The Parent Trap
LGBTQI parents are uniquely vulnerable to parental alienation.
Even as the Founder and Executive Producer of And Baby—the pioneer magazine, radio show and TV series for alternative parents - I did not practice what I preached: I did not legally adopt my children. My ex and I brought our babies into the world together and it didn't matter that I didn't carry them. In my busy life, paperwork felt like a mere formality—until it wasn't. I had made it too easy for the system to erase me as a “nobody” in their lives, and nearly lost my children forever.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique in the LGBTQ community. In granting divorce from her wife to Chris Strickland in October, MI Rankin County Court denied her parentage of her sons on the grounds that there is simply no room for her as a non-biological mother: the court honored the rights of the anonymous donor; the rights he explicitly waived when donating to a cryobank.
Chris was no less gay than her ex-wife; neither was she any less of a parent than her, or than thousands who become parents through adoption or with the help of a cryobank. But LGBTQ parents like me or Chris are completely omitted from the law and deprived of even the flawed protections it makes available to the rest. And I believe that whatever our political orientation of the form of our own families, this is something we cannot stand for.
Ironically, many LGBTQ Americans may be worse off today than they were prior to the Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage: that ruling did not cover any parenting rights, and yet it may have created a false sense of safety.
In a heterosexual unions, there is a presumption of parentage—even when the child is conceived by accident or outside of a relationship. There is no such presumption in a same-sex union, even if it is a legal marriage. This could be countered by second-parent adoption, but only where it is legal and only until the other parent crosses state lines with the child(ren). Countless parents can share heart wrenching stories of how, in the eyes of the law, the stopped being parents simply because their ex moved to a state that does not acknowledge same-sex adoption.
Can you imagine having your child suffering an injury and you being denied access to her hospital room because 'you are not immediate family'? Can you imagine having no right to see your son simply because your ex, in retaliation, took him to another state that does not recognize same-sex adoption? Can you imagine signing your newborn's birth certificate and raising her with your last name only to hear a judge label you as incidental? Can you imagine carrying out, year after year, the joyous, the sobering, the all-consuming work of parenting to discover you can be removed from your children's lives without as much as a trace?
During divorce, when most of us are not the best versions of ourselves, the existing system makes it too easy for one parent to rid themselves of the other and to retaliate - in one swoop - by using the children as a pawn. The current system enables one parent to lock the other out, to subjugate or altogether erase them from their children's lives.
The increasingly accepted term for this retaliatory abuse of power at the expense of children is 'parental alienation' and it is an institutionally endorsed form of domestic violence. It is a form of abuse at once utterly devastating and indiscriminent. It torments the rich and the celebrities, working moms and stay-at-home dads, family lawyers and therapists alike. In fact, I have become aware that some 22 million American parents across intact, separated, and divorced families are being alienated, willfully or unconsciously, from their children.
However, once afflicted, we don't all suffer the same because some of us are on the back foot right out of the gate. This is also how we perpetuates those cycles of disenfranchisement, poverty and abuse that define our generation's 'wicked problems.' One of the communities that are acutely vulnerable to senseless suffering from Parental Alienation is that of the LGBTQ parents.
In the US, parents represent a third of LGBTQ Americans, or 5.12 million people, who are raising over 9 million children. Divorce is as much an equal right as marriage, and yet we have left millions of Americans utterly vulnerable. It is deeply unjust to expect LGBTQ citizens to act better simply because of their sexuality, or to deny them even the flawed protections the law grants to heterosexual families.
I believe that if left unchecked, parental alienation is set to become an epidemic in the LGBTQ community. It would only take a couple of misrepresented events of desperate parents taking stupid action to reflect poorly on the community and to fuel conservative arguments against LGBTQ rights, specifically to have children, and possibly to reverse the legalization of marriages. These outcomes would be devastating to human rights around the world. We simply cannot stand by and let this happen. With US political leadership being what it is and with abundant signs of regression, our mandate as advocates for equal rights is more urgent than ever.
 Jennifer J. Harman PhD and Zeynep Biringen PhD, Parents Acting Badly: How Societies and Institutions Promote the Alienation of Children from their Loving Families. 2016.
 A conservative estimate as it is based on the 1995 National Health and Social Life Survey by E.O. Lauman, which provides this data, currently cited by most credible sources.
Find out more about Michelle’s non-profit here www.simplyparent.org Parent Deleted, a gripping tale of one non-biological, lesbian mother's fight for her children, is out on August 8, 2017.
About the author:
Michelle Darné has been a prominent figure in the fashion, advertising, marketing, publishing, and entertainment industries for more than thirty years. In 2000, she bet on a market nobody believed existed when she decided to publish And Baby Magazine: Redefining Modern Parenting which became the pioneer national magazine to focus on alternative parenting. Within a few years, And Baby became a radio show with 7 million listeners, and then a TV series followed by 35 million homes through Time Warner cable. In 2005, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) named Darné the inaugural Entrepreneur of the Year. She is currently the CEO and Executive Producer of Patina Entertainment, a digital media company providing quality content for underserved niche markets. To amplify the impact she aims to have through Parent Deleted, she also recently founded Simply Parent, a non-profit that is dedicated to forging a society where good parenting is protected in all its diverse genesis, forms, and colors.