Dad, Dad and me: Seattle is a haven for children of gays and lesbians
Children of gay and lesbian parents say they are just like everyone else, except maybe a little more tolerant of differences. And Seattle is a haven for children of gays and lesbians, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Special to The Seattle Times; Editor's note: Jordie Ricigliano wrote this article as a participant in Seattle University's Journalism Summer Workshop last month.
Annie Van Avery was 6 years old when her parents sat their two daughters down in their Minneapolis home to break the news. Mommy and Daddy wouldn't be together anymore because Daddy wanted to find his knight in shining armor.
Daddy and his knight. It wasn't something from Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or even out of Disney, but as long as Annie still had parents that supported and adored her, Annie knew she would be fine.
"You know as kids, we just got it," Annie said. "It was kind of romantic. Daddy was going to look for his prince."
Now Annie is 30 and living in Seattle. Ten years ago, her mom — who once left the life of a nun to pursue raising a family with Annie's father — came out as a lesbian. She has been happily committed to her partner ever since.
Annie handled that transition with ease, as well. She had been through this before. The love, and the family, would still be there.
No one knows exactly how many children are being raised by same-sex parents. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated there were anywhere from 1 million to 10 million children with gay or lesbian parents. But the Census also indicated that gay or lesbian families were virtually everywhere — with nearly a quarter of all gay or lesbian couples raising their children in at least 96 percent of all U.S. counties. Washington state had the third-highest concentration of same-sex couples in the nation.
Despite early concerns that children raised by homosexual parents would have issues developing their own gender identity, dozens of studies over three decades show that children raised by homosexual parents turn out just fine.
According to research by the American Psychological Association, there is little difference in overall health and well-being between the offspring of heterosexual parents and those raised by gay or lesbian parents.
Annie's family wasn't much different from other families, she said. Her parents remained friends after the divorce and vowed to work together to raise the kids. Her father moved a mile down the road so Annie and her sister could stay in the same school and visit whenever they wanted. He also served on the school board as an openly gay parent throughout their education.
Of course, the family had its own nuances. Growing up with a gay father made Annie aware of homophobia at a young age. She remembers an air of secrecy surrounding same-gendered couples and admits "I had to be much more sensitive to who I could trust" with that information.
Yet her family life also was peppered with candid conversations and lessons about openness, respect and the difference between tolerance and acceptance.
"All stereotypes were broken down," Annie recalled. "I learned to respect the way people raise their family. We were shown there can be a spectrum of sexuality; it's OK to love who you are gonna love."
A generation has gone by since Annie was a youngster. The taboo cloaking being gay is not so prevalent, with more gay and lesbian couples choosing to rear children. There are also more support groups reaching out to the children of gay or lesbian families.
Some things haven't changed though.
Ben Evans is a 12-year-old boy adopted by two fathers in Seattle. He doesn't think his family is any better or worse than any other, describing it as "fun, joyful and exciting."
Still, like Annie, Ben has faced challenges.
Dealing with bullies in elementary school has been most difficult. Ben remembers one boy in particular who menaced Ben for being different.
"I used to cry a lot," Ben said. "He [the boy] made fun of me because I am Asian, and because of my dads. He made me feel really small."
Despite the boy's intimidation tactics, Ben remembers reacting more with curiosity than anger, asking his dads questions about their family. Ben said he posed exactly five questions a day until he ran out of them.
He asked one of his dads why he didn't have a mom, along with asking both dads, "What's the difference between gay and lesbian?" and "How else are we different?"
He has learned to focus on what he loves most about his family: late-night movies, afternoons roller skating together, the first time they decided to "just go for it" and try snowshoeing together.
Ben also hangs out with a tight group of about five friends, one of whom is a Cambodian boy adopted by two mothers.
As for the bullies, Ben said he has refused to let the taunting get under his skin.
"I don't cry anymore," Ben said. "I don't care anymore 'cause I'm just who I am."
Seventeen-year-old Ryan Poling-Skutvik has a similar story, describing a loving upbringing with four moms and a younger sister.
Ryan was conceived through in-vitro insemination and his second mom adopted him right after birth. When he was 3, Ryan's two moms divorced and pursued new partners. They remained close friends, though, and Ryan considers them all his mothers. The entire family takes vacations together.
"We don't see ourselves as different," he said. "It's just normal to us."
As for Annie, she is the executive director of Photographic Center Northwest on Capitol Hill, is straight and calls herself a quiet advocate of the Seattle gay community. "I guess I make a statement," she said, "by not being what people expect."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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