THE BLOG
08/13/2014 02:11 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

A Matter of Words

When covering complex issues, start small and watch your language.

Parenting by folks in the LGBT communities has been a hot media topic for more than 10 years when Rosie O'Donnell came out and was also a spokesperson in particular for the rights of LGBTs in Florida as foster parents.

This has sparked a great deal of renewed conversation about LGBTs and parenting. The now retired Ted Koppel's Nightline (ABC) had a five-part series on gays in America beginning May 20, 2003 titled, "A Matter of Choice?: Gay Life in America."

The use of the word "choice" in the series annoyed many in our communities. Particularly those who live in a major media market, who are knowledgeable about the issues, don't think it is a matter of choice. But therein lies the problem: we want to educate while simultaneously using politically correct language. Since O'Donnell is both a lesbian and an adoptive parent, consider this: if adoption issues are out in left field for most folks, then gays and lesbians adopting are not even in the same town, much less in the ballpark.

Folks are not familiar with issues around adoption and don't know the correct language to use unless they have been impacted by adoption or educated on the issues. Likewise with the LGBT community -- even the term LGBT doesn't play in most media markets. LGBTs are perceived differently by both the media and the consumers of media when we are out of the five major media markets, which are all in urban areas.

So a national show like Koppel's must play to middle America and the so-called "fly-over" states. If such a show were directed exclusively at a major media market with a large and active LGBT community, then the word "choice" would not be in the frame at all. Decisions need to be made. We must first educate the masses on the simplest issues before demanding that the correct language be used. If folks can't at least understand the basic issues then mere use of the correct terminology makes no sense and doesn't enhance our cause.

Without education, two men adopting a child are seen by most in this country as two "fags" taking away a child from his/her "natural" mother, rather than a couple forming their family. Here the education is both around adoption issues and LGBT issues. Journalists aren't the only ones who have difficulty knowing what language to use when speaking of "the other," which can be anyone from someone of a different race/ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation or gender. When "the other" is seen and viewed as "the other," we are dehumanized.

To borrow from former San Francisco Chronicle TV columnist Tim Goodman, shows like the Nightline series for those in "urban gay-familiar areas" are "... not even Gay 101. It's gay kindergarten." Therefore, more stories need to be generated about LGBTs and specifically LGBTs who are parenting, and not just the sensationalistic stories. Having a celebrity come out the closet does nothing to help folks see that me, my ex-wife and our children as a family are virtually no different than another two-parent heterosexual couple separate or divorced with children.

Certainly LGBTs using adoption as a way to form our families is but one tiny piece of the media and education puzzle. Journalists and activists must constantly address the concerns and educate folks about other folks who they may have never seen. The complete stories need to be told with all diversity factors included. When our stories are less of an anomaly and our presence is known throughout the country then, despite the religious right, we will cease to be seen as "the other" and merely be another family in the neighborhood in America.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation's largest pediatricians' group, estimates that more than 9 million children in the United States have at least one gay or lesbian parent. They have called for both marriage equality and full adoption and foster care rights for all regardless of sexual orientation. Currently three states, Florida, Mississippi and Utah, still explicitly prohibit same-sex simultaneous adoptions.

For me, what really matters is family, not how it is formed nor the specific characteristics of the parent(s). We must continue to find ways to tell our stories to the press and celebrate our families.