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July 25, 2009 postedy by Amanda Harris*
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) families movement is a growing movement within the broader LGBTQ rights movement that focuses its attention and advocacy on the welfare of families with LGBTQ members.
Last fall, I had the amazing opportunity to sit in a room of LGBTQ families movement advocates for a Families Summit sponsored by the Family Equality Council and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. I was one of the only young people at the Summit, so I mostly just listened and took the opportunity to soak in stories, histories, policy concerns, family triumphs and fears. As someone who does not have children and does not want to have children, I found myself in a peculiar spot amongst queer moms and pops who worry about everything from their kids not wearing enough sun block to the ways that welfare reform has affected single queer moms. When I walked away from the Summit, I took with me the layers of familial histories, as well as the collective and individual beliefs of participants and came to some conclusions about my own truths regarding family:
1. The LGBTQ families movement should never have been nor should it ever be parent-centered. Focusing so heavily on the injustice done to LGBTQ moms and dads renders invisible the children—the group most heavily affected by heterosexist social norms and policy.
2. Family is self-defined. Family can be self-chosen, past lovers, aunties and uncles, your estranged stepmother, your current multiple-partner relationships, and more. The possibilities are endless. At the Summit, we spent a good deal of time working in groups and attempting to formulate a singular, all-encompassing definition of family. Many definitions were great, but none seemed to encompass every type of family formation and structure. I prefer to keep it simple—family is what you make it.
3. Attacks on families with LGBTQ members do not warrant assimilationist or accommodating responses in order to defend our families. When policy and rhetoric targets our families and calls us deviants, the response should never be “but we look just like nuclear, straight families,” because well…a lot of us (queer and straight) don’t. And, reifying a certain standard of what a family is hurts us all in the long run.
I walked away with several bits and pieces of fragmented realities after the Summit, but specifically, these three really hit home. The dialog made me think of my own family—both chosen and blood: my beautiful, Southern family that throws catfish dinners and plays yard games, my radical queer family that throws potlucks in crowded lofts in New York City. I’d never want any facet of this family to be determined as the one true type of family. All of our histories and stories and ways we love and live are a part of my familial truth, and each person has their own.
*Amanda Harris (MPS) is an activist-artist-queer-southern-feminist-femme. Now based in NYC, she organizes for femme visibility, coordinates trainings on harm reduction, drug-use and sexual health, and volunteers for queer homeless youth.