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Guest Writer: Cheryl Dumesnil, “We’re Just Like Any Other Family, Except”

When I met New Zealand’s openly gay member of Parliament, viagra sale Kevin Hague, information pills we talked about a passion of mine that I share with most Kiwis – rugby. We met Kevin at the University of Waikato in Hamilton where he had been participating in a national educational summit for LGBT students. Thirty years ago in July 1981 in this very week at this very university, stuff Kevin participated in a historic protest of the South African rugby union tour of New Zealand as part of an anti-apartheid movement.

He said, “I invaded the university rugby pitch and stood in a group of people in the middle of the field preventing the local provincial rugby team from playing the South African apartheid rugby team. The game was called off.” Police then arrested Kevin among fifty other protesters.

Kevin explained the importance of this local demonstration that attracted international attention. He said, “South Africa and New Zealand have had a lot in common. We were both rugby playing nations. South Africa had viewed New Zealand as their only international peer in rugby playing and vice versa. Being able to continue sporting contact in rugby with New Zealand was an incredibly important moral booster for apartheid South Africa.”

At the time, this controversial tour polarized opinions and divided New Zealanders, inspiring widespread protest. Many nations already had taken a strong stance against apartheid. Kevin said, “While international condemnation of apartheid grew, white South Africa bolstered their regime by saying that even though we have a lot of enemies in the world, New Zealand is still our friend and we can still play rugby with them. There were many in New Zealand who said that it was just a game. But you can’t just have a game when it has that political meaning and that meaning is either in favor of the apartheid regime or against it.”

The impact of the protest echoed far greater than they knew at the time. He said, “This was going to be the first international game to be played live on South African television. Instead of watching a rugby game, whites and blacks saw a large demonstration of support to end apartheid. This image gave confidence and belief to freedom fighters in South Africa.”

This moment also began Kevin’s political aspirations. “The anti-apartheid campaign galvanized for me and a great source of pride. For many New Zealanders, this campaign got them from being a political passenger to becoming a participant. The gay rights movement drew out of a lot of the anti-apartheid protest. Our community found a new willingness to push forward in a situation where the police said ‘no you can’t do that’ to find strong political voice. Five years later, New Zealand passed the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, the law that de-criminalized homosexual activity a full seventeen years before the US policy changed.

Kevin is known for his fierce dedication to gay rights, HIV awareness, and environmental issues. He carries the physique and presence of a forward on a rugby team. With him leading the charge, I would gladly follow him against any opposition down the field toward victory.

VIDEO: Where does New Zealand stand in terms of marriage equality and adoption rights? Check out Kevin’s interview where he talks to us about celebrating 25 years of the Homosexual Reform Act and the direction of gay rights in New Zealand…

Greeting from Australia! One of our very own Supergays, page writer and poet Cheryl Dumesnil contributed this article to Out & Around. Cheryl’s also shared with us “The C Word”, more aboutI’ve Been Married Three Times, ” and “Old (Kind of Sort of, Almost) Gay Navy.” We love her as our California correspondent writing about the crossroads of parenthood, lesbians and suburbia.

We’re just like any other family, except . . .

The other night, tired from wrangling (what seems like) a wild pack of (two) boys through the rigors of suburban summer fun (fort building, karate lessons, swimming, bickering, jumping on furniture, being reminded not to jump on furniture, family dance party, bedtime story), I popped the movie Made in Dagenham in the DVD player and commenced operation relaxation.

This histo-pic follows a 1968 labor strike in which Ford Motor Company machinists, all of them women, walked out of their plant, demanding equal pay for equal work. I suspect the actual strike ran like coarse-grit sandpaper against the psyches of the machinists. By comparison, the film version tasted a lot like cotton candy, with even the tragic moments offset by light banter about fashion and a groovy soundtrack. In other words: perfect feel-good movie for a weary parent/activist to watch after the house goes quiet for the night.

Blissing out on Norma-Rae-meets-Disney, I started fantasizing a life in which all social actions progressed so neatly. And then this tasty bit of dialogue yanked me off my fluffy pink cloud: when Britain’s Employment and Productivity Secretary Barbara Castle tells machinist-turned-labor-leader Rita O’Grady that she needs to be patient, politics move slowly, Ms. O’Grady, bless her heart, responds, “But we’re not politicians; we’re working women.”

Bingo.

That line resonates this morning, while I’m supposed to be packing for my family’s annual lake vacation. But instead of running through my “Travel with Kids Inventory,” checking off boxes as I drop items into our suitcases (yes, I actually typed up an inventory, and no I’m not one of those obsessive parents who creates dinner menu spreadsheets—it’s just easier to remember the sunscreen this way), I am preparing for a reporter to show up at our house and interview my wife Tracie and me about the 2010 Census, the first to tally same-sex marriages.

