Putting our children at risk

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

Child sexual abuse a concern for everyone, especially LGBT parents

Most people would probably agree there is no resource that a society cherishes more than its children. So it is hard to fathom how sexual predators manage with such apparent ease to carry out horrendous, undetected assaults on children practically under the noses of their families and others who are charged with their protection.

As horrific as the crime of child sexual abuse is, there are no firm estimates of its prevalence because it often goes undetected and is seriously underreported, according to agencies that study child abuse.

Less than 100,000 crimes of sexual abuse are reported each year because children fear telling anyone, and adults who become aware of the activity are often reluctant to contact law enforcement agencies, even though there is usually a legal requirement to do so.

With so many LGBT households now raising children, it is obviously vital that all parents be aware of the tactics used by sexual predators to seduce children without arousing the suspicion of their families, and aware of the symptoms victims of child sexual abuse exhibit.

The critical need for sustained intervention into child sexual abuse recently gained national attention following a grand jury’s indictment of retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on 40 counts of child sex abuse involving eight victims over a 15-year period. The victims reportedly came into contact with the now 67-year-old, married Sandusky in connection with the Second Mile, a children’s charity the former football coach founded.

Although Sandusky denied, this week in an NBC interview, engaging in any type of sexual activity with the pre-pubescent boys, he acknowledged showering and “horsing around” with them after exercise. He also admitted hugging young boys and putting his hand on their legs when they sat next to him.

His admissions shocked viewers and confirmed in many minds what was already suspected — Sandusky is most likely a pedophile that has taken advantage of young boys with the unwitting complicity of their families.

It is a devastating scandal that will likely rival the one that rocked the Catholic Church a decade ago when it became known that untold numbers of Catholic Church priests sexually abused young boys and violated the trust of their families.

If the charges against Sandusky are true, the accounts by the victims portray a classic pattern of enticement and betrayal practiced by the former football coach in his pursuit of the young boys. Likewise, the lack of action by those who knew about Sandusky’s alleged criminal activity parallel what often happens when the abuser commands power and respect in a community.

Much of the difficulty in combating child sexual abuse can be attributed to its relative youth in terms of public awareness about the crime. The first studies on the molestation of children began in the 1920s, and the first estimate of the prevalence of the crime was reported in 1948.

In 1974 the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect was founded, and the Child Abuse and Treatment Act was created. Since then, awareness about the problem has grown dramatically, and much more is known about deterring the crime and assisting victims of it.

Children’s advocates have identified “red flags” to help parents and others protect children from sexual predators. They warn parents to be wary of someone who wants to spend more time with their children than they do, who attempts to be alone with a child, who frequently seeks physical closeness to a child such as hugging or touching, who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child, who seems to prefer the company of children to people their own age, who lacks boundaries, who regularly offers to babysit,who often gives presents or  money to children, who frequently walks in on children in bathrooms or locker rooms, who frequents parks where children gather, who makes inappropriate comments about a child’s appearance or who likes to photograph children.

Signs of possible sexual abuse in children include a fear of people, places or activities, reluctance to undress, disturbed sleep, mood swings, excessive crying, fear of being touched, loss of appetite, a drastic change in school performance, bizarre themes in drawing, sexually acting out on other children, advanced sexual knowledge, use of new words for private body parts and a reversion to old behavior such as bedwetting or thumb sucking.

Aside from the moral responsibility to protect children and other weaker members of society that all people share, it is essential to intervene in child sexual abuse because of the long-lasting psychological damage it usually causes. The problems can include feelings of worthlessness, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and distorted views of sexuality.

Also, victims of child sexual abuse tend to become sexual predators as adults, making it a crime that begets more crime.

The Sandusky scandal will undoubtedly lead to devastating repercussions for Penn State, for the Second Mile charity with which the former football coach is no longer affiliated and for law enforcement and university officials who became aware of concerns about the former football coach’s activities and failed to act on them.

But the real tragedy — if the allegations are true — will be the lasting impact upon the victims.

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.        

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

What’s Shakin’ – Wolfman at Wortham, Vampires on Pacific St.

