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In Response: Gay Parents Aren't The Ones Hurting Their Kids

Nathaniel Haas |
April 6, 2015 | 4:35 p.m. PDT



The development and subsequent evolution of creative (but still wrong) arguments in opposition to equality for LGBTQ people in America is unsurprising, fallacious and above all, heartbreaking. 

The latest iterations of these arguments stem from remarks made by clothing designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who labeled children born via in vitro fertilization “synthetic” and argued, “the only family is the traditional one.”  

Dolce & Gabbana’s comments provoked a huge celebrity backlash and boycott, but were also vigorously defended in some circles. In a "letter" to the gay community published by the Federalist, titled, "Dear Gay Community: Your Kids are Hurting," Heather Barwick describes growing up with two moms after her biological mother came out of the closet, divorced her father and remarried a woman with whom she raised Heather. Barwick parlays that experience into a falsely complex argument against gay marriages, rife with enough “I don’t hate gays” disclaimers to post in every Chick-fil-A in the continental United States. 

“My dad wasn’t a great guy, and after she left him he didn’t bother coming around anymore,” Barwick writes. 

So first, let’s get something straight. Love raises great children, not a penis and a vagina. Barwick has every right under the sun to regret the loss of her father's presence and to resent her mother and the woman that replaced her father, but she has no right to recycle that experience to explain why gay people should never be able to raise children. Single parents do it successfully all the time in an environment that can undoubtedly be suboptimal for a child growing up. Indeed, perhaps the reason Barwick feels that “another mom could never have replaced the father I lost,” is because she was abandoned by her father, not because she was raised by two moms—in the same way that a child who was born with two moms, lost one, and then was raised by a mom and a dad could write the exact opposite of Barwick’s article. In place of, “another mom could never have replaced the father I lost,” that article would read, “a father could never have replaced the second mother I lost.” 

Instead, as Barwick laments “the consequences that same sex parenting had on me,” it sounds more like she wants to force the square peg of that story into the round hole of the anti gay-rights narrative. 

The reason rhetoric like this sounds compelling at a very superficial level is because one can easily imagine the entirety of Barwick’s readers, likely raised by a mom and a dad, suddenly cringing at the thought of their dad vanishing and being replaced by a woman. The problem is, to resist a change to the status quo, you must have a comfortable status quo to base that resistance upon. That comfort, however, means you are disqualified to prescribe that change for others, especially those who haven't yet been born. 

It would be a blessing if Barwick were the only one who believes any of this because of her particular position growing up, but her article is the functional mission statement of a growing group of self-dubbed “former gay-marriage advocates turned children's rights activists,” and spoiler alert—they didn’t all suffer from the same unfortunate child abandonment that Barwick did. If their rosy group name sounds to you like describing slavery-era Confederates as “former abolitionists turned white property owners’ activists,” you have an acute sense of just how far out of touch people like Barwick are.

SEE ALSO: What The Hell Is Going On With Gay Marriage?

Just because bigots dress themselves up with rosy labels like “children’s rights advocates” doesn’t make them any better. In fact, it makes them worse: it is a pristine example of people coming up with more creative and less obvious ways to exclude and deny LGBTQ folks their place in society alongside everyone else. It has also been a strategy of the anti-equality movement for years, and it wasn’t always as “loving” to gay people as Barwick claims herself to be.

In 1977, Anita Bryant founded “Save Our Children, Inc” in Miami to oppose a new county policy that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public assistance. Save Our Children succeeded in overturning the Dade County ordinance, as well as discrimination bans in several other cities. They also went to California and supported a ballot proposition (which failed) to make mandatory the firing of all openly gay teachers in public schools. The early iterations of their propaganda looked like this:

(Moni3/Wikimedia Commons)
(Moni3/Wikimedia Commons)

Barwick’s first disclaimer, and I'll number them to keep track, suggested she would never identify with brochures like this one, because:

Either way, I still feel like gay people are my people. I’ve learned so much from you. You taught me how to be brave, especially when it is hard. You taught me empathy.

The empathy Barwick supposedly learned is awfully difficult to find in the rest of her piece, unless it’s an understanding of just how upset her argument will make the gay community. Any doubts about Barwick’s moral veracity vanished when I read her second disclaimer, which disgustingly appropriates the experience of coming out of the closet to her own announcement of withdrawing support for marriage equality:

“I’m writing to you because I’m letting myself out of the closet: I don’t support gay marriage.” 

Another writer who would do well with some empathy for gay people is Barwick’s colleague, D.C. McAllister, who recently wrote a piece extolling the importance of preserving ideals like “nature,” “traditional family values,” and the “social institution” of marriage. All of this is backed up with vague assertions that sound more like someone’s octogenarian grandparents reminiscing about “the good old days” than they do actual matters of public policy. It almost seems like the anti-gay position came first, and the justifications came later.  

