No good deed goes unpunished.
That is certainly the case for Michael Gregg Valdez and Michael Oberg, who took in the four young children of Valdez?s niece. The niece asked the couple to take care of her children while she dealt with some drug-related criminal matters.
Already parenting Valdez?s biological daughter, Michael and Gregg, as Valdez is known, are more than happy to provide a stable, loving home until the children?s mother is ready to do the same. The problem is they live in Utah, where two unmarried people cohabitating cannot serve as foster or adoptive parents.
The state?s Division of Children and Family Services asked the courts to take the children away from the two men so they could be placed in foster homes more to the state?s liking – married, heterosexual households. Instead of handing custody to the state, the court took custody of the kids and then turned around and granted Gregg temporary custody. For now, the four will stay together.
This is just the type of situation that fuels the passion of Jennifer Chrisler, the executive director of the Family Equality Council. You may have known the organization as Family Pride – the name was recently changed to reflect their purpose of achieving family equality for all loving families.
?Mike and Gregg?s willingness to open their homes and hearts highlights what is best about families – love, commitment, strength, and support,? Chrisler told me recently. ?Utah?s law regarding placement of foster care children is not good public policy, nor is it good for children.?
Ballot initiatives banning gay adoption and fostering may well raise their ugly heads in the 2008 presidential race – although when that tactic was used in 2004, it didn?t gain much traction. However, according to Chrisler, Arkansas is likely to mount a ballot initiative that in the long run will just hurt kids in need of loving homes.
And in Texas, the state is proposing spending close to $3 million to investigate current foster parents. If any of the parents are found to be LGBT, the kids will be yanked from the homes.
Chrisler has been working to protect those kids and their LGBT families since April of 2005, when she came to the Council, then located in Washington, D.C., after serving as a fundraising consultant for political campaigns and LGBT organizations in Massachusetts. She and her spouse, Cheryl Jacques (yes, the same Cheryl Jacques who helmed the Human Rights Campaign for a brief and shining moment) recently moved back to the Bay State with their 5-year-old fraternal twins, Tim and Tom. The organization moved with them, and is now headquartered in Boston.
?I?m a mother. I?m raising my kids in a world where our families don?t have what they need to keep each other strong and protected,? she noted. ?Kids spend a lot of time explaining who their families are, and I?d like that to stop.?
In the little more than two years that Chrisler has been at FEC, she has transformed the organization into a political powerhouse.
Remember the Easter Egg Roll at the White House, where LGBT families wore rainbow leis and received national media attention? That was thanks to FEC.
When James Dobson from Focus on the Family wrote a hateful op-ed in Time Magazine about Mary Cheney?s pregnancy, FEC pressured the conservative weekly to run a counterpoint piece entitled ?Two Mommies or Two Daddies Will Do Fine, Thanks,? authored by Chrisler. The piece focused on the inequity of Virginia state law – where Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe, live with their son – and how Poe is without any legal parental rights.
?Some of the pressing issues we face are marriage equality and uniform parenting laws,? said Chrisler. ?We need laws that recognize the complicated and creative ways our families are created. Issues such as surrogacy, sperm donors, and divorce create legal complications. It would be nice to have a uniform law to protect our families.?
A community organizer at heart, Chrisler understands that she can?t be the only one out there speaking on behalf of family equality. Through OUTspoken Families, the organization?s national speakers bureau, more than 1,000 people in 39 states, D.C., one U.S. territory, and three foreign countries have been trained to speak out on family equality issues.
?We?re training people to be advocates for themselves, their families, friends, and people they care about at every level of their life, from responding to a comment in an elevator to speaking to the PTA,? said Chrisler. ?We have a lot of people raising the issue of family equality at lots of different levels…we?re working to change the hearts and minds of straight people we come into contact with.?
Changing those hearts and minds means changing the way LGBT families live. Many of us no longer have to live in the shadows, afraid that someone will find out that our kids have two mommies or two daddies. But for those who do, FEC and Chrisler work to change laws, make schools safer, and create a national LGBT family movement that can no longer be ignored.
Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.
No good deed goes unpunished.