Rainbow FamilyThe Future Of LGBTQI Families panel at Midsumma Festival discussed the mental health of our kids, legal reform and gave a warning about the dreaded plebiscite.

Last Friday’s Midsumma panel discussion The Future Of LGBTIQ Families saw four of our community experts discuss rainbow families from health, legal, community and political perspectives. 

Dr Ruth McNair, Rodney Chiang-Cruise, Jacqui Tomlins and Penny Wong spoke positively about the mental health outcomes for rainbow kids and the shift in social attitudes towards our families. They gave insights into the need for legal reform and strong warnings about the negative effects of a plebiscite for the LGBTIQ community.

Author and mother Jacqui Tomlins said, “I think our kids are doing really well. I think as rainbow families; as parents, we are doing really well.”

Associate Professor Dr Ruth McNair backed this claim by citing a study by Dr Simon Crouch at the University Of Melbourne. “Is the health and wellbeing of our kids the same as everyone else’s? Yes, it is. From his work, it looks like they’re just doing as well as anyone else.”

Our society is doing well too, said Penny Wong. “There’s been quite a profound shift [in attitudes] over the last decade, and we should be very proud of that: not just those of us in the LGBTI community, but as an Australian community.”

Senator Wong said that she measures this attitude shift through “the change in the way people treat us, since the birth of our first child to now.” Whether it’s other parents at her child care centre, a café owner responding to her daughter at the local farmers market, or a workman on the street, Penny experiences “warmth and acceptance” from the Australian community.

This acceptance is still seen as lacking in our legal, political and health care systems, and the panel discussed the need for state and federal law reform and more support from medical providers.

Rodney Chiang-Cruise, lawyer and father of three, highlighted the lack of legal rights and responsibilities for gay men in parenting arrangements such as surrogacy, adoption and co-parenting. “There is uncertainty and anxiety that pervades most gay men’s families, particularly in the early stages when they realise they’re not legal parents.”

Chiang-Cruise called for our society to “work towards a system where the rights and responsibilities of all parties in parenting arrangements are guided, respected and protected.”

Dr McNair discussed the need for more support for our rainbow families and their families of origin and more training for our medical providers. In particular, she expressed concern about the treatment of non-biological parents by community nurses and health practitioners.

Senator Wong addressed the subject which is currently on everyone’s mind: the plebiscite. “I am deeply worried about it … and I think anyone in this room who has experienced the overt expression of prejudice will understand why I’m concerned about it.”

Senator Wong’s fear that “many of the opponents of equality appear to have difficulty engaging in a respectful debate” was powerfully demonstrated by audience member Mietta, a teenager from a same-sex family. She spoke of the hurt she experienced in her school uniform hearing Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins call rainbow kids “social guinea pigs” during the Victorian parliament adoption amendment debate.

“How do we explain to our children and how do I protect my siblings from people like this who believe they have the right to discriminate against us?” She asked Senator Wong.

“The first thing I want to say is that you’re not a guinea pig; you’re a fine and brave young woman,” Penny responded. “And I guess the hard answer is, we can’t stop people saying things. What we can do is to work to … make our children more resilient, which I think we do. That’s such a priority for LGBTI families because we understand that. And the second is to keep encouraging leaders, politicians, faith institutions, community leaders, to speak out against that kind of language.”

The strongest message from the panel was one of personal responsibility.

Dr McNair requested that audience members be better informed and go and advocate for rainbow families, while Ms Tomlins insisted we “make sure we do everything in our lobbying power” to stop the plebiscite.

“It’s important for us to be open about who we are, and to remind people that we’re not that different. Because we aren’t,” Senator Wong said.

“I actually think Australians are so far down the track towards equality, the fear campaign would have less bite, but that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be one, and it doesn’t lessen the kind of human cost of what that would be.”

To listen to the Joy 94.9 podcast of this event, click here.