Yep, they finally counted the queers. But only the married ones. (Insert shrug.) It’s a start.

Playing “Suburban Lesbian Poster Family” is not new to us. We’ve been doing so since our oldest son was kickin’ it in utero. Seriously. Go to Wikipedia, search “lesbian,” scroll down to “families and politics,” and there he is, riding down Market Street in my belly, as if I were some kind of parade float. Our friends’ daughter discovered that photo while doing research for a school project, and that was the first we’d heard of it.

That’s how it works when you’re raising kids on the front lines of a cultural war. As many queer parents will attest, even when we don’t volunteer for interviews, even when we’re just taking the kiddos to the local taqueria for burritos, we are, de facto, representing the Great American Lesbofam.

Which is why that line, “we’re not politicians; we’re working women,” grabbed me. We are not politicians. We are, first and foremost, a family, much like all those traditional families inhabiting all the ranch-style homes on our tree-shaded street. Like any parents, we want our kids to be safe, healthy, responsible, and self-loving. Like any parents, we struggle to balance our family and work responsibilities while also nurturing our marriage and individual selves. Our neighbors get this, and they treat us accordingly. To them, we’re just any other family on the block.

As much as I appreciate this heart-felt acceptance (and I do, I truly do), I’d like to add a few caveats:

We’re just like any other family, except we’re also activists, even when we don’t mean to be. LGBT families are inherently political. When we get married, it’s political. When we cross off the word “father” and write in the word “mother” on the pediatrician’s intake form, it’s political. When we show up at the lake with our little darlings in tow, we are not just a family on vacation—we are one of those families the conservative politicos are hissing about.

We’re just like any other family, except some people are really scared of us. Like so scared that their fear shows up as hate. So scared that they want to stick their fingers in their ears and go la la la la la and pretend we don’t exist. Which is why even the simple act of counting us in the Census generated upheaval in DC. Just counting us. Go figure.

Side Note to Scaredy-Cats-Who-Spew-Hate: Dinosaurs: real. Queers: real. Monsters in your closet: quite possibly real. But don’t worry, we won’t steal your children (we already have our own), and we won’t turn your kids gay (they showed up that way), but we will support them if and when they come out. How about you? P.S. See you at the grocery store. Mwah ha ha ha!

Sorry. I had to. Back to my caveats:

We’re just like any other family, except we’re raising children on top of an ever-shifting fault line of LGBT rights. We never know, from day to day, state to state, country to country, if our bonds to each other are legal. And while I feel safe in our friendly neighborhood, in our (aside from that Prop 8 debacle) progressive state of California, my family’s vulnerability becomes glaringly apparent when we travel, wandering into uncertain social waters and foreign legal territory. So, on my list of vacation-preparation to-dos, next to “install carseats” and “pack snacks,” you’ll find “research rights.”

Side Note to Techies: Is there an app for that yet? Type in your destination and see if your spouse can visit you in the hospital there, or if your son is still your son when you cross state lines? If not, there should be. And if you have the capacity to write such an app, call me—I’ll want a small percentage of the profits for my kids’ college fund.

Ultimately, what differentiates LGBT parents from our heterosexual counterparts are not the gender boxes we check on our Census forms, but our added responsibilities as political strategists, social scientists, and legal experts.

This morning is a perfect example: instead of searching for the kids’ swim vests in the depths of our garage, I’m wondering if I should prepare for the reporter’s arrival by dismantling the sheet-and-pillow fort that’s taking up half our living room, or by researching the Census.

And then I remember what my friend Stuart said the other night: these reporters don’t want us to be legal or political experts; they want us to share our personal lives.

Right. We’re not politicians; we’re parents. Except . . .

Yeah, okay, I’d better go clean up that fort.

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4 Responses

  1. Cheryl. What a wonderful post. Human. Real. Accessible. I like this so much. I love what you are doing and how you see your family. Why can’t we read more things like this in the mainstream? Non-confrontational. No hype. No politice. Just being people. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  2. Even though we don’t have kids (yet), I have a mental tally running in my head about which countries we can and cannot visit in my head, ie. in which countries it is illegal or punishable by death for being queer. Sadly, a majority of the gorgeous places in Africa and the Middle East are out.

    1. Thanks Martha. know what you mean. I still remember nvaihg dinner with friends after 9/11 and talking about how ridiculous it was that Bush was even entertaining the idea of invading Iraq. Classic bully behavior, except the the stakes are so high in this situation.

  3. Cheryl, As always you are eloquent, delightful and brilliant. Thanks for speaking the truth without waving a big stick. We are who we are, imperfect, loving parents who want the best for our kids. Not so strange or scary really.

    Kathleen

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