October is LGBTQ History Month! And to celebrate, we've pulled together some top moments in the history of gay fatherhood over the last 50 years. How fluent are you in your gay dad history?
1972: "That Certain Summer" Becomes First Major Movie to Feature a Gay Dad
In 1972, "That Certain Summer" aired on ABC, becoming the first television movie to depict a gay dad. For the time, the movie offered a remarkably sympathetic portrayal of gay parenthood and included a star-studded cast, including Hal Holbrook, as the divorced gay father to a teenage son, and his partner, played by Martin Sheen. The movie was considered such a success that it won Scott Jacoby, who played Sheen's son in the movie, a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his role.
In a 1997 interview, Sheen reflected back on the film, which was one of his first, and one he was repeatedly instructed not to take due to its portrayal of homosexuality:
"It was a huge hit, and it was very subtle. I thought it was wonderful. There was a great deal of freedom in it because it wasn't about advocating a lifestyle or a sexuality. It was about two people who adored each other, and they weren't allowed to have a relationship that involved their sexuality. We put a name on it and said that it was about being human, it was about being honest, and that's the bottom line."
1974: NJ Judge Becomes First to Provide a Gay Dad Visitation Rights
On July 27, 1974 a New Jersey superior court judge ruled that a father's sexual orientation is not in itself a reason to deny him child visitation. The decision was the first in the country to acknowledge the constitutional rights of gay fathers. "The parental rights of a homosexual, like those of a heterosexual, are constitutionally protected," the judge said in his ruling.
The man's ex-wife also sought to prevent the children from having overnight stays with the father, claiming the "homosexual environment" would not be in the children's "best interest." The judge, however, rejected this claim based in part on emerging research from experts that demonstrated a parent's sexual orientation was not in an of itself detrimental to children. After hearing testimony from three experts in particular, "all agreed that homosexuality was not per se a mental disorder and that a balanced exposure would not be harmful to the children," the judge wrote.
The father in question was an LGBTQ activist. He was a leader in the former Gay Activists Alliance, and worked as a Director of the National Gay Task Force ("For $89.78 a week," the judge notes.) One of the experts testified that this "obsession" with the burgeoning LGBTQ rights movement was potentially detrimental to the children. As a result, the Judge ordered that the father "not cohabit or sleep with any individual other than a lawful spouse" during visitation with his children, nor could the children ever be in the presence of his lover.
So... baby steps?
1977: Florida Bans Gay Adoptions
In 1977, Florida became the first state to enact a law that specifically prohibited adoptions by homosexuals. That same year, singer and beauty queen Anita Bryant became the public face of the "Save Our Children," which fought to repeal a nondiscrimination policy in Miami-Dade County through a public referendum. Bryant frequently deriding gay men and lesbians as "perverted" and "deviant-minded" in campaign materials and media appearances. Her campaign specifically targeted lesbian and gay teachers and parents, arguing that exposure to LGBTQ people would encourage children to adopt a "homosexual lifestyle."
Bryant's campaign helped inspire and set the tone for similar efforts throughout the country to repeal LGBTQ protections and restrict adoption rights. Many historians point to the success of Bryant's campaign as part of the inspiration for the rise of the Christian right in American politics. Two years after aiding Bryant in her efforts in Miami-Dade, for example, Reverend Jerry Falwell went on to found the Moral Majority in 1979, and organization that played a significant role in fighting proposed nondiscrimination policies, among other rights for LGBTQ people, throughout the 1980s. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Bryant and her allies worked to repeal more than a dozen nondiscrimination ordinances in cities such as St. Paul, Minnesota, and Wichita, Kansas, and prevent the passage or consideration of such ordinances in many others.
Florida's ban on gay adoption would stay in place for 33 years, until 2010 when an appellate court ruled that the state's law was unconstitutional because it has no rational relationship to the best interests of children.
1979: Launch of Gay Fathers Coalition (Later Renamed Family Equality Council)
In 1979, a group of gay men who were also fathers formed the Gay Fathers Coalition, which would eventually become the Family Equality Council. The group was committed to "finding one another and forming a network of support." In 1986, the group expanded to include lesbian mothers, and the mission of the organization deepened to advance "the cause of the lesbian and gay parenting community."
1990: Children of Gay Parents Form COLAGE
In 1990, a group of youth with LGBT parents formed Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE). What started as a small organization servicing a few dozen members has expanded to one that reaches 5,400 youth every year and four national chapters in New York, Boston, L.A. and the Bay Area. The mission of the organization is to united "people with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents into a network of peers and supports them as they nurture and empower each other to be skilled, self-confident, and just leaders in our collective communities.'
1996: Growing Generations Forms to Increase Access to Surrogacy for Gay Men
In 1996, Growing Generations formed with the mission to increase access to surrogacy services for gay men.
