Protecting families has been a core part of our work at the National Center for Lesbian Rights since we started in 1977. We envision a world where all families — no matter how they are formed — are given equal dignity and respect.
Even though we have made a lot of progress over the last 45 years, LGBTQ families are still separated in every state because of discrimination and lack of legal recognition of our family relationships. Last year, NCLR’s client, LaNesha Matthews, was removed from her twin’s birth certificates and denied the right to seek custody even though she gave birth to her children and raised them for seven years—just because she is not a genetic parent. Thankfully, we were able to overturn this decision on appeal, but non-genetic parents, especially parents who did not give birth, are still denied parental rights all over the country.
We also know that the so-called child welfare system disproportionately separates LGBTQ families of color based discrimination even when the law recognizes them as families. Black and Native American families and families with disabilities are separated in large numbers by this inherently biased system, needlessly harming thousands of children who could safely remain with their families with the right support. Transgender parents are at particularly great risk of losing custody of their children, and even having their parental rights permanently terminated, just because these parents are transitioning. Parents who support their transgender and gender nonconforming children are also at risk of losing custody and even having all of their children removed by the state just for allowing their children to be who they are.
Through impact litigation, legislative and policy change, and education, NCLR fights for true family equality and justice for all families. We advocate for laws that apply to parents of all genders, address parents having children through assisted reproduction and surrogacy, protect the health and autonomy of people acting as surrogates and egg donors, define families based on their actual relationships rather than merely marriage and biology, and recognize families with multiple parents. In court, we fight discrimination against parents based on sexual orientation and gender identity, assist parents who seek to support their transgender and gender nonconforming children, and work to ensure that existing laws are fairly applied to LGBTQ families. Through education and advocacy, we seek to transform the child welfare system from a system that regulates and separates families to one that helps families stay safely together except in rare circumstances where children truly cannot safely remain with their families even with support.
Our work has always focused on lived equality—not just achieving a right on paper but ensuring that the law actually works to protect all people and families. We seek automatic, free legal protections that are flexible enough to apply to all kinds of families. The ability to protect parental rights through a costly adoption is meaningless for a family who cannot afford to access the courts. Only protecting parents who use sperm banks or fertility clinics to conceive children through assisted reproduction leaves out vast numbers of families. Being recognized as a family but denied access to safe, affordable housing doesn’t help keep families safely together.
NCLR works for reproductive justice for all people and families—the right to decide whether or not to have children, the right to be legally-recognized as a family with the right to maintain our family relationships, and the right to a safe environment to raise children. Full family equality and justice is a long way off, but many courts and governments are beginning to change laws and systems so that they can truly work for families. We will be there every step of the way until every family is recognized and protected.