BY SHARON GITTLEMAN
FERNDALE – When teenager Janet Stock made a speech to her class about something close to her heart, she decided to talk about her mom, who is gay.
When she opened up the floor for questions, she heard one she hadn’t expected.
“There was a guy who said, ‘Are you comfortable with the fact your parents are going to hell when they die?'” said Stock, a member of COLAGE (Children of Lesbians And Gays Everywhere), a group for children of lesbians and gays. “I was horrified. I said, ‘What makes you think they’re going to hell? Loving isn’t a sin.'”
The youth said his preacher father told him otherwise.
“I said, ‘If you look at all the basic religions they all say, love your neighbor,'” she said. “How can you be so contradictory to your father?”
Her teacher remained silent during the exchange, she said.
Stock was one of 100 people who came to the first GLBT Family Town Hall, created to give people a forum to discuss issues gay and lesbian moms, dads, kids, grandfathers, grandmothers and their loved ones face.
Members of the Triangle Foundation, We Are Family, PFLAG Detroit-Downriver, Coalition for Adoption Rights Equality and other panelists spoke about LGBT child custody, marriage, domestic partnership benefits and other issues to the people gathered for the Ferndale forum last week.
Gay moms’ and dads’ internalized homophobia can lead to family problems, said Royal Oak psychotherapist Fran Brown, who works with Joe Kort and Associates.
“A lot of my clients feel they have to prove they are as good as heterosexual parents – like they are the gold standard,” said Brown, who is a lesbian and a mom. “The way it can manifest is when we as gay parents put greater pressure on our children to be perfect – and to not be gay. We want to prove just because we are gay we won’t have a gay child.”
Other woes arise when gay couples break up, said Brown.
“I think one angle a lot of people don’t think about is when gay families are in trouble, they have the added problem of not having protections. Non-birth parents have no right to their own children,” she said. “I have women and men who come in in a real panic, saying ‘If I don’t make my relationship work I may never see my children again.'”
Children were a big concern for many audience members.
“My partner and I want to start a family,” said Mary Czartoryski. “We want to see what support systems there are.”
One woman asked panelists for more information about Michigan’s adoption laws.
“I learned about second parent adoptions on ‘The L Word,'” she said.
Attorney Jane Bassett, vice president of the Coalition for Adoption Rights Equality said while Michigan’s adoption code and its case law are silent on the question of whether two same gender people can adopt together, a Supreme Court Justice’s administrative memorandum has prohibited the practice in Washtenaw County.
“It’s a grey area in the law,” she said.
Some people think the word “family” doesn’t apply to transgender people, said Rachel Crandall, co-founder and executive director of TransGender Michigan.
“We love our families the same as you all do,” she said. “We are loved and we love. It’s not up to you to judge if someone is in a family. It’s up to them.”
Older gays and lesbians are another group who are often left out in the cold, especially when age-related illnesses strike, said Al Stumpmier, a member of Prime Timers.
“There are people who are aging who have no one,” he said. “Where do they go when they need help?”
One little girl had no problem identifying what’s at the heart of a family, said Michelle Brown, a leader of the Human Rights Campaign.
“I have some friends who have a 5-year-old. She said she had two mommies. A little boy said, ‘Where did you come from? You have to have sperm,'” said Brown. “She said, ‘You can buy that, but to have a child you have to have love.'”
Triangle Foundation Executive Director Jeffrey Montgomery said a second Family Town Hall will be presented sometime in the future.