Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Looking to see who qualifies to be a family




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Family friendly. That covers everything from restaurants that hand out crayons with a kiddie menu to a flat tax with generous credits for dependents.

        Family values. Used with glorious abandon to describe anything from prohibiting gay marriages to covering up the cleavage of the Cosmo girl on Kroger's magazine racks.

        The family hour. This one is easy. This does not refer to dinner time, with everybody gathered around the family table discussing current affairs. (Not that current affairs are always something one can discuss at the dinner table anyway.) This term almost always refers to an hour of television. An hour free of sex and violence. One.

        So, whose family? Which values? How friendly?

Sex, lies and the closet
        A mom, a dad and 21/2 children — that was a family when I was growing up. Life was simpler then. Well, at least simpler for me. It probably wasn't so simple for my high school teacher who lived with a male lover for two decades. Lovely men, they had to produce female dates for their respective office Christmas parties every year or risk their jobs.

        Marty — a reader who regularly seeks to edify me, then signs off with a command that I lack the anatomical flexibility to accommodate — explained once that the modern problem is that “they” shove it in “our” faces. By living together. By not lying about being gay.

        And, worst of all, by trying to expand their household to include their own children.

        Marty calls them “dangerous.”

        People like Barbara Allen, photographed in a book called Love Makes a Family. Her partner, Robin Jurs, says, “We have two great kids who are living their lives with the understanding that they have a perfect right to be who they are with their two moms, their two dogs and their many friends who love and adore them.”

        Dangerous.

        “A family is a bunch of people, or not so many, who love each other,” explains 7-year-old Liza. Her family is one of 20 represented in the traveling photo-text exhibit chosen from the book by Peggy Gillespie and Gigi Kaeser.

Goal is safety
        “Families always have, and always will, come in many shapes and sizes,” says Jon, an actor, who lives in New Jersey with his partner, Michael, and their three children. “Our family is based on love and commitment, just like any other healthy family.”

        During a public battle to adopt their first son, Michael's college sweetheart told a reporter, “I loved Michael because I knew he would be a great father. I still think he must be.”

        The exhibit will open here on Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at St. John's Unitarian Church, 320 Resor Ave., Clifton, then move to Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood April 3-5 and Borders Books & Music at Northgate April 10-12.

        Kathy Laufman, co-chair of the Cincinnati chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), says the group is bringing Love Makes a Family to Cincinnati hoping to make life safer. That's right, safer. And if you don't think safety is an issue, then you haven't seen those public service ads starring Judy Shepard.

        She talks about the ups and downs of parenthood with some video footage of her son, Matthew. “I loved Matthew just the way he was.” Cut to the Wyoming fence where her son was left to die.

        Hilary Swank, accepting an Academy Award for her portrayal of a murdered girl who lived her short life as a boy, said “I hope someday we can not only tolerate our differences. But celebrate them.”

        Someday? How about now? Are we ready?

        This is, I suppose, a controversial photo exhibit. It's no Mapplethorpe, with homoerotic images. But it is “portraits of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents and their families.” I'm not saying it's not complicated. I'm just saying you might want to look at some pictures.

        And I'm just saying I think you'll know a family when you see one.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

        PULFER ARCHIVE