On Being a Gay Parent
I was mesmerized by the conversation around the Church’s governing board as we discussed what we would give the men of the congregation for Father’s Day. As a pastor for over 25 years, I’ve heard this conversation many times, always with the same formula being used: the “mothers” — a.k.a., all women in the church regardless of whether or not they have children — will get a carnation on Mother’s Day. Fathers — meaning all men in the church — will get an industrial drafting pencil for their workshop. This discussion focused on a charming deviation from the norm: giving men a small pocket size carabiner that would possibly have the church’s name printed on them. “Nice gift,” I said with an almost imperceptible measure of incredulity in the tone of my voice. No one seemed to notice this around the table.
As I thought about this inaugural column, it was this awkward event that sprung to mind: being in the middle of this conversation and feeling out of place with these gifts for Mother’s and Father’s Days, even as a dad of two children. I wouldn’t have minded the carnation myself. I like a live flower or a small bouquet of wild flowers on my desk, kitchen windowsill, dining table, on a bedside table to look at in the morning when first rousing. The last thing I need is a small carabiner or many of the other token gifts associated with men in a congregation. In our society — in and out of communities of faith — we fall easily to the preconceived notions and ideas of what it means to be a mom and a dad, regardless if we are gay or straight. And gifts on these days reflect the assumptions of both gender and parenting we live with daily, passing them down from one generation to the next.
It was at this church meeting that it struck me: What is it that we who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender who are moms and dads want on these specially carved out days of the American hit parade of holidays? How do we want to be recognized? Should we establish a Gay Parents’ Day? What are the cards we would purchase for one another or that our children would purchase? What would be the image on the front of a card? Would it play into stereotypes of gay dads going to Broadway shows with our children in hand? Lesbian moms and children all wearing matching flannel clothes?
As Mother’s and Father’s Days were created in the early part of the 20th century as society’s way of honoring our parents, consider what it would mean to carve out and honor LGBTQ parents with a Gay Parents’ Day. Perhaps, for a short time, we would honor those LGBTQ parents in our society for being pioneers in a day and age when the only visible role models of parenting were straight parents. While there will be some commercialization of the day — with appropriate cards for the occasion — it would be a day of telling our story of what it was and is like being a gay parent in a world largely populated by straight parent images. We would tell of how we are singled out in public schools as the “lesbian parents” while no one describes the others as “straight parents.” We would describe the small jabs our children live with in their social groups when others find out that their parents are gay. And, we would describe the joys and often the normalcy of simply being family.
As more states pass equal rights marriage bills or legislation for domestic civil unions, I hereby propose one day of the year in which we honor LGBTQ parents and families. Happy Gay Parent Day to one and all!