In­side Ge­or­gia’s (and Amer­ica’s) Gayby Boom

As the num­ber of LGBT par­ents ex­pands, so do de­mo­graph­ics

GA Voice - - News - By Ryan Lee

The be­moaned go-go boy danc­ing on a float may soon have to sur­ren­der his sta­tus as the cul­tural sym­bol of Gay Pride fes­ti­vals — to baby strollers.

“Over the last few years, Pride feels more like a gi­ant play date,” said Gail Panacci, a les­bian mother of two young chil­dren. “There’s strollers, and an en­tire kid sec­tion, and there’s a lot now to ac­com­mo­date LGBT fam­i­lies. It some­times feels like it’s a gi­ant birth­day party.

“It’s wild and phe­nom­e­nal, es­pe­cially that this is hap­pen­ing in At­lanta,” she said.

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of LGBT in­di­vid­u­als and cou­ples rais­ing chil­dren mir­rors what Panacci has seen in her 14 years as re­pro­duc­tive ser­vices man­ager at the Fem­i­nist Women’s Health Cen­ter, where les­bians make up about 90 per­cent of clients in the donor in­sem­i­na­tion pro­gram.

“[In 1998], we would have four or five in­sem­i­na­tion pro­ce­dures a month, that would be kind of busy,” Panacci said. “Over the years, we’ve prob­a­bly been serv­ing, on av­er­age, about 20 pa­tients a month, which is what we used to serve an­nu­ally.”

Con­sid­ered an anom­aly a decade ago, gay and les­bian par­ents have wo­ven them­selves into the fab­ric of both gay and Amer­i­can cul­ture: ubiq­ui­tous at events like Pride, and req­ui­site for any prime time sit­com.

But the film and tele­vi­sion car­i­ca­tures of gay par­ents — most ob­vi­ously the mid­dleaged, high-in­come white male cou­ple as seen on shows like “Mod­ern Fam­ily” and “The New Nor­mal” — dis­tort the de­mo­graph­ics of the so­called “gayby boom” that has taken place dur­ing the early part of this mil­len­nium.

LGBT par­ent­hood en­com­passes sin­gle moth­ers and trans­gen­der fa­thers. Cen­sus data shows that more than a quar­ter of same-sex cou­ples in the South are rais­ing a child, out­pac­ing ev­ery other re­gion. Black and Latino LGBT peo­ple who are in a re­la­tion­ship are both more likely to be par­ents than cou­pled whites.

As Amer­ica’s LGBT fam­ily por­trait evolves, what it means to be an LGBT par­ent in At­lanta does too.

Par­ent­ing out of the closet

Ebonee Woodruff-Barnes knows first-hand how much has changed for LGBT par­ents in the last two decades. The bi­o­log­i­cal mother of two sons born in the late 1980s, Woodruff-Barnes is par­ent­ing a young one once again, hav­ing raised her seven-year-old great-niece since birth.

“At the time I was rais­ing the older ones, I was more clos­eted than I am now,” Woodruf­fBarnes said. “It was def­i­nitely the era. I pretty much couldn’t be who I was when it came to be­ing a par­ent, I think be­cause I had to be a par­ent and not be my­self.

“Out in the open, I couldn’t be a les­bian mother,” she said. “Now, I can be who I am, I can clas­sify my­self as a les­bian par­ent and there won’t be any reper­cus­sions for that.”

The Fem­i­nist Women’s Health Cen­ter has al­ways tracked the “out­ness” of the clients in its donor in­sem­i­na­tion pro­gram, and the open­ness with which gay par­ents are liv­ing their lives has “rad­i­cally changed,” Panacci said.

“Al­most all cou­ples ap­ply­ing to come in now spec­ify that they’ve al­ready built their vil­lage,” Panacci said. “I can’t even re­mem­ber the last time I met with a woman or cou­ple who self-iden­tify as LGBT and didn’t say that they were out to their fam­i­lies, or even out at work. The ‘out­ness’ and how that’s shifted in the past decade has been tremen­dous.”

Woodruff-Barnes re­calls re­ceiv­ing some awk­ward glances and greet­ings when her child at­tended school in more ru­ral Dou­glas County, but she and her part­ner were voted Par­ents of the Year twice since mov­ing to DeKalb County.

“The school knows that I have a part­ner and the teach­ers know and we don’t have an is­sue,” she said. “The other par­ents also know that I have a part­ner and they treat us very well.”

Woodruff-Barnes con­sid­ers her­self part of the en­dur­ing legacy of black LGBT peo­ple step­ping in to raise the child of a fam­ily mem­ber.

