On Friday, November 18th, students and faculty gathered beneath the vaulted ceiling of Royce Hall’s Conference Room to hear roundtable discussions about Queer identity.
The symposium, titled “What We Talk About, When We Talk About Queer”, was hosted by the UCLA LGBT Studies Department. Scholars of psychology, world arts and cultures, [email protected] studies, public policy, and ethnomusicology convened to discuss the benefits and complications of queer identity.
The full-day symposium was part of National Coming Out Week (NCOW), a two-week program involving the UCLA LGBT Studies Department, LGBT Center, Queer Alliance, Cultural Affairs Commission, and other campus groups. The two-week “Week” kicked off on October 11th with National Coming Out Day, recognized across the U.S. as a day for public affirmation and acceptance of one’s sexual and/or gender identity.
The symposium’s keynote address, “Researching LGBTQ Families and the Law: What a Difference a Decade Makes”, was delivered by Kim Richman, a Visiting Professor of Gender Studies at UCLA and a Visiting Scholar at the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute.
Dr. Richman discussed research she conducted with the National Science Institute for three years involving interviews with same-sex couples married in Massachusetts after voters approved same-sex marriage in 2004, as well as in San Francisco, where same-sex marriage was briefly legalized that year. Her report found that the average relationship length amongst surveyed couples was 11 years longer than the average heterosexual relationship. In addition, Richman found that 55% of same-sex couples had already had commitment ceremonies prior to getting married. So why get married?
Many interviewed participants expressed a greater sense of security in their daily personal and social interactions with their partner and others. Some participants acknowledged their political or social consciousness as a determining factor in their decision to marry.
“This was during the Bush Administration…a lot of people interviewed relished the fact that they were getting married on President’s Day,” said Richman
Richman reminded the audience that the 2004 legalization of same-sex marriage in San Francisco occurred only after then-Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city-county clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Most couples who wed that February were well aware that they would be shortly stripped of their right to marry and their marriages would be annulled. Surely enough, less than a month later, the California Supreme Court ordered the City and County of San Francisco to stop.
“’Getting married felt like a radical transgressive as…this is perhaps our generation’s Stonewall.’” said Richman, quoting another participant in the survey.
Nevertheless, participants’ motivations for marriage shifted gradually in conversation from the political to the personal.
In secondary interviews with married couples, conducted over a year from the original session, couples said they had experienced greater social validation of their relationship, a greater sense of legitimacy, and deeper feelings of commitment.
Richman continued her lecture with a discussion of her first book, Courting Change: Queer Parents, Judges, and the Transformation of American Family Law, a study of 316 appellate decisions regarding LGBTQ adoptions between 1952 and 2004. 75% of the decisions were made after 1992, signifying the increased visibility of non-traditional, non-nuclear families. Richman said Queer families were “legally invisible before 1990.”
Part of the book investigates how judges can negate or affirm the self-proclaimed identity of LGBTQ plaintiffs or defendants in their rulings.
“In some cases, parents who did not identify as gay were defined as gay in a legal context…some who identified as parents were defined as strangers,” said Richman.
She cited a 1999 case in which the court defined a man as gay, who did not identify as gay, because “he preferred to spend time with his friends and had a particularly feminine taste in furniture.” He was subsequently denied custody rights.
Change has come quickly since that ruling. Most recently, Governor Jerry Brown signed California SB274 into law, allowing more than two parents to act as legal parents.
“This bill effectively queers the family according to state law,” said Richman.
For more information about National Coming Out Week programs, please visit https://www.facebook.com/events/550879908299645/