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It’s almost Halloween, so let’s look at some of the scary things happening to LGBTQ parents lately, and then at some treats that just might help us be brave.
First, the scary.
A married, same-sex couple, both U.S. citizens, in mid-September sued the U.S. State Department for refusing to recognize the U.S. citizenship of their child. Roee and Adiel Kiviti married in California in 2013 and had their daughter Kessem via surrogacy in Canada in 2019. Because only Adiel has a biological connection to Kessem, the State Department is treating Kessem as “born out of wedlock” and will not grant her citizenship unless she has a biological relationship to a U.S. citizen parent who has resided in the U.S. for five years. Adiel, who was born in Israel, falls one year short of the residency requirement. This requirement, however, is not meant to apply to the children of married U.S. citizens, Lambda Legal said in a statement. The Kivitis are at least the fourth same-sex couple to sue the State Department for similar reasons.
In another frightening move, a federal judge ruled at the end of September that taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies in Michigan may use their religious beliefs as a reason to discriminate against same-sex and unmarried couples, overturning a settlement that had been reached earlier this year. Even though District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker said in his ruling that same-sex couples can be “great parents,” he felt that the plaintiff, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, had the right to cite its beliefs as a reason not to certify same-sex and unmarried couples as adoptive parents.
This ruling, from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, is a preliminary injunction allowing St. Vincent to maintain its state contract and continue discriminating while the case is fully litigated. The case could ultimately make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with a contrasting case from Pennsylvania in which a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year refused a similar injunction to a Catholic child service agency in Philadelphia.
The political and legal arena these days is indeed scary, but I take heart from the increasingly positive representation of LGBTQ families and people in books, films and even children’s toys.
Toy giant Mattel, for example, has just launched a new line of “Creatable World” dolls that do not have pre-assigned genders. Each doll comes with long and short hairstyle options and a variety of wardrobe pieces including pants, skirts and more.
To help them shape the toys, Mattel brought in experts, parents, physicians and kids, including transgender and non-binary children. Kim Culmone, senior vice president of Mattel Fashion Doll Design, explained in a statement, “Through research, we heard that kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms. This line allows all kids to express themselves freely, which is why it resonates so strongly with them.”
Additionally, several new films on the film festival circuit right now have queer family themes. “Just Another Beautiful Family,” by Nick and Katherine North, is the couple’s own story of how they fell in love, became a blended family with five kids and navigated Nick’s gender transition from female to male. The film won the Audience Choice Award at the Calgary International Film Festival in September. The film can be viewed at the 20-minute film free online at nicknorth.co/bfp.
In “Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth,” filmmaker Jeanie Finlay, who is cisgender, worked with single transgender dad Freddy McConnell to show McConnell’s journey to parenthood through pregnancy. McConnell recently lost a court case in the U.K. to be legally named his child’s “father” or “parent” instead of “mother.” The film, however, came before the court case and is simply a thoughtful, lovely look at McConnell’s experience of pregnancy and early parenthood. While currently only available for online streaming or downloading outside the U.S., the producer tells me it will be will soon be released here as well.
“My Dads, My Moms and Me,” by Julia Ivanova, follows three sets of queer parents and their teenage children more than a decade after she first profiled them for a 2007 film, “Fatherhood Dreams.” Randy and Drew have an adopted son; Scott had twins through a surrogate; and Steve is co-parenting two daughters with lesbian moms Wendy and Cory.
“La Serenata” (The Serenade), directed by Adelina Anthony, is the film adaptation of “When We Love Someone We Sing to Them/Cuando Amamos Cantamos,” by Ernesto Javier Martínez (Reflection Press), one of my favorite LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books of 2018. In it, a father tells his son about the Mexican serenata tradition of serenading a beloved. When the boy falls in love with another boy, the father helps his son create and perform a new song for the person in his heart. “La Serenata” won Best Short Film at the prestigious Imagen Awards (sometimes called the Latino Golden Globes), and its young star, Malik Quetzalcoatl Cano, won the Silver Award for Best Child/Young Actor at the Independent Shorts Awards.
True, toys and films can’t directly change political and legal matters. Perhaps, though, they can shine a little light into the darkness. Increased representation and awareness may help sway hearts and minds in the long run and may offer those of us in marginalized communities a sense of community and connection. May the rest of the year be less spooky for us all.
TAGLINE Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.