Perils and Progress: A 2023 Year in Review for LGBTQ Families

This past year saw many setbacks for LGBTQ+ parents and our children — but also some important wins. Experts at several leading LGBTQ+ organizations shared their thoughts with me about the ups and downs of 2023.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, said, “In general, LGBTQ parents and their children are under attack,” with “a record-setting 500+ bills introduced in the legislative session targeting queer people, the majority of which targeted transgender people and/or youth.”

Ellen Kahn, senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign, agreed, saying, “The attacks on LGBTQ+ youth, especially trans and nonbinary youth, in state legislatures across the country, at school board meetings, and on social media — perpetrated by white nationalist extremists, is infuriating and heartbreaking. Our families are being erased through book bans and curriculum censorship, and we are living in a heightened state of fear as hate-motivated crimes rise.”

Ellis similarly called book bans “a major setback for LGBTQ parents and their children this year,” as “A very loud but small group of extremists are villainizing our very existence in schools under the guise of ‘parental rights.’ But LGBTQ people and our allies are parents, too. Thankfully, more and more people are seeing through the ruse.” She explained, “We’ve seen wins ranging from national campaigns to lawsuits to powerful and effective testimonies on the dangers of censorship, which illustrate the harms of book bans on our basic constitutional freedoms.”

Kahn concurred, noting “a groundswell of support, people pushing back against the so-called Moms For Liberty, showing up to protect Drag Queen Story Hour attendees, and running for school board to take our schools back from extremists.”

On a positive legislative note, too, Polly Crozier, director of family advocacy at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), noted that confirmatory adoption bills passed this year in Rhode Island and Maine, bringing to eight the number of states that offer this statutory, streamlined process for a non-gestational parent to secure their parentage. This is important because outdated laws and discrimination mean that even married non-gestational parents shouldn’t rely on a birth certificate alone.

Other LGBTQ-affirming parentage legislation moved forward in Massachusetts and Michigan, with efforts in New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania as well. “It has been encouraging to see more states take steps to update their parentage laws to more fully protect all families, including those with LGBTQ parents,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). On the downside, Stevenson said, “the Nevada Legislature passed comprehensive parentage protections, but these protections were vetoed by the governor.”

Another win, however, was the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s (ASRM’s) updated definition of infertility, which explicitly includes those who need donor gametes for any reason, regardless of sexual orientation or relationship status. While the definition itself carries no legal weight, ASRM definitions are often cited in legislation and policies that do. Crozier said, “I’m hopeful it will make a tremendous difference in both advocacy with insurance commissioners and in legislation.”

Stacey Stevenson, CEO of Family Equality, agreed. “This is huge,” she said, explaining that the new definition “is especially important for BIPOC LGBTQ+ folks who often encounter a disproportionate number of challenges when creating a family.” She added, “We’re also seeing a number of states pass explicitly inclusive fertility healthcare bills, including Washington, D.C., which included fertility care in its Medicaid coverage.”

Jordan Budd, executive director of COLAGE, the national organization for people with LGBTQ+ parents, saw a setback, however, in the passage of the federal Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA). While the RFMA ensures some ongoing rights for married same-sex couples if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the right to marriage equality, it also allows for religious exemptions. Budd worries that the overturning of marriage equality would thus “create two classes of queer families,” those in supportive states and those in states where they “could still be denied adoption or assisted reproductive services because of religious objections.”

In another area, Minter noted that “2023 was a banner year for state laws protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, with three new states — Utah, Minnesota, and Michigan — passing such laws,” and NCLR’s Born Perfect project helping to make that happen.

On the judicial side, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in July that non-genetic LGBTQ+ parents who were unconstitutionally denied the right to marry before marriage equality may seek custody of children they were raising with former partners. “That was a really great case of the Court acting to protect children and also saying to the legislature, ‘This is an area of policy that we need to update,’” Crozier said.

She applauded, too, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s July ruling that affirmed the validity of a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAP) to establish and secure the relationship between a non-marital, non-genetic father and his child. A VAP is a simple, free form that under federal law is the equivalent of a court decree of parentage. They have traditionally been available to nonmarital, genetic fathers in different-sex couples but are now available in 11 states to nongenetic parents and LGBTQ couples of all genders.

Not all court rulings were favorable, however. Minter is concerned about the February Oklahoma trial court decision involving a married lesbian couple, which “resulted in the court wrongly holding that the birth mother and the child’s sperm donor were the legal parents, rather than the two spouses. NCLR is representing the non-birth mother spouse on appeal.”

Crozier similarly noted a Pennsylvania case that refused to apply the marital presumption of parentage (the legal principle that a child born during a marriage is the child of both spouses) equally to children of same- and different-sex couples. “I think that’s wrong based on statutory interpretation and constitutional principles, and leads to tragic results,” she said.

Despite the setbacks, there are reasons for hope. Budd said, “The clear repudiation of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric in (some) courts and at the ballot is a cause for optimism. Clearly the fear mongering about our families is not working as intended.”

Ellis likewise observed that “an overwhelming majority of non-LGBTQ Americans” support LGBTQ equality and “every major medical association supports healthcare for trans youth.”

And Crozier said she feels “super hopeful,” especially after November’s legislative hearing on the Massachusetts Parentage Act. The lead sponsor, State Rep. Hannah Kane, a Republican with an LGBTQ+ daughter, “feels so passionately about making sure that all people can build their families,” Crozier said. “We’ve got a lot more allies out there than we realize; we just have to do the work of connecting with each other.”

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a two-time GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory, plus a searchable database of 1,400+ LGBTQ family books.