Monday, May 5, 2008

Left out of the debate over gay marriage and gay parenting is the potential devastation wrought on the child, said Dawn Stefanowicz, who tells her story of growing up with a gay father and a chronically ill and passive mother in her memoir, “Out From Under: The Impact of Homosexual Parenting.”

“I wanted those in authority to realize how their decisions impact families and children,” said Mrs. Stefanowicz, speaker, media spokeswoman and home educator living in London, Ontario.

Mrs. Stefanowicz advocates for families and children on the issues of marriage, parenting, sexuality and education, and is a resource for family policy, legislative, medical, research and scholastic organizations. Her Web site, www.dawnstefanowicz .com, serves people who have grown up with a homosexual, bisexual or transsexual parent or parents and provides a network for sharing their stories.

“It’s a very moving, brutally honest, first-person account of what it is like to grow up with a homosexual parent,” said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy for the Family Research Council. “It took tremendous courage for her to write this book and go public with her story.”

Until she started hearing from others who grew up with gay parents, Mrs. Stefanowicz thought her experience was unusual.

“We often deal with sexuality confusion,” Mrs. Stefanowicz said. “Some of us will be challenged in our gender identity. We may have issues of boundaries in the area of our own sexuality and relationships.”

Mrs. Stefanowicz said she wrote the book, published in 2007, to give other adult children the opportunity to express their stories while encouraging her own healing. It was not until the death of her parents, Judith and Frank (she does not give their last names in the book to protect their identities), that she felt free to share her story of unmet needs and neglect and to describe the other side of the sexual revolution — that of the unspoken, negative affects on the children of gay parents.

“The child is not the central focus in these relationships,” she said. “I felt like a commodity, or a pawn moved around.”

However, she emphasized that she loved her father, had compassion for him and admired him for his strong work ethic.

“I’m hoping in the book people understand that I loved my dad throughout,” she said.

Mrs. Stefanowicz describes growing up during the 1960s and 1970s in an emotionally exhausting environment full of chaos. She said her father, who was sexually and physically abused as a child, was more interested in meeting his own emotional needs through his gay lifestyle than meeting the needs of his children — Dawn; her twin brother, Thomas; and their younger brother, Scott.

Mrs. Stefanowicz felt unwanted by her father, whom she said was frequently absent, self-indulgent and self-serving. (Later, he sought to restore relationships with his children after he was diagnosed with AIDS, dying of it when she was in her late 20s.)

“All I ever wanted was pure fatherly affection,” Mrs. Stefanowicz said in her book. “Instead all affection — if affection is what motivated such assaults — was sexualized, leaving me feeling humiliated, dirty and somehow ashamed.”

While her father was controlling and demanded that his family follow his agenda without negotiation, her mother, who was starved for Frank’s affection and attention, was distant, distracted and depressed, Mrs. Stefanowicz said. She described her mother as weak, subservient, reactive, and, at the same time, put her own needs and wants ahead of those of her children.

“It’s important for both genders to be equally valued, loved and seen as uniquely important for a child’s development and future,” said Mrs. Stefanowicz, who thinks that monogamy is not typical in gay relationships. “We really need a mom and dad who are married, who love each other, who are committed for life. … It helps the kids have a strong sense of who they are.”

Research shows that same-sex couples are just as successful in parenting as heterosexual couples, said Steve Ralls, spokesman for Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) in Northwest.

“Their children are healthy. Their children are happy,” Mr. Ralls said. “There is no evidence in the research to support a general claim that same-sex couples cannot raise children. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. There are many children who grow up in heterosexual households who are abused and unhappy. We won’t use those cases to say that heterosexual parents wouldn’t make good parents. We shouldn’t apply that here.”

Mrs. Stefanowicz’s father, president and owner of his own executive recruiting service, wanted the normality he thought marriage could bring, using it as a cover for his homosexual lifestyle, she said. He brought her along to gay meeting spots and porn shops, though she was still a child, and introduced her to explicit sexual practices and exposed her to the health risks of the gay lifestyle, she said.

“What makes it so hard for a girl to grow up with a gay father is that she never gets to see him loving, honoring or protecting the women in his life,” Mrs. Stefanowicz said in her book.

Mrs. Stefanowicz experienced insecurity, depression, anxiousness, sleeplessness and sexuality confusion, and her psychological well-being and peer relationships were affected, she said.

Mrs. Stefanowicz’s book is educational and important, showing the effects of gay parenting, said Arthur Goldberg, secretary for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in Los Angeles and co-director of Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH) in Jersey City, N.J. His book, “Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change,” scheduled for publication in two months, has a chapter on gay parenting and references Mrs. Stefanowicz’s story.

“The basic thesis of the book is that gay parenting doesn’t work,” Mr. Goldberg said of “Out From Under.” “She certainly was traumatized by the promiscuous sexuality of her father, which was not hidden. … The question we should ask [is], is this healthy for the kids?”

Mrs. Stefanowicz needed to get out from under, which she did through the help of therapy, turning to her faith and finding a loving husband in Vince, whom she met through a church function, she said. They have been married for 23 years and have two children.

“Because we have to get out from under, we have to find our own identity,” she said. “Our parents came out, sometimes before we were born. We need to come out in our own way to share our own stories.”

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