“We Have to Be Relentless”: Making Progress for LGBTQ Families in 2023

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After a 2022 that brought a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation, reproductive rights setbacks, and other challenges for LGBTQ families, where should we focus our efforts to make progress in 2023? Several leading experts shared their thoughts with me.

“Parentage, parentage, parentage” was the answer from Polly Crozier, director of family advocacy at LGBTQ legal organization GLAD. She noted the “patchwork” of state parentage laws and “still way too many states that don’t have access to adoption for two single people, protections for children born through assisted reproduction, protections for children born through surrogacy, or gender-inclusive parentage laws.” She asserted, “We have to have a scheme where every child is able to be secured to their family in every state. Until we do, we can’t move on. We have to be relentless.

“It’s not just an LGBTQ issue. It’s a children’s rights issue,” she emphasized.

Stacey Stevenson, CEO of Family Equality, similarly said, “Our work to ensure that all LGBTQ+ people have the ability to find, create, and protect their family continues to be a priority.” Her organization, too, will keep working with movement partners on updating state parentage laws “so that all parents have a pathway to obtain legal recognition of their parent-child relationships.”

And although everyone I spoke with agreed that the Respect for Marriage Act, which passed Congress on December 8, was an important step forward, Jordan Budd, executive director of COLAGE, the national organization for people with LGBTQ parents, observed, “It isn’t nearly enough. We need to codify Obergefell [which established marriage equality in every state] and states must act to guarantee equal parentage rights for LGBTQ+ families in the 30+ states that have inadequate or no protections. People with LGBTQ+ parents deserve to feel safe and secure in their families no matter where they live.”

Additionally, Stevenson said, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned abortion rights and could threaten other rights, “it is more important than ever to ensure that LGBTQ+ parents understand how to protect their family and ensure that their parent-child relationships are legally recognized.” She urged people to reference the guide “What LGBTQ+ Families Need to Know”, created by Family Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAD, and COLAGE.

Nikhil Vashee, Family Equality’s director of education law & policy, said the organization is also “gearing up” to fight expected anti-LGBTQ bills targeting youth and families in many states, “such as the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay and Trans’ bills and book and curriculum bans passed in Florida this year.” They asserted, “Parents want their children to be able to bring their whole selves to school and talk about their families without guilt or shame. This legislation causes harm to both LGBTQ+ children and children of LGBTQ+ parents, but the impact on the latter is often left out of the conversation. We are committed to making sure that the voices of LGBTQ+ parents and their children are heard.”

Such legislation has gone hand-in-hand with broader anti-LGBTQ sentiment. Sarah-Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, urged, “We need to call on politicians to stop the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. False claims, like ‘groomer’ rhetoric, and the spread of disinformation is translating to real-world harm for LGBTQ parents and our children. We’ve seen a 406% increase of slurs online, and GLAAD has documented 124 attacks against drag events in 47 states this year alone. Enough is enough.”

Crozier, too, pointed out the “threats to safety and affirmation in schools” but noted that she’s also heard empowering stories of community members who have spoken up about who they are and about their own families. “Their local voices,” she said, “have really been so powerful in shutting down some of these conversations.” Going forward, “Our families really need to dig in locally,” she advised. “We need to be in community with others working intersectionally because we are seeing so many more of these struggles and we’re going to see even more.” She also recommended that we “proactively educate our communities as best we can before we hit those moments.”

Several other areas also warrant our attention in 2023. Crozier noted that post-Dobbs, access to fertility care is “taking on greater importance.” She explained, “When we talk about reproductive freedom, we need to remember that so many people lack access to fertility care. There’s a fertility mandate for private insurance in only about 15 states, and in fact no state fully covers access to fertility care for people on Medicaid.”

And after collaborating in 2022 on bills in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California that protect people providing or accessing reproductive and gender affirming health care, she said, “I think other states outside of New England will be doing that work in this upcoming legislative session.”

Child welfare is another place for improvement, and Family Equality will continue to prioritize its work there, said Policy Associate Laura Brennan. This includes “advocating for nondiscrimination protections in child welfare at the federal and state level; collecting nationwide SOGI [sexual orientation and gender identity] data for LGBTQI+ youth, families of origin, and current and prospective foster and adoptive parents; and making sure the one in three youth in foster care who identify as LGBTQI+ receive affirming care.”

Ellis stressed, too, “We need to focus on protecting access to trans-affirming healthcare. It saves lives, and every major medical association in the U.S. agrees. LGBTQ parents and our children need to tell Republican lawmakers that they have to stop ignoring facts and science, and to stop using our kids as tools for political gain.”

Budd sees an opportunity for advances in 2023. “The midterm elections have opened up several potential opportunities at the state level for moving pro-LGBTQ+ family policies, so I am looking forward to taking advantage of those opportunities in next year’s legislative sessions,” he said.

In addition to the political strategizing and legislative plans, Stevenson also sees one simple thing as having a big impact. “One major focus for Family Equality in the coming year is to lift up the LGBTQ+ family by telling our stories,” she said. “If we don’t, others will tell our stories for us and we can’t let that happen. The voices of LGBTQ+ families must be heard.”

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