Back-to-School Resources for LGBT Parents

Ala – August 24, 2012

Back-to-school time is here, which means it’s time for my annual back-to-school resource post, a tradition I first started way back in 2006. My own son wasn’t even in school then. He’s grown and changed, and so has this list. I originally wrote a version of the below as part of one of my newspaper columns last year. I’ve revised it somewhat and hope it remains useful, whether your children are just entering school, starting a new school, or encountering new issues along their educational journey.

For families with young children

The Human Rights Campaign’s An Introduction to Welcoming Schools guide is perhaps the best single resource for families with young children. It aims to help elementary school administrators, teachers, parents and guardians address family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying, and includes a bibliography of books on all kinds of families, LGBT and not.

Also be sure to check out the trailer for Welcoming School’s DVD, What Do You Know? Six- to twelve-year-olds talk about gays and lesbians,  an award-winning professional development film for elementary school staff and parents. If you buy the DVD (setting you back a mere $20), you’ll get the 13-minute film, a two-minute trailer, a four-minute special feature Teachers Respond, and a Facilitation Guide, as well as closed captioning and Spanish subtitles.

The Family Equality Council’s “Back to School Tool”—newly revised for 2012—is a useful short guide for LGBT parents on how to make our children’s schools safer and more inclusive. The organization also offers “Opening Doors,” a short but helpful booklet with tips for educators and others. It discusses the kind of prejudice children of LGBT families may face, how educators can support them, and how they can answer questions other children may have about them.

For families with older children

Many resources aimed at older students focus on LGBT youth, but most also have applicability to children of LGBT parents, whatever the children’s sexual orientation or gender identity:

GLSEN has extensive safe-schools materials for both educators and students, including information on its educator training program and starting gay-straight alliances.

PFLAG’s Safe Schools for All: Cultivating Respect program has similar materials (in both English and Spanish) for making schools safer, reducing bullying, and providing comprehensive health education. They also offer a certification program for PFLAG members who want to assist with staff training and policy creation in local schools.

The Gay-Straight Alliance Network has materials for starting or sustaining a GSA, as well as the guide “Beyond the Binary: Making Schools Safe for Transgender Youth,” a joint project with NCLR and the Transgender Law Center.

NCLR has additional safe-schools information, including samples of anti-harassment policies and memos to school boards.

Book recommendations

The American Library Association’s Rainbow List offers LGBT-inclusive children’s and young adult books chosen buy a committee of librarians for quality as well as content.

Click here to read the entire article.

Father’s Age Is Linked to Risk of Autism and Schizophrenia

August 22, 2012
New York Times

Older men are more likely than young ones to father a child who develops autism or schizophrenia, because of random mutations that become more numerous with advancing paternal age, scientists reported on Wednesday, in the first study to quantify the effect as it builds each year. The age of mothers had no bearing on the risk for these disorders, the study found.

Experts said that the finding was hardly reason to forgo fatherhood later in life, though it may have some influence on reproductive decisions. The overall risk to a man in his 40s or older is in the range of 2 percent, at most, and there are other contributing biological factors that are entirely unknown.

But the study, published online in the journal Nature, provides support for the argument that the surging rate of autism diagnoses over recent decades is attributable in part to the increasing average age of fathers, which could account for as many as 20 to 30 percent of cases.

The findings also counter the longstanding assumption that the age of the mother is the most important factor in determining the odds of a child having developmental problems. The risk of chromosomal abnormalities, like Down syndrome, increases for older mothers, but when it comes to some complex developmental and psychiatric problems, the lion’s share of the genetic risk originates in the sperm, not the egg, the study found.

Previous studies had strongly suggested as much, including an analysis published in April that found that this risk was higher at age 35 than 25 and crept up with age. The new report quantifies that risk for the first time, calculating how much it accumulates each year.

The research team found that the average child born to a 20-year-old father had 25 random mutations that could be traced to paternal genetic material. The number increased steadily by two mutations a year, reaching 65 mutations for offspring of 40-year-old men.

The average number of mutations coming from the mother’s side was 15, no matter her age, the study found.

“This study provides some of the first solid scientific evidence for a true increase in the condition” of autism, said Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. “It is extremely well done and the sample meticulously characterized.”

The new investigation, led by the Icelandic firm Decode Genetics, analyzed genetic material taken from blood samples of 78 parent-child trios, focusing on families in which parents with no signs of a mental disorder gave birth to a child who developed autism or schizophrenia. This approach allows scientists to isolate brand-new mutations in the genes of the child that were not present in the parents.

Most people have many of these so-called de novo mutations, which occur spontaneously at or near conception, and a majority of them are harmless. But recent studies suggest that there are several such changes that can sharply increase the risk for autism and possibly schizophrenia — and the more a child has, the more likely he or she is by chance to have one of these rare, disabling ones.

