In my last column, I looked at what experts at some of the leading organizations fighting for LGBTQ families thought were the biggest wins and setbacks for our families in 2021. Now, they share what they see as our goals for 2022 and what we must do to achieve them.
“We need to pass the Equality Act in this Congress,” said Stacey Stevenson, CEO of Family Equality. The act, which passed the House in 2021, is a comprehensive, federal LGBTQ civil rights bill covering employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, foster care, adoption, and more. “We must find common ground in the Senate and take action today!” asserted Stevenson.
Ellen Kahn, senior director of programs and partnerships at HRC, whose portfolio includes initiatives for LGBTQ youth and families, added that “While we have a steeper hill for passage in the Senate, we are slowly changing hearts and minds among some of the more moderate Republicans.”
After the Equality Act, Stevenson said, “We need to focus on the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act.” This act would prohibit discrimination in federally funded child welfare agencies, like the Equality Act, but also has provisions for training, data collection, and more, specific to child welfare. In 2021, the bill was reintroduced for the seventh time and gained its first hearing in the House. “With more than 420,000 youth in foster care—and one in three identifying as LGBTQ+—we need to ensure that every child has the best possible chance of finding safe, loving, and affirming homes,” she explained.
On the state level, Polly Crozier, senior staff attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), said that in 2022 we must use both legislation and litigation to “[ensure] access to parentage protections for all children regardless of the marital status, gender, or sexual orientation of their parents and the circumstances of their births.”
Part of this, she added, means expanding access to Voluntary Acknowledgments of Parentage (VAPs) “so that children can be protected from the moment of birth.” VAPs are free, simple forms with the force of a court order, traditionally used to allow unmarried genetic fathers to be recognized as parents. Only ten states have opened them to parents of any gender, including intended parents through assisted reproduction.
Shelbi Day, chief policy officer of Family Equality, hopes that the parentage reform bills that passed in 2021 in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island can “lay the groundwork in other states to provide protections for children conceived through ART [assisted reproduction technologies], extend access to VAPs, and make confirmatory (second-parent) adoption available to unmarried couples.”
Massachusetts is one state where progress could happen, via the Massachusetts Parentage Act currently before the legislature. This effort is being led by GLAD and RESOLVE New England, with a coalition of LGBTQ+ and other organizations including Family Equality. “We are hopeful this much-needed bill will pass before year end or early in 2022,” Day said.
Another area of focus for 2022, Crozier noted, should be “to reduce the harm that transgender children and parents face in family courts, so that transgender parents are not separated from their children and so that transgender children have access to the medical care and supports they need to be who they are.”
Crozier also expressed the need for broader social change, such as reforming the child welfare system that “punishes, polices, and separates families of color and harms many LGBTQ families and children. This includes ensuring that states make the continuum of community and home-based mental and behavioral health care more robust for children and families.”
Cathy Sakimura, deputy director and family law director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, likewise noted that “Black children are twice as likely to be in foster care compared to non-Black children, and lesbian or bisexual Black mothers are more than four times more likely to lose custody of their children to the child welfare system than other Black mothers.” She asserted, “The inherent racism and bias of this system cannot be reformed”; instead, “We must transform it and create systems that help keep families together safely.”
In addition to this, she said, “Universal paid family leave that is inclusive of nongenetic parents, free preschool, and childcare assistance are vital to the success of many working LGBTQ families.”
Kahn cautioned, though, that our opponents are “relentless and continue to chip away at LGBTQ rights,” noting, “They are doubling down on their efforts to keep LGBTQ-themed books out of school libraries and to argue that any inclusion of LGBTQ content in sexual health education or other classroom curricula is an infringement on their rights as parents. They are organized, well-funded, and believe that their rights as parents—mostly white, conservative Christian parents—are more important than the rights and concerns of our families.”
What can we do in the face of this? Kahn said, “We absolutely must maintain and expand [the Democratic] majority in the Senate and ensure that the Biden/Harris Administration can continue to advance policies and regulations that protect and support our families.” She also encouraged people to call their members of Congress and ask them to support the Equality Act (even if you know they do).
Sakimura also said people should reach out to their elected officials “to tell their stories and ask for action,” and to express support for parentage bills, if introduced. In states where legislation is unlikely to succeed, she said, legal cases may lead to some protections.
Locally, Kahn said we should pay more attention to school board elections, to consider running ourselves, and “to raise our voices as parents—LGBTQ parents, BIPOC parents, progressive parents—to say we will not let conservative forces dictate to schools what they teach about our nation’s history, about human sexuality, and about contemporary issues.”
She urged, “Get involved locally in voter registration efforts, supporting pro-equality candidates in their mid-term election efforts, and tell the story about your family and what’s important to you any chance you get—on the sidelines at the soccer game, at the PTA meeting, and with your local lawmakers. If we stay engaged, stay informed, and not take for granted that our ‘worst days are behind us,’ we will create the kind of world we want for our children.”
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory, with a searchable database of 800+ LGBTQ family books, media, and more.