The Kids Are All Right: Three Teens Who Are Being Raised by Gay Parents Are Taking on the Conservative Establishment to Defend Their Families

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Hope Steinman-Iacullo, 17, was adopted as an infant by two gay men in New York City. Such an arrangement might have raised eyebrows at the time, but now she's pretty blase about the fact she has two dads who married in Toronto last year. "I call them both 'Dad,' and they can tell which one I'm talking to," she says. "People should know my life is extremely normal." Hope, who is taking a break from studying for a physics final to speak with The Advocate, adds, "Right now the biggest things on my mind are college, the SATs, and finals, stuff that hits close to home."

For their part, her fathers, partners Wayne Steinman, 54, and Sal Iacullo, 55, always dreamed of being parents. "When I met Wayne 32 years ago, it was unheard-of and there were no role models to guide us," Iacullo says. "But I didn't totally divorce the idea."

The issue of gay men and lesbians raising children has hit especially close to home as the debate over legalizing same-sex marriage continues. The fight over marriage has given new prominence to the decades-old battle cry that seeks to scare straight Americans into believing that gay people are a danger to children. Those making this assertion maintain that children raised by gay fathers or lesbian mothers will be confused about their own sexuality, are emotional wrecks, and are traumatized by bullies at school. Conservative group Focus on the Family proclaims that "depriving a child of a mother or a father is not in the child's best interest and is never compassionate," although its "research" consists of data supplied by fellow conservative groups. Even Massachusetts supreme judicial court justice Martha B. Sosman, in her dissent from the court's majority ruling last November in favor of gay marriage, bought into this reasoning, writing, "Studies to date reveal that there are still some observable differences between children raised by opposite-sex couples and children raised by same-sex couples."

What antigay groups continue to ignore is the fact that nearly 50 studies show there are no significant developmental differences between the children of gay parents and the children of straight parents. In recent years the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Bar Association have issued statements supporting parenting by gays.

Janet Gordon, 14, says there's nothing unusual about her family life in Ann Arbor, Mich., with her brother, Elliot, 13, and her moms, Peg, 40, and Pat, 50. "I have two moms, but my family functions like any other family. I don't find anything extremely different about us," she says. "There's nothing in studies saying that people from straight families turn out better. There's going to be people who turn out bad and people who turn out good, but it's not going to be because their parents are straight or gay."

The 2000 Census counted 594,000 households headed by same-sex partners willing to self-identify as such. Children under 18 live in about 33% of the lesbian couples' households counted and about 22% of the gay male couples' households. Gay rights groups claim the numbers may be too low since closeted, single-parent, and two-household families were not counted. They vary widely in their estimates of how many children live in gay households in the United States. The number of households could approach 14 million.

It's tough to arrive at a definitive count because numerous gay families remain afraid to come out, even to government census takers, says Aimee Gelnaw, executive director of the Family Pride Coalition, based in Washington, D.C. National polls indicate that Americans are deeply split over gay people raising children. "There are tens of thousands of them in places where there is not a [gay or lesbian] community, who live in secrecy, whose families may or may not be out, and whose day-to-day experiences in schools are not supportive," says Gelnaw, the mother of a 20-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. …