Some difference between the paternal and maternal side is to be expected. Sperm cells divide every 15 days or so, whereas egg cells are relatively stable, and continual copying inevitably leads to errors, in DNA as in life.

Still, when the researchers removed the effect of paternal age, they found no difference in genetic risk between those who had a diagnosis of autism or schizophrenia and a control group of Icelanders who did not. “It is absolutely stunning that the father’s age accounted for all this added risk, given the possibility of environmental factors and the diversity of the population,” said Dr. Kari Stefansson, the chief executive of Decode and the study’s senior author. “And it’s stunning that so little is contributed by the age of the mother.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Dan Savage Debates NOM’s Brian Brown on Marriage Equality

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Pastor Convicted in Parental Kidnapping Case

New York Times – by Erik Eckholm, August 14, 2012

After only four hours of deliberation, a federal jury in Burlington, Vt., found an Amish-Mennonite pastor guilty of abetting international parental kidnapping in a widely publicized case involving same-sex unions and conservative Christian opposition to homosexuality.

The pastor, Kenneth L. Miller of Stuarts Draft, Va., could face up to three years in prison. He was convicted of helping Lisa A. Miller flee to Nicaragua with her daughter, Isabella Miller-Jenkins, in September 2009 to evade court-ordered visits with Ms. Miller’s former partner in a civil union in Vermont.

After the verdict, about 100 of Mr. Miller’s supporters from the Beachy Amish-Mennonite sect, the women in traditional long dresses and head scarves, gathered outside the courthouse to sing “Amazing Grace” and other hymns.

After splitting up with the former partner, Janet Jenkins, in 2003, Ms. Miller, who is not related to Mr. Miller, declared herself a born-again Christian, denounced homosexuality, soon began interfering with visits and tried to strip Ms. Jenkins of her legal rights as a parent. Ms. Miller moved to Virginia and, in 2009, as a frustrated Family Court judge in Vermont threatened to transfer custody of the girl, disappeared with her daughter.

The Beachy Amish-Mennonites regard homosexual behavior as a sin.

In the trial, Mr. Miller’s lawyer, Joshua M. Autry, did not dispute the evidence that Mr. Miller had helped arrange for Ms. Miller and her daughter to fly from Canada to Nicaragua and obtain shelter from missionaries in his sect. But Mr. Autry argued that Mr. Miller did not realize that Ms. Miller was defying any court orders at the time of the flight.

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Gay dads, 12 kids are officially a family

by Karina Bland – Aug. 11, 2012 – The Republic

Steven and Roger Ham, gay men raising 12 children adopted from foster care,  were recently named to Esquire magazine’s list of the 10 best dads of  2012. But the two had no idea until it was pointed out to them.

They’re a little busy.

Steven spent six years at home taking care of the growing family. In January,  he went back to work full time now  that Olivia, the youngest, is 3 and eager to go to preschool like her  siblings.

Roger, who works as a school-bus driver and had the summer off, took 11 of  the kids on a three-week, 4,248-mile road trip that involved four DVD players,  three iPads, a 11/2-pound dog named Zeus and a tiny  orange kitten that Elizabeth, 13, found recently.

Vanessa, 17, the oldest, bailed out of the 15-passenger van at their first stop in  Las Vegas. She opted for a sibling-free visit with Steven’s brother and his wife  while the rest of the clan headed up the West Coast, camping near beaches along  the way to Washington state to visit family, and then back to San Diego.

The family appeared in a story last year in The Arizona Republic  chronicling the dads’ efforts to adopt in Arizona.

Roger and Steven, partners for almost 19 years, have pieced together their  large family here in Arizona, where two men can’t marry and where conservative  lawmakers have tried a half-dozen times to keep single people, including gays  and lesbians, from adopting foster children. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill  that moved married couples to the top of the waiting list for adoptions.

After the story, the pair got calls from journalists around the globe and  accolades from human-rights groups.

The publicity even garnered Steven, 44, and Roger, 48, two spots among 10  fathers “who showed us how it’s done” in an issue of Esquire dedicated to  fatherhood.

Amid all this, they also got a phone call from Washington state that would  bring their family even a little bit closer.

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Male Couples Face Pressure to Fill Cradles

August 9, 2012
New York Times

WASHINGTON — When the jubilant couple were wed in June, they exchanged personalized vows and titanium rings, cheered the heartfelt toasts and danced themselves breathless. Then, as the evening was winding down, unexpected questions started popping up.

One after another, their guests began asking: Are you going to have kids? When are you going to have kids?

Tom Lotito and Matt Hay, both 26, could not help but feel moved. They never imagined as teenagers that they would ever get married, much less that friends and family members would pester them about having children.

“It’s another way that I feel like what we have is valid in the eyes of other people,” said Mr. Hay, who married Mr. Lotito in June before 133 guests.

