Envisioning LGBT Families

Jaime Grant, Ph.D., Policy Institute Director

By Jaime Grant, Ph.D., Policy Institute Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

June 1 is LGBT families day, and it arrives as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Family Equality Council (FEC) are completing a visioning paper for the LGBT families movement titled Envisioning LGBT Families.

This joint paper records a conversation that the Task Force and FEC organized among LGBT families movement leaders — from lesbians running long-standing, well-funded programs on the coasts, to gay men running tiny, rural programs out of their living rooms.

More than 25 leaders gathered to discuss some of the thorniest issues facing the families movement, from anti-adoption statewide measures to a host of legal vulnerabilities.  Over the course of the day, these leaders identified key barriers to building a stronger, healthier LGBT families movement.

The one conversation I want to highlight on this day of celebration was the consensus that Poster Family Syndrome is harming individual families as well as posing problems for us as movement.  In this scenario, some LGBT families are constructed as “good” and held up as the ideal for the public as we fend off local, statewide and national attacks.  The impetus for this reactionary strategy is understandable — as many of our statewide organizations move to quickly mobilize against overwhelmingly negative public opinion about our families.  But in the end, Poster Family strategies actually create great difficulty for LGBT parents and their children, who may feel the need to mask serious issues in their relationships or among their children, in order to appear perfect to the larger culture, and thus “deserving” of equality.

Many advocates in the group spoke about hiding serious issues such as mental illness, substance abuse or family violence because they feared losing their children or “ruining it for everyone.”  Poster Family strategies isolate and denigrate the authentic diversity of our families and also lend themselves to racist, sexist, transphobic and ableist imaging of the LGBT family ideal.  Advocates noted that many families besides LGBT families are read as “queer” by the larger culture, including single-parent families, families of color, poor and immigrant families and families headed by grand-parents and other legal guardians.  By refusing to Poster-ize our families, and instead aligning LGBT families with other families that are denigrated in the public discourse, we can build a larger movement for change that re-creates the national conversation on and the national portrait of family.

LGBT parents aren’t perfect, and neither are our children.  Let’s not press for equality in a way that robs us — and other vulnerable families — of our humanity.  When we strategize for change in our local communities and at the state and federal level, we need to remind ourselves that the diversity of our family configurations — and our very human challenges — is a strength, and a reality that connects us across communities and across social justice movements.

Envisioning LGBT Families will be available on line in August, at www.thetaskforce.org and www.familyequality.org