It would be reasonable to suggest that the once divisive concept of two mum or two dad families has now been accepted into the mainstream. Council run fostering and adoption departments often target same sex couples with their marketing
campaigns, private and NHS fertility services advertise their services in lesbian bible DIVA, and gay men are regularly invited to start a family using surrogacy agencies from California to Kolkata.
So far, so good. And yet, as with so much progressive legislation down the years, it seems all too clear that societal attitudes have some way to go before they catch up with the law of the land. Let us not forget that homophobia is alive and well throughout the United Kingdom, exactly 50 years after sexual activity between gay men was decriminalised.
My daughters, twins of ten, are constantly asked why they have two mums, or where their dad is. Sure, kids will be curious, and in the black and white world of young childhood, questions are inevitable. But when curiosity turns to insistent questioning and then to bullying, we need to ask whether schools, local authorities and other stakeholders are doing enough to normalise what is an increasingly commonplace domestic situation.
Recently, after a severe bout of bullying based on nothing other than the twins had two mums, my ex-partner and I took immediate steps of going into the school to complain. We were more than alarmed to see that not only did the school not know how to deal with this, but were inclined to shrug it off. We advised that they call Diversity Role Models, an organisation which goes into schools to tackle head-on homophobic bullying. All schools should take note.
We do not need a revolution, but we do need to make some simple changes so that two-mum and two-dad families are seen as part of the mainstream. These changes include ensuring that official forms are gender neutral, rather than asking for the signature of a ‘father’ and ‘mother’. Frontline staff need to be trained not to make assumptions based on outmoded ideas of a nuclear family (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked about my husband or my daughters’ father), and schools need to ensure that all pupils understand that, in 21st century Britain, families come in all shapes and sizes.
In the USA, in one of the most compelling survey’s I have read in recent times from GLAAD USA ‘Southern Stories’, it was noted that although many work colleagues would invite their gay workmates to their wedding, they were not so ready to extend the invitation to the children of same sex couples.
In this ‘always on’ digital age, where children are seemingly glued to their smartphones, we also need to hold social media organisations to account. For too long they have tolerated disgusting homophobic abuse, including the vilification of same sex families. Children with two mums or two dads can’t avoid coming across this abuse, with a hugely detrimental effect on their wellbeing and self-esteem. These tech giants, quite rightly, do not permit the abuse of – for example – mixed race families, and I call on them to apply the same standards to the LGBT community.
We have come a very long way in a very short time, but these are just the first steps and we must continue to fight, to campaign and to call out injustice where we find it. No child deserves to have his or her family denigrated simply because of their parents’ gender, and none of us should rest until such unacceptable prejudice is consigned to the history books.