The Wolfman1. If you got your hard-core Halloween partying out of the way this weekend, why not curl up under the stars (and a blanket) for the 1941 horror classic “The Wolfman,” at the Miller Outdoor Theater in Herman Park. Show starts at 7:30 pm. In this version the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.) has an estranged father, frequents antique stores, caries an ornate walking stick for no particular reason and (of course) engages in nocturnal behavior of a hairy and bestial sort. Sounds like some of my friends. Admission is free, but prime spots on the lawn fill up quickly so arrive early.

2. If you didn’t get your hard-core partying out of the way then you’ll be glad to know that the clubs of Pacific street are still going strong. JR’s Bar‘s “Anytheme Goes” party (808 Pacific) and Meteor‘s “True Blood” festivities (2306 Genesee) continue tonight with a costume contests at 11 pm, while South Beach‘s “Twilight” fete (810 Pacific) waits till midnight for its contest . Cash prizes are up for grabs at all three for best costume, best couple or group and most outrageous costume.

3. Broadway World reports that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D – NY, plans to introduce the Senate companion to the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” introduced by Rep. Pete Stark, D – CA, last May. The bill would remove barriers to otherwise qualified LGBT parents servings as foster parents or adopting. “By removing all barriers for LGBT families to serve as foster parents, New York City has increased its foster parent pool by nearly 26,000 prospective parents,” said Gillibrand. This legislation would open thousands of new foster and adoptive homes to children ensuring they are raised in loving families.” So far only three of Texas’ thirty-two congressional representatives, including Houston’s own Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, have signed on as cosponsors.


—  admin

Groups hope couples, lawyers will take the parenting pledge

New guidelines for same-sex parenting and custody aimed at stopping LGBTs from denying parental rights to ex-partners

GLAD’S MARY BONAUTO | (Photo courtesy InfinityPortraitDesign.com)

Dana Rudolph  |  Keen News Service

Some of the most contentious lawsuits involving the rights of LGBT people have occurred when the biological parent of a child uses anti-LGBT laws to try and deny the child’s non-biological parent custody or visitation.

But several LGBT legal organizations have published a revised set of standards aimed at stopping such behavior, and they’re hoping parents and attorneys will take a pledge to abide by them.

The publication is “Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families,” produced by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Council. It encourages lawyers to support and respect LGBT parents even when legal rights do not, and advises parents and lawyers to honor children’s relationships with both parents, seek custody resolutions that minimize conflict, and use litigation only as a last resort.

Mary Bonauto, the director of GLAD’s Civil Rights Project, authored the original version of the standards in 1999. She said the intent of the document is to urge same-sex parents to use whatever parental protections are available in their states, “for the sake of your children.”

These protections may assist with issues such as medical decision-making, but may also help maintain both parents’ relationships with the children when the couple breaks up.

The revised document is updated to reflect new laws in several states recognizing the relationships of same-sex couples, whether through marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships. But it cautions that same-sex parents should not rely on such laws to protect their parental relationships with their children.

“[W]e still have a huge architecture of discrimination against same-sex relationships,” said Bonauto. Many states do not recognize them at all or may not treat them in the same way as opposite-sex relationships. This may jeopardize the relationships of non-biological, non-adoptive parents to their children.

Even in Massachusetts, the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, courts may not look favorably upon a non-biological parent who has not also done a “second-parent adoption” of a spouse’s biological child, she said.

“There are still very parent-specific protections you should try to avail yourself of,” said Bonauto.

Some protections may be available even in states that have constitutional bans against marriage for same-sex couples.

If parents do break up, Bonauto said, going to court is damaging financially and emotionally. And it can destroy the couple’s ability to work together as parents.

There have been a number of recent cases across the country in which a biological or adoptive parent has tried to claim the other parent has no parental rights. Best known among them is the case of Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller, which has grabbed headlines nationally.

Miller, the biological mother, asked courts in both Virginia and Vermont to deny Jenkins visitation and custody, and has taken issues to the U.S. Supreme Court five times, without success each time.

Miller was eventually ruled in contempt of court for defying a Vermont court order that she allow Jenkins visitation. The court then granted legal custody to Jenkins.

