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MOMBIAN The LGBTQ parenting year in review
by Dana Rudolph
2018-12-26

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LGBTQ parents and our children faced significant challenges to equality and inclusion in 2018—but there was still some progress. Here are the highlights of the year, both good and bad.

—The continued spread of religious exemption laws: Kansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina this year joined Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia in allowing adoption and foster-care agencies to cite religious beliefs or moral convictions as reasons to reject otherwise qualified parents, including those who are LGBTQ. Most also allow discrimination against LGBTQ children in care, which could mean placing them with a family that does not support their LGBTQ identity.

On the federal level, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ( HHS ) in January announced a rule that allows health care workers to cite religious or moral beliefs as reasons to refuse medical services. A new division within its Office for Civil Rights will enforce it. The rule targets medical procedures, including abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide, but Julie Kruse, federal policy advocate at Family Equality Council, said in an interview that HHS' language and actions seem to indicate they intend the division to oversee all of HHS' activities, including human services such as adoption and foster care.

In one promising sign, however, Kansas Gov.-elect Laura Kelly said she would have her staff review the Kansas law to see if there is any way to block its enforcement. Additionally, in July, a U.S. district court ruled that Philadelphia can require religiously affiliated foster care agencies with city contracts to follow its LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies. And the U.S. House in September rejected an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have permitted religiously-based discrimination in child services nationwide.

—"Voluntary acknowledgement of parentage" ( VAP ) forms: Five states—California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Vermont and Washington—took action this year to allow a birth parent and the other parent of any gender to complete a simple, free form at the hospital, making them both legal parents with the full force of a court order ( unlike a birth certificate. ) VAPs are "a real game-changer for LGBTQ parents," GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Patience Crozier told me.

In theory, they will eliminate the need for often expensive and intrusive second-parent adoptions, but both Crozier and Cathy Sakimura, deputy director and family law director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, still advise same-sex parents in all states to get second parent adoptions, too, until more states have recognized VAPs. ( Note also that Washington's VAP for same-sex couples will start in early 2019 and California's in 2020; and unlike the other states, Massachusetts currently only allows them for unmarried couples. )

—State Supreme Court rulings: Lacking the clarity that a VAP would have provided, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in September against a woman who sought partial custody of a child her former same-sex partner gave birth to when the women were still together. They never married or did a second-parent adoption. The Court found that the plaintiff did not "assume a parental status or discharge parental duties" and the presumption that both members of a married couple are parents to a child birthed by one of them did not apply.

On the other side, the Hawaii Supreme Court in October upheld a lower court ruling that said a nonbiological mother is a parent to the child she and her former spouse had through assisted reproduction.

And the Mississippi Supreme Court in May ruled that a formerly married nonbiological mother was a full legal parent, reversing a lower court decision that said she could not be one because the couple's anonymous sperm donor constituted "an absent father."

—Election and public-office firsts: Over three dozen LGBTQ parents ( and one of our children ) ran for office this year at all levels of government and at least 20 won. They include Jared Polis, the first openly gay man—and gay dad—to win a governorship ( Colorado ); Angie Craig, the first lesbian mom to win election to Congress ( Minnesota ), and Zach Wahls, the first person with LGBTQ parents to win state office ( Iowa state Senate. ) Christine Hallquist was the first transgender person and trans parent to win a gubernatorial primary for a major party, but ultimately lost her race ( Vermont. )

Mary Rowland, the only openly LGBTQ person among Trump's more than 150 judicial nominees, became a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. She has two grown children.

—LGBTQ-inclusive children's books and publishing initiatives: It was a banner year for LGBTQ-inclusive children's books, with a high overall volume in both picture and middle-grade books. See mombian.com for an annotated guide.

LGBTQ media-advocacy organization GLAAD and Bonnier Publishing USA launched a partnership to publish books that increase LGBTQ representation in children's literature.

OurShelves, created by queer mom Alli Harper, offers subscribers a quarterly, curated box of picture books that include LGBTQ+ characters and those of other under-represented identities. In doing so, it hopes to show publishers there's an ongoing market for such stories.

Flamingo Rampant micropress, created by queer parents S. Bear Bergman and j wallace skelton, has launched a Kickstarter for its third season of "feminist, racially diverse, LGBTQ positive children's books" of fun, celebratory, adventurous stories.

And award-winning author and queer mom Jacqueline Woodson was named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress. She also won the American Library Association's Laura Ingalls Wilder Award this year for books that have made "a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children."

—Media milestones: This year, GLAAD added a new "Outstanding Kids and Family Programming" category to its annual Media Awards, won by the Disney Channel's Andi Mack for its coming-out storyline about one of its regular characters, a middle-school boy.

This year sadly saw the end of The Fosters, Freeform's groundbreaking drama about the lives of a two-mom couple and their five children. But Good Trouble, a spinoff starring two of their now-grown children, premieres in January 2019, with promises of guest appearances by the moms.

—Social-science affirmation: The longest-running study on any LGBTQ-parent families, the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study ( NLLFS ), released results showing that young adults with lesbian parents are as mentally healthy as their peers. Evidence from dozens of other studies supports these findings, but the NLLFS' study of the same subjects since 1986 offers a detailed picture of lesbian-headed families that few others can match.

—Milestones in reproductive technologies: Louise Brown, the first person created through in vitro fertilization ( IVF ), celebrated her 40th birthday in July. IVF, where egg and sperm are combined outside the body, has helped parents both queer and not overcome fertility challenges and allowed the rise of gestational surrogacy ( since the surrogate doesn't normally use their own egg ). Couples like my spouse and me, too, have used IVF to create our child using one of our eggs and the other's womb. At the same time, we should remember that IVF is only one of several family-creation options for queer parents.

This year also saw the birth of the first two babies by two-mom couples using "reciprocal effortless IVF," a new, reportedly less costly technique developed by INVO Bioscience of Massachusetts that allows both members of the couple to share in carrying the child.

And a team of scientists in China used stem cells and gene editing to create healthy mouse pups from the genetic material of two female adult mice. The technique is too tricky and untested to be considered for humans quite yet, though.

—A business first: Beth Ford was named CEO of Land O'Lakes agricultural cooperative. The mother of three is the first known queer woman and only the third queer person overall to lead a Fortune 500 company.

—Goodbye to a leader: After 22 years as the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ), attorney and mother Kate Kendell in March announced she would leave "the job of a lifetime" at the end of 2018. NCLR, founded in 1977 to help lesbian moms fighting with former husbands for custody of their children, now handles often groundbreaking cases for clients across the LGBTQ spectrum in a wide range of areas. Kendell has been pivotal in setting the organization's vision and strategies since she took the helm.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian ( mombian.com ), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.


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