While it’s still true there is no handbook for being the perfect parent, it’s also true that different challenges come with different types of families. Race, money, level of education and sexual identity are all factors that can place particular challenges on becoming a parent and rearing children.
Presently, and with more LGBTQ folks electing to start families, one doesn’t have to look far to find an LGBTQ person who is also a parent. With the removal of “homosexuality” as a mental disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in 1973, and the changing climate of discriminatory opinions and beliefs toward the LGBTQ community, more and more LGBTQ headed families with children are popping up. According to a University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Law School study, an estimated 37 percent of LGBTQ-identified adults have had a child at some time in their lives. Additionally, an estimated 3 million LGBTQ Americans have had a child and as many as 6 million American children and adults have an LGBTQ parent.
Like heterosexual parents, LGBTQ parents are a diverse group of individuals. In celebration of Pride Month, we’re speaking with a few LGBTQ family members who have decided to share some of their parenting ups and downs with qnotes readers.
Billy Maddalon and Brooks Shelley are married gay men who live in Charlotte. Billy is a councilman and Brooks is a Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy for a non-profit organization. In the mid-‘90s, the then-childless couple were therapeutic foster parents with a major Charlotte foster care agency. Through the agency they met, housed and loved 19 children. Of those many children, they adopted three.
The couple’s first adopted child was a boy named Jed, who had lived in 28 different homes prior to theirs. Foster children who have faced adversity can come with a host of issues, but that wasn’t on the top of Maddalon’s list of challenges as a gay parent.
He recalls that Department of Social Services (DSS) workers presented the greatest challenge, as many were inexperienced in dealing with gay people in the context of fostering and/or adopting. Outside of DSS, the difficulties of navigating a system that would not allow gay couples to marry regularly presented challenges when considering something simple like trying to travel as a family.
Before gay marriage was federally recognized, only one parent could initially adopt a child. The other would have to later apply for adoption or guardianship rights. In 1998 when Jed was 14, this meant always having to travel with paperwork when showing up for parent-teacher conferences or trips out of the country so that Shelley, the custodial parent, could make decisions and advocate for their son.
Other challenges have presented themselves for the couple during their parenting journey. Maddalon and Shelley are both white, but some of the children they fostered over the years were of a different race. According to Maddalon, this made travel at times challenging for different reasons.
“Interestingly enough, I think race is still the predominant issue, even over sexuality. It was tricky to be a gay couple with kids, but [for us] to be a gay couple with Black kids was even more interesting. People were more curious about who we are and how we got this way. Traveling can be tricky. The law doesn’t always understand state to state in terms of fostering or gayness. You couldn’t just pack the kids up and throw them into the car, you had to make sure it [the place you were headed] was a place in the 21st century, regarding fostering and gayness.”
After extending their family with Jed, (to include 2 more sons) Maddalon and Shelley were legally married. They no longer have the burden of having to unnecessarily explain their relationship to their children.
Another interesting change, however, was noticing how their circle of friends shifted to being primarily straight. Maddalon noted how their lives had drastically changed as a result of becoming parents and mentioned how many of their closer LGBTQ friends were childless.
Now living life on different terms, they began to develop friendships with the parents of their children’s friends, but would still love to have more gay friends with children in their lives. With all that said, Maddalon and Shelley (also now proud grandparents) believe that parenting “is all about the most important thing in life, which is love.”
Maddalon confesses he enjoys the experience of parenting, of waking up every day and knowing that he is needed, wanted and special to his children. He believes other LGBTQ community members should consider parenthood, “Do it. Take a chance, take a risk. You deserve all of the joy and happiness life has to offer, and for many of us the greatest joys and happiness come with being parents and creating families.”
Same-sex couples like Maddalon and Shelley are six times more likely than hetero couples to become active foster parents. Currently in the United States there are about 2,600 gay and lesbian individuals or same-sex couples parenting over 3,400 foster children. When it comes to adoption, same-sex couples are four times more likely to raise an adopted child than hetero couples. In the United States an estimated 16,000 same-sex couples are parenting more than 22,000 adopted children.
