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A Giant Leap for Lesbians

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Yesterday we celebrated Leap Day, a day that defies tradition by making this year 366 days long, instead of the usual 365. But this wasn't the only tradition Leap Year turned out to defy. For little did Queen Margaret of Scotland know in 1288, when she anointed every fourth year as a leap year to encourage women to be more assertive in the dating game, that 2012 would see gay women, more than any other group, successfully upturning long-held female traditions.

Take the traditional Miss America pageant, for instance. For the first time in its 90-year history, there were two openly gay women competing for the Miss California title in January. Mollie Thomas, a 19-year-old contestant, has never competed in a pageant before, but she represented West Hollywood in an effort to create more visibility for the LGBTQ community. She was joined in the pageant by another lesbian, 26-year-old Jenelle Hutcherson, who made it to the finals in the Miss Long Beach pageant by wearing such unconventional clothing as a tuxedo for the evening wear competition and board shorts for the swimwear section.

Then came Valentine's Day in February. The history of Valentine's Day -- and the story of its patron saint -- is shrouded in mystery. Yet we do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine's Day contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman traditions. Yet I'm sure the founders of this tradition would have been ill-prepared for the Valentine's Day winners of the "How I Met My Hawk Mate" contest, conducted last month at St. Joseph's University, a Jesuit university: it was lesbian couple, Megan Edwards and Katie MacTurk, who ultimately served as the winners of the Alumni Association's contest, after initially being disallowed to participate due to their sexual orientation. In reversing its decision due to public pressure, the university expressed that "[a]s a Catholic, Jesuit university, Saint Joseph's is a welcoming, inclusive community. Our focus is on respect and caring for all individuals as individuals." Amen.

And let's not forget the groundbreaking book released earlier this year, Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children, which compiled several decades of studies on same-sex parenting. It showed that children raised in a family with two lesbian parents are just as well-adjusted as children raised in "traditional" households of two heterosexual parents. The studies found no differences among children's happiness, gender-role behavior, or social relationships whether they were raised in a heterosexual or homosexual household. Further, survey responses of the teens with lesbian mothers were not affected by whether they knew who their biological father was or whether their mother had changed partners since their birth. Actually, these children may have the advantage of more open-mindedness, tolerance, and role models for equitable relationships, according to some research.

What the book did make clear, however, is that some kind of unfair treatment by others, related to having a lesbian parent (being teased, ridiculed, stereotyped, or being excluded from activities), left a portion of them feeling somewhat stigmatized. "If same-sex marriage does disadvantage kids in any way, it has nothing to do with their parent's gender and everything to do with society's reaction toward the families," LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas paraphrased Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell, author of Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definitions of Family, as saying. Abbie Goldberg, a psychologist at Clark University in Massachusetts whose work focuses on gay and lesbian parenting, has found that many children of gay and lesbian parents say that more acceptance of their families would help solve the problem of stigmatization.

Fortunately, Leap Year provides us with an opportunity to do just that, for this year also serves as a presidential election year, so let's make sure that the individual leading our country over the next four years already possesses the qualities of acceptance, open-mindedness, and tolerance, regardless of whether or not he grew up with two lesbian parents to teach him so.

Lori Sokol, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist and the founder and publisher of Work Life Matters magazine.