Families with either a parent or child who identifies as LGBTQ are confronted with a lot of challenges that other families are not. Some laws exclude same-sex couples; others target transgender children. Discrimination makes it a whole lot more difficult to live and thrive as a queer or trans person. It’s hard enough raising a child to begin with, but LGBTQ families face a whole host of issues that families with only straight and cisgender members don’t have to worry about.
Some LGBTQ issues get a fair amount of publicity. You probably know that it’s more difficult for same-sex couples to adopt, and that conservative legislatures are attacking trans kids’ rights. But there’s so much more than that.
Fran Hutchins, the Executive Director of the Equality Federation, the national head of state organizations working for LGBT+ equality, has the solutions to these issues. Crucially, not every place has the same need for solutions. “We do have good policy in some states. But it’s a patchwork,” she says. “And so often we do need federal policies.”
Here, Hutchins walks us through the five biggest issues facing LGBT+ families today.
1. Parental Recognition
The Issue: If a married couple has a baby, they’re both automatically the legal guardians of their child, right? That’s true for straight couples in all 50 states, but not same-sex couples. Whether they have a baby through surrogacy or with the help of a sperm donor and artificial insemination, married same-sex parents may not be listed on their child’s birth certificate. “The problem is that there just are not consistent laws across the country,” Hutchins says.
Most states haven’t confronted this issue directly. It’s not that they’re specifically trying to exclude gay married couples in the modern age. It’s just that the laws are outdated, based on the presumption that marriage is between a man and a woman. They may use gendered language that implicitly excludes queer couples.
One state that has taken on the task of fixing this issue is Connecticut. In this state in the past, the queer parent who wasn’t biologically related to their child would have to adopt them, adding extra hurdles and costs to the act of becoming a parent. But this year, Connecticut passed the Parentage Act, which gives same-sex parents the same automatic parentage rights as heterosexual parents.
The Way Forward: Hutchins hopes that other states will follow Connecticut’s lead to grant equal parental recognition to queer parents. However, it’s not enough for states to take on the task alone.
“We’ve seen when it comes to other LGBTQ rights legislation that there are certain states where that’s going to be really difficult. So I think that, at a certain level, we need to think federally,” she says. “We need to continue advocating at the state level for better laws and for better policies. But the federal government should be studying this and making sure that they are covering folks across the country.”
2. Access to Health Care
The Issue: Sexual minorities are about twice as likely as straight people to be uninsured. This is an issue for accessing all types of medical care, including gender-affirming medical care for trans individuals.
When queer people are insured, they may not have the same coverage of fertility options that straight people do. Insurance policies regarding fertility treatments are often written in a way that applies only to heterosexual couples. It can come down to a case-by-case basis whether same-sex couples are covered.
This year, two states passed laws that would ban trans kids from accessing transition-related medical care. “These laws are going to be litigated,” Hutchins says. “It’s not necessarily the case that these are going to stand forever. But I think we can securely say that trans youth’s access to care is under attack.” These attacks are anti-scientific. The American Academy of Pediatrics and many other medical organizations recommend that trans and gender diverse children have access to gender-affirming care. “This is best-practice medical care that’s being denied to these children,” Hutchins says.
The Way Forward: Ideally, federal policy would ensure that insurance companies offer LGBTQ people equal coverage of fertility treatment. In the meantime, if you’re planning on starting a family, directly working with your insurance company is the best option. “Make sure that you understand all the rules early on with your insurance so you can begin to advocate for yourself,” Hutchins says.
“When it comes to trans youth accessing care, I think the most important thing folks can do is just be aware of when these laws are filed in their state,” Hutchins says. “We expect to see these come back next year.” If an anti-trans bill is filed in your state, call your legislators, she adds. “Say that this is not acceptable.”
3. Paid Parental Leave
The Issue: “We live in one of the few countries of our economic status that doesn’t have paid parental leave. I think all families suffer because of that,” Hutchins says. When companies do have policies that guarantee paid family leave, they may not be inclusive of many LGBTQ family structures. For example, some same-sex couples choose not to get married, but companies may only grant paid family leave to married parents.
