Blogging for LGBT Families 2011 – Don’t Devalue the Aunties

Once again, it is time to participate in the blogswarm for LGBT families sponsored by the blog Mombian.

I've given some thought to my topic this year and decided to write a response to the perception that not having children makes us less than a family. I think there is more than one person who perceives LGBTQ families without children as somehow a little lesser.  It is particularly sad when people who claim to be pro-choice condemn those who choose not to have children outside of the context of abortion. 

First, I have a lovely family even though I do not have children of my own.  I have my partner of nearly 8 years with whom I've built a little nuclear family of our very own.  We cannot legally wed, but we are a family.  We also have extended family including two nephews and two nieces, all five and under.  Then there are cousins, second cousins, recently found cousins missing for two generations because of a turn of the century adoption.  Our family is complex and complicated, but never dull. 

Second, we have a role in the lives of children who are not related to us and this is not unusual for LGBTQ people, especially those who do not have their own children.  To some of these children we are aunts.  To others, we are family friends who come bearing gifts and/or delicious snacks.  To all, we are accepted, loved and valued as part of their own extended family circle.  Yes, they sometimes ask about our relationship, but they are always satisfied with the answer b/c they have no agenda, just curiosity.  I am humbled every time they run over to show me a work of art or ask me to play.  Or confide a secret. 

As for why we chose not to have children, well, that's really a private decision.  But just because we joke about being mom to our kitties, please don't think we fail to honor and appreciate the children in our lives (and their parents).  And we grew up in families so we do have some perspective as to what they need to be successful.  Support from other adults is one important thing.  I had someone in my life who was close to my family, but objective and he meant the world in the terms of providing me support and love. 

Deciding not to parent is a valid choice. It is not better or worse than raising children. It is just a different path.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who do it for selfish reasons, but be honest – there are plenty of people who have children for selfish reasons.  We can't know what is in people's hearts or behind their decisions unless they share with us.  But we judge families and parents each and every day, especially in the media.  It is really heartbreaking to see the relentless scrutiny of a parent in the news as if a 60 second soundbyte could tell us the real story behind a poor decision, mistake or error in judgment.   

I find it wonderful how the number of LGBTQ families with children has grown in the past few years here in Pittsburgh.  Monthly potlucks, swim parties, trips to the zoo and so forth are spontaneously organized through a loosely organized group.  Organizations like the Gay & Lesbian Community Center and Pridefest have greatly expanded their programming for children and youth.  My church has several same sex parents in attendance and it is all good.  I love it, in fact. 

My friends opted for an open adoption and their son occasionally tells people he has three mommies which is hysterical and I'm sure raises a few eyebrows.  But he's a pretty lucky kid to have three women who love him and he knows it in an age appropriate way kids have for absorbing information. 

Supporting LGBTQ families is one reason I work so hard to advocate for legislation that supports the larger LGBTQ community.  Domestic partner benefits are essential, especially if one parent opts to stay home with the children.  Public accomodation protections are imperative as families access those places on a more regular basis, be it the local Wal-Mart or the public pool.  Encouraging LGBTQ families to become foster parents builds stronger families for children in the system.  The list goes on and on.  I've also worked in my workplaces to create LGBTQ friendly policies and supports. 

It is also why I pester my parent friends to make themselves aware in spite of daycare, basketball and laundry commitments.  Their votes and involvement in advocacy puts a face to the concept of a LGBTQ family. 

Happy Pride to ALL of Pittsburgh's LGBTQ families and our allies!

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