“Exceptionally Challenging”: A 2022 Year in Review for LGBTQ Families

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What were the major advances — and setbacks — for LGBTQ families in 2022? I asked several leading experts to share their thoughts, and all agreed there had been many obstacles — but also reasons for hope.

“This year has been exceptionally challenging for LGBTQ parents and their children,” said Sarah-Kate Ellis, president and CEO of LGBTQ media organization GLAAD, noting “the introduction of over 300 anti-LGBTQ bills, many of which target queer and trans youth. States like Texas introduced directives for families to be investigated by child services for offering their kids trans-affirming healthcare.” And in Florida, “conversations about LGBTQ identities and families are being barred from classrooms via DeSantis’ ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.”

She added, “Unfortunately, no matter the lifespan of anti-LGBTQ legislation, the damage is already done simply by their introduction. When lawmakers keep trans kids from participating in school athletics, or ban books on what it means to be nonbinary, they are effectively telling LGBTQ kids and their families that they are not interested in their safety, health, or wellbeing.”

The anti-LGBTQ bills also brought “a resurgence of dangerous anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric that attempts to cast LGBTQ+ people and anyone who supports us as ‘groomers’ or ‘pedophiles,’” said Shelbi Day, chief policy officer at Family Equality. “We cannot stand for this hateful, fear-based rhetoric and must call it out for what it is — unacceptable, harmful, discriminatory fearmongering that has no basis in reality and no place in our society.”

Jordan Budd, executive director of COLAGE, the national organization for people with LGBTQ parents, also noted the attacks on LGBTQ families and stated, “Young people with LGBTQ+ parents in states with new Don’t Say Gay/Trans bills especially need our support more than ever.”

Although southern states felt the brunt of these attacks, other regions were not immune. Polly Crozier, director of family advocacy at LGBTQ legal organization GLAD, said GLAD hears from people throughout New England, “where they’re facing local school committee actions or local community members who want to pull back on transgender inclusion policies, to ban particular books, to not allow for the use of affirming pronouns without written parental permission.” She pointed out a pending Massachusetts case in which parents are suing the school district for using their transgender children’s requested names and pronouns. The parents claimed this “violated their constitutional right to parent their child.” As Crozier sees it, the school was “abiding by Massachusetts non-discrimination laws and creating an affirming environment, because that’s what every kid needs.” GLAD filed an amicus brief in the case. More broadly, Crozier noted, “Threats to school committees and anti-CRT [critical race theory] bans have been a real setback, because they create a climate of fear in schools.”

Another big setback, Budd observed, was “the inability or unwillingness to pass parentage reform laws across the country, even in states like Massachusetts!” The Massachusetts Parentage Act, which would have comprehensively protected children regardless of the circumstances of their birth or the gender of their parents, failed to come up for a vote in the full legislature last session.

Additionally, everyone I spoke with agreed that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs, which overturned abortion rights, was a setback for LGBTQ families. 

Stacey Stevenson, CEO of Family Equality, explained, “LGBTQ+ equality and abortion rights are inextricably linked — and overturning Roe is a direct attack on our rights. We know that LGBTQ+ people assigned female at birth are just as likely as non-LGBTQ+ people assigned female at birth to seek abortion care.”

She asserted, “The Court’s willingness to overturn such precedent is truly alarming, and the language signals looming threats to other freedoms that are fundamental to our families — and, frankly, to everyone.”

Day noted, however, that we don’t know for sure if the Court will overturn its Obergefell marriage equality ruling, but warned, “We will likely see attacks on marriage equality, and our families and interracial couples deserve the safety and security of knowing that our marriages are recognized under federal law and have to be given full faith and credit by all states — if the unthinkable were to happen.”

Crozier acknowledged, too, the concerns that Dobbs could lead to overturning marriage equality or bans on accessing in vitro fertilization. “I think some of that is just fear,” she said, but cautioned, “We have to be very careful to do everything we can at the state and federal level to guard against those.” Both Crozier and Day agreed that the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed Congress on December 8, is an important step towards that goal.

And a “silver lining to this year,” Budd pointed out, was that Dobbs “really woke people up to the fact that our rights are not as secure as we once thought.”

Dobbs has also helped spur “an advocacy community of real greater urgency to intersectional work,” Crozier said. She noted bills she has collaborated on in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California, which protect those providing or accessing reproductive and gender affirming health care and “make sure people coming from other states have access to care in our states so that we can be a beacon of hope and safety.” LGBTQ families, she said, need reproductive health care, abortion care, and pregnancy loss care, and “need to be working in community with others to secure access to those fundamental rights for everyone.”

The Biden administration also showed support for LGBTQ+ families this year, Day added, noting the “Executive Order Advancing Equality for LGBTQI+ Individuals,” plus two proposed rules: the first to confirm that Title IX’s anti-discrimination protections cover LGBTQ+ students and families, and the second to strengthen anti-discrimination protections of the Affordable Care Act.

And in another sign of progress, Stevenson said, “A record-breaking 340 openly LGBTQ+ candidates won their elections, including the first two lesbian governors elected to office” (in Oregon and Massachusetts).

Although the setbacks may seem daunting, Budd nevertheless observed, “We have seen renewed dedication to the fight for our families and we must keep that energy for the coming year.” In my next column, I’ll share what these advocates think our priorities should be in that fight.

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 1000+ LGBTQ family books, music, and more.

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