What We Can Learn From Gay Parents In The South

The takeaway from the Times story on the prevalence of gay parenting in the South is not that a gay utopia blossoms south of the Mason-Dixon line. It's how important it is for people to create institutions that reflect them.

At one point, it appears, the web version of the story parsing census data read, "Gay Parents Find The South More Welcoming, Census Says." Not demonstrably true, which is probably why it now simply states the fact that gay couples in the South are more likely to be raising children than their Northern counterparts. And those gay parents are twice as likely to be black or Latino. (It's unclear from the piece if that's gay parents in the South, or gay parents overall.)

It's true that "the families in this region defy the stereotype of a mainstream gay America that is white, affluent, urban and living in the Northeast or on the West Coast." But the "why" is just as interesting as the "gee whiz" factor. (Did you know not all queer people are white guys in Chelsea?).

The biggest factor appears to be the fact that so many Southern gays and lesbians have children from previous hetero relationships that failed, perhaps for obvious reasons. When some of the subjects of the piece were coming of age, a gay-friendly church in the city the Times focuses on, Jacksonville, was firebombed. That's a fairly strong argument if you're talking yourself into the status quo on heterosexuality.

The world has changed, of course, if unevenly. And one of the things that seems to have changed things for the gay parents interviewed in Jacksonville, many of them black, is having a gay-friendly church led by a gay, black woman attuned to parents and kids.

At one previous gay church, says one woman interviewed in the piece, "The pastors were all white guys. They were nice to us, but we weren't really feeling that they knew how to cater to kids."

First, in 2007, there was an African-American, gay-friendly church. And then Williams set up a youth program at another gay-friendly church to help kids to work out their issues at school and at home. "All of a sudden you started seeing all of these women coming out," she told The Times.

If we needed any reminder that community is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, here's another one. Ideally the next generation will face fewer impediments to living their lives freely and openly as they see fit. In a a transitional point, it's key to have an environment that recognizes all of the different religious, racial, sexual and gender contexts, among others.

Here's Williams herself in story in the Florida Times-Union last fall: "You have all these people who have longed for a relationship with Christ and decided to take a chance and reconcile their sexuality with their spirituality," she said. She said it could be a platform for fighting for gay rights — gay marriage comes to mind, of which black churches are traditionally seen as vocal opponents. "We have to be part of the civil rights movement ... to be able to educate the community and share God's good news for them," she said.

Parenting by Gays More Common in the South, Census Shows [NYT]
Churches Stepping Up Gay Rights Movement [Jacksonville]