All in the Family
Kids Raised By Same-Sex Couples Speak Out To Defend Their Families
Aaron Henry-Lambert is 9 and a half. The half is a big deal. Gym is his favorite subject at Joppa View Elementary in Baltimore County. He plays soccer, basketball, and baseball, and after dinner each night, he and his 7-and-three-quarters-year-old brother, Brendan—who gets his affinity for fractions from his big brother—play a few video games, like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.
Oh, and Aaron has two moms.
Last month, Aaron was the youngest of seven panelists who answered questions from an audience at a forum sponsored by Equality Maryland, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil-rights organization, about the children of gay or lesbian parents. Audience members wrote down their questions, which were posed to the panelists by two moderators.
“We’re here to continue a dialogue about LGBT families,” Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, said in his opening comments.
But instead of hearing from gay and lesbian parents, who are usually the ones to step forward to defend their families, this forum was designed to let the kids have a chance to speak.
The 2000 U.S. Census reports that there are about 11,243 same-sex couples in Maryland. However, there are no reliable statistics revealing how many of those couples are raising children, or how many single lesbian or gay male parents there are, or for that matter how many gay people share custody of their children with ex-spouses. Furthermore, the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization fighting for equal rights for LGBT individuals, estimates that the U.S. Census undercounted gays and lesbians by as much as 62 percent. So really, no one really knows how many children are being raised by gays and lesbians in Maryland.
But no matter the count, children are a central part of the gay-rights debate in this state, especially when it comes to the gay-marriage debate. Proponents of same-sex marriage, for example, point out that allowing gays and lesbians the same marriage rights as heterosexuals would make their families stronger and protect their children; opponents of same-sex marriage, though, insist that it’s harmful for children to be raised in households with same-sex parents.
It was clear that the panelists at the Equality Maryland forum knew that they are at the center of this argument. They talked about how marriage rights for their parents would strengthen their families and how their lives are impacted by their unique family structures.
Duncan Morgen-Westrick, a 13-year-old seventh grader at Gilman School, got right to the point. “I’m one of those children they say they want to protect,” he said, referring to those who believe that parenting by same-sex couples is bad for children. “I’m here to say that I don’t need protection.”
Keott Gomez-Starnes was adopted by his fathers when he was 4 years old. He now attends high school in Silver Spring. His younger brother was adopted into the family when Keott was 9.
“Kids who are in foster care need homes,” he said. “We have a lot of kids out there who need good homes.”
The kids were speaking to a friendly audience, but some serious questions were posted. The most common question asked was along the lines of “Are any of you gay?”
“I get that question all the time,” said Katie Coyne, a 23-year-old college graduate who will attend med school in two years. Her older sister is gay and out, but Coyne is in a stable relationship with a man she expects to marry someday. She was raised by two moms, after her father and mother split.
“We all like men in my family,” joked 30-year-old Kate Oliver. A mother of two and licensed clinical social worker, Oliver was raised by her father and his partner, Bob, after her parents divorced when she was a child. Oliver’s father and his partner have been together for 25 years now.
“I know I’m straight, like I know I’m right-handed,” she says.
Despite the positive message relayed at the forum, not all responses to it were positive. Tres Kerns, for example, executive director of VoteMarriage.org, an organization that does not believe same-sex marriage should be legal, and host of conservative radio show The Veritas Hour on WCBM (680 AM) Sunday evenings, wrote an opinion piece in The Gazette that was published a week after the Equality Maryland community forum was held. In it, he says that children need opposite-sex parents in order to relate better to the world. “Most [homosexuals] were not shown the Creative order of true love as children,” the article notes. “Some homosexuals do not even believe that it is possible to have a loving, faithful father and mother.”
In an interview with City Paper, Kerns says that without the foundation of the Creative order—a concept described in Genesis that describes the procreative relationship of men to women—gays and lesbians are not able to provide the proper home for children. This contributes to a phenomenon he calls “sexual anarchy,” which includes divorce, molestation, and promiscuity, in addition to homosexuality.
Kids of same-sex parents “don’t get to see really how two opposite-sex parents would interact,” he says. “I think who really suffers is the children. What do most kids want? They want a loving mommy and daddy.”
But the kids involved in Equality Maryland’s forum don’t agree with that sentiment. Coyne said that having to justify her family is “sickening, really,” and she often testifies before General Assembly hearings on issues involving gay rights.
“I speak in front of all these people and then I go out in the hall and just lose it,” she said. “It’s a feeling like no other—to have people attack my family, the core of my soul.”
Most of the panelists acknowledged, like Coyne, that they have had to deal with negative public reaction to their family situations. Keott said that he has been told he would go to hell because his fathers are gay. And all of the panelists nodded when one participant brought up the oft-repeated phrase “that’s so gay.”
“I get so angry I want to clobber them,” Aaron Henry-Lambert said about kids who use the word gay pejoratively. “When I hear that, it’s really mean and I don’t like it.”
In the end, these daughters and sons don’t feel they are much different from their peers being raised by straight parents. But they see inequities.
“We live in a nation where we’re so dependent on equal rights,” Keott said. “I don’t know how people can say that they’re proud to be an American when they don’t let certain people do things because they’re black or gay or something else.”
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