ACA and SCOTUS (5)
Beth-Olson-2015-Profile1-e1432054634631
Beth Olson, MSW, Executive Director of First Witness Child Advocacy Center in Duluth, Minnesota, shares her experiences as well as her thoughts on how children’s advocacy centers can better serve all families, specifically families with same-sex parents.
Lesbian Parenting in a Hetero World by Beth Olson, MSW
Considerations for CACs
  • GLBT is a cultural identity, not an issue or a barrier.
  • Recognize that children of GLBT parents may be protective of them and reluctant to talk about them initially. Work to create an environment where they feel safe to do so.
  • Adopt more universal terms like “family” instead of “mom/dad” on all forms and in interactions.
  • Get out to some of the PRIDE events in your communities.

I have a beautiful, kind and talented 17 year-old daughter named Sage.  She is growing up with me and my partner (now wife thanks to Minnesota and most recently SCOTUS).

Every new experience (school, activity, sport, etc.) with my daughter is a coming out process for me and for her. We both are fully aware that not everyone will accept me and there will be judgment about my ability to parent. She has heard the news and the arguments about how gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals should not be parents and are harming any children in their care just by the very fact of who they are.  Most recently she gave a persuasive speech on the topic of same-sex adoption because it was on the list of controversial issues given to her by her teacher. She and I both are aware that any struggles she has or our family has can be attributed to me being gay. So although we are “out”, we are also cautious and protective. Don’t get me wrong, Sage has been successful playing two sports competitively and on Varsity, she has been in leadership programs and is well liked among teachers, her peers and their parents. Those parents “know about me” and many have been willing to open their homes and hearts to us as a family. Still we know that the prejudice and discrimination is real and we have experienced it firsthand.

When Sage was entering kindergarten in a small town, I asked to meet with the principal about teacher selection. At first the principal was confused and assured me that all of the teachers were great. I asked if all of them would be great with me being a lesbian and handling potential situations of prejudice from other kids or their parents. She thought a minute and said “now I see what you mean, I will pick the right one”. What an ally she was that day for me and my daughter. I have to tell you though I was shaking. I was terrified about what could happen.  Not everything has gone that smoothly and we have relied over and over again on people “getting it”. We have relied on people not just tolerating us, but trying to understand us and breaking down those walls of caution and protection.

Walking into a Child Advocacy Center to have my child interviewed would be very frightening. Laws regarding protection from discrimination vary from state to state. Even with marriage equality, there are many states where you can be denied housing or fired for being GLBT. The protections for transgender folks are even fewer than for gay and lesbian folks. Check out http://www.hrc.org/state_maps to get a sense of the laws in your state. In addition to the societal myths still very prevalent about gay people that purport we are a threat to children, there are laws or in some cases a lack of laws that are real risks for GLBT people to be out.

Unfortunately in the Child Advocacy Center world we are still not present and active in conversations affecting kids and families who identify as gay or transgender. So, what can you do to be a comfortable place for a GLBT identified family? Here are a couple of quick ideas (and remember there is a ton of diversity within the GLBT community, so no one size fits all approach).

  • Do not list GLBT as an issue. Sometimes this will be listed as a potential barrier or issue in the same context as being homeless or abusing substances. Identifying as GLBT is not an issue. It is a cultural identity with some very beautiful cultural traditions and history.
  • Part of protecting our families is often not talking about them. Very quickly we develop speech patterns that allow us to talk about ourselves without ever disclosing our families, our sexual orientation or gender identity. Children of GLBT parents also develop this same protective skill. Just understand that is the case and don’t push. When we know you are safe we will share more openly.
  • Use the words parents or family on all forms and in interactions. Mom and dad language does not work for us. They let me know, that you are likely not a safe place to be.
  • Get out to some of the PRIDE events in your communities. Bring your kids, often there are things for families to attend. If I am the first lesbian you have ever seen or met, I will know it and my child will know it. Trust me she will give me a knowing look from across the room.

I would love to talk more about making all of our environments and processes comfortable for GLBT kids or families. If you are interested, let’s talk!

Beth Olson, Executive Director First Witness Child Advocacy Center
bolson@firstwitness.org, 218.727.8353

ACA and SCOTUS (5)