Kortney Ballard, 36, is a lesbian and a Digital Consulting Agency founder. She is a separated parent who is currently raising two children she gave birth to: a girl, 14, and a boy who is four. She is estranged from a seven-year-old son birthed by a previous partner, an added difficulty of being an LGBTQ parent in a world where family law isn’t always so kind to separated or divorced LGBTQ couples, which often leaves non-biological parents feeling out in the cold.
In her discussion with qnotes, Ballard was initially reluctant to discuss some aspects of her parenting experience, though she was eventually forthcoming. She confirms that more masculine women who choose to have children are frequently up for scrutiny and often met with increased criticism, especially those who have elected to conceive their own children.
She continued, explaining how balancing her own masculine and feminine energy shows up in parenting her children. She confirmed the importance of maintaining a balance of being both nurturing and firm, and described her greatest joys in being an LGBTQ parent.
“The opportunity to raise children in a more open and understanding environment, encouraging my son to express himself emotionally and allowing him to be gentle, encouraging my daughter to confidently speak her mind and allowing her to set boundaries. Their personalities have been able to shine through at very young ages without the constraints of society’s gender roles.”
In reflecting on her choice to become a parent, Ballard offered this advice to LGBTQ individuals considering taking up the challenge; “It’s not so much [about] the lifestyle of sexuality, of being lesbian/LGBTQ. What needs to be well thought out before having children is what type of human do you want to raise?”
Lyrical Carter identifies as a lesbian, and is married to Naji Carter, a trans man. If you ask what her orientation is, she’ll say “love.” Labeling her orientation and her marital relationship is something she shies away from. The couple is a blended family that came together with the passing of Lyrical’s eldest daughter in 2016. Now Lyrical, Naji and her two granddaughters (17 and 14) are a family.
For Lyrical, the challenges of being an LGBTQ couple raising grandchildren are few. She confirms that her children and grandchildren were “raised to understand that no matter what, everyone deserves to be honestly loved” and mentioned little on how outside factors impact that loving ideology.
When pressed on how others might react to her family dynamic, she firmly responded: “Life is too hard to listen to someone else’s drama about how to live your own life, and if you’re not willing to listen and be open minded, I have to close the door on that,”
She cautioned other LGBTQ parents not to let the opinions of others stop them from giving a child love. In doing so, she fondly recalled her grandmother, who she says she loved dearly because “she didn’t care who I was in love with, as long as they treated me right.”
But what about the children? How are the children of LGBTQ families coping? We spoke with a few and one was willing to go on record. Kaylyn Ballard, the 14-year-old daughter of Kortney Ballard, weighed in on what it’s like being the child of LGBTQ parents.
For Kaylyn, the obstacle of wondering why she didn’t have a father present was something she soon grew to understand and accept. More of a bother seemed to be other people questioning her mother’s sexual orientation and why she has two moms. On that topic, having two moms, Kaylyn said what we imagine many children feel, “Having two moms can be annoying, but then again, it’s cool to have two moms. It’s more love and support with two women than just one.”
Lisa Dudzick, a Charlotte PFLAG member and Time Out Youth volunteer is the parent of three children. She and her husband are straight allies (one mom and one dad) who know a little something about parenting LGBTQ youth: two of their three children are part of the LGBTQ community.
The couple are proud parents to a 24-year-old straight male, a 20-year-old gay son and a 14-year-old gender-fluid adolescent. In working with PFLAG, she assists heterosexual parents who are on the road to accepting their LGBTQ children, and as a Time Out Youth volunteer she assists youth who need a safe space to hang out and connect and learn from the shared experiences of others.
Regarding the difference in raising LGBTQ children, Lisa said, “We’ve gone through the same things with all the kids at all their ages. It’s how the world treats them that is different. All of us are in this ridiculous boat of gender roles and heterosexism.
“I just wish the world would let me be open and honest and celebrate all my kids. Instead, I worry about his life [referring to Bryan, her gay son], and somebody taking it because they don’t like the way he looks, talks, walks, whatever. The world needs to do better.”
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