is unique/And don’t forget/We need all these different sounds/To make our alphabet,” says the song. Some of the letters have clear messages of diversity (“E is for Everyone,” with figures of different skin tones and physical abilities); others are simply fun (“D likes to Dance all day”). We see that “P is full of Pride” right after “O”—but we also see the extended rainbow “P” floating past in some other places, too.
Sammi WS Chan, a designer/animator at Nick Jr. who worked on the images for the video, tweeted today, “The first thing that came to my mind was P is for pride when I got the script. I am so excited that all of ya’ll are as happy as I am! I also did all the letters and graphics for this episode to be as inclusive as possible for Black History Month!”
Bonus fun fact: In 2013, actor Tom Mizer, who played human protagonist Steve in the first national tour of the Blues Clues Live show, fell in love with his understudy, Travis McGhie. The New York Times ran an adorable video in which the pair explain their initially tense relationship and eventual romance.
Watch the video below. Is it too much to ask that they publish this as a book, too?
The American Library Association has just announced its 2021 Rainbow Book List—with a record-setting number of 129 librarian-approved LGBTQ-inclusive children’s and young adult books! There are so many, in fact, that for the first time, there are two Top 10 sub-lists of books with “exceptional merit,” one for younger children and one for older youth readers. Learn more and see some charts that illustrate just how the genre has grown.
Unlike the recently announced Stonewall Awards for children’s and young adult books, which recognize only a very few titles at the peak of excellence, the Rainbow Book List is a larger selection, intended to help young people find “quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content” and assist librarians in developing their collections and advising readers. Its value is not only in recommending quality titles, but also in offering the imprimatur of the oldest and largest library association in the world, which can help convince communities to keep these books on the shelves. It’s a great resource for parents and teachers, too.
This year, the Rainbow Book List Committee of the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) Rainbow Round Table nearly 600 books (a record number!) and selected 129 titles of fiction and non-fiction books for toddlers through young adults. The committee noted: “This year’s offerings give us everything from precious board books, touching picture books, astonishing true stories and biographies of remarkable people. We provide you with titles that incorporate the wide and varied lives of young people, non-fiction titles that challenge the status quo, and fiction that will break your heart and mend it together again.”
Also, “As a result of the sheer number of eligible titles and those ultimately chosen,” the committee also for the first time ever offered a whopping 20 picks “of exceptional merit,” 10 in each of two age categories. The Top 10 Titles for birth through middle grade are:
Burgess, Matthew and Josh Cochran (Illustrator). Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring.
Mercurio, Peter and Leo Espinosa (Illustrator). Our Subway Baby. 2020.
Neal, DeShanna, Trinity Neal, and Art Twink (Illustrator). My Rainbow.
Pitman, Gayle E. and Violet Tobacco (Illustrator). My Maddy.
Simon, Rachel E. and Noah Grigni (Illustrator). The Every Body Book: LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families.
Callender, Kacen. King and the Dragonflies.
Sass, A.J. Ana on the Edge.
Leyh, Kat. Snapdragon.
Nguyen, Trung Le. The Magic Fish.
Smith, Niki. The Deep & Dark Blue.
I hope you’ll go check out the Top 10 list for Young Adults and the full list of books for all ages. Many of the books are also ones in my own Mombian Database of LGBTQ Family Books, Media, and More (which can be filtered to show just the books from 2020 or any year), though my focus is on picture books and books for parents, with some select middle grade titles, since I’m only one person and can’t do everything. On the other hand, I’m probably a little more willing to include some titles simply to show the range of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books today, even if they don’t all rise to quite the level of quality needed to make them library recommendations (though I do try to give an indication of quality in my reviews). With slightly different goals, we’ll end up with slightly different lists—but all with the aim of getting these books into readers’ hands. (Also, note that the Rainbow Book List includes books published in 2020 and between July 1 and December 31 of 2019, so it’s a little more than just one year—and may have omitted a few books published towards the end of 2020 that will be caught in next year’s list.)
I also want to share two charts to show visually just how much the number of LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books has accelerated in the past few years. The first chart shows the number of Rainbow Book List titles since the List’s founding in 2008. I’ve hand counted the number of titles from the Rainbow Book List website; all errors in tabulation and charting are my own. Even this doesn’t fully show the sweeping change in LGBTQ-inclusive titles, though; several of the committee’s picture book picks in the earlier years, for example, had rather vague or highly allegorical queer content. Today’s books, on the whole, are more likely to show clearly queer characters. You’ll see the big leap starting with 2019’s list, which covers books published between July 2017 and December 2018. (Notes on method: In 2021, the Rainbow List broke out “Juvenile Fiction” into its own category for the first time; I’ve kept it with Middle Grade for the purpose of this chart. I’ve also counted Board Books as Picture Books, since they haven’t always been broken out. Graphic/Manga includes both middle grade and YA titles; since the Rainbow List has never broken them out, though, neither did I.)