Here is the real reason behind anti-gay movement: a fundamental fear of difference and a desire to maintain the status quo, mixed with a passage from the Bible, because “that’s the way it always has been.” It is the same worldview (minus the religion) that causes 50 percent of America’s elected officials to deny climate change despite the disagreement of 97.5 percent of the scientific community. "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—oh and by the way, it’s never broken." Starting with a conclusion (say, that LGBTQ people shouldn’t have rights) and working backward creates an obvious confirmation bias that causes a person to readily gobble up and accept any shred of evidence, however poor, that proves the preconceived judgment. This explains the false import given to mumbo-jumbo like “traditional family values.”

Really, one shouldn’t even need data to disprove these data-less conclusions about the inferiority of being raised in a homosexual household, but as luck (more likely common sense) would have it, such data exists. The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families examined 500 children raised by gay parents and found them to be more cohesive and healthy than the national averages, in addition to finding no difference from children raised by heterosexual parents in self-esteem, other emotions and time spent with parents.

SEE ALSO: New Study Leaves No Doubt: Gay Marriage Good For Society

So Barwicks’ argument isn't just devoid of evidence: the evidence that does exist proves it flat out wrong. But Barwick wants you to remember that despite her vigorous defense of traditional family values, nothing she says should be construed as anti-gay:

“It’s not because you’re gay. I love you, so much,” reads the third disclaimer.

There is a disturbing pattern here. 

Saying that you “love them” doesn’t make it any better, nor does it somehow bestow upon you legitimacy for your bigoted claims: it’s like saying, “I have gay neighbors, and sometimes they invite me to dinner, so its okay for me to make gay jokes.” Moreover, to assert that kids of the gay community are hurting, as if you speak for every one of them, and as if every one of them should come to the same conclusion that you did based on an extremely particular set of personal experiences is naïve, cavalier and borderline arrogant. It’s the same self-righteousness and intolerance that the ultra-religious right has used to argue against reproductive rights for women, and vaccinations for their kids. 

Another popular argument advanced by McAllister is that some gays and children raised by gay parents disagree about the merits of homosexual marriage and parenting. Of course they do! If we let disagreement be the litmus test for whether or not something is good, we would all be watching paint dry for the rest of our lives. Just like children of straight couples run away from home, fight with their parents and feel unhappy, so do children raised by gay parents. Moreover, there isn’t a shred of evidence that suggests this is intrinsic to growing up in a gay household. 

In the United States, which continues progress toward the legalization of gay marriage in all 50 states, Barwick and McCallister might share a limited audience and support from a minority of the country—but their writings are responsible for the direct harm and endangerment of gay people worldwide. In nearly 80 countries, homosexuality is a criminal offense. In some countries governed by Sharia law, it is punishable by death. 

According to a report from the Human Rights Campaign, extremist anti-gay activists in the United States now have the attention of a global audience, with disastrous implications. 

“While this vicious brand of bigotry is currently finding little traction in the United States, public opinion in many other nations makes their words and work much more dangerous. In fact, their actions pose a fundamental threat to the safety of LGBT people around the world, and that threat is growing,” the report concludes. 

Organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has an annual budget of $45 million and lobbies with partnering lawyers in countries like Russia, Italy, and Mexico to wipe out any hope gay people have for living in those countries in the way that they are able to live in the United States. The ADF describes it as a  “global initiative” to take its pro-life, anti-LGBTQ and “pro-family” legal advocacy overseas. Some of the other 12 organizations and individuals documented in the report, each with vast sums of money and each fueled by arguments like Barwick’s and McAllister’s, work with lawyers and groups in countries who support (and carry out) punishment by death for same-sex relations. 

In the United States, Barwick and McAllister might seem like total fringers, but worldwide, their writings are being co-opted by vicious people who do terrible things. That’s a strong reminder that the gay rights movement doesn’t just need our voices of support at home, it needs them around the globe. Either way, people will manifest discrimination in a multitude of ways if arguments like Barwick's go unchallenged. The United States doesn't execute people for being gay, like Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other countries, but one lawyer in California will actually begin gathering signatures for an inane ballot proposition that does exactly that (though it will never actually make it to the general election). The point is, Barwick is dancing around a claim that gay parents, and by extension, gay people, are somehow defunct. That claim is fundamentally dangerous to the way we treat people who are different from us, and it's about as out of touch as a pair of Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses. 


Contact Contributor Nathaniel Haas here; follow him here



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