Five Questions With… Abigail Garner

Abigail Garner is a writer, speaker and educatorabigail garner who is dedicated to a future of equality for LGBT families and communities. She speaks from her own experience of having a gay dad who came out to her when she was five years old. Bringing voice to a population of children that is often overlooked, Abigail has been featured on CNN, ABC World News Tonight, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is (HarperCollins, 2004).

1) As a child of a GLBT parent, you’ve effectively become a ‘lightning rod’ for others children of GLBT parents. What has that been like?

It’s is really a joy to connect with “my people.” It’s really not what I originally set out to do, because I subscribed to many of the same misperceptions as the general public. Namely, that there are very few adult children of LGBT parents. My advocacy initially was to be a resource for younger children and their parents. In the process, however, I have been contacted by so many peers that I hadn’t let myself believe were out there — adult children in their 20s, 30s and older. I even chatted with a woman born in 1938 who had a lesbian mother and gay father. And despite whatever differences there are between us, when the common experience of having queer parents is reflected in another person, it’s exhilarating.
2) Are the children of T*people becoming more visible, in your opinion? How are their issues the same/different from those who have GLB parents?
I think there are added challenges for kids of T parents because many T-parents can and/or want to live stealth. A child being out about having a T parent, necessarily outs the parent as being trans. Passing is a huge issue of contention for the kids who are forced to be “closeted” to protect their parent’s privacy, at the cost of feeling isolated and unable to reach out to kids with similar background.
Conversely, some kids don’t want to always be explaining their family, but the parent wants to be very out. Closeting a transparent can be very painful for the parent, because it usually involves fabrications that deny their parent-child relationship, such as saying that a T-parent is a long lost aunt or a “family friend.”
I always tell parents that as much as they want to think their sexual orientation or gender identity is *their* issue, and has nothing to do with their kids, it’s just not true. As someone who lived it, I had to field questions about my dad nearly every day of my life. There’s a sense of entitlement people have to ask kids of LGBT parents anything — especially questions they wouldn’t dare ask the LGBT person directly. So despite what our parents want to believe, this *is* our issue, every day.

3) “Families Like Mine” is a remarkable book – mostly in the lovely way it makes the point that GLBT people have families, love them, & are people, and citizens. Tell us a little bit about how the book came about.

Thanks for the kind words about the book. It came about out of sheer necessity. I began my website, in 1999 after doing public speaking for a couple of years. People were constantly writing to me via my website asking if there was a book that was accessible for parents, their children, and family and friends. The few books that were out there were mainly academic.

Families Like Mine
is my effort to reach more people with my message since I can’t be everywhere at once. I constantly get requests to speak at schools and communities, but nine times out of ten they don’t have the resources to host me. Now, it’s really great to think that communities can still have these important conversations, even if I am not physically there. Now I hear from people who are feeling like they are being heard because they got a copy of my book onto the desk of the school administrator or social worker or minister, or whichever person with power and influence who needed some awareness. Knowing that my book has this kind of impact means I am sleeping more soundly these days.
4) A lot of the time I forward or post resources that are very “gay and lesbian,” in their titles and their content. Do you know of any organizations that are re-writing their own missions to include Trans issues?
I live in Minnesota so I have a skewed perception of trans-inclusion. Since my state was the first to include gender expression in its anti-discrimination law in 1993, there is an awareness here that is years ahead of many other communities. For example, I am proud to say that the Minneapolis/St. Paul chapter of PFLAG added “bisexual and transgender” to its mission *before* the national PFLAG organization. Other organizations, such as District 202, the center for queer youth is very t-friendly. On a national level, for example, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association added B and T to its mission in the past few years, thanks in part to a handful of bi and trans journalists who have persisted and insisted on being heard and counted. That’s not to say that there isn’t tons of progress that must happen in the practical sense for T inclusion. Sure, an organization can give lip service to being t-inclusive, but that means nothing if their membership form only has two options for designating gender, or you get to their conference and there are no safe restroom options for T folks.
5) What are you up to now?
There is still tons of work to be done in raising awareness and decreasing isolation for kids with LGBT parents. I continue to give lectures and workshops, which is what I love doing the most. There’s nothing like connecting face to face. Most notable as of late was a contract I had with the National Security Agency. (Unfortunately, the contract precludes me from saying anything about it beyond the fact that I worked with them; it is the National Security Agency, after all.)
I am also working on a memoir (sans publishing contract so far) which mainly answers the question that I was so resistant to address when I was growing up: “How did having a gay dad affect you?” My response used to be defensive, a la “no effect at all, thank you very much.” But from my adult perspective, and from having conversations within the safety of my queerspawn community, I have learned that my family experience has indeed shaped me in so many ways. That realization is not a negative on my life. On the contrary: the danger is when we deny the impact. That’s when the true conflicts and culture clashes escalate. In my memoir, I am willing to go toe-to-toe with this messy question…because it certainly isn’t going to go away on its own.
In the future, I want to consult on scripts for film and TV that have story lines with LGBT issues. It’s tricky to find ways to draw mainstream audiences into LGBT stories without getting too technical or preachy, yet still be engaging and entertaining. I regularly hear from LGBT people who say things like, “You are making me think about things in ways I have never thought before.” If that’s the reaction I spark from people who are living it, I think I could be useful to producers, directors, actors and writers who haven’t lived it but are aiming to have their LGBT-themed stories ring true.