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Thursday, April 22, 2010

How Important Is Community for LGBT Parents?


I feel very fortunate to live where we live, in Denver, Colorado. We live in the actual city, not the suburbs, and have found our neighborhood, community, and city to be very accepting of LGBT parents and their children. According to American Community Survey, Denver ranks number 17 in the nation for percentage of gay residents at 8.8%. Not exactly San Francisco, but not bad either. It’s a liberal-leaning city with an active gay community. Although there is a “gay ghetto” in Denver, we don’t live in it. But our neighborhood, I would estimate, is well over 10% gay-owned homes. It’s also a great place to raise kids, and the majority of our neighbors have young children. We’re fortunate enough to be within 15 minutes of everything the city has to offer (restaurants, shopping, museums, parks, all sports venues, etc.) and have great public schools. Most of our neighbors with children are heterosexual couples, but they’re very accepting of us. I don’t remember the specific conversation I had with a neighbor’s six-year-old boy last year, but I do remember his response. “Uh… I know Dylan and Reid have two dads!”, as if he were insulted that I thought he didn’t understand our situation. Sometimes I can forget I’m gay living here since I’m in the same parenting boat as most of our neighbors, and they’re so accepting. For all these reasons, I love where we live. And since we have no family nearby, I’ve found it to be important to have such great neighbors, many of whom feel like family. In the absence of family or grandparent support, it can be very important for LGBT-headed families to build their own support groups. Trust me, the time will come when you need it!

I read “Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is” by Abigail Garner a couple years ago, a book I highly recommend to any gay or lesbian couples considering becoming parents. In her book, Garner showed how important community can be for gay couples raising children. Children who grew up in gay accepting communities had few, if any problems related to having gay parents, whereas children who grew up in more rural, conservative, non-accepting areas had the most issues with other children and other children’s parents. But as I recall, some of the kids she interviewed grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so I’m curious if this is still much of an issue in 2010, as society has grown more accepting of the LGBT community in general.

We moved to Denver four years ago from a very conservative area of Southern California. We only knew two gay couples in our neighborhood, and although our neighbors were generally nice to us, no one ever asked us if we were a couple, or seemed comfortable discussing the fact that we were gay. A couple neighbors even made little comments that made me quite aware that they were anti-gay. When a few students at our local high school tried to create a “Gay/Straight Alliance”, it was met by outrage, protests, and negative media coverage. For this reason, among others, I didn’t want to raise children there. I’m sure there were gay parents raising children somewhere nearby, but it certainly wasn’t common. In our current neighborhood, we know many lesbian couples with children as well as a few gay couples with children. We had a gay couple nearby who went through the surrogacy process help us when we started the process, and now we’re doing the same for another couple. We even have an online gay parents group for our neighborhood.

Obviously many gay couples live in conservative areas, but it’s just not as big of a deal when it’s just the two of you. As a couple, you can pretty much keep to yourselves, and I think even in conservative areas, people tend to have a “live and let live” attitude. But once you have children, you can’t live in isolation. Your kids will eventually interact with neighbor kids, and you have to deal with the attitudes of your local schools and other parents.

So here’s my question to other gay and lesbian parents who are reading this.
-What type of community do you live in? Have you found the type of community you live in to be important for your family?
-Have you had issues with the schools and/or neighbors?
-And if you’ve had issues, how have you dealt with them?

I’m wondering if it’s just my perception that it would be bad for my children if we lived in conservative suburbs, or that we have it better living in a more accepting area. After all, it’s 2010 and times are changing. Obviously not all gay and lesbian parents are liberal, or want to live in a more urban environment. I’ve corresponded with a gay parent who was raising children in a very rural environment because that’s where he was comfortable living. And then it seems that most liberal, urban, gay-accepting communities tend to be expensive to live in, another drawback for families. If I had the time to research this subject, I think I’d find that gay couples are happily raising children in all types of communities across the U.S.

