Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children in the United States since World War II

Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children in the United States since World War II

Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children in the United States since World War II

Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children in the United States since World War II

Synopsis

In Radical Relations, Daniel Winunwe Rivers offers a previously untold story of the American family: the first history of lesbian and gay parents and their children in the United States. Beginning in the postwar era, a period marked by both intense repression and dynamic change for lesbians and gay men, Rivers argues that by forging new kinds of family and childrearing relations, gay and lesbian parents have successfully challenged legal and cultural definitions of family as heterosexual. These efforts have paved the way for the contemporary focus on family and domestic rights in lesbian and gay political movements.
Based on extensive archival research and 130 interviews conducted nationwide, Radical Relations includes the stories of lesbian mothers and gay fathers in the 1950s, lesbian and gay parental activist networks and custody battles, families struggling with the AIDS epidemic, and children growing up in lesbian feminist communities. Rivers also addresses changes in gay and lesbian parenthood in the 1980s and 1990s brought about by increased awareness of insemination technologies and changes in custody and adoption law.

Excerpt

In 1971, Carole Morton moved into a house in suburban, middle-class Union, New Jersey, with her lover, Inez, and their three sons. The two women were members and founders of the state chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first lesbian civil rights organization in the United States. Although the national organization had been founded in San Francisco in 1955, Carole and Inez had only just recently helped to found the New Jersey chapter in the spring of 1971. The New Jersey chapter reflected a different demographic than the New York Daughters of Bilitis, which had been founded in 1958. This newer chapter was made up predominantly of suburban lesbian mothers who had left heterosexual marriages. Morton had divorced her husband, whom she suspected had gone to gay bars himself during their marriage, shortly after attending her first DOB dance in New York in 1970. She was an early advocate for lesbian mothers; she spoke in interviews with the press about issues facing lesbians with children and organized consciousness-raising groups for lesbian mothers in New Jersey DOB. By 1972, the couple, with eight other women, was attending a therapy group for lesbian mothers run by Bernice Goodman in New York City.

Things were difficult for their household in their suburban New Jersey neighborhood. Carole and Inez were visible as a lesbian couple with children; they held discussion groups for other lesbian mothers in DOB at their house and had parties where lesbians in the group socialized while their children played together in the yard. Carole and Inez also employed a Jamaican housekeeper who lived with the family and whose boyfriend played with the boys and slept over, which Carole recalled brought disapproval from others in the all-white neighborhood. Eventually, the three boys told their mothers they were harassed and beat up by other children on the block for living in a lesbian household. “No one said anything to the adults,” Carole recalled; “they said things to the kids and then they took it out on our kids.” This went on until one morning the family went out onto the front lawn and found a noose and a sign hung on the tree in their front yard; the sign read, “Welcome to Lezzie Land.”

This story, a window into historical experiences still largely invisible in American scholarship, highlights some themes that are at the heart of this book. The animosity that Carole Morton’s family experienced as a lesbian household in their suburban neighborhood was grounded in the longstanding . . .

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