Additionally, The Family Medical Leave Act, which requires companies to provide unpaid family leave, doesn’t apply to parents who aren’t legal guardians. Because of the hurdles with parental recognition, this means LGBTQ parents may once again be left out.
“Despite the fact that the U.S. generally has terrible leave policies for all people, I think there’s a disproportionate impact on LGBTQ people,” Hutchins says.
The Way Forward: Hutchins advocates for paid federal family and medical leave, and broadening who is included to ensure that LGBTQ parents aren’t left out. You can support this initiative by calling your representatives. In the meantime, you can also advocate for your employer to include queer parents with nontraditional family structures in their family leave policies.
4. Schools and Education
The Issue: “Bullying and discrimination are really a problem for young people who identify as LGBTQ,” Hutchins says. “And we don’t have federal standards about that.” Twenty-one states have included LGBTQ students in anti-bullying and harassment laws, but that’s not enough. “It’s still a patchwork. It’s inconsistent. And it’s unequal,” she says.
Four states have so-called No Promo Homo Laws that prohibit K-12 schools from including positive representation of LGBTQ identities, according to GLSEN, an education organization that supports LGBTQ students. Only 18 states have comprehensive guidance on transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students.
This year, trans youth’s ability to participate in school sports has come under fire. “When it comes down to it, trans kids want to play sports for the same reason that anybody wants to play sports, which is just to hang out… to be active and to be outside and to build team camaraderie,” Hutchins says.” Seventy-five trans sports ban bills have been introduced, sometimes multiple in one state. Six bills passed into law this year.
“It’s estimated that there are more than two million youth in the United States who identify as LGBTQ+ and around 200,000 who are transgender. So these are pretty big issues,” Hutchins says. “We need to make sure that our schools are meeting the needs of students.”
The Way Forward: As is the case with so many issues, there would ideally be federal policy to make sure that all states include protection for LGBTQ children in their anti-bullying and harassment policies, Hutchins says. States can also issue guidance for being inclusive of transgender and gender diverse students.
Schools should have LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, gender neutral bathrooms, and support for transgender and non-binary students. “That’s less of a federal or state policy issue,” she says. “It’s really about thinking about how do we create schools that are more inclusive for LGBTQ kids?”
As for the trans youth sports bans, advocates expect lawmakers to introduce more bills next year. Calling your representatives is one of the best ways to speak out against these bills.
5. Income Inequality
The Issue: Twenty-two percent of LGBTQ people live in poverty compared to 16 percent of cisgender straight people, according to the Williams Institute. Trans people and cisgender bisexual women fare the worst with a poverty rate of 29 percent. LGBTQ people of color are even more likely to live below the poverty line. “Many families need that relief when it comes to poverty, but LGBTQ families are absolutely in the mix there, and at times are disproportionately affected,” Hutchins says.
The Way Forward: Minimum wage reform is the first step. “That won’t even solve the poverty issue,” Hutchins says. “But right now, our minimum wage nationally is so low that no family can survive with a parent who works just that one job for 40 hours a week. So we see parents having to take multiple jobs. And we see folks having to live in poverty.”
First the federal government needs to get to a $15 minimum wage, which Hutchins says will provide some relief but will not lift enough people out of poverty. She hopes to see an even higher minimum wage, which she calls a “thriving wage.”
Another way to fight poverty in the LGBTQ community is by investing in children, she says. “Research shows investing in education, especially preschool and post-secondary, like college and community college education, can help folks exit poverty. We need to prioritize that for all families.”
These are but a few of the many challenges facing LGBTQ families. If you want to advocate further for queer and trans people, call your representatives about whatever issue is on your mind. “It matters more than you might think,” Hutchins says. “Legislators need to hear from folks because that’s their job is to represent us, and our problems should become their problems. We can make our problems their problems by continually calling them and letting them know what we’re going through.”