But Miller went into hiding with the girl at the end of 2009, and a man accused of helping her leave the U.S. was arraigned in a federal court last April.

Many similar cases exist, and the outcomes have been mixed.

The Delaware Supreme Court issued a ruling in March upholding the right of a woman to be identified as a de facto parent of a child she had been raising with her former same-sex partner — a child the partner adopted but that the woman herself did not.

The Nebraska Supreme Court in August ruled that a non-biological mom has a right, under the doctrine of in loco parentis — which recognizes a person who acts as a parent — to a custody and visitation hearing regarding the child she and her former partner were raising together.

But the North Carolina Supreme Court in December 2010 voided a lesbian mother’s second-parent adoption. The majority on the court said state statutes permit adoptions only if the existing parent gives up all parental rights or is married to the person seeking to adopt, as in the case of a stepparent.

Other cases with biological mothers trying to deny parental rights to non-biological mothers have reached the appellate or state supreme court levels in the past few years in states including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin — again with mixed results.

In several of these cases, notably Miller v. Jenkins, attorneys from conservative legal organizations such as Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defense Fund have represented the biological mothers.

“They are making an industry of it,” Bonauto noted of the groups. But many individual, private attorneys, including ones in the LGBT community, are also representing biological mothers against non-biological mothers in such cases.

GLAD will soon be launching an online pledge where attorneys can promise not to take these cases and to endorse the revised standards. Parents, too, can pledge to uphold them.

New Jersey attorney William Singer, a member of the Family Law Advisory Council, said he hopes attorneys will discuss the standards with parents, not just at the time of breakups, but also at the time of family creation, “to try and impress upon both parents why it’s so important to maintain continuity of relationships for their children.”

The standards are available via GLAD’s Web site, GLAD.org.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

FAMILY LIFE BRIEFS: Child ID event at Fruit Bowl, program offered on keeping love alive

Child ID event at Fruit Bowl

Brian Walker, an agent with New York Life will be conducting a Child ID event at the HRC Disco Fruit Bowl fundraiser Sunday, Aug. 7, with bowling sessions starting at noon and 3 p.m. Organizers have said the session starting at noon is being especially geared for couples with children, although children are welcome to attend both sessions.

Disco Fruit Bowl is being held at 300 Dallas, located at 3805 Beltline Road in Addison. For information on registering, go online to Facebook.com/dfwhrc.

Walker explained that the Child ID program is designed to help LGBT children and children with LGBT parents “stay same in the home, at play or wherever they happen to be.”

Child ID cards will be printed, free of charge, for each parent or guardian of a child in only three to five minutes. Each card includes the child’s photo, fingerprints, contact information and other important information police might need in case of an emergency.

For more information or to schedule a Child ID event, contact Walker by calling 214-629-8558.

Program offered on keeping love alive

Licensed professional counselor Randy Martin will be facilitating an eight-session group in September and October for long-term couples who want to learn how to keep their romantic love alive through the years.

The program is based on the theory and practice of Emotionally Focused Couples, using information laid out in Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight.

The series of eight two-hour sessions will be held each Wednesday in September and October, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Cost is $500 per couple.

Martin, who has worked as a therapist in the LGBT community for 10 years and who has been in private practice in the Oak Lawn area for the last five years, stressed that participation is limited, and that the sessions are an education program, not couples’ therapy. The program, he said, is not appropriate for all couples.

For more information, contact Martin at 214-520-7575.

—  John Wright

FAMILY LIFE: School daze

Experts offer advice on easing the stress for LGBT parents sending little ones off to school, and for LGBT students headed off to college

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor

You can’t tell it by the temperatures outside, but summer is drawing to a close — at least for the children who will be heading back to school in about a month.

For many young children, going back to school, or to school for the first time, is a time of great excitement as they get new clothes and new school supplies, and get ready to make new friends or reacquaint themselves with old friends.

But for the children of same-sex couples, going back to school means preparing to possible encounter issues and stressors that children in so-called traditional families don’t have to deal with.

