glbt issues

Jesse Helms, the former Senator from North Carolina, passed away yesterday at the age of 86. Many in the conservative community are drawing attention to the fact that this “patriot” died on the Fourth of July. Perhaps they mistakenly believe that by focusing on the date of his death, we will overlook the contents of his life.

The only kind thing I can say about Helms, is that at least he never hid his beliefs. You knew exactly what you were getting with him, be it racist, xenophobic or homophobic. He knew there were pockets of America that hated him, and he reveled in that knowledge. “If you want to call me a bigot, fine,” he said.

Of course I want to call him a bigot. This man spent his early career opposing the Civil Rights Movement and once responded to a Duke University vigil for Martin Luther King, Jr. after his assassination by stating, “They should ask their parents if it would be all right for their son or daughter to marry a Negro.”

As time went on, and he lost his battle to keep the races separate and entirely unequal, he found a new group of scapegoats. “Homosexuals,” he stated in a 1995 radio broadcast, “are weak, morally sick wretches.”

And for much of the last decade or so of his career, Helms focused his vitriol on gays. (Or should I say, “on homosexuals”? After all, Helms refused to refer to homosexuals as gays, stating, “I despise the use of the once beautiful word ‘gay.’ They are not gay; they are repulsive.”) Though he was particularly riled up on the topic of AIDS funding (and once suggested a quarantine was necessary for all HIV positive individuals), he was also quick to anger whenever an openly gay individual was nominated for a position that required Congressional approval or at any suggestion that gay Americans deserved equal rights and protection under the law. In response to the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to commemorate the Stonewall rebellion with a special postmark, Helm’s stood on the Senate floor and said, “The homosexuals are in a battle against American values. Their ultimate aim is to have the American people accept the proposition that their perverted lifestyle is as worthy of protection as race, creed and religion. I do not buy that. I say to them, bosh and nausea, and a pox on whomever in the Postal Service made this completely misguided decision.”

I was a junior at the University of North Carolina (or “The University of Negroes and Communists” as Helms coined my beloved alma mater) when he decided not seek another term in Congress. I won’t deny the fact that we celebrated, though I’m not sure replacing him with Liddy Dole was much of an improvement.

I am not rejoicing today, because I never rejoice in the death of any individual, no matter how little I respect them or how much I hate them. But I hope that with his death, there is a symbolic death as well.

Jesse Helms is not only a three-decade veteran of Congress who spent his career championing the causes of ignorance and intolerance. He is also a hero to small but vocal group of conservative Christians — the type who like to couch obviously racist statements with phrases like, “I’m not a racist, but…” I know these people. I used to live among them. My family and friends worshiped Mr. Helms, and held him up as a shining example.

I hope that his death may be another another milestone in the fight to end an era of hate and intolerance. And I hope that the leaders who rise up to replace this dying breed of politician, regardless of party, will remember that even their political foes are human beings who deserve equal rights and protections under the law.


A lesbian couple in Australia is suing the doctor who erroneously implanted two embryos instead of one. The couple were adamant about their desire for a single child, and wanted to take no chance on a multiple pregnancy. (Of course, there is never NO chance of multiples, because it’s always possible an embryo will split spontaneously, resulting in monozygotic — ie identical — twins.)

Anyway, the women originally had agreed to implant two embryos in order to increase their chance of conception, but at the last minute, the biological mother asked the doctor only to implant one. He informed her that there would still be a chance of twins, to which she responded, “Do not even joke about it. I only want one.”

However, the doctor forgot to tell the embryolist — who did the actual transfer — about the change, and he implanted two embryos. The doctor has admitted his mistake but is asking that their award be reduced by 35% because they failed to follow proper procedure when they changed their mind at the last minute after previously signing a consent form for two embryos.

The pregnancy resulted in dizygotic (fraternal) twins, meaning both embryos implanted and were carried to term. The couple in question is now parenting three-year-old twin girls. And they are suing the doctor who screwed up for more than $400,000 to cover the costs of raising one of the girls, including fees for a private school.

Okay, up until this point, I’m with the parents whole-heartedly. The doctor screwed up and he should be held accountable. Had the doctor only implanted one embryo, which subsequently split, they would be responsible for the cost of raising two children. But because this child was the direct result of his negligence, he should be responsible for the cost of (a) termination or (b) raising the child.

But here’s where it becomes a case of two wrongs not making a right: rather than just making that point and leaving it in the hands of the judge, the parents have detailed just how miserable they are due to the fact that they have two children. The non-biological mother testified that her partner has lost some of her capacity to love and that their lives have become so mired in the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting that their relationship has suffered. First of all, ALL parents — whether they have one child or twelve — go through changes in their relationship when they have children. Did they really believe that by having only one child, nothing would change at all? Are they insane? But more importantly, are they even taking into account the fact that someday their daughters are going to read these news articles? What kind of parent testifies before the Supreme Court that not only is their child a mistake, but also that their lives have effectively been ruined by the birth of said child? After intense backlash from the public, the parents have come forward and changed their tune a little — claiming that their children are adored and that they are only suing because of the mistake. And while I don’t doubt that they love their children, I have to wonder how a parent who loves their children could disregard the emotional distress they are undoubtedly setting up in their quest for retribution.

