The news that Elton John has become a dad has sparked public debate and reminds us once again of the divisions in The Men’s Movement that can been seen most starkly across the many different dads’ groups– and in the ongoing divides between gay men and straight men (and gay men and gay women too)
The rights and wrongs and pros and cons of alternative families have divided us for decades. This includes unmarried families, separated families, single parents, gay foster parents, test-tube babies, lesbian mums, surrogate mums and separated gay sperm-donor dads – to name but a few!
As far as gay parents go the debate has been a prominent issue in the UK since the childrens’ book Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin came to symbolize the Thatcher government’s fight against the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools enshrined in the notorious “section 28” that Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron apologised to the gay community for in 2009.
In the intervening 30 years individual men and men’s groups have taken a lot of separate activity around both fathers’ rights and gay rights and it is a little know fact some of the high profile Fathers 4 Justice stunts were inspired by lesbian direct action against section 28 which included lesbians abseiling into the House of Lords (a direct inspiration for the Fathers 4 Justice Purple Powder Protest Against Tony Blair by two Susssex dads including James Blunt’s brother-in-law – and the famous lesbian invasion of the BBC’s Six O Clock News during which one woman managed to chain herself to Sue Lawley’s desk and was sat on by the newscaster Nicholas Witchell which inspired Fathers 4 Justice invading the National Lottery years later
Despite all this, fathers’ rights campaigners and gay rights activists have never really gotten in bed together (politically that is) – let alone been uncomfortable bed fellows.
In fact the closest Dads’ Rights came to Gay Rights was when in 2003 it was revealed that the fathers rights campaigner who scaled a crane dressed as Spiderman (another Sussex dad) had previously been charged with public indecency for consensual sex with a man in public toilet in Brighton & Hove as a teenager.
Insiders at the time the story broke speculated on whether the Sun would run with a homophobic headline like “Spiderman Dad Is A SuperQueero!” but in the end the Sun plumped for the more direct headline “Spiderman is a pervert”
But back to Elton….it’s important to note that while the chattering classes have focused on the question of whether Elton John is too old to be a dad – or whether his lifestyle is too rock ‘n’ roll – the real question the public is still struggling with is this – should gay men be allowed to be dads?
Gay dads have always been around though their public profile is largely restricted to controversial cases like the millionaire surrogate dads Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow – or the gay rights campaigner Michael Turberville whose son was abducted sparking national headlines like Lesbian mum has stolen my son and sparked debate on Men’s Rights forums around the world – or the tragic case of 4 children abused by gay foster parents Craig Faunch and Ian Wathey in Warrington where social workers failed to stop the abuse because they feared being seen as homophobic.
So back to the most recent high profile gay dad stories, should Elton John be allowed to be a dad……
Well it’s important to note that gay dads really are nothing new – they are just a little more public now. Gay dads fall into three broad categories:
- Gay dads who are either in – or have come out of – straight relationships
- Gay sperm donors (who are frequently chosen by lesbian mums)
- Gay men who choose to be fathers by fostering, adopting or surrogacy
It’s difficult to find out much about these different experiences as there are few groups specialising in working with gay dads.
For the gay dad in the closet, for example, there is not an obvious place to turn – parent support groups favour mothers, fathers’ groups favour straight men, gay parents’ groups favour lesbians and gay men’s groups favour childless gay men. There is however a Gay Dads Group in Scotland and a Gay Dads Group in Australia and a Gay Dads International website and a Gay Dads USA facebook group but not a gay dads group in Brighton & Hove and England that we are aware of.
For gay sperm donors like Michael Turberville who had his son abducted by a lesbian mum their stories make for good sensational tabloid headlines – like “Gay Dad Fights Two Lesbians” – but where is the support group for separated gay dads?
Traditionally the Fathers Rights Movement has not been a comfortable home for separated gay dads in custody battles with lesbian mums despite the fact that if you talk to any long-serving member of groups like Families Need Fathers and Fathers 4 Justice they will most likely have personal experience of supporting straight dads who are fighting custody battles with mums who have come out of the closet.
As those who take on the task of working with separated dads for any length of time know, it is surprising how often this happens.
It’s also difficult to consider what it must be like for a straight separated dad struggling with access to his kids while his ex’s new lesbian partner has daily contact with his children.
Dealing with your life partner coming out of the closet, losing your relationship with your partner and children and dealing with the fact that your children will now be brought up in a gay family does not have the same hilarious consequences for real dads as it does for Ross in Friends finding out his wife is Lesbian.
It’s an uncomfortable and relatively common scenario that the fathers’ rights movement has struggled to tackle – often for fear of allegations of homophobia – the same fear of allegations of homophobia found in the Warrington sex abuse case – and in the meantime both straight and gay separated dads don’t get the help and support they need to deal with this issue.
Equalities campaigners who are quick to brand men and fathers fighting for their rights as being sexist and homophobic – but slow to understand why they are campaigning in the first place – should take note!