Stewve Majors, communications director for the Family Equality Council, said this week that same-sexd couples with school-aged children need to remember three main points that can make the school year easier for their children: Talk to the child, talk to school faculty and staff, and talk to other parents.

“I think that if a child with LGBT parents is going to school for the first time, or if they are going to a new school they haven’t attended before, one of the most effective things the LGBT parents can do is talk to the other parents at the school,” said Majors, who has two daughters, ages 6 and 7, with his partner.

“A lot of the homework, so to speak, falls on the LGBT parents in getting their child ready to go back to school,” Majors said. “Find out if there are other LGBT parents with kids in this school. Ask about how diverse the school setting is. Make connections with those other parents.

“What’s most important is letting the children know that there are other kids whose families are ‘different,’ too. There may be other children with LGBT parents. Some kids are being raised by their grandmother or by an aunt or uncle. Some may be adopted, and some may be being raised by a single parent,” he continued. “It helps children to feel that they really aren’t that different, and it’s important to let them know that different is not bad.”

LGBT parents should also consider talking to the administrators at their children’s school, and to their children’s teachers.

“Especially with little ones who are just entering kindergarten or first grade, have those conversations ahead of time with administrators and teachers, so the teacher knows the child’s family structure, the terms the child uses for his or her parents, what issues the child may be especially sensitive about,” Majors said.

Parents also need to do their homework when it comes to their school district’s policies regarding issues like harassment and bullying, because “You want to make sure there are robust protections in place for kids who might be a target” because they have LGBT parents or for some other reason, he added.

“With a little bit of advance work, you can make sure your child will feel comfortable and be safe, and that the faculty and staff are prepared for any issues that might come up,” Majors said.

Gay parents, gay teen

Rob Puckett and his partner find themselves in a rather unique position this year as the back to school season looms. This year, they are in the process of adopting a 14-year-old boy who also happens to be an out gay teen.

“That’s one conversation we have had with the school, that David is an out, gay teen. He will be who he is, and we don’t expect anything else of him except that he be himself,” Puckett said. “So we have talked to the [faculty and staff at his school], so that they can be aware of his environment and aware of the other kids’ behavior toward him.”

That kind of communication, Puckett said, is key.

“Part of our goal is to be active as parents at David’s school,” he continued. “Being involved and engaged in his school life and activities is a great benefit, not just to us and to David, but to the school, too.”

And that’s good advice not just for LGBT parents, or parents with LGBT children, but for all parents.

LGBT youth and college life

There is, of course, another group of young people for whom heading to school in the fall can be as much a cause for dread as for anticipation and excitement : LGBT young people leaving for college for the first time.

And educator Barron Whited has some words of advice for those students, and their parents, as well.

First of all, Whited suggested, it’s important for LGBT college newbies to understand that they will soon be meeting other young people from a wide variety ethnic, national, religious and cultural backgrounds.

In other words, they won’t be the only ones who are “different” and who are worried about “fitting in.” Understanding the vastness of the diversity on a college campus can help a new student understand that they are not alone on their journeys.

It also helps, Whited said, if a new student makes the effort to get out there and get involved. Many colleges have support groups aimed at helping new students adjust mentally, physically and emotionally to college life, and getting involved in campus groups that are either devoted specifically to LGBT issues or are LGBT-friendly can help a student make new friends and ease into life away from the security of home.

LGBT students entering college for the first time also should get to know what resources are available to them on campus, Whited said. Most colleges offer counselors, academic advisors and resident assistants who are there to help the students, and many schools also offer mentoring programs that match new students up with upper classmen who can help them learn the ropes.

Whited also urges LGBT college freshmen to find themselves a community of support on campus by finding and forging friendships with other LGBT students.

“Finding a supportive system can be the key to helping students be themselves in post- secondary education and be confident in their sexual orientation,” he said.

“Young people need to surround themselves in a campus community that is ideal for learning, having fun and feeling safe. Whether or not a student is ready to come out in their freshmen year, they first need to feel comfortable with their peers in order to take that next step,” Whited said.

“It is vital for the LGBT student to surround themselves with empathy, encouragement and trust during their college career. Having a supportive friend to confide in, a counselor to turn to and a gay-friendly community can help the LGBT student make a smooth adjustment to the college life.”