13 comments:

insearchoffreedom said...

I'm not a parent but this post just made my day!

I've been following your blog for awhile, along with other blogs written by gay parents, because they're inspirational. I live in a conservative area and have even more conservative parents. Of course dealing with that is always rough but the worst is when my parents make my future dreams seem impossible.

They know my main dream in life is to have a family of my own and attack that dream as something that would be nearly impossible unless I enter into what they deem a "healthy relationship" with a man, not a woman. Having blogs such as yours to turn to when things get rough at home has been a life saver!

Besides all that, the reason this post is evoking a comment from me is because I'm moving to Denver next year for college! I may or may not stay there after college but to hear that the community is accepting of LGBT parents and their children will make my move there something to look forward to even more. I know I have a long way to go before starting my own family but knowing that I'm moving to an accepting area fills me with joy and excitement.

So thank you so so much for blogging and giving me hope for my future *and* thanks for making my day by writing about Denver!

~Keeley

GayDad said...

Glad you liked it insearchoffredom. I've dealt with conservative, somewhat un-accepting parents as well. Many of us in the LGBT community end up creating our own families when the families we were born into aren't accepting of us.

I think you'll love it here, and the lesbian community is quite active. Although Colorado as a state isn't exactly liberal, it is now legal for same sex partners to both adopt and be legal parents, something you don't find in more conservative states. We don't have same sex marriage or even domestic partnership, although the city of Denver has a domestic partnership registry. We're on it so I was able to be on my partner's healthcare, something his company required.

Don't let anyone else dictate your dreams! I have so many great examples of gay parents right outside my doorstep. Being able to have other gay friends with children nearby has really been helpful, and in the long run, it will make life easier for our boys being here. Not long ago, a lesbian couple around the corner who has a son used me as an example for their son to show how some kids have two dads, some two moms, and others one of each. Their son was at that stage where he was figuring things out and asking questions.

Tim and Louie said...

Great article, GDad.

It is for this reason that my husband and I are waiting to have kids until such time as our finances are in better shape and we have moved to a better community, currently live in Phoenix, AZ

Arizona doesn't have second parent adoption and the other daddy would have to file a form with the state every six months to establish a legal relationship with the child.

And though we are legally married in California, Arizona does not recognize our marriage.

So, in essence we are planning on moving to California.

It is with great interest that I read that you used to live in So. Cal. Could you share what part of So. Cal. so we can avoid it?

Also, when you chose Denver, Colorado, how did you specifically choose your neighborhood? Did you do any research on demographics, voter profiles, education levels, income levels, etc? Was it all just left up to chance?

Again, thanks for this very timely topic!

- Louie
Phoenix, AZ

GayDad said...

Louie,

It's great to plan financially, but then sometimes life just pokes a big stick in your financial spokes... as in I was laid off and my partner's job has reduced his salary significantly the past 2 years. I suppose though, these last 2 years are pretty unusual though. We do what we have to to get by.

lol - Stay away from Orange County! We lived there for years, and honestly, I didn't like it, other than the weather. It's probably the most conservative urban area of California, and the gay community is close to invisible. It's also ridiculously expensive, horrible traffic, and we had adult, drug-addicted and alcoholic neighbors. And we lived in a decent condo complex. There was no way I'd raise children there.

We chose our neighborhood just because we liked the location and the houses. It's a new development where the old Denver airport used to be, so near everything in the city, but new construction. Nick's job offered him a transfer here, so he took it. Once we realized we could sell our condo and get an entire new house for the same price in Denver, we were ready to move. We didn't research the area that much, but we knew about Denver because this is where we met many years ago. Now that I have kids, I'd probably research areas before moving, rather than leaving it to chance. We just got lucky.

searchingforfreedom said...

Yeah, I'm really looking forward to finding a community to be part of. There's a gay community here but it's so small and I don't think I would be comfortable being out in this area. It's certainly not the worst place but I suppose we all have different tolerance levels for discrimination.

