Last week a new study from Australia reported that children raised by same-sex couples fare even better than those raised in normal biological families. The study cited couples' rejection of normal gender roles, focus on resilience in spite of social stigma, and prior planning as some of the possible reasons that the children of gay parents fare better. The study used a convenience sample that included 390 same-sex households with children up to 17 years old. Despite these positive conclusions, this study only minimally helps a gay community already winning handily in the courtroom. Furthermore, the study hurts the community by shifting the debate from one of inalienable rights to one of rights based on equal or superior performance, an irrelevant need to scientifically "prove" we are normal in a straight-centric world.
Don't get me wrong: The study is interesting. Many of the intangibles it cites seem to confirm my own life experience. Adopted at age 6 by a gay single father through Child Protective Service (i.e., "the system"), I faced stigma because of my background. Despite my father's success in raising me, some close friends and family members have asked me over the years how I would have done with two parents instead of one. And early on, I was still very uncomfortable about telling others my father is gay, fearing that I would be made fun of at school. Honestly, we had a rough first few years, but the keys to my well-being always lay in my father's dedication, not in my beginning odds or "biological kinship."
I don't forget the surprised looks I still get from professors and close friends when they find out that I went through three foster homes in the course of two years. These acquaintances are even more surprised when they hear that my caseworker actually preferred a single parent to a two-parent household because of my particular need for one-on-one attention. For me, "normal" was not necessarily better.
I have spent much of my journalistic career pointing to my accomplishments as vindication for my father's "abnormal" parenting. When a highly controversial sociological study was published by Mark Regenerus, of my university, the University of Texas at Austin, claiming children of gay parents do worse than those of straight biological families, my father and I joked that each university award was now a political statement, a poke in the eye to those who said that gays couldn't raise children. My adoptive background added emphasis to this narrative.
But the media narrative around the Australian study is fundamentally flawed. I'm tired of children of gay parents having to be "extraordinary" at excelling at pleasing a historically discriminatory majority. Such a mentality harkens back to the "'90s time warp" that HuffPost Gay Voices editor-at-large Michelangelo Signorile refers to in the battle for employment nondiscrimination. According to this mentality, the best way forward for equality is not to demand a right that every U.S. citizen deserves, the right to enter into a civil contract with another consenting adult, directly, but to flood the heterosexual-centric world with evidence that gays can beat them "at their own game."
Mainstream gay-rights groups fail to realize that sociological studies, negative or positive, shift the ground in favor of traditionalists who tie gay marriage to "a child's well-being" and box the LGBT community into a conformist mindset. In the meantime, conservatives scientists, such as Regnerus, can wax on (somewhat correctly, but not without irony) about the methodological concerns of convenience sampling (recruiting participants from the community). Such tactics muddy the social waters by ignoring the deeper flaws and hidden agendas in these scientists' own work. Clinging to these benchmarks of scientific approval, whether studies showing superiority of non-difference, can send the message that gays and their children need to "fit" or "exceed" on the normality curve. They don't. The LGBT community I cherish is not that of materialist "A-gays" from the Human Rights Campaign but eclectic, coffee-shop-going father figures who taught me about radical politics, artistic talent, multiculturalism, overcoming historical prejudices, and recognizing internal political conflicts within the community itself.
The intense fight for equality and stability remains crucial for a child's well-being, which is why so many reactionaries seem to be fighting against greater legal protections. But a child's success doesn't always show up on the charts. My early successes didn't. LGBT parents should emphasize community diversity, solidarity, and yes, abnormality, which teaches the tolerance and respect necessary to negotiate and bridge different points of view. The LGBT struggle also can instill within its youngest members a sense of civic duty and a conviction that participating in political processes impacts their lives. With rulings in favor of marriage equality coming down each day from the courts, it's time for the gay community to stop paying so much attention to numbers crunchers and simply keep convincing the public that civil marriage in a secular state is not a privilege but a right.
If, however, in the push for marriage equality, the LGBT community attempts to become "normal," it will have won an important battle but lost an even more important war.
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