—  John Wright

FAMILY LIFE: HRC Family Project offers resources

LGBT parents in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex have a large number of resources available to them, from attorneys who specialize in LGBT family law issues, to support groups that give them the chance to meet and socialize with other families like theirs.

One of the newer — and perhaps lesser known — of these resources is the local HRC Family Project program.

The HRC Family Project is a program of the national Human Rights Campaign Foundation, but local leader Robb Puckett said HRC’s DFW Steering Committee wanted to find a way to “try and localize those efforts, to create something that is a real tool and a resource for LGBT families.”

Puckett said, “We’ve been trying to reach out and engage the LGBT families with children by creating opportunities for them to get together and build an even stronger community here in North Texas.”

One of the program’s most recent efforts, Puckett said, was the highly-successful LGBT Family Day at the Dallas Zoo, and the HRC Steering Committee has even added a second session of bowling to its annual Fruit Bowl to have a time especially dedicated to families with children.

He said that children are welcome to participate in both sessions of this year’s Fruit Bowl, coming up Aug. 7 at 300 Dallas, 3805 Beltline Road in Addison, but that the early session, from noon to 3 p.m., will be especially geared toward family activities.

“We also want to raise awareness of all the other resources that already exist here for families in our community,” Puckett said, and to that end, the program uses the websites TwoDaddiesOneLove.com and TwoMommiesOneLove.com as a resource for promoting events and opportunities.

For more information, go online to DallasFW.HRC.org, or on the committee’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/dfwhrc.

—Tammye Nash

—  John Wright

‘Rainbow Riot,’ online magazine for youth with LGBT parents, goes live

LGBT parents may already be familiar with the online literary mag and primary publisher of LGBT family fiction in the U.S., Rainbow Rumpus, aimed at younger children. But the company has now expanded to gain the attention of teens and tweens with the recently launched Rainbow Riot, a new web-based magazine featuring topics on and by youth, including art and video. This is hardly Teen Beat. This is from their release:

Rainbow Riot is published by Rainbow Rumpus, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that has been publishing an award winning online magazine for children and grown-ups for over five years. The Riot site is linked to the Rumpus site so young readers can explore the content of both magazines.

“We launched Rainbow Riot in response to feedback from the hundreds of youth that read the online magazine,” said Laura Matanah, Rainbow Rumpus’s executive director. “Teens wanted their own site so we created a whole magazine just for older youth.”

Response to the site has been tremendous. “Ur issues r the best thing i do online,” wrote a 14-year-old reader. Another shared, “I like being able to see my artwork on the site.”
April’s issue of Rainbow Riot features an interview with Avery Klein Cloud, who was raised by two moms and discusses the process of making a documentary about her life during a period when she was searching for her birth mother and going through a “racial identity crisis.” It also includes an interview with a young adult with a gay father who created a video project to explore what it means to “come out” as the child of one or more LGBT parents.

“We’re excited for the Rainbow Riot site to bring our teen fiction to a wider audience,” said Matanah. “The site as a whole will help us achieve our vision of a world where kids and teens with LGBT parents are safe, welcomed, and powerful.”

Teens and young adults are encouraged to submit photos, artwork, writing, and video to Rainbow Riot. Contributions can be emailed to this here.

—  Rich Lopez

HRC hosts Family Town Hall at Cathedral of Hope today

The Human Rights Campaign is in a family way

Upon launching its first ever family committee in DFW, the Human Rights Campaign is having its first panel discussion today. The committee focuses on the ever growing LGBT parenting community in North Texas and serve as a model for future chapters under the HRC’s Family Project initiative. The initiative address topics such as adoption, unions, family law, education, healthcare and more. What’s more, this is prime territory for the Family Project. Texas ranks fourth in states with LGBT family populations.

Today’s town hall is the first in a family-focused event to foster conversation on adoption and foster care and moderated by attorney Lorie Birch. LGBT parents and those hoping to be can gather more and new information on the idea of expanding or starting a family.

DEETS: Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs Road. 2 p.m. Free. HRC.org/issues/parenting

—  Rich Lopez