by Libby Post
November 5, 2007
No good deed goes unpunished.
That is certainly the case of Michael Gregg Valdez and Michael
Oberg who took in the four young children of Valdez’ niece. The
niece asked the couple to take care of her children while she dealt
with some drug-related criminal matters.
Already parenting Valdez’ biological daughter, Michael and Gregg,
as Valdez in known, are more than happy to provide a stable, loving
home until the children’s mother is ready to do the same. The
problem is they live in Utah where two unmarried people
cohabitating can not serve as foster or adoptive parents.
The state’s Division of Children and Family Services asked the
courts to take the children away from the two men so they could be
placed in foster homes more to their liking—married, heterosexual
households. Instead of handing custody to the state, the court took
custody of the kids and then turned around and granted Valez
temporary custody. For now, the four will stay together.
This is just the type of situation that fuels the passion of
Jennifer Chrisler, the executive director of the Family Equality
Council. You may have known the organization as Family Pride—the
name was recently changed to reflect their purpose of achieving
family equality for all loving families.
“Mike and Gregg’s willingness to open their homes and hearts
highlights what is best about families—love, commitment, strength
and support,” Chrisler told me recently. “Utah’s law
regarding placement of foster care children is not good public
policy nor is it good for children.”
The possibility of ballot initiatives banning gay adoption and
fostering may well raise its ugly head for the 2008 presidential
race—although when it was used in 2004 it didn’t gain much
traction. However, according to Chrisler, Arkansas is likely to
mount a ballot initiative that in the long run will just hurt kids.
And in Texas, the state is proposing spending of close to $3
million to investigate current foster parents. If any of the
parents are found to be LGBT, the kids will be yanked from the
Chrisler has been working to protect those kids and their LGBT
families since April of 2005 when she came to the Council, then
located in Washington, DC, after serving as a fundraising
consultant for political campaigns and LGBT organizations in
Massachusetts. She and her spouse, Cheryl Jacques (yes, the same
Cheryl Jacques who was at HRC for a brief and shining moment)
recently moved back to the Bay State with their five year old
fraternal twins, Tim and Tom. The organization moved with them and
is now headquartered in Boston.
“I’m a mother. I’m raising my kids in a world where our
families don’t have what they need to keep each other strong and
protected,” she explained. “Kids spend a lot of time explaining
who their family is and I’d like that to stop.”
In the little over two years that Chrisler has been at the Family
Equality Council (FEC—not to be confused with the Federal
Elections Commission) she has transformed the organization into a
Remember the Easter Egg Roll at the White House where LGBT families
wore rainbow leis and received national media attention—that was
thanks to FEC.
When James Dobson from Focus on the Family wrote a hateful op ed in
Time Magazine about Mary Cheney’s lesbian pregnancy, FEC
pressured the conservative weekly to run a counterpoint piece
entitled _Two Mommies or Two Daddies Will Do Fine, Thanks_ authored
by Chrisler. The piece focused on the inequity of Virginia state
law—where Cheney and her partner Heather Poe live with their
son—and how Poe is without any legal parental rights.
“Some of the pressing issues we face are marriage equality and
uniform parenting laws,” said Chrisler. “We need laws that
recognize the complicated and creative ways our families are
created. Issues such as surrogacy, sperm donors and divorce create
legal complications. It would be nice to have a uniform law to
protect our families.”
A community organizer at heart, Chrisler understands that she
can’t be the only one out there speaking on behalf of family
equality. Through OUTspoken Families, the organization’s national
speakers bureau, over 1,000 people in 39 states, DC, one US
territory and three foreign countries have been trained to speak
out on family equality issues.
“We’re training people to be advocates for themselves, their
families, friends and people they care about at every level of
their life from responding to a comment in an elevator to speaking
to the PTA,” said Chrisler. “We have a lot of people raising
the issue of family equality at lots of different levels . .
.we’re working to change the hearts and minds of straight people
we come into contact with.”
Changing those hearts and minds means changing the way LGBT
families live. Many of us no longer have to live in the shadows
afraid that someone will find out that our kids have two mommies or
two daddies. But for those who do, FEC and Chrisler work to change
laws, make schools safer and create a national LGBT family movement
that can no longer be ignored.
Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride
Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and
in print media. She can be reached care of this publication or at