By D. Kevin McNeir
The Mexican Fine Arts Museum, located at 1852 West 19th, was the venue for a revealing forum in April. LGBT Black and Latino same-sex households shared their concerns and the problems they face as they attempt to successfully raise children in a society that still condones and even calls for multiple forms of discrimination.
About 100 men, women and children attended the free event, presented by Lambda Legal and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force with additional sponsors that included Orguillo en Accion and the host museum.
The forum also included free guided tours of the museum's newest exhibit, The African Presence in Mexico: From Yanga to the Present, which has been described as the most comprehensive project ever organized about African contributions to Mexican culture and also includes two other exhibits: Who Are We Now? Roots, Resistance & Recognition, and Common Goals, Common Struggles, Common Ground.
Mary Morten, director for the Illinois Coalition for Education on Sexual Orientation, highlighted information gleaned from two recently released reports based on data from the 2000 census: Black Same-Sex Households in the United States and Hispanic and Latino Same-Sex Couple Households in the United States.
'The data that I felt compelled to discuss illustrates how anti-gay and anti-marriage philosophies in the U.S. disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos,' Morten said. 'We already know America's current policies but with these two reports we can begin to use undisputable facts and point to the implications for Black and Latinos same-sex households. We have always said that we [ Black and Latino same-sex families ] are everywhere—now we have proof. In Illinois, for example, the report indicates that there are 23,000 same-sex households.'
Morten's comments focused on four specific areas: immigration, parenting, age and income. However, the two reports also reveal important statistics about disability, employment, residential patterns, family structure, military service and educational levels.
Among the revelations from the census reports are that white male same-sex couples report over $24,000 more in annual household income than Black male same-sex couples. Another facet is that there are 1,138 federal benefits and protections available to married couples that same-sex couples cannot access. For example, same-sex couples must report domestic-partner health insurance as income and pay income taxes on it, while married opposite-sex couples are not taxed on spousal health insurance.
The forum also featured two couples that have either raised or are currently raising children together and were invited to talk about how current policies and some of the data from the two reports continue to affect their lives.
David Harris and Willie Porter are two African-American men who are married and have been together for seven years. Both men were previously married to women and fathered two children and one child, respectively. They raised Porter's son together and he recently left their home to attend college.
Marilyn Morales and Angela Diaz are partners in a Puerto Rican/Columbian same-sex household where they are raising three children. Because their children are younger in age than those of Harris and Porter, they shared different experiences about the challenges of parenting.
'We studied the report carefully and we both agree that our primary concern as a same-sex couple is healthcare,' Harris said. 'We are fortunate because we both work for companies that provide domestic-partnership coverage, but many others are not. Another challenge that Black same-sex couples face, particularly those with children, is access to housing that is in safe neighborhoods with quality education. Whites can sometimes separate their sexual orientation and their ethnicity but Blacks don't have that option. The majority of us tend to live in our own communities, not gay communities. And it's funny because while we own a home together in the south suburbs, I believe that most of our neighbors probably think we're heterosexual.'
'When you have kids you have to be out,' Morales added. 'Our children are school-age, and so they are part of our everyday lives. It's an education for those around us and being in a home that is Puerto Rican and Columbian makes for a great deal of humor. Our greatest concern is that our children will face discrimination because of their parents are gay, but often we find that discrimination comes because of our ethnicity.'
'We have combined our financial assets and emphasized with those who sold us our cars and our home, that we were a same-sex couple,' Porter said. 'But we have had to do some much work in terms of putting things together in the event that one of us should die. It is important for both of us that should that occur, that the remaining partner will be able to maintain our current standard of living. It's much more difficult given the current laws in America for same-sex couples to do that.'
'I remember one time I had to take our son Eliot [ Morales' biological son ] to the emergency room and when Marilyn [ Morales ] showed up, they didn't want to let her in,' Diaz said. 'They didn't understand how our son could have two mothers. If we [ were ] allowed to legally marry, life would be so much more simple.'
As the forum concluded, Morten asked each individual to do three things: talk to family, friends, co-workers and religious leaders about the importance of equal protection of the law for all families; host a discussion about the importance of equality for LGBT families for members of one's religious group, business or social network; and contact elected representatives and ask them to support full equality for LGBT families.
Two comments from the floor summed up the views of those who attended the forum.
'Marriage gives a couple almost [ 1,200 ] privileges and we [ gay couples ] deserve every one of them, just like when we paid our taxes in full yesterday,' said Vernita Gray.
'I'm a queer granny with a 32-year-old son,' said Donna Rose. 'Things are changing; I know that given the challenges I faced raising my son in a same-sex household. Fear is the thing that stopped so many of us from completing the surveys from the Census Bureau. And this discussion we're having tonight is not about the romantic aspects of love and marriage. It's about our deserving rights and privileges. I'm glad that we have made this start in bringing together African Americans and Latinos to share our similar concerns. And it's fitting that we should be in a place like the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum.'