Column: Why are we still freaking out about families with two mommies or daddies in L.A.?
Los Angeles schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho is no stranger to protest and dissent. He came to Los Angeles last year after leading Miami-Dade County school district, in the “don’t say gay” state of Florida, where education has become ground zero in contentious culture wars.
But even Carvalho was surprised by the vitriol that surrounded Friday’s raucous protest at a North Hollywood elementary school that was holding an assembly aligned with LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations. The heated protests required a phalanx of LAPD officers to break up skirmishes, calm down combatants and keep the peace as protesters and Pride supporters squared off.
“What’s different with this is the rise in intensity, animosities and insults,” he told me, as we watched police officers line up on the school’s front lawn. “In times like this, we decided to take action in support of our children and our schools.”
Each side arrived prepared for a long day. There were Starbucks and snacks and small rainbow flags. And across the way, box upon box of T-shirts and protest signs.
On the sidewalk in front of Saticoy Elementary School, dozens of folks, young and old, were waving rainbow flags, shouting about love — “No hate in the 818!” — and blasting the R&B classic “We Are Family” to drown out cries of “Stop grooming our kids!”
Those shouts, along with random hurled slurs, were coming from across the street, where a crowd of conservative parents and their supporters — in T-shirts that read “LEAVE OUR KIDS ALONE” — had gathered to vent their outrage about the school’s plan to introduce students to a reality that doesn’t fit the parents’ worldview: Some children have two mommies or two daddies, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
As I walked through the crowd, trying to talk with parents about why other family structures feel so threatening to them, I felt like I’d stepped into a time machine, propelling me back to 2008, the year California voters slammed the door on same-sex couples who wanted to marry, in an election that scrambled our blue state’s “live and let live” narrative.
Five years later that ban on gay marriage was struck down on constitutional grounds. And in the decade since then, “two mommies” or “two daddies” have ceased to be novelties.
It’s been more than 33 years since the first mainstream book normalizing same-sex parenting was published. “Heather Has Two Mommies” was considered so radioactive in 1989 that its author had to print it herself, after every publishing house rejected it.
It was one of the most banned books in America in the 1990s, but became a sought-after classic as the ranks of same-sex parents grew.
In California today, almost 136,000 same-sex couples are living together, and more than 85,000 of them are married. Across the country, nearly 300,000 children are growing up with same-sex parents — and I can’t fathom what’s threatening about that.
What I can imagine is how scary it might feel to those children, left to worry that classmates might mock or shun them. Children who were liable to hear the shouted insults Friday and feel the shame of judgments by close-minded grownups who consider their families dangerous or weird.
Those are the children who need protecting. And, to their credit, school officials, religious and political leaders, LGBTQ+ activists and LAPD officers stepped up Friday to deliver a show of support.
There was Burbank Mayor Konstantine Anthony talking quietly with a father whose “LEAVE OUR KIDS ALONE” T-shirt was draped over his shoulder, against a backdrop of shouting and middle-finger gestures. “We have to listen to each other, even when we don’t agree,” Anthony later told me, crediting his Greek heritage for his ability to make headway with the mostly Armenian protest group.
And there was Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen, holding a “Moses had two Mommies” sign, and a small rainbow flag. Van Leeuwen has been meeting with faith leaders on what he admits can be a contentious issue. “We’re talking, we’re arguing, we’re disagreeing, trying to come to a deeper understanding, as people of faith,” he said.
But the more people I talked to, the harder I realized that resolution will be.
For some, the pain of exclusion has cut too deep. The protest resurrected years of buried insults, fears and rejection. For Hector — a trans man, who like almost everyone else I talked to, did not want his last name used — the brigade of angry parents unearthed a torrent of tears and memories of how hard it was to come out to his family as transgender, creating a rift that has yet to heal. Now he’s 30 years old, married and contemplating fatherhood, but the damage to his mental health was real. He showed up Friday because “I know how much it meant to me to see queer folks fighting for our rights.”
For the protesters on the other side of the street, the stakes seemed to feel just as real — even though virtually everyone I talked to began by telling me they have nothing against gay people. “I have gays in my family!” many of them said, as if that clears them of bigotry.
But when I asked those parents what they would do if their child made a friend who happened to have same-sex parents, and the kids wanted to play at the friend’s home, not one said that would be OK.
One father weighed in, holding his 1-year-old son, before his wife could even speak. He would call children’s services immediately to remove the children, and save them from perversion. “You can either listen to God, or listen to the devil,” he told me. This from a man with two gay nephews. So much for familial absolution.
His wife’s response was more nuanced. She would not, she made clear, let her child visit that home — because she won’t let her child visit anyone who isn’t part of her extended family. “It wouldn’t matter if it’s two dads or two moms. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable if I don’t know the people. There’s so much abuse that’s being hidden,” she said. “And I don’t want someone else telling my son about the birds and bees. That should come from me.”
I understand the security that mom is seeking; The world today feels like a very scary place. But the solution is not censoring books, putting subjects off-limits, or closing our eyes to the diversity around us.
If anything, it’s time to wake up and talk more about our values, our future and our fears. Because these sorts of disputes are not going away. They’re the tip of an iceberg that’s on course to derail our freedoms and limit our opportunities— just as the repeal of Roe vs. Wade has done. And here’s what this parent group plans next, as declared on their so-called leader’s Instagram feed:
The next step will be reversing comprehensive sex ed in schools. It is coming. The slow simmer has hit boil.
Now, that is what feels like a threat.
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