Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico came to Boston last fall to read from their new book, “You Can Tell Just by Looking”: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People. The book confronts some of the most common myths and misunderstandings about LGBT life and people. Myths, such as “All Religions Condemn Homosexuality” and “Transgender People Are Mentally Ill,” have been used to justify discrimination and oppression of LGBT people. Others, such as “Homosexuals Are Born That Way,” have been embraced by LGBT communities and their allies. In discussing and dispelling these myths—including gay-positive ones—the authors challenge readers to question their own beliefs and to grapple with the complexities of what it means to be queer in the broadest social, political, and cultural sense.
While waiting for the event to start, we had the opportunity to ask the authors about some key myths affecting the cultural landscape of LGBT people, and about LGBT parents in particular, a demographic sure to rise given marriage equality’s gaining acceptance. As the authors say in the book, “The often bitter debate that swirls around LGBT families cloaks the larger discussion: how do we all create a culture that nurtures all children, in all kinds of families, to grow into happy, loving, successful adults?...Until we create new ways for parents and children to live healthily together, neither will grow and thrive, especially as families.”
One argument against gay marriage and gay parenting is that LGBT parents are bad for children. Where does this claim come from, and is there any truth to it?
Michael Bronski: My immediate response is that all parents are bad for children and gay and lesbian parents shouldn’t be let off the hook. But that’s too flippant for the reality which is that there’s a long history of gay people being suspected of actually mistreating, abusing, sexually abusing children, and that is the overwhelming force behind this myth. Every single study shows that children function and are raised perfectly well under lesbian, gay, and same sex parents as any heterosexual parents. There’s no question—the American Psychological Association, sociologists, have all agreed upon this. So the myth is completely false. Having said that, I think it’s also important to say that children grow up in very specific families, and families that love their children produce very healthy, vibrant children. Dysfunctional families probably produce more dysfunctional children. The truth behind the myth is that all children are products of their families. Lesbians and gay men function under the burden of actually being suspect as parents, and that’s completely unfair and completely untrue. (Note: Watch a video of Michael Bronski’s answer above.)
Ann Pellegrini: The other piece of this is that, in all of these debates that happen about whether or not children raised by same sex parents are more likely to have host of problems—drug addictions, they won’t do well in school, they won’t thrive—no one actually talks to the children themselves who grew up in same sex families. I think that the children would have a very different story to tell. Of course, one of the poignant things that has happened in some of the debates around the country around same sex marriage is we have started to hear from some children, teenagers, speaking out on their parents’ behalf and their families’ behalf. And it’s a rare moment to get to hear what kids have to say, because this is a debate that talks about what’s best for kids but we prefer not to hear the actual voices of kids.
Michael Amico: There is an assumption that LGBT parents might make their kids gay or lesbian because that’s what their sexuality is. But the fact of the matter is that most gay, lesbian and bisexual people actually come from straight parents.
MB: I would just add that there are a wealth of studies that show that there is damage done to children from gay and lesbian parents. These are studies that are predicated on looking for harm done to the children. They are not objective studies. They actually do not do these studies looking at heterosexual parents. So the methodology that in fact the Christian right or the conservative groups use is completely biased.
AP: If you look for evidence that children are struggling in life, you’ll find it. Because it’s hard being a child.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Michael Bronski has been involved in gay liberation as a political organizer, writer, and editor for four decades. He is the author of several award-winning books, including A Queer History of the United States, and most recently coauthored “You Can Tell Just by Looking”: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People. He is currently Professor of the Practice in Activism and Media in the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Ann Pellegrini is professor of performance studies and religious studies at New York University, where she also directs NYU's Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. She has written extensively about religion, sexuality, and US public life. Her publications include Performance Anxieties and the coauthored book Love the Sin.
Michael Amico is a PhD candidate in American studies at Yale University, and is writing a history of the love between two men in the Civil War. He has written for LGBT youth publications, such as Young Gay America, and provided political analysis for the Boston Phoenix and other venues.