Being a not-yet-equal same sex family

This is such an important week for me and my family. It is PRIDE month with the rainbow flag flying high and a symbol of hope and suffering for so many.

I am the CEO of Harmless and the Tomorrow Project and with my wife Amy, co-founded the organisation in 2007.

So much has changed in the world since that time and thankfully, so much continues to change for the better in so many ways, but we have still so far to go.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionately impacted by so many psychosocial factors, including mental health, self-harm and suicide.

I have spent many years trying to communicate broadly about discrimination and how it is inherently entrenched in our systems and services, and ultimately our communities. This means that change needs to happen, but it also means that we can each contribute to that – in the way we think and speak and behave.

I know for writing this, for instance, on some platforms I will face a backlash of anti-gay insults, but i am going to write it anyway.

I am 41. I am married to a woman. We have 5 beautiful children – our eldest of which is 8. My wife and I are equal parents with equal responsible lawful responsibility for our children. There is no ‘dad’ so please don’t ask us who their dad is – we are their parents. We are both mums. Our children have two parents. I am mum, and Amy is mummy. Simple.

The year we had our eldest boy was the first year that same sex parents in the UK would be given equal rights as equal parents. Prior to this point the systems that existed to allow same sex parents to have children (eg. IVF) would have given the sperm donor legal rights to parentage for six months of the child’s life – after which the second parent would have then been able to apply to adopt. 

This inequality was less than a decade ago.

We have been lucky. But we have also been sensible. We moved to a village where we already had links and connections and support prior to having a family. Even then we have faced abuse. For the most part we are seen as accepted as a family in our own right, a loving same-sex parent family with five beautiful children. 

We often forget that we are any different to any other family. Until those dark times when we are a victim of hate crime and targeted with unjust referrals to social care by someone who inherently believed that our family make up is wrong and thus that our children were at risk. Or when we have to check with the place we are booking our holiday with that they will be comfortable in allowing us to stay.

Such experiences are rife amongst the LGBTQ+ community. 

Mostly though it is the subtle ignorances that are the most tiresome. The assumptions that when I refer to my partner, that they are a he as opposed to a she. 

One of my most common experiences is when people talk about how Harmless was established and assume that because my wife and I share a surname, that we must be sisters; that is the most common assumption. I am tired of redressing this assumption. I am tired of outing myself, so I don’t, mostly. 

It does however remind me constantly that although this is undertaken in the most innocent of manners it is something I have to face regularly and at best is tiresome and worst, upsetting.

The most hurtful of situations that I face is as a parent. People generally assume that because we have children, that the manner and means by which we have had these children is up for discussion. Intimately. I am proud of my family and wherever possible, am comfortable to speak openly about how we have come to have five such beautiful little people. They know who they are. They know how we had them and they know that they are loved but we regularly get asked, mostly by health professionals – ‘who’s mum?’. 

We both are.

OR

‘Do they have the same dad?’

They don’t have a dad; they have two mums.

What people mean to ask is – who was birth mum? 

Or do the children have the same donor? 

Neither of which are rarely relevant to anyone other than to suffice a person’s own curiosity, but please think about the questions before you ask them.

Every day it is assumed that I am a heterosexual woman. Every day I have to decide whether or not I correct someone’s lazy assumptions or if it is easier not to. Every day when we are out as a family we consider our behaviour to each other. We wouldn’t confidently display affection in public for fear of recrimination, or hold hands without second-guessing ourselves.

Things are better, but we are not where we need to be.

I am confident that my children are growing up in a world where acceptance is far greater than my generation, and where they truly will feel more able to be whomever they are. This is good news but please lets not forget those things that still need to be addressed and improved.

A few years ago a ‘friend’ of mine said to me ‘I dont understand why gay people have to make such a big deal about their sexuality; everyone’s equal nowadays!’

And the truth is, we are not yet in a time of equality. And when inequality exists it leads to unfairness and issues and stresses and strains that are distinct to the stigmatised group. 

I feel it. 

Assumptions are made about me that are wrong – do i address them? 

Language is used to describe me that is wrong – do i address it? 

I can be heckled, or spat at because I am gay. How do i stand up to that? 

I can be inappropriately propositioned by men, because I am gay. I can feel unsafe because of my sexuality.

So my answer to that friend would be this: when all of the above is no longer an issue/issues I face because of the gender of the person I spend my life with, then we can talk about equality. 

When I can hold my partner’s hand in public without ever worrying for our safety, then we can talk about equality. 

When I can travel the world without worrying that I may be arrested or even worse, killed, then we can talk about equality.

And when my children are seen as that from any other family, without intrusive questions about their parentage and genes, then we can talk about equality.

In the meantime let’s not overlook the additional stresses and strains that may occur because of being LGBTQ+ because I’m tough, but it can feel exhausting.

LOVE IS LOVE. 

Be kind out there, people.

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