FAMILY LIFE: The changing face of ‘family’

Posted on 28 Jul 2011 at 3:27pm

Today’s LGBT youth have options available that the gays and lesbians of yore would not have dreamed possible

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

What a difference a few decades and the evolution of new generations can make in society, particularly when it comes to the development of a new community.

When I first moved to Dallas in the summer of 1969 — just a few months short of my 21st birthday — I found a community of people that heretofore I had only read about in literature. It was by accident that I landed in Oak Lawn, because I just as easily could have rented my first apartment in any other area of the city.

As I started navigating the neighborhood, going to the grocery store and going about the other mundane aspects of my life, I began noticing some very interesting people. It wasn’t long before I realized that I had stumbled upon something new and exciting.

The LGBT community as we know it today was in its infancy. There were a few gay men’s bars, at least one lesbian hangout, some drag shows, cliques of gay people working at downtown department stores and hippy festivals in Lee Park where LGBT people celebrated openly with young, liberal straight people.

In those days, I didn’t see a lot of same-sex couples living together. I occasionally became aware of older same-sex couples who had lived together for long times in homes. But for the most part I only met other single people like myself, living in apartments.

There were a lot of people living together as roommates, but from what I could tell there were few commitments in these arrangements.

It was the days of indiscriminate sexual activity, practiced by gays and straights alike.

I quickly found a place for myself in the community, and I became a part of a family of gay and straight people who socialized together. There were a couple of married straight people in the group, a divorced woman with a child, several gay and straight men and other people who drifted in and out of the network over the years.

This was a time when people realizing they were gay often chose not to reveal it to their birth families. Many people who felt isolated developed relationships with groups of people who gave them the support they needed to recognize and accept who and what they were.

Many other groups of people that I encountered seemed to consist primarily of families of gay men or lesbians. It seemed to me that lesbians tended to be more likely to couple than gay men at that time. I was unaware of any same-sex couples raising children in the early 1970s.

That early model of friends-as-family was one that served me well, and for some reason I’ve never much wanted to become involved in a committed relationship with a partner. Despite a couple of half-hearted tries over the years, that still holds true for me today.

But it has changed drastically for many other people since the launch of the gay rights movement with the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City in 1969.

Legal challenges to state laws restricting marriage to heterosexuals began in the early 1970s and the fight for marriage equality has progressed to the point that same-sex marriage is legal in six states in the country now, plus the District of Columbia.

Information gleaned in part from the 2000 U.S. Census and published by the Williams Institute in “Census Snapshot” in December 2007, reveals that an estimated 8.8 million LGBTs lived in the U.S. in 2005. In 2005, there were 776,943 same-sex couples in the U.S., compared to 594,391 in 2000, according to the report.

The census information makes it clear that LGBT people live in every county in the U.S., whereas in the early years openly gay people seemed to be mostly a big-city phenomenon.

Of these same-sex couples living in the U.S. in 2005, 20 percent were raising children under the age of 18, and an estimated 270,313 of the U.S.’s children were living in households headed by same-sex-couple, according to the report.

An estimated 65,000 of the U.S.’s adopted children reportedly lived with a lesbian or gay parent.

Clearly, in the 40-plus years since the start of the gay rights movement, all of the characteristics of LGBT life have changed dramatically. Young people are often quicker to acknowledge and accept their sexual orientation, and there is a whole array of options that were unavailable to previous generations of LGBT people.

When young LGBT people think about their lives and relationships today, it’s probably in terms of dating, finding the right person, living together, getting married and even raising children. If anyone had told me 40 years ago that I would see such developments in my lifetime, I would have thought they were crazy.

But that’s how it is today, and it makes me wonder what sort of decisions I might have made about my life if so much had been available to me when I was young.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

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