What I remember most about May 6, 1993 was chasing my twin sister around on the white-washed steps of a very important building. And I recall my two moms, dressed to the nines in pantsuits and heals, beaming down at us. It was a special day: Moments before, my family of four had gathered in the New York State Family Court, accompanied by our family lawyer, to sign some paperwork and—most importantly in my mind—receive lollipops from the judge. I was barely six-and-a-half years old as my non-biological Mom legally adopted me and my sister, making us just the second family headed by a same-sex couple in New York State to successfully realize a second-parent adoption. We still celebrate “Adoption Day,” our very personal holiday, every year.
As I then understood it, Adoption Day meant that if something happened to my biological mom, my non-biological mom would maintain all the same rights as a biological parent. At 6, I was completely unaware of the nuances of the adoption and the layer upon layer of legal stipulations that would govern my relationship to my newly legal second mom, nor did I care. The legal status was irrelevant compared to the unconditional love and support both my parents offered. I had no conception of the struggles families like ours had encountered in order to ensure that the non-biological parent be guaranteed equal standing.
In 1993, second-parent adoption was considered a major stepping stone in the gay rights movement. Adoptive rights, or second-parent adoption for gay and lesbian parents, was hotly contested: Would it undermine the sanctity of marriage or the traditional heterosexual family structure? Would it promote “degenerate” lifestyles? Would the “kids be alright?” These questions still resound with homophobes more than two decades later. But in New York City, 1992, the conversation turned to action as the first lesbian couple—whose son coincidentally went to my progressive Upper West Side middle school—won their case for adoptive rights. My family followed soon after. A precedent had now been established for other gay/lesbian couples and their beloved children.
Fast-forward 20 years to June 26, 2013. Once again, I see a jubilant couple—lots of couples, actually—standing on white-washed steps of a very important building. This time, however, they’re marking the triumphant ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down DOMA and Proposition 8, thus expanding marriage rights to gays and lesbians. As television and social media ran image after image, jpg after jpg, of the Prop 8 plaintiffs holding hands, I could not help but replay Adoption Day once again. But now I have a much better understanding of its significance and why it meant so much to my Moms: Not only did it provide a sense of security and validity to our family, but—just like marriage equality—it made more concrete the hopes and aspirations of all gay couples to have families that could stand on the same legal footing as heterosexual couples.
Over the last two decades, I have also grown to contemplate the role that I, a “gayby,” can play in promoting broader acceptance of the LGBTQI community. As my fellow gaybys—or at least those born before this term was even coined, much less emblazoned on baby bibs—reach our mid-20s, I hope that we can find our voices to construct new meanings and provide insight into what it’s like to be part of the struggle for equal rights.
In the series I’m beginning with this blog post, I’m not out to prove that the kids are alright; I know we are. But we have faced different sorts of experiences than children from “traditional” families, and I’m interested in starting a conversation with gaybys and others about the unique challenges that have been faced by children in same-sex families. I look forward to debate and thoughtful comments.
When the Supreme Court made its historic rulings in June, my Facebook was suddenly inundated with messages of pride and celebration. In that moment, I felt a myriad of feelings, not the least of which was an urge to order my first gayby T-shirt from Amazon. As I scrolled down my newsfeed, I noticed several photos from other Upper-West Side gaybys, many of us having found each other through social media. One photo that particularly struck me, clearly dating back to the early ’90s, was of two women smiling with a blonde toddler in the foreground. The caption read: “After 30 years of dedication and love, my Moms can now be legal. I <3 my Moms!”
Without hesitation, I “liked” the photo, and realized that the time is upon us gaybys to be telling our stories.
Image of Gayby T-shirt from Zazzle
Julia Brown-Bernstein teaches U.S history to middle schoolers in Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and UCLA.