"At that time, egg donation was still considered taboo, and so most surrogates used their own eggs," the organization says on its website. "But because so many of our clients were men, egg donation became a greater and greater need. So, we started an egg donor company."
The company later began providing services for straight couples as well. "Aren't we a gay company?" the company ruminates on its history page of this decision. "No, we help fulfill dreams. Dreams don't have sexual orientation."
In 2006, when "sperm washing" began to allow HIV+ men to become biological parents without passing on the virus to their child, Growing Generations became one of the few agencies to embrace the technology. To date, the agency has helped more than 50 babies to be born to HIV+ parents.
1996: First Family Week in Provincetown, MA
In 1996, gay and lesbian parents associated with the Family Equality Council gathered for a week in Provincetown, Massachusetts, for what has become a popular annual tradition for LGBTQ families. The Family Equality Council provides some history of the event on their website: "Tim Fisher and Scott Davenport, a couple living in New Jersey, brought their daughter, Kati, and son, Fritz, to Provincetown for a vacation," they write. "After a week of meeting other gay and lesbian parents at the beach, they invited about 15 of those families to their rented house for dinner."
The event has occurred every summer since that time, and eventually became known as "Family Week." The event has become so large it is thought to be the biggest gathering of LGBTQ parents to take place every year.
1997: NJ Becomes First to Allow Gay Couples to Jointly Adopt
In 1997, New Jersey became the first state to permit joint adoption by gay couples as well as unmarried straight couples. The decision came about thanks to a class-action lawsuit brought by a group of prospective gay and lesbian parents.
Though a gay man or lesbian lesbians could adopt in New Jersey prior to this decision, it required another court appearance if their same-sex partner also wanted to adopt the child, a burden not placed on married straight couples.
The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of 200 LGBTQ couples, with two gay men, Jon Holden and Michael Galluccio, as the lead plaintiffs who were seeking to jointly adopt their 2-year-old foster son, Adam. The dads were told by the state's family services agency that they could adopt Adam only individually, not together. A judge overrode that decision and approved the adoption in October.
"New Jersey is the first state in the country to agree to treat gay and unmarried couples the same as married couples," a staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project told CNN after the decision. "This will be the policy of this state, and that makes it a very important legal development," Adams said.
2006: White House Easter Egg Roll
In 2004, dozens of LGBTQ parents "invade" the White House Easter Egg Roll in a show of visibility. The event was inspired by Colleen Gillespie, a professor at New York University, who camped out the year prior with her partner to obtain tickets to that year's egg roll. She was struck by the easy camaraderie that formed among the other parents in line, which gave her a crazy idea: what if she could get hundreds of LGBTQ families to join her next year? What a perfect opportunity, she figured, for people to get to know gay and lesbian families.
She proposed her idea to Family Equality Council, who in turn put the request out to its members. The following year, dozens of families answered the call. Kyle Turner, who was among the gay parents who camped out for the evening in 2006, told us the following earlier this year in our feature on the "gay invasion" of the egg roll:
"It was just a really nice opportunity to come together with other parents," Kyle said, noting he often had more in common with straight people with kids than gays without them. "That's what was really cool about it." But in the media, the presence of gay and lesbian parents at one of the country's longest running American family traditions would prove more controversial. "They thought we were trying to infiltrate or something," Kyle said, reflecting back. "Well, if that's what you think, I guess let's infiltrate and we'll show you what we're all about."
2009: Modern Family Debuts on ABC
On September 23, 2009, Modern Family debuts on ABC, featuring two prominent characters, Mitch and Cam, as gay dads. These days you can't flip the channel without stumbling on a show with a gay father figured into the plot. But at the time, just as Will & Grace provided untold numbers of LGBTQ youth with a positive portrayal of gay men on television, Modern Family is widely credited with helping to demystify the idea of gay fatherhood.
2009: President Obama First to Mention LGBTQ Parents
In a proclamation recognizing September 28th of each year as "Family Day," Barack Obama became the first President in history to specifically mention the rights of same-sex parents during an official speech. An excerpt is below:
"American families from every walk of life have taught us time and again that children raised in loving, caring homes have the ability to reject negative behaviors and reach their highest potential. Whether children are raised by two parents, a single parent, grandparents, a same-sex couple, or a guardian, families encourage us to do our best and enable us to accomplish great things. Today, our children are confronting issues of drug and alcohol use with astonishing regularity. On Family Day, we honor the dedication of parents, commend the achievements of their children, and celebrate the contributions our Nation's families have made to combat substance abuse among young people."
2015: Obergefell v. Hodges Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide
On June 26, 2015, Justice Anthony Kennedy issues a key vote in the 5-4 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision which strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act and legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide. In his written argument, the fate of the children of LGBTQ people factors heavily into his decision.
"Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers," Justice Kennedy writes, "children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples."