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Meet the Kids of LGBTQ Parents

hope

Hope, raised in New York City by her two dads:
“I knew that there was other structures of families because I would see my friends’ families and my aunts and uncles and I knew that people had something called a mother that I didn’t necessarily have, but I didn’t really think that I was so much in the minority. I wondered about my birth family and my birth mother in particular, but in terms of my own development, I don’t feel like I suffered because of it. I think that my parents did a fantastic job of helping to raise me to be a strong woman, but in terms of that question piece about where did I come from– sometimes I still wonder that, and then other times it just kinda disappears in terms of its importance.”

mark

Mark, raised in Pennsylvania by his mom and his dad, who came out when he was in college:
“My dad is gay. He’s still really in the coming-out process right now. I had an inclination that my dad was gay from the very beginning of time. I always knew I was queer, which helps. I would see early on in my childhood, my father using the same behaviors to conceal his own femininity that I did, like he would uncross his legs or he would stop talking with his hands.”

Thirteen days before the Supreme Court issued its historic ruling on same-sex marriage, New York City-based photographer Gabriela Herman shared her story, and those of other children of LGBTQ parents, with The New York Times and ultimately, with the world. The Kids, now in its fifth year, is the photographer’s ongoing investigation into the realities that linger, previously under-explored and under-researched, beneath the once-abstract debate around how nationwide legalization, and how being raised by LGBTQ parents, truly affects children.

Herman’s own mother came out of the closet when the photographer was a teenager; she experienced firsthand the separation of her parents and later her mother’s marriage to her partner. Fifteen years later, Herman set out to in search of peers who had had similar childhoods; armed with the perspective of several years, she felt that the adult children of LGBTQ individuals had both the language and the experience to speak on their personal histories. The portraits are a record of their interaction, a collaboration that necessitated intimate and frank interviews with her subjects.

The photographer began with subjects she met through COLAGE, a community organization that offers resources and support to individuals with LGBTQ parents. She first gained access to the group through COLAGE organizer Danielle Silber, who hosts meetings in which group members are welcomed to talk openly and safely about their feelings and their memories of their parents’ coming out. Through many of these initial sitters, Herman was introduced to more people who leapt at the chance to share their stories, which in some cases, had not previously been discussed freely or at length.

Over the course of the last years, Herman has met and photographed a diverse array of individuals, each with something new and important to say. Some grew up in accepting environments wherein being gay was accepted as a norm, where others were surrounded by communities that were less willing to understand the many forms that families can take. Where some had had their moments of confusion, others hadn’t given much thought to their parents’ sexual orientation, framing it simply as a fact of their lives. Like children from all sorts of families, they have parents whom they love, and parents who have shaped them into the adults they are today.

In the coming years, Herman suspects that more and more communities will learn not only to tolerate but also to embrace families with LGBTQ parents. She imagines one day that life won’t be as complicated for her own kid, as it has been for older generations who have been hesitant to welcome or to comprehend the fact that parents come in all genders and all sexual orientations.

Most of all, suggests the artist, she hopes that people will take the time to listen to “the children” that are so easily discussed but rarely given a chance to speak for themselves. At a recent talk Herman gave, a man who had been married to and co-parented with a gay woman approached her to say that he had never really sat his kids down to see how they felt; she had inspired him to do exactly that. As for herself, she says the project has been “therapeutic.” Before the piece was published in The New York Times, she sent her mother what she had written, admitting that she was anxious to hear her response. After a few days of phone tag, she finally got her mother on the phone, and the latter said simply, “I read it, and I love it.”

elizabeth

Elizabeth, raised in Boston by her mom and dad who came out when she was in college:
“He said, ‘it’s time for me to confront my identity’ and I asked ‘are you gay?’ and he says, ‘Well, I haven’t had any experiences to be sure.’ and I think the next words out of my mouth were, ‘Dad, I’m pretty sure you’re gay.’”

annie

Annie, raised in Athens, Ohio, by her mom and dad, who transitioned to a woman when she was 4:
“i don’t actually remember my father as a man, I guess it’s like i’ve grown up with two moms. But for me it was never a big thing almost in a way because I didn’t know anything else. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I had to deal with telling people. I just hadn’t really talked about it, much less seen it as a social issue and as something that should be fought for and you know – I didn’t identify with that group at all.”

danielle

Danielle, raised in Washington, D.C., by her two moms and four dads:
“When I was about 4, my friend and I were playing house and she always got to play the mom and this time I was not gonna have it. We got into a big heated fight about it. So my mom comes running inside to ask what’s the matter, ‘why don’t you both play the mother?’ and I looked at her incredulously and said, ‘you can’t do that’ and she looked at me and said ‘Danielle, you have 2 mothers!’”

aaron

Aaron, raised in Berkeley, California, by his two moms and, after their separation when he was 7, by his mothers and step-father:
“My moms split up when I was about 7, because my biological mom fell in love with a man. I knew my family was different, but it wasn’t weird different, it was just a different kind of family.”

