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Have you adopted your kids?



This past year, as I celebrated my journey into my Nonbinary identity, I spoke to a lawyer at GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders) about the gender marker on my driver’s license. If I had an X on there, would I be in increased danger, particularly when I travel across state lines? I was thinking of Florida —where my mother lives—where, per state laws, teachers cannot discuss LGBTQ+ lives in their classrooms, Transgender/Nonbinary kids can’t get equal access to medical care, and parents face threats of losing custody if they support their Transgender children.¹ These nationwide attacks are not a coincidence and tend to be coordinated efforts to erase racial diversity and LGBTQ+ representation in education. Children who identify as a part of both groups feel stressors more than doubly. The ACLU counts more than 450 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the U.S. as of April 7, 2023, threatening the safety and belonging of LGBTQ+ people.²

In addition to effects of legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ people’s safety and belonging; personal, family, and social acceptance and affirmation of sexual orientation and gender identity affects the mental health and safety of LGBTQ+ individuals. When factors of intersectionality³ are considered—that LGBTQ+ individuals of color live with overlapping systems of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic class, gender, sexuality and sexual identity—the situation is alarmingly grim. Impacts of discrimination are beyond additive.⁴ “Due to the already existing higher rates of suicide among transgender and nonbinary young people (Johns et al., 2019), even in comparison to their cisgender lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and questioning (LGBQ) peers, the intersection of being both Black and transgender or nonbinary may make young people more susceptible to negative experiences and chronic stress stemming from their multiple marginalized social statuses (Bowleg & Bauer, 2014; Jones & Neblett, 2017).”⁵ Currently, Black Transgender and Nonbinary youth report disproportionate rates of suicide risk — with 59% seriously considering suicide and more than 1 in 4 (26%) attempting suicide in the past year.⁶

Given the U.S. political and cultural reality, the stressors in my life—even with the support of family and friends, with access to medical care and a safe home community—led me to ask this lawyer about my gender marker. She said it was up to me.

“You see,” she said, “you have a lot of privilege.” I’m unlikely to be incarcerated—it’s important to note the U.S. criminal legal system disproportionately incarcerates Black and Brown individuals, including parents. In a prison population, an X gender marker might mean being placed in a group that could cause significant danger. I’m a white, enby, suburban person. Again, safer to do what I wish with my gender marker. And then the lawyer said, “what about your kids?” and that line branded into my mind: “Have you adopted your kids?”

I stumbled a bit on the phone. “Well, no. We’re both listed on the birth certificate because we’re legally married. That law passed in that state months before our first child was born. Our kids are our kids. I thought we were protected.”

That is how, just last year, we began the journey to legally adopt our own children. How we hired a lawyer; how we had to sit down with our kids (older elementary students and a middle schooler) and explain why we had to adopt them. Because parentage rights of LGBTQ+ people are under attack and the best protections currently are offered when the state affirms those rights through the legal adoption process. The day our kids’ adoption papers came, I felt a sense of relief and a deep well of sadness and anger. Who would seek to destroy a loving family? How could our children—born out of our love and commitment to one another—be taken?

In the wake of International Transgender Day of Visibility⁷ (March 31, 2023) we celebrate Trans joy and rally for our rights. Throughout June our nation celebrates LGBTQ+ Pride with parades and rallies and celebrations. During Transgender Day of Remembrance⁸ in November, we mourn the murder of Transgender people (and this deadly violence continues to be overwhelmingly focused on Transgender women of color⁹) and together we dwell in resilience and strength. During LGBTQ+ History Month¹⁰, in October, we remember the untold heroes and the larger-than-life ones in the Queer community who managed trauma, discrimination, and—all too often—solitude in their paths toward living as their true selves and loving who they love. This year, amid all these holidays and somber observances, our steps for parentage rights puts family at the top of my mind.

My wife and I are lucky to live in privilege, with enough resources to absorb several thousand dollars to adopt our own children, to waive home visits, publication requirements and court appearances—barriers that might be evoked in other states or with other parent groupings.¹¹ The Massachusetts Parentage Act ¹² will, if passed, update laws so they are clear and equitable for LGBTQ+ families, and all families.

But legislative attacks on gender-affirming medical care, on Transgender girls on girls’ sports teams, on drag shows and story hours, and on diverse curriculum and books lead to hate, and all too often, physical and emotional violence against the LGBTQ+ community, regardless of the state in which they reside. While LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations tend toward joy and visibility, the work of supporting the LGBTQ+ community—particularly Transgender and Nonbinary youth and BIPOC Transgender women has never been more crucial.

