I was mulling over my contribution to this year’s day dedicated to blog posts about LGBTQ families and I kept coming back to the recent chart in The Guardian which showed that LGBTQ people and families in Pennsylvania have no rights. It bothers me that so many people don’t know or accept this information because it leaves them vulnerable to personal and community attacks.
Let me start by reminding you that I do not have children. Ledcat and I decided not to go that route in life. We do have 4 nieces and nephews (2 each) who are both being raised in two-parent heterosexual households. But we are most definitely a family and invested in the welfare of all families. That’s one reason we both devote time to a social service project supporting Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. But I digress.
It is not that things are sooo bad in Pennsylvania, but that sooo many turn a blind eye or fail to heed the call to get involved. Often, that’s because they are busy parenting, of course.
Here’s the breakdown.
Pennsylvania does NOT have statewide protections for our jobs or our housing (or public swimming pools), does not have a hate crimes law, does not have civil unions or marriage equality (we do have a DOMA), no rights to hospital visits or decisions, no bullying protections in the schools and no legislative protections for adoption.
Pennsylvania DOES have a court victory validating second-parent adoption for same sex couples, does have over 27 municipal ordinances extending non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ folks, does have success in keeping a marriage amendment at bay and has over 12 pieces of active legislation addressing these and other rights and protections for the community.
What’s haunted me is a recent experience at an adoption for a same sex family. The little one has been with them since birth and there was no contesting or anything like that. Still, the judge had some concerns about things like the child’s last name and being raised as a vegetarian. And it dawned on me as I listened to the language about “waiving” the statutory requirement of marriage that he had the power to say “no.” To just stop the proceeding and force an appeal based simply on the fact that the baby’s last name was not the same as either parent (they joined them and he has an older brother with that name.)
Now, he didn’t. He approved the adoption, waived the regulations and approved the second parent’s adoption. Then he let the older child bang his gavel and took photos. But wow … what an eye opening moment.
Advocacy is everyone’s responsibility. It matters to the entire community that this adoption wasn’t legislatively guaranteed. It matters that the fate of a family rests in the hands of a judge. Because the same thing is true when individuals go before the courts on anything related to the fact that they are LGBTQ. Or not related, but that’s introduced. And we aren’t going to make the sort of changes truly necessary until we have a statewide victory.
In Pennsylvania, there are various ways to get informed and connected – Steel City Stonewall Democrats, Equality PA, blogs, social media, etc. There’s no lack of information or opportunity get involved by contacting your state representative or senator. Here’s a rundown of 10 pieces of legislation and another bill about inheritance taxes. You’ll have to read about them and do some clicking. But you can weigh in. The General Assembly is in session to November 30, 2012 so you can have an impact.
I realize that making time to attend meetings and become an advocate does take time away from your family, requires a lot of juggling and seem lower on the priority list. But it is so critical that our elected officials hear from parents – many of them are parents and when you talk about things that happen in school or at Little League or having to explain bigotry to a 5 years old, it is going to resonate. Your voices are essential, your experiences are a key element to changing hearts.
Living your lives as an LGBTQ family is a political act. And the fact that discrimination doesn’t touch your family very often is a wonderful testimony to the true hearts of our neighbors in Pennsylvania. They may be afraid of the big scary “gay” demons, but they have no problem at all embracing your family. Not everyone is so fortunate, but the truth is that to make change in Pennsylvania we are going to have to convince those people – those who embrace you – to take action, too.
Now to be fair, there are things orgs and groups could do to help – offering child care, scheduling when its easier for parents to attend, using more online communication and social media tools, and so forth.
I’m focusing on families today because that’s the point of the blogswarm. It is really important to share factual information when someone asks you for a lawyer’s name to explore adoption. It is important that you understand your child’s rights (of lack of rights) when they are in a school setting. It is important that you know what to expect from the police if you or your family experience a hate crime.
Being informed is the best tool to protect all of our families. Follow this link to read other posts contributing to the 7th Annual Blogging for LGBT Families effort.