The second chart shows the number of books the Committee evaluated each year before coming up with their final selections. This chart starts in 2013, when the Committee began regularly reporting this data. Again, the past few years have seen a significant jump. As I said last year as well, the fact that the committee evaluated so many titles and selected a much smaller percentage (roughly 17 to 32 percent) speaks both to the growing number of LGBTQ-inclusive books that are being published and the fact that many of them still have a ways to go in terms of quality and “significant and authentic” LGBTQ content. Let’s hope that budding authors find ways of improving their skills and getting feedback on their drafts. I’ll also suggest that prospective authors read widely among existing LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books and other diverse, top-rated children’s titles before embarking on efforts of their own.
For a bit of history, here’s my interview with Nel Ward, chair of the Rainbow Book List Committee when the list first launched in 2008. It’s been a pleasure watching the number of titles grow and diversify over the years.
As always, many thanks to the librarians who put together the Rainbow Book List and to all of the librarians everywhere whose recommendations and support continue to positively impact the lives of so many young people and families.
Three new books variously offer insight, inspiration, and social science rigor as they chart the contours of queer parents’ lives.
In The Other Mothers: Two Women’s Journey to Find the Family That Was Always Theirs (Sourcebooks), Jennifer Berney tells the story of how she and her spouse Kellie became parents despite fertility challenges and a healthcare system not designed for queer families. Berney had always known she wanted kids; Kellie wasn’t so sure. Although they eventually both agreed to move forward, however, they ran out of reserves from their chosen unknown donor before Berney got pregnant. Yet the medical professionals they saw had no protocols for dealing with lesbian patients, resulting in much lost time before Berney received an effective infertility diagnosis and treatment.
Berney’s story illuminates the need for change within the fertility industry, but is first and foremost a story of relationships, expectations, and building family despite the obstacles. She writes of what led her and Kellie to eventually use a known donor, the ways that fate and kinship tied them to their donor and his family, and how queer people as a whole have reimagined families. Along the way, she educates us about the history of assisted reproduction, the legal hurdles of second-parent adoption, the racist origins of the international adoption industry and the gynecological speculum, and how the emerging science of epigenetics (how our experiences impact which genes are turned on or off) blurs the lines of nature and nurture, reinforcing a nonbiological mother’s role.
Berney weaves her story and her broader reflections into a textured and thoughtful narrative. This isn’t the first memoir by a queer woman struggling with infertility (see my database at mombian.com for some others), but it does honor to the genre.
No Blanks, No Pauses: A Path to Loving Self and Others (Amplify), by Shelly McNamara, chief equality and inclusion officer at Procter & Gamble, is part memoir and part self-help book, using vignettes from McNamara’s life, told through prose and poems, as a way to encourage readers to find their own paths and “bring more compassion into the world.”
McNamara offers snapshots of difficult or transformative moments in her life: growing up as the youngest of 15 children raised by a single mother; losing family and friends, some very young, to illness and injury; coming out as a lesbian and starting a family; dealing with harassment; and coming out at work. She shares how she found inner strength through self-reflection and writing. At the end of each chapter, she offers questions for readers’ own reflection, like “What do you feel called to do?” “What regrets or wrongs do you carry?” “Who do you see as less than?” This is memoir as pedagogy and inspiration. The overall narrative may not feel as seamless as some, but each story and poem within it has a message about loving oneself and others. As McNamara tells us, “I want my story and storytelling to help heal the pain that exists within and between people.”
Susan Golombok’s We Are Family: The Modern Transformation of Parents and Children (Public Affairs) sits in a different genre. Golombok, professor of family research and director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, is one of the world’s leading social science researchers on LGBTQ and other non-traditional families. This volume, however, is aimed at a general audience, offering not only Golombok’s learnings from decades of pioneering research but also, more importantly, sharing many of the personal stories behind them. It looks at families in the U.K. and U.S., LGBTQ and not, formed with sperm, egg, and embryo donations and through surrogacy. Along with these stories, Golombok relates the history of the assisted reproduction industry and societal responses to it, which were not always positive even for straight, cisgender people. She also explores the implications for families and society of reproductive technologies like egg and embryo freezing, mitochondrial donation, uterus transplants, and even synthetic eggs and sperm.
Golombok’s top-notch reputation is warranted, though I did find one small error in the book. She says that in 2010, lesbian couples “began to have children through shared biological parenting” using one woman’s egg and the other’s womb. My spouse and I had our son this way in 2003, however, and I know we weren’t the first. One point could also use clarification: She refers to Thomas Beatie, who in 2008 “appeared on the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’ as the world’s first pregnant man.” Golombok then says (rightly, as far as I know) that he was “the first legally recognized man to have a baby,” but fails to note that a number of other transgender men had previously given birth, although they were not legally recognized as men. Still, her discussion of transgender parents bearing, adopting, and raising children is unfailingly positive.
Readers here will not be surprised by the conclusions Golombok has reached again and again in her research–that children in these non-traditional families do just as well as any others–but should appreciate her insights into the similarities and differences among them, why it is important for children to learn about their origins as early as possible, and how social science research has played—and must continue to play—a role in supporting these families and shaping public policy.
This is a fascinating volume by a luminary in the field, and a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the history—and future—of LGBTQ families and other diverse family forms.
Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.