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Gay Parenting: why does having kids — or not — divide the LGBTQ+ community?

Opinion: Parent, podcaster, and author Stu Oakley looks at one of the most divisive talking points within the queer community: parenting

By Stu Oakley

Gay parenting
Two dads and their child (Image: Pexels)

To you, the word ‘daddy’ may conjure up images of Pedro Pascal staring deep into your soul with those rich brown eyes.

For me, though, daddy has a very different meaning. As a parent to three young children, I hear it approximately 20,000 times a day. From breakfast through to bedtime, and after finally tucking them into bed I am about as far removed from a gay fantasy of a ‘daddy’ as you can be.

But at the moment being a gay daddy is somewhat unsettling. In Europe, we seem to
be moving backwards rather than forwards. Hungary is allowing LGTBQ+ families to be reported to the authorities, while in Italy new laws that gave parenting rights to the gays look set to be reversed by the country’s new leader. And here in the UK, we have drag queens facing protests just for wanting to entertain children, while idiotic gay and lesbian groups and queer social media personalities are bullying trans people simply for being parents.

At a time when we really should be coming together as a community, we seem to be moving apart. As our queerness has developed, we’ve become more unique as individuals, and I struggle to understand why we are attacking each other for that rather than celebrating it.

“Do you feel that we are erasing queer culture by becoming like every other straight nuclear family?”

After becoming a parent, I noticed quickly how the subject of children divides the gay community. Imagine the scene like an American high-school cafeteria: on one table sits a group of actual ‘daddies’. This is where I would be, with my three children, and Tom Daley, who’s showing me his fabulous new knit. On another table, glaring at us and our loud children, are the ‘anti-daddies’, the gays who can’t think of anything worse than losing their identity and lifestyle to become, yuck, a parent.

Gay parenting
Writer Stu Oakley and his child (Image: Provided)

What’s the issue here, guys? Do you feel that we are erasing queer culture by becoming like every other straight nuclear family? Or maybe you just don’t like kids? Trust me, I don’t like my own some days, so I totally hear you on that. But I’m not asking for you to babysit them; just to respect us as part of the queer experience. Having spoken to dozens of different queer families for our book, The Queer Parent, and podcast, From Gay to Ze, Lotte Jeffs and I honestly think the fear that becoming parents diminishes our queer culture is unfounded. We’ve met so many wonderfully diverse families from all aspects of the spectrum who celebrate their queerness within their family. It’s part of our LGBTQ+ evolution and part of the equality that our gay predecessors fought so hard for.

I can see those predecessors across the cafeteria, the ‘shoulda woulda couldn’t daddies’. These are slightly older guys who wanted to be parents but grew up in a generation where it just didn’t seem possible. Laws and anti-queer rhetoric made the idea of just existing difficult, let alone being a parent, too. “I grew up in the 1980s and at that point there were so many laws that were unfair and homophobic,” author and former Attitude editor Matthew Todd told me. “I never dreamed that we would even get partnership rights, let alone parenting rights.

“We all need to get better at understanding every person at the queer table”

I regularly heard stories of lesbian women having their children taken away. Gay men who had come out after being in a heterosexual relationship who weren’t allowed to see their kids. It was a very negative time, with Section 28 and HIV/Aids raging. That did real damage to my sense of whether I’d ever be able to have a family life.”

And we’ve now come full circle. At the brightly lit table at the front, you have a group of utterly fabulous and fluid Gen-Z gays who are, quite rightly, still figuring things out. These 11 to 26-year-olds are going to be the first generation who could now have their Aunty Agnes prodding them and their boyfriend (or girlfriend) at a family wedding cooing “Ooooh, when are you two going to start a family?” — a joy heteros have had to endure for years.

And just like our straight cousins, we don’t have to have children. But for some of us, it’s nice to be able to exercise the right. I hope we get to a point where we can respect each other’s choices. We’re more alike than you think. We all need to get better at understanding every person at the queer table. After all, are we not just one big chosen family?