allison

Allison, raised in Connecticut and Vermont by her mom and her mom’s partner:
“As soon as I found out [my new school] had a gay-straight alliance I just — it was amazing, to know that there are other kids my age — to realize that they were supportive of LGBT people. I wasn’t the only one who knew gay people and it wasn’t this dark secret that I had to hide.”

jamie

Jamie, raised outside Chicago by her mom and various partners
“I was raised by my mom and her different partners, but a lot of her past partners and friends were in my life, to the extent that I feel I was raised by a lot of different women.”

vanessa

Vanessa, Raised in northern Virginia by her mom and dad, who came out when she was 28:
“For me and my sister, we were more upset about the feeling of being lied to for a long time than about my dad’s sexuality.”

darnell

Darnell, raised in Menlo Park, California, by his two moms and his dad:
“I took for granted the fact that I was surrounded by lesbians all the time and I thought that was very normal. I have a vague memory of listening to pop music on the radio and just assuming that the person singing was probably singing to a person of the same gender.”

diana

Diana, raised in Ossining, New York, by her mom and dad, who came out when she was in college:
“My dad says if I hadn’t confronted him, his plan was to live the rest of his life being closeted. Like he thought he would never tell anyone.”

dori

Dori, raised in New Jersey by her dad and mom, who came out when she was 8
“I slowly started to come out to people [about my mom] after college. It went from like a fourth or fifth-date conversation to like a first-date conversation.”

ilana

Ilana, raised in Pittsburgh by her dad and her mom, who came out when she was 16:
“My mom — it was her midlife crisis — some people get new cars, my mom got a new sexual orientation.”

lucas

Lucas, raised in Gainesville, Florida, by his divorced dad and mom, who came out when he was 15:
“My mom being gay was always really easy for me to accept because I was brought up in a way to accept all people. It was unusual, but it wasn’t hard at all. If the situation was worse for my mom, if it was harder to be gay than it is for her, then I probably would be more determined to fight for her rights.”

lauren

Lauren, raised in Kansas City, Missouri, by her mom and dad, who came out when she was 7:
“The fact that my parents were divorced way overshadowed the fact that my dad was gay. I think it’s great for [my son] because he’s growing up with two grandpas and will never know the difference. My dad is not more of a grandpa than [his partner]; he’s growing up with both of them, at the same time, they’re both equally as much grandpas.”

kerry

Kerry, raised in New Jersey by her dad and mom, who came out when she was 11:
“I remember a conversation with my mom where she was talking about how she would like to marry another woman. When I was really little I wanted to marry my best friend so I was like, ‘oh, it’s like me and Sarah?’ she was like, ‘no, not like you and Sarah.’”

karen

Karen, raised in southern Oregon by her dad and mom, who came out when she was in her twenties:
“Living in New York has made me more accepting. It makes it easier to talk about it. Where I grew up, no one was gay, nobody talked about it. But here, everyone you meet is gay and everyone talks about it and it’s a great thing.”

john

John, raised in New England by his mom and Seattle by his dad, who came out when he was 2, and his dad’s partner:
“The first time it was ever spoken about was when my mom bought this book ‘Daddy’s Roommate’.”

moshe

Moshe, raised in upstate New York by his two moms:
“Me and my moms have always been super close, but of course there was that young teenage phase of hating her. But now she’s like my rock and always there for me. I love her.”

paloma

Paloma, raised in Newton, Massachusetts by her dad and mom, who came out when she was 13

robin

Robin, raised in New Mexico by her two moms and two dads:
“In college I was in a class about social justice and there was a guy there who brought up the fact that he has two moms. And I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ Actually my initial reaction was that I was kind of upset, because at that point it felt like my own thing. And I was finally being ok with having been so islotated that finally finding someone in my community I was like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s the thing that sets me apart!’ but of course we got to be really close and it was really amazing. ”

shira

Shira, raised in Pittsburgh by her dad and her mom, who came out when she was in college:
“As soon as she told me that she found someone else, I knew who it was. I knew that it was a woman. She’d mentioned this woman once or twice to me on the phone in a friend context, and you could just tell. It’s like when you talk to a friend and you can tell if your friend still likes that guy just by the way she talks about him.”

zack

Zack, raised in upstate New York by his two moms:
“Everyone in my family is adopted. I had less trouble with two moms and more issues with finding myself, you know, with race and ethnicity.”

zach

Zach, raised in Iowa by his two moms:
“I think the operative word in describing our family is not LGBT, it’s in family. If you look at the vast majority of things that define who my moms are, or who my family is, it’s really no more accurate to say that my moms are gay married, than to say they are packers-fan married, or work-in-healthcare married. They’re both really just about as accurate in describing who my moms are.”

All images © Gabriela Herman

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