I'd love to move to a place with same-sex marriage but I think I can settle for Denver and if nothing else, it's 20 hours away from my conversion counselor and parents! I know that running from discrimination would be endless but I also don't want to have to fight to be accepted on a daily basis.

I think Denver will really allow me to grow and accomplish my dreams. Your posts enforce that belief.

Thanks again!
~Keeley

Mark said...

We live in a very middle class neighborhood. When we met with the Real Estate Agent at the house, a few neighbors came out to greet us. I asked them straight-out how the neighborhood would be with us. They said fine and then went to point out where other Gays/Lesbians live. They were right. And because we have children, we mostly only hang out with our Straight neighbors. I never really talk to the Gay ones. It's the children that connect us. Great Post. Once again, I'm glad that you are back to writing. m.

Debi said...

I live in the San Fernando Valley, a suburb of Los Angeles. I've been in this house for seven years and was in one a few blocks away for 12. I've never had a problem with any neighbors. My daughter goes to the local elementary school and other than a couple kids who insisted she MUST have a dad, there's really been no problems. She's now in 4th grade. I was on the PTA board for three years, along with another lesbian mom and no one batted an eye (at least that we ever saw.) It's really been good. My daughter's other mom (we broke up when she was six months old after a 10-year relationship) has always volunteered one day a week in her class. The teachers and the principal have always been very friendly to her. I think a big part of it is our attitude. My daughter is not ashamed of her lesbian moms or even considers it much of a big deal. When I talk to other parents, I just assume they know already. And if they don't, they figure it out pretty quickly because I don't try to hide anything.

We did get pretty upset with the Yes on 8 signs but no one on our street had any. I can see how living behind the Orange Curtain would have been a lot different though!!

Debi said...

OH, forgot to say, almost all my friends now are straight parents of friends of my daughter or fellow PTA members. Most of my gay friends who don't have kids basically drifted away after I had her. It's really amazing to me how I now have more in common with my straight friends than my gay ones. Your focus really changes after having kids.

GayDad said...

@Debi... I think the SF Valley is probably very different from Orange County! I remember way back in the '90s when prop. 22 passed, you'd have thought people's lives depended on plastering their stupid signs everywhere. It was like roving bands of homophobes canvassed the county at night putting signs in medians, all over apartment complexes... I just don't get it.

But it sounds like you have a good situation too. I think as gay parents, we probably have it much better than they did even 20 years ago.

Most of our friends are straight parents too. Funny how having kids seems to end your "gay life" lol! A few still stop by once in a while, and we have gay friends w/kids, but most of the time we're still talking about our kids.

Peter said...

My partner and I are through most of the screening/certification process to become foster-to-adopt parents. We live in Brighton, the surburbs north of Denver. We hope that we will find the same kind of acceptance in the 'burbs that you have found in the city.

GayDad said...

Hi Peter!

I've never been to Brighton (I think DIA is the furthest I've been from home in the past year, being a stay at home Dad) so not too familiar with the area. We have good friends in our neighborhood who have two foster children and are trying to adopt. It's great to have other gay parents in the "same boat" nearby. Hopefully you'll have a great experience in Brighton as well.

Anonymous said...

I live in mid-wilshire, CA and it's so expensive. I want a house and family and wondering where in/ around LA my gf and I could move to where it's less expensive but gay friendly. I'd love living where you and Nick live in Denvor. It sounds ideal for a gay family. I want to stay in warm so cal, co maybe the valley is the answer. I'm a couple years away from having kids, but we're starting to plan.
-k

GayDad said...

The Valley would definitely be cheaper and I would assume reasonably gay friendly. It's probably outside your realm of possibility (traffic, long commute) but Long Beach has a large gay community and for some reason, seems cheaper than a lot of other areas. I remember rent and home prices were always cheaper there than where we lived in Orange County.