“It’s very com­mon,” she said. “I’d say about 75 per­cent of my friends who do not have their own bi­o­log­i­cal kids are rais­ing one of their fam­ily mem­bers.”

Trends in LGBT par­ent­ing

From 1990 to 2006, the per­cent­age of same­sex cou­ples rais­ing chil­dren in­creased by about 50 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to re­search by Gary Gates, the Wil­liams Distin­guished Scholar at the UCLA School of Law’s Wil­liams In­sti­tute, who stud­ies the de­mo­graph­ics of LGBT peo­ple in the United States us­ing data from the U.S. Cen­sus and other government stud­ies.

In 1990, 12 per­cent of same-sex cou­ples were rais­ing chil­dren; in 2006, the per­cent was up to nearly 19 per­cent, Gates noted in a report last year. The fig­ure has since dropped to about 16 per­cent.

“This pat­tern seems to con­tra­dict the pre­vail­ing view that in­creas­ing num­bers of les­bians and gay men (and same-sex cou­ples) are rais­ing chil­dren,” Gates noted. “How­ever, a closer look at th­ese data sug­gests that there may be two dif­fer­ent trends oc­cur­ring with re­gard to par­ent­ing.”

Rather than a de­cline in gay cou­ples choos­ing to par­ent, Gates at­trib­uted the drop from 2006 to the present to an in­crease in gay cou­ples adopt­ing chil­dren that is off­set by a de­cline in LGBT peo­ple hav­ing chil­dren with dif­fer­ent­sex part­ners be­fore coming out.

In the 2000 Cen­sus, out of same-sex cou­ples rais­ing chil­dren, nearly 10 per­cent had an adopted child. By 2009, 19 per­cent of same-sex cou­ples with kids had adopted a child — “a sub­stan­tial rise in adop­tive par­ent­ing,” Gates noted.

At the same time, “de­clines in so­cial stigma to­ward LGB peo­ple mean that more are coming out ear­lier in life and are be­com­ing less likely to have chil­dren with dif­fer­ent-sex part­ners,” Gates ob­served.

Kris­ten Skillin came out to her par­ents at age 14 in 2005, but briefly ex­per­i­mented with a guy two years later and be­came preg­nant. Since her son was four months old, Skillin has been rais­ing him as a sin­gle les­bian mom, and be­lieves her ex­pe­ri­ence has been sim­i­lar to her het­ero­sex­ual coun­ter­parts.

“Be­ing a sin­gle mom dat­ing is a lot harder be­cause you have to pace it,” Skillin said. “Is this go­ing to be a se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship? Are they go­ing to meet your kid? Should you bring them over?

“My son is five now, and def­i­nitely he’s go­ing to re­mem­ber peo­ple, and I can’t bring peo­ple into his life if I’m just dat­ing them,” she said.

At 21, Skillin em­bod­ies the open­ness that suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of LGBT par­ents can en­joy. It wasn’t un­til a year af­ter Skillin came out as les­bian that her fa­ther ac­knowl­edged to the fam­ily that he was gay. Skillin’s own son, Wes­ley, once asked her when she was go­ing to get mar­ried, and Skillin told him she has to find the right girl.

“He said, ‘Aren’t you sup­posed to marry a boy?’” Skillin re­called. “I said, ‘Most peo­ple, boys and girls marry, but it does hap­pen when boys marry boys and girls marry girls, and that okay.’ We have very open dis­cus­sions about that. I’ve been very open with him.”

Skillin re­mem­bers a mid­dle-school class­mate who used to be teased be­cause she had two moth­ers, but said, “I think we’ve made great move­ments to­ward equal­ity and peo­ple be­com­ing more and more ac­cept­ing.

“Liv­ing in the Bi­ble Belt, you wouldn’t ex­pect too many peo­ple to be ac­cept­ing, but I’ve been see­ing it at my son’s day­care, and his friend’s par­ents,” said Skillin, who lives in Bu­ford. “It’s been a lot eas­ier than I would have ex­pected it to be.”

Please see

GAYBY BOOM

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Page 6

Kris­ten Skillen (above) says she has not ex­pe­ri­enced dis­crim­i­na­tion as a sin­gle les­bian mom rais­ing her young son. Ebonee Woodruff-Barnes (be­low, right with part­ner Tonie To­bias) raised her two sons in the 1980s, and says she is much more out as a par­ent now that she is rais­ing her great­niece, Nyk­isha. (Courtesy pho­tos)

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