Several events intersected over the past week or so that cast a revealing light on different people’s definition of "family."
First, actor and musician Leisha Hailey and her girlfriend Camilla Grey were kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight Sept. 25 after getting upset at a flight attendant who told them to stop kissing. Southwest, she said, was "a family airline." The couple said in a statement that it was only "one, modest kiss."
Southwest issued its own statement, saying that Hailey and Grey were removed from the plane because of the profane language they used in response to the flight attendant. The airline affirmed that it continues to "value and welcome" all customers, including LGBT ones. It gave the couple a full refund. Others have written about whether Southwest’s response was appropriate and adequate -- I do not wish to open that up again here.
Regardless of the airline’s response, however, the flight attendant’s belief -- that "family" stands opposed to same-sex affection -- is still sadly widespread, though increasingly outdated. I wonder if the flight attendant would have said the same thing if Hailey and Grey had been parents, traveling with a child. Would she or he have been as quick to tell them -- to the child’s face -- that they weren’t a family?
I don’t mean to imply that same-sex couples need children to be a family, only that children may make it more obvious that they are one -- and that most children of same-sex couples see their parents being affectionate in appropriate public ways. Not only are the children unharmed by that, but they learn how two adults in love express that love for each other -- a lesson they will, with luck, carry into their own successful relationships when they grow up. If other children on the plane happened to have seen Hailey and Grey kiss, it should have been similarly helpful, not harmful. Love is a family value.
Even when remarks are not made to a child’s face, however, people keep sending messages that convey LGBT relationships are not "appropriate" for children to encounter.
This brings us to the American Library Association’s recent Banned Books Week (Sept. 24 to Oct. 1), a celebration of the freedom to read -- but a reminder that LGBT-inclusive children’s and young adult books are among those that library patrons most often ask to be removed. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, which tells the true tale of two male penguins who raise a chick together, has been the most frequently challenged book in four of the last five years, slipping only to second in 2009.
But although many people may try to ban books that include us, it’s getting harder for them to ignore the fact of LGBT parents. Collectively, we’ve been raising children together for over thirty years now, when changes in reproductive medicine and shifts in adoption law began to make it possible. Those who began their families in opposite-sex relationships may have been parents for even longer. That’s a useful bit of history to reflect on during LGBT History Month in October.
As we consider the past, however, we should also observe the present. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and his partner Marlon Reis announced the birth of their son Sept. 30, making Polis the first openly LGBT parent in Congress.
On a more widespread note, a new analysis of Census 2010 data released Sept. 27 by the Williams Institute of UCLA shows that over 110,000 same-sex couples across the U.S. are raising children -- and that’s a minimum, because some people may still have hesitated to report they are part of a same-sex couple. A quick glance at a map of the data reveals same-sex parents live in every state, not just the traditional gay hotspots. (See the Williams’ website, wiwp.law.ucla.edu.)
An earlier estimate from Williams indicated that overall, one million LGBT parents (coupled and not) are raising two million children.
With numbers like that, it becomes increasingly likely that a person will encounter us in the supermarket, in their children’s classroom, or on an airplane.
Speaking of travel leads us around to the final event that deserves mention here, the British Home Office’s announcement (reported by the BBC October 3) that they will soon include "Parent One" and "Parent Two" as well as "Mother" and "Father" on U.K. passport applications. The U.S. government enacted a similar change earlier this year.
That’s right: You can use a British or American passport, applied for with a same-sex-parent-inclusive form, as identification to fly anywhere in the world -- including destinations served by Southwest Airlines.
The structure of families may be changing, but the love they express is not. Those who don’t realize that will be left at the gate while the rest of us take off for the future.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian, a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.