The LGBTQ+ Pride movement was born out of Stonewall Inn uprisings,¹³ in which yet another raid of a Greenwich Village Gay club in 1969 led to mass protests that sparked a civil rights movement, led largely by Transgender women of color. The emergence of the Pride movement springs from the willingness of Transgender people of color and Black lesbians to put themselves on the line for the greater good, notably these four pivotal leaders of the LGBTQ+ Pride Movement fought in the Stonewall uprisings: Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, and Stormé DeLarverie.¹⁴

While our children are safer now (and our family structure is safer now) than before the adoption, realities like adopting our own children and the intensifying legislatives attacks on Transgender children and their parents are precisely why the Sharon Pride Steering Committee formed in 2022.¹⁵ Though Sharon appears immune to the onslaught of legislative attacks against LGBTQ+ people, our town has not been safe, even for kids. Throughout this 2022-23 school year, one Sharon Middle School student has endured repeated questions about their genitals, had objects thrown at them by students who made it clear that they are attacked because of their gender presentation, and has encountered daily homophobic and transphobic slurs from classmates, such as the casual use of “Gay” and “Trans" as an insult. This student is just one of many children whose reality includes attempting to survive the school day in a cultural landscape that uses their LGBTQ+ identity as a political football. The relentless state legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ children are not keeping our kids safe. They are teaching our children that it’s okay to hate.

What is true for the United States is also true for Sharon, that “[a]s adults, what we must do is double down on our support for LGBTQ+ youth, demand change, increase available resources, resist oppression, educate ourselves, and step out of our comfort zone to fight mean-spirited and baseless attacks, because all young people have a right to dignity and happiness.”¹⁶

While I have adopted my own children, as many in the LGBTQ+ community have, continued work and support by the Sharon Pride Steering Committee helps others in the LGBTQ+ community who may not have the same familial and legal assurances. If the treatment of Transgender, Nonbinary, and Queer people in this country and in our own community, outrages and worries you as it worries me, I hope you’ll join me at Sharon LGBTQ+ Pride Festivals in the future and other LGBTQ+ Pride events throughout June, where we celebrate the dignity and happiness of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies.

Notes

1. “Florida Senate Approves Ban on Transgender Treatments for Kids”: https://www.politico.com/news/2023/04/04/florida-senate-ban-transgender-treatments-kids-00090481

2. ACLU tracker for state legislative attacks against the LGBTQ+ Community: https://www.aclu.org/legislative-attacks-on-lgbtq-rights

4. LGBTQ+ communities and Mental Health. Mental Health America. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2022, from https://www.mhanational.org/issues/lgbtq-communities-and-mental-health

5. Mental Health of Black Transgender and Nonbinary Young People. Trevor Project Research brief. February 28, 2023. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/research-briefs/mental-health-of-black-transgender-and-nonbinary-young-people-feb-2023/

6. National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021. The Trevor Project. YRBSS Data Summary & Trends Report, 2009-2019: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/research-briefs/mental-health-of-black-transgender-and-nonbinary-young-people-feb-2023/

7. International Transgender Day of Visibility: for more on the celebration of this day go to https://www.glaad.org/tdov

8. Transgender Day of Remembrance description at Human Rights Campaign: https://www.hrc.org/events/transgender-day-of-remembrance

9. Human Rights Campaign, An Epidemic of Violence 2022 https://reports.hrc.org/an-epidemic-of-violence-2022#epidemic-numbers

10. More about LGBTQ+ History Month at GLSEN: https://www.glsen.org/activity/lgbtq-history

11. For more on the disproportionate involvement of child welfare services in Black and Brown families: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue-briefs/racial-disproportionality/

12. Massachusetts Parentage Act information: https://www.glad.org/massparentage/

13. History of the Stonewall Inn Uprising: https://guides.loc.gov/lgbtq-studies/stonewall-era

14. The History of Pride Part 2: Don’t Forget the Leaders: https://www.jcfs.org/response/blog/history-pride-part2

15. Sharon Pride Steering Committee website: https://www.lgbtqplussharon.org/

16. American Bar Association. Maia Zelkind is a paralegal in the Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project and M. Currey Cook is senior counsel and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal in New York City, New York. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/childrens-rights/articles/2022/fall2022-impact-of-anti-lgbtq-legislative-and-executive-branch-action/


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