Television and movies created an image of a modern-day same-sex family: a white, often attractive, affluent couple in a city raising a child they adopted or conceived with a donor and surrogate. However, LGBT parents across the country are diverse in race, income and openness, which author Michael Shelton explores in his upcoming book “Family Pride.”
In his book, Shelton tackles stereotypes of the LGBT community in general, especially LGBT parents.
Shelton wrote a previous book on youth programming, which included LGBT children but did not specifically address the children of same-sex parents. After working for Mountain Meadow, a camp for the children of LGBT families, Shelton realized the full extent of diversity in the LGBT community.
“I realized nobody’s really addressing diversity in this population,” Shelton says during a phone interview this week. “The media only seems to focus on a small, small snippet of LGBT families, so that was my goal, to focus on diversity.”
One topic Shelton discusses is the “pink economy” or the assumption that most gays and lesbians are, “well educated and have discretionary money for all those high-priced accoutrements out of reach of the average middle-class-income wage earner.” Shelton cites a study by the Williams Institute showing the median household income of same-sex couples with children is 23 percent lower than that of their heterosexual counterparts. Additionally, one in five children living with same-sex parents are poor, as compared to one in 10 children living with heterosexual parents. Shelton also says poverty levels increase when the same-sex parents live in urban areas and/or are people of color.
Shelton further explores underrepresented LGBT parents of color. According to a study by the Our Family Coalition, more than half of the LGBT Asian, African-American and Hispanic couples living in California ages 22-25 are raising children. Only 18 percent of white, 22-25 year-old same-sex couples in California have children.
Another myth Shelton works to unravel is that of the urban-dwelling gays and lesbians. While it is true that many in the LGBT community prefer to move to more accepting environments, such as large cities, a large segment of the community choose, for one reason or another, to live in suburbs and rural areas of the Midwest and the South. Shelton interviewed families who may have found accepting suburban communities, did not have the financial means to live elsewhere or simply prefer not to live in a city.
Perhaps most staggering of all is the abundance of closeted LGBT parents. Shelton discussed the idea of “parental shame” in relation to their sexuality, which may or may not be carried on to their children. He describes two cases in particular of LGBT parents keeping their sexual identity a secret.
The first involves a gay man in Kentucky, Chris, who is gay and raising a child with his heterosexual wife. She is unaware of her husband’s sexuality. As a teenager, Chris believed it would be impossible to live his life openly and decided to marry and keep his secret to himself.
Shelton also describes a lesbian couple in the Ozarks raising a 14-year-old son from one of their previous marriages. Their community believes they are friends living together to help support each other. Their son identifies as gay and is comfortable with his sexuality. His mothers discourage him from coming out in fear of having their own relationship questioned and causing speculation that they “made him gay.”
The author describes this behavior as stemming from gays and lesbians growing up in repressive environments. They may think that living a closeted, seemingly heterosexual life as their only option.
Shelton’s book sheds light on the diversity within the LGBT parental community. Look for “Family Pride” in January from Beacon Press.