This year for Georgia Straight's Pride issue (July 27 to August 3), we decided to use a photo of Vancouver–West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, his husband Romi, and their baby son Dev.
The image (photographed by Farah Nosh) reflected our look at the local LGBT groundbreakers, trailerblazers, and historymakers in various fields, such as health, religion, education, and law. Spencer was one of the names included in the section on politics.
Accordingly, showing LGBT parents with a baby was one way to represent the past, present, and future of local LGBT progress.
This is one of the first times we've shown a same-sex couple on the cover. Previous Pride issues have only featured individuals, such as Out in Schools' Jen Sung or Flygirl Productions' Mandy Randhawa.
Spencer said that they were overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support that they received in response to the cover.
Unfortunately, we also received a homophobic email and Spencer received some hate mail as well.
This is the first time we've had negative reactions to an LGBT or Pride cover.
In 2014, we did feature an editorial package with profiles and photos of various LGBT parents, including a gay male couple, a lesbian mother, a transgender mother, a Taiwanese Canadian mother with a transgender child, and a mother and gay son who volunteer for PFLAG Vancouver.
We didn't receive any criticism about that.
However, that was inside the newspaper and not featured on the cover.
The difference with this latest cover is that it appears in the windows of newspaper boxes on the street. And so, anyone passing by, who doesn't intend to pick up the paper or isn't familiar with the publication, may see the image.
Children and LGBT issues tends to be a hot-button combination. As I wrote in an article in this week's issue, some of the most heated debates in the Lower Mainland have been about sexual orientation and gender identity policies in schools.
These negatives reactions emphasize the need to increase the visibility of not only LGBT people, but LGBT parents and families.
Invisibility feeds into lack of familiarity, fear, prejudice, assumptions, and more.
Like all minority groups, if someone doesn't have any personal relationships with people who are LGBT, media representations may become their source of information and can help to fill in that gap.
Today (August 3), I was interviewed by CKNW about the reaction to the cover. The segment featuring my interview is available in the sound clip below.
As CKNW host Jon McComb stated during the interview, according to Statistics Canada, the number of LGBT parents is increasing.
With same-sex marriage legalized in Canada (in 2005), new generations of LGBT youth are growing up with new options for their future, such as marriage or parenthood, that may have been considered impossible or only feasible with great difficulty in the past.
Accordingly, the number is only going to increase, particularly as more and more LGBT people come out of the closet at younger and younger ages.
After my interview on CKNW, I received a voicemail from a straight listener who told me that she has a gay friend and that what I don't understand is that more visibility will endanger these LGBT people and what is needed is discretion.
However, what she doesn't understand and what she didn't pick up on are a number of things:
- As I pointed out in the radio interview, increased visibility does not have to be real-life people. It can be fictional characters, which can also be influential.
- What she is arguing for is also called the closet. While it can be used for self-protection, it can also be shame-based and can erode self-esteem through internalized hatred. The name Pride itself is about countering the historic shame imposed from external sources, and the parade is designed to increase visibility of LGBT people who can be invisible either through exclusion or self-censorship. In fact, the long-used political slogan of "We're here, we're queer, get used to it" conveys the message that there's nothing wrong with us and we can't change, but there's something that those feeling uncomfortable need to address within themselves. In other words, it's not our problem—it's theirs.
- Being discreet and covert can help in some situations, particularly if there is any sense of potential danger or harm. However, resorting to hiding too often caters to and enables fear, neuroticism, and hatred. Progress cannot be made if everyone hides or remains invisible. Hatred is based upon unfounded, nonfactual fears. As is self-hatred. While there are obviously safety concerns when children are involved, excessive worrying and needless overthinking can be damaging to children as well.
- Children pick up on how their parents lead them. If LGBT parents demonstrate to their children that they need to perpetually hide or not be honest, then they may learn to be embarrassed about or ashamed of their parents. If they see their parents standing up for themselves and their children, and if their parents teach them skills about how to be resilient and deal with adversity, they will also learn to fend for themselves, maybe even standing up for others. Take a look at the example of then-19-year-old University of Iowa student Zach Wahls, who had two mothers and made a powerful and astute speech at a public forum in the Iowa House of Representatives to oppose a resolution that would end civil unions in the state.
- Not only did the caller demonstrate thinking skewed by bias and worrying, but she was also closed-minded in saying that she did not want to get into a discussion about it and did not leave a phone number for me to respond to her.
- Becoming more visible can encourage other LGBT individuals to aspire to becoming parents as well. As previously mentioned, this is something that may not have been considered in the past. Growing up seeing LGBT parents can help queer youth to recognize that their life path can include the same options that their heterosexual peers have. This can help with self-esteem, and help counter mental-health issues, such as depression and suicide, that many LGBT people experience higher rates of.
One more thing to consider is that LGBT parents are not always all on their own. When I tweeted about the hate mail we received in response to the cover, I was inundated with messages of concern, support, encouragement, and opposition to the negative messages.
Check out this social experiment conducted for the ABC News show What Would You Do? in Texas, in which two mothers with children are harassed by a homophobic female server. Unbeknownst to the other diners, the family and server were actors and their interaction was staged to see how others would react. Numerous individuals stepped in to defend the family from discrimination.
What's interesting is that having same-sex parents may be actually more beneficial to children.
In 2014, an Australian study found that even though children of same-sex parents may experience discrimination, they discovered that these children fare just as well or even better than children with opposite-sex parents. Researchers discovered that one of the benefits of having same-sex parents is that the parents often departed from traditional gender roles and based their own division of responsibilities within their relationship based on skills rather than societal definitions. In turn, they found this contributed to a more harmonious household.
Here are some things that those in media can do to increase visibility of LGBT parents and families:
• screen industries: Anyone working in film, television, advertising, photography, fashion, digital platforms or other visual-based media can consider being more inclusive of LGBT parents or families wherever relevant. This could include in a group setting, as extras in a scene, or as minor, side, or even main characters in a fictional narrative. This can help to normalize and integrate LGBT families into non-LGBT content. While there have been some examples in mainstream media such as side characters on the TV series Modern Family or Friends or in the 2010 feature film The Kids Are All Right, the number of examples remain somewhat limited.
• writers: authors and writers of fictional narratives can also consider the same thing in short stories and novels. This can also be a way of providing information about characters in an indirect way to a reader. For instance, if a straight main character is friends with a same-sex couple with children, that friendship may indicate to the reader how accepting or liberal that main character is.
• journalism, news, and radio: Journalists, editors, or talk-show hosts can consider including LGBT parents as interviewees or talk-show guests on any topic about parenting, babies, children, education, or families, even if the main subject is not LGBT–specific. It could be anything ranging from Mother's Day to viewpoints on family-friendly entertainment. These interviewees may offer a different perspective, adding another layer to the story. If they don't, that's still beneficial in downplaying any erroneous assumptions about inequalities between LGBT and straight parents.
While we celebrate our local LGBT communities at the Vancouver Pride parade on Sunday (August 6), it's good to consider what still needs to be done and how we can do that. And hopefully we, including the media, can do that more than just once a year.