02/15/2012 07:04 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Celebrating the Past, Committing to the Future

It's hard to remember and hard to imagine, frankly, a time when just the simple fact of being gay or lesbian meant that you could have no relationship with your children. The courts automatically presumed you were an unfit parent. Your ex-wives or ex-husbands would try to take your children away from you, and in many cases they would literally steal them out of your hands. LGBT moms and dads who lived during this time experienced an incredible and realistic fear of losing access to their kids -- the children whom they brought into the world or into their homes through adoption. These children whom they helped raise and nurture could be (and in many cases were) suddenly just ripped out of their lives.

That was the reality in 1979, when a group of divorced gay dads gathered in Boston for a coffee and support group. For those parents, many of whom were newly out of the closet, there was also a sense of isolation from the gay community. At the time, there just wasn't a lot of room to be both a parent and an LBGT person. In 1981, that original group coalesced into what is now the Family Equality Council. First called the Gay Fathers Coalition, it was started to help those gay men who were coming out of their marriages maintain relationships with their kids, build support with one another, and really have a community of other gay fathers who shared their commitment to family.

Early on, the focus was about sharing information about gay-friendly attorneys or learning how to navigate the family court system. In time, as those parents gained custody or visitation rights, they began to look for places where they could spend time with other families like theirs so that their kids would understand that they weren't so different.

Out of that was born Family Week in Provincetown. In the beginning, a few dozen dads and their kids grilled some burgers on the beach, but within a few years it grew into an important LGBT family destination. For one week a year, it was the one place where families with LGBT parents from across the country could come together in a place where they felt welcomed. The positive affirming experience of Family Week still holds true to this day for our families. But much has changed over the last 30 years for our families.

Today, every leading and respected child welfare organization supports the ability of LGBT people to parent effectively. More than 30 years of research has shown what we all know to be true -- that a child thrives where there is love, commitment, stability, and structure, no matter who the parent is. Decades later, we now have a generation of young men and women with LGBT parents who have come of age and who inspire us through their own advocacy -- people like YouTube sensation Zach Wahls and Ella Robinson, the daughter of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson. Today, instead of living in fear and living in the shadows, our families are incredibly visible -- from participating in national traditions like the annual White House Easter Egg Roll to speaking publicly in the media and in statehouses about the benefit of marriage to their families in places like New York, Maryland, Washington, Maine, and California

What has not changed is the fact that the first priority for these families is their children. Like all parents, they still worry about the simple things -- bedtime and baseball practice, report cards and dental bills.

That's why the Family Equality Council has changed and grown into the national advocate for LGBT families. We speak out for families in the media, in the halls of Congress, and in statehouses across the country. We provide information, community and services to thousands of parents every year, and we ensure that the truth about our families is told every time and everywhere it needs to be.

This year we are celebrating 30 years of this work. While we mark this milestone, we'll also acknowledge that there is still much to do. Loving LGBT couples, some of whom are parents, still can't get married in the majority of states. In more than half of the states across this country, both parents can't have a legal relationship with their own child. And there are still restrictions on placing some of the 408,000 children in foster care with qualified and loving parents who happen to be LGBT. These laws and policies not only impact the physical, financial and emotional well-being of our families, but they also send a subtle message to the children of LGBT parents that their families are unsafe and unworthy.

So as we mark the coming of age of the LGBT family movement, let us together envision a world where all families are celebrated, where all children are protected, and where all people are respected. Let us hope that this world is something we will see in the not-too-distant future and not 30 years from today.