As lawmakers and courts expand the legal definition of the American family, same-sex couples are beginning to feel the same what-about-children pressure that heterosexual twosomes have long felt.

For some couples, it is another welcome sign of their increasing inclusion in the American mainstream. But for others, who hear the persistent questions at the office, dinner parties and family get-togethers, the matter can be far more complicated.

Many gay men had resigned themselves to the idea that they would never be accepted by society as loving parents and assumed they would never have children. They grieved that loss and moved on, even as other gay men and lesbians fully embraced childless lives. So the questions can unearth bittersweet feelings and cause deep divisions within a couple over whether to have children at all, now that parenting among same-sex couples is becoming more common.

The process can be also daunting logistically and financially, as would-be parents wrestle with whether to adopt or use a surrogate. And once they have children, many same-sex couples still endure the inevitable criticism — spoken or unspoken — from those who remain uncomfortable with the notion of their being parents.

But support for same-sex parents is growing steadily among Americans. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in July and released last week found for the first time that a majority of people surveyed — 52 percent — said that gay men and lesbians should be allowed to adopt children, up from 46 percent in 2008 and 38 percent in 1999.

The shift in public opinion and the simple question — Are you having children? — is nothing short of a marvel to some gay men, perhaps even more so than to lesbians, for whom giving birth has always been an option.

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Christie vetoes bill that would have eased tough rules for gestational surrogates

Wednesday, August 08, 2012 –

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie today vetoed a bill that would have relaxed New Jersey’s strict surrogate parenting law, saying the state hadn’t yet answered the “profound” questions that surround creating a child through a contract.

According to the governor’s statement explaining the veto obtained by The Star-Ledger, “Permitting adults to contract with others regarding a child in such a manner unquestionably raises serious and significant issues.”

“In contrast to traditional surrogacy, a gestational surrogate birth does not use the egg of the carrier,” the governor wrote. “In this scenario, the gestational carrier lacks any genetic connection to the baby, and in some cases, it is feasible that neither parent is genetically related to the child. Instead, children born to gestational surrogates are linked to their parents by contract.”

“While some all applaud the freedom to explore these new, and sometimes necessary, arranged births, others will note the profound change in the traditional beginnings of the family that this bill will enact. I am not satisfied that these questions have been sufficiently studied by the Legislature at this time,” according to the statement.

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Trial Due for Pastor in Dispute on Custody


August 6, 2012
New York Times

The curious involvement of an Amish-Mennonite sect in a high-profile case of international parental kidnapping will be on display — and perhaps become clearer — in a courtroom in Burlington, Vt., this week.

Jury selection is to begin Tuesday in the criminal trial of a pastor charged with helping Lisa A. Miller flee the country with her young daughter to prevent the girl from staying with Ms. Miller’s former partner in a civil union.

Kenneth L. Miller, 46, the leader of a Beachy Amish Mennonite church in Stuarts Draft, Va., is accused of helping Ms. Miller, who is no relation, violate custody orders, aiding her in her flight with her daughter, Isabella, to Nicaragua, where they were sheltered by missionaries of the sect. The pair have been missing since September 2009 and are believed to be in Central America.

The bitter and widely publicized custody battle that preceded Ms. Miller’s flight pitted conservative Christians using the slogan “Protect Isabella” against the courts and supporters of gay rights.

Ms. Miller repeatedly defied orders by a Vermont family court to allow Isabella to visit  Janet Jenkins, Isabella’s other legal parent. The Vermont civil union was officially dissolved in 2004; Ms. Miller, the birth mother, was granted custody, and Ms. Jenkins was awarded visitation rights.

Ms. Miller became a cause célèbre among evangelical opponents of same-sex marriage after she declared her newfound religious objection to homosexuality and spent years in court trying to end Ms. Jenkins’s parental rights. In September 2009, as a frustrated Vermont judge ordered one more visit and threatened to transfer custody of the girl to Ms. Jenkins, Ms. Miller and Isabella, then 7, disappeared from their home in Lynchburg, Va.

Federal agents eventually learned that the pair had flown to Nicaragua, where they were sheltered by missionaries of the Beachy Amish Mennonites, sect members have acknowledged. The group believes that same-sex marriage is a sin.

Mr. Miller contacted a fellow pastor in Nicaragua to ask if he would buy one-way airplane tickets for Ms. Miller and her daughter, meet them at the Managua airport and arrange a place to stay, according to recovered e-mails, telephone records and the deposition of the missionary in Nicaragua.

Ms. Miller and Isabella remain missing, but federal agents believe they remain in hiding somewhere in Nicaragua, possibly with covert help from conservative Christians.

How Kenneth Miller met Lisa Miller and who drove the pair to the Canadian border so they could fly from Toronto remain mysteries.

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