As we move into this political season, it seems that the main phrase for politicians is once again “family values.” Every candidate, on both sides, uses these words as weapons. The words have come to mean traditional and conservative, appealing to some ideal of what an average American voter would want. It is almost always used to define someone is against LGBT rights and equality, implying that as LGBT people, we know nothing of what a family truly is. I actually would make the opposite argument. As LGBT people, we know better than anyone what family values are. We know these values extend far beyond the narrow definition of biology and legal recognition used by many. Our lives and struggles are a constant reminder of our commitment as a community to true family values.
From an early age, LGBT people know that we are viewed as “different.” We live in a state of fear that our given families will find out about us, about who we really are, and disown us. We understand that the biology that connects us as a family is often not stronger than the hate that would divide us. We are too often forced out of our family and must seek out new bonds with friends, creating a new family based on acceptance. Our biological families may shun us, but our new families welcome us with love and open arms. We honor the true definition of family values and choose love over bigotry, understanding over hate. We decided to choose who our family is, since the ones given to us turned have their backs on us.
As a community, we have always valued the idea what a family should be, rather than what it is traditionally defined as. This lesson shone especially bright during the initial AIDS epidemic in the 80’s. Parents and siblings turned their backs on their sick children and left them to die alone. Yet our community would not have that. We chose to show the world what family really is and form bonds stronger than biology. We took care of each other as a true family should. We nursed our sick, made sure they were taken care of and were not alone. We made sure they were loved by a family.
When we find a partner, we do so knowing that our unions will not be legally recognized. We form our family with nothing but a commitment to one another. We decide to share our lives, the good and the bad, with each other. We value each other more than anyone because of our uphill fight. The only bonds we have are our feelings for one another. We know that there is nothing holding us together but this love.
It is with this same attitude that we decide to add children to our homes. We understand that biology has little to do with the bond of a parent and child. We know that a true family is defined by love, not by a biological connection.
My own life is a reflection of family values. I spent many holidays with friends and self-defined family when my own did not accept me. My partner and I, although not legally recognized, are committed to our life together, to creating a new family for ourselves. We don’t let the fact that others want to define our family as “not real” stop us from loving each other. Our foster son, who is not legally recognized as our family because Florida does not allow same-sex adoptions, has gone to college. Many would tell us that we are not a family, that we don’t have the legal or biological connection required by their narrow definition. Yet we send off our care-packages like any other parents. We worry about the decisions he will make, the hardships that will inevitably come from growing up. We know the real value of family and we strive to make sure that our son always has that family to fall back on.
As LGBT people, we know that family is what you make it, not what others tell you it is. We have no option but to live our lives with the values of true families, since we often don’t share any biological or legal connection to one another. We know better than anyone what being a family truly is because we define it for ourselves.
I refuse to let family values be used as a weapon against me this political season. I will not let someone use as a wedge issue what is the most beautiful thing about our community-- the fact that we open ourselves up to one another for no other reason than love. If the world wants to see and embrace family values, look no further.
We are family.