Gay Parenting on Long Island
The year was 1992. The place: Bay Shore, New York. Our story begins as Linda Fisher, a divorced mother of a 12-year old son, and her partner, were discussing the lack of resources and support for gay parents on Long Island. Sure, the Lesbian and Gay Community Center in New York City had their group, Center Kids, and there were smaller groups in Brooklyn, Queens, and Westchester, but who wanted to drive all the way from Suffolk County for a big gay play date? What to do, what to do?! Start your own group, that’s what! The founding mothers put ads in the newsletters of several gay and lesbian owned businesses and community organizations. They received several responses and in June of 1992, held their first meeting.
In attendance were four lesbian couples with five children between them, plus a pair of gay daddies and their daughter. Back in 1992, most gay parents were raising children conceived within prior heterosexual marriages, or had formed their families through adoption or fostering. The “gay baby boom,” as it came to be known, was still a few years away. And so it was with the first five families that comprised the nascent Long Island Family Connections support network.
Originally advertised as “a social and recreational group for gay and lesbian families,” members met one Sunday a month, usually for a BYO barbeque or house party. As the group got larger, outings to zoos, aquariums, museums, parks and the like became more common. Parents were thrilled to find others who were dealing with the same unique issues affecting gay families. While the children played, parents engaged in discussions on topics ranging from coming out to teachers, to legal challenges faced by gays trying to adopt as well as those whose homosexuality was being used against them in custody disputes, to how to answer oft-asked questions such as “Why don’t I have a daddy?” or “Why do my friends only have one Mommy?”
By August of that first year, membership had grown to nine families and included 18 children. Thanks to the Linda’s promotion of the group on local radio programs, continued print advertising and word of mouth, Long Island Family Connections would expand to include well over fifty families and scores of children. As the years went by and the numbers grew, the dynamics of the group changed. Despite earnest efforts to attract more men, very few gay male couples attended Family Connection gatherings on a regular basis. Many of the newer lesbian couples that joined were raising biological children conceived using donor sperm, an option that became increasingly available to single women and lesbians as the gay rights movement succeeded in breaking down more and more barriers to gay parenthood. Topics of conversation began to include alternative ways of conceiving, whether to seek out donor siblings, how to include a partner’s name on a birth certificate, and second-parent adoptions.
In 2008, interest in Family Connections had waned to the point where disbanding became inevitable. Although the demise of the group was met with much sadness, in reality, there was cause for celebration. It had outlived its usefulness far sooner than anyone had dared to dream. Today’s gay parents are not routinely ostracized in their neighborhoods, their children teased or shunned. Adoption by gays and lesbians is legal almost everywhere. Gay men have easy access to reproductive choices that allow them to become biological parents in ways that were unheard of less than a generation ago, and gay women having babies is not even gossip-worthy anymore.
Social changes mean that diversity is a part of the curriculum at nearly every school, and greeting cards congratulating gay couples on their marriages can be found at any Hallmark store. Just imagine what changes the next 22 years could bring. Maybe we won’t even need the word “gay” anymore, and gay parents will just be parents, just as gay marriage will just be marriage.
By Chris McNamee, has a b.S. in Family Services/Child Studies, a M.A. in Intersex Conditions and Gender Identity Disorders in Children and Adolescents and is the Former owner/operator of Kid ‘n Kaboodle Child Care as well as the Former Coordinator for Long Island Family Connections, Gay Parents Support Network.