Which is all well and good but should Elton John be allowed to be a dad…..?
Well as far as adoption goes we can assume that everyone supports adoption but not everyone supports adoption by gay parents. What’s interesting from the gender perspective though is that while the majority of people in the UK now support gay adoption – opinion polls show that the public is more comfortable with lesbian adoption than gay male adoption.
And common sense suggests that despite the fact that surrogacy is legal in the UK under certain guidelines – the public is generally less comfortable with surrogacy than it is adoption – and is no doubt more comfortable with infertile straight parents using surrogacy than gay parents – and amongst gay parents is more comfortable with gay mums using surrogacy than gay dads.
So this being the case should Elton John be allowed to be a dad…..?
Well whatever your personal opinion the law allows for gay men to foster, adopt and have surrogate babies and so of course he should be allowed to become a father as equally as the next man or women is allowed by our national laws to both be a parent and be treated fairly and equally regardless of gender and sexuality.
But let us not let the tabloid sensationalism pass without acknowledging the following:
- Dads around the world have less rights than mums
- Gay parents face prejudice compared to straight parents
- Gay dads face more prejudice than lesbian mums
And if gay campaigners want to tackle the prejudice that gay parents face then they need to address the fact that dads face more discrimination than mums – whatever their sexuality.
And if fathers’ rights campaigners want to be a credible force in the modern world then they need to stand up for all dads – whatever their sexuality – and address the fact that gay parents face discrimination in the UK and fathers’ rights groups help to cause that discrimination by failing to stand up to the prejudice against gay parents which affects more gay dads than it does gay mums.
Historically, some activist dads have tended to see gay parents as the enemy because they saw equalities campaigners focusing on improving rights for the LGBT community while either ignoring or opposing better rights for dads.
This viewpoint is reflected (but not directly addressed) in the Coalition Government’s New Equalities Strategy which states that the old approach to Equalities meant that “too many people were made to feel that equality is not for them”
As a result of this anti-gay sentiment, opportunities to work together and support each other have been missed – notably in opposition to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 which removed the “need for a father” from IVF treatment.
While this law didn’t affect activist dads directly, they were angered by the act of politicians removing the “need for a father” from IVF treatment because they felt it was symbolic of the previous Labour administration’s apparent unwillingness to take action to support the “need for a father” when couple’s separate.
The group of dads that this change in law did impact on most was gay dads donating to lesbian mothers which, as the gay rights group Stonewall rightly points out means that “a gay father who donates sperm to a lesbian couple may have no legal recognition as a parent”
Stonewall has some good guidance for gay dads but it is notable that it published its guidelines for lesbian mums first – a strong signal that it too puts more priority on gay mums rights than gay dads right – and its section on separation and custody completely ignores the discrimination that all dads face in custody battles because of the prejudicial assumption that mums (gay or straight) are better parents that dads (gay or straight).
Yes, yes, yes, but should Elton be allowed to be a dad……
Well yes of course he should be allowed to be a dad – but maybe we should try and put a caveat on this.
Maybe we should demand that Elton in his new role as the world’s most famous dad should take a stand for dads’ rights and gay right’s campaigners to finally start working together on these issues.
It’s true that the anti-gay anger of some activist dads is a big part of the problem here – as was most visibly seen when NEW Fathers 4 Justice campaigners – a splinter group that is not to be confused with the official Fathers 4 Justice campaign – tried to highlight complex issues like the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 which led to gay sperm donors losing their parental rights – with the spectacularly stupid slogan “Kids Need Real Dads Not Lesbo Dads!”
There is also truth in the perception that male gay rights campaigners have happily jumped into bed with other equalities campaigners who have systematically excluded men and boys and ignored or opposed demands for better fathers’ rights whilst at the same time not reaching out to or standing up for the collective rights of all men and boys.
The Men’s Network in Brighton & Hove is unique in taking a worldwide stand for all groups representing men and boys – gay or straight – to take a collective approach to improving the way the world works for men and boys.
We can do this by being proudly pro-male, proudly pro-father and proudly committed to every man and boy being supported to reach his greatest potential irrespective of sexuality.
We also stand for men’s groups working with women’s groups for the benefit of all.
When a father separates from his partner we are not interested in whether he is straight or gay or if his partner is a man or a woman or if his partner is straight or gay – all we are interested in is providing services that make it more likely that those two parents can work together to do what’s best for their children.
At the same time we want to find new ways to make sure that less children experience their parents separating and that all children have the best possible relationship with both their biological parents – and in particularly their dads.
To do this we need to deal with fact that our society treats men and boys (straight or gay) as being more disposable both as fathers and surprisingly as children too.
It is a little know fact that 3 out 5 children in care are boys and so whatever your opinion about gay dads the fact remains that if you care about the rights of men and boys (straight or gay) then you’d be better off asking yourself – what can we do to take better care of our boys and support more dads being involved in bringing up their children
However if you want to, you can follow the Elton John is a dad debate here on the BBC website.