Furthermore, I just can’t get past the idea of a parent suing over the conception of a child. Especially a parent who was so desperate to have a child that they used fertility treatments to conceive. It reminds me of the mother I used to nanny for many years ago. She also used IVF to conceive her children, but unlike this couple it didn’t take on the first try. It took her eight years to conceive her first child and another three years to conceive her twins. She called them her “million dollar babies” because she had spent well over that amount on their conception.

Unfortunately for her, she had only ever planned on more than two children. She told me she would have been happy to conceive twins on the first try, but after giving birth once she was adamant about wanting only one more. When she discovered the second pregnancy was twins, she spent months depressed, until she discovered one of the babies was struggling in utero and there was a question that he would survive. Thankfully, he did and he wound up being perfectly healthy. Was she thankful? Did her near loss make her realize how thankful she was? In a word? No. Her reaction was: “Well…I know you shouldn’t WISH for a death of your child, but I couldn’t help thinking maybe it was for the best. After all, I really only wanted two children. But it just didn’t work out.”

Excuse me? The death of your child didn’t “work out”. Forgive me if I don’t cry for you.

Thursday was the Baby H’s weekly visit to the physical therapist. I dread this day every week in part because I hate watching him struggle through the discomfort of stretching and contorting and in part because I think his physical therapist is a very passive-aggressive, negative woman. (Although she is always friendly on the surface, she talks to us — one or both of Baby H’s parents always attends the sessions with us — as if we are stupid. Not only does she question whether we are doing the prescribed exercises at home, she constantly gives us unrelated pointers regarding basic child care. It’s insulting and frustrating.) Anyway, we were a few minutes early — as usual — so Henry and his father got down on the floor together to play with some of the toys in the waiting room while I sat to the side and observed. The receptionist, a nice woman who knows us well since we have been coming weekly for nearly four months, commented on how big Henry is getting and how much he has changed since he started his sessions. And then, out of nowhere, she says, “He sure is his mommy’s boy, isn’t he?”

As a nanny, I often feel like I’m walking a fine line in public. On one hand, I don’t want to lie and pretend Baby H is mine. It’s a little too Hand that Rocks the Cradle for my taste. But at the same time, when I’m walking through the grocery store and a little old woman says, “Oh your son is so cute!” it seems so much easier to just say “thank you” than to correct her. You would think that it would be fairly simple to reply with: “I’m his nanny, actually. But thank you.” But you could be wrong. Very wrong. Because for some unknown reason, that opening invites people to share with me their philosophies on childcare, feminism, formula feeding vs. breast feeding, etc. And when I’m just trying to grab a couple of organic sweet potatoes so I can whip up some baby food during nap time, I really don’t want to hear a dissertation on how deprived Baby H is because his mother chooses to work rather than stay home with him. Especially because THAT coversation, inevitably leads to the fact that Baby H doesn’t HAVE a mother.

Baby H. has two wonderful, devoted fathers. They are, quite honestly, the best parents I have worked for in nearly a decade of nannying. He also has a very large extended family who dotes on him like crazy and a nanny who utterly adores him. Trust me, the child lacks for nothing, especially love.

So when it happened this time, I froze. I was stunned initially because it made no sense — Henry was playing on the floor with his daddy while I sat quietly off to the side. Wouldn’t it have made sense to comment about how he’s such a daddy’s boy? And besides that, this woman has met both of Henry’s fathers repeatedly and she handles all of his paperwork and insurance, and therefore ought to know about his family structure.

In retrospect though, it doesn’t surprise me that the woman still did not see their family for what it was. Humans are notorious for seeing only what they want to see.

I let Baby H’s father do the talking this time — and I was grateful I didn’t have to me the one to laugh off her mistake. But ever since that awkward moment in the waiting room, I’ve been thinking about this nanny’s dilemma: how much information is too much? Should I make it my policy always to correct people who assume I’m his mother? Or are there times when it’s better just to smile and nod? And do I, as an out lesbian, have a greater social responsibility to correct mistaken assumptions in this case than I had in previous positions where my charges had a father and a mother? I hope that realizing the truth may have made that woman rethink any negative assumptions she might have had about gay individuals and same-sex parents. I have always maintained that the greatest way gays and lesbians can make strides for acceptance is to prove that we are just like our heterosexual counterparts. So it seems that when I encounter someone who assumes that Baby H. and I are part of a heterosexual family structure, I might make them rethink their hidden (or not-so-hidden) prejudices by informing them of the truth. But at the same time, sometimes I just want to grab a few vegetables without trying to change the world.