New Book Pictures Kids of LGBTQ Parents
September 25, 2017
Lauren, whose father came out when she was 7. Photographing peers was therapeutic says Gabriela Herman, whose own mother came out when she was in high school.
Paloma, whose mother came out when she was 13. Working on the project, "I would think I had heard every story, and then a new one would come up,” says Herman.
When the United States Supreme Court ruled on July 26, 2015, that all states must allow same-sex marriage, Brooklyn-based photographer Gabriela Herman sensed an opportunity to publish her long-term personal project. Since 2010, Herman had been working on “The Kids,” a series that involved interviewing and photographing people raised by one or more LGBTQ parents. She thought: “I need to get my project out when people are talking about gay marriage, and what it’s like for the kids,” she told PDN.
She pitched the project to Jeffrey Henson Scales, a photo editor at The New York Times’s Sunday Review, who had initially declined to publish the series in 2013, saying that he wanted to see it more developed. He bit the second time around. The story ran in the Sunday Review on June 13, 2015, as a photo essay titled “What Could Gay Marriage Mean for the Kids?” A year later, design firm EWS, which has a partnership with publisher The New Press, contacted Herman about turning the series into a book. Herman had just given birth, and had a two-month old at home. The New Press wanted her to take portraits of an additional 40 subjects by February 2017. “I was like, ugh, I guess I can try to do that,” she laughs.
Her subjects ranged in age from teenagers to middle-aged adults. Some had been raised by queer parents, and some had been raised by a parent who didn’t come out as queer until later in their lives. In total, she photographed and interviewed more than 75 people for The Kids: The Children of LGBTQ Parents in the USA, which The New Press publishes this month. It features portraits accompanied by stories told to Herman by each of her subjects. Their recollections of being raised by gay parents range from painful to idyllic. “Regardless of whether you are gay or straight, or whatever orientation, every family we make is different,” Herman notes.
Throughout the project, Herman served as a witness for a population that is often referred to in the culture wars, but very rarely has its own voice. “There are lots of projects about queer youth, and all sorts of LGBTQ-focused photo projects, but almost nothing about kids who have gay parents,” Herman says. “I’m not a spokesperson, but I’m getting others’ stories out there.” She included audio recordings of subjects telling their stories on the website she built for the project.
For Herman, the process of meeting her subjects was therapeutic. Raised by a lesbian mother who came out when Herman was in high school, she never spoke about her mother’s sexual orientation. This changed when she was 29, and attended a meeting organized by COLAGE, one of the first organizations to support the children of queer parents. “Not only had I never met anyone else who had a gay parent, all of a sudden there are a lot of them, and they are OK talking about [their parents] in front of strangers,” she says. “For me, that was an a-ha moment.”
Through COLAGE, she met her first subjects. She photographed each one alone, using whatever light was available. “I wanted our voices—just the kid in the frame, not with their parents or their families.” She scheduled shoots through COLAGE when she was traveling for paid commercial or editorial work. “I kept a spreadsheet of where people were, and when I traveled to places like San Francisco, Miami or Chicago, I would reach out to them.”
At first, she asked subjects to bring to the shoot some object they remembered from the moment when their parents came out to them—an object with a specific color, for example. This led to varied, personal portraits that have an element of drama to them. Herman’s picture of a woman named Elizabeth, for example, shows her half in shadow, a white phone receiver in her hand. Another woman, named Kaitlyn, is photographed through the window of a car, the reflection of trees adding texture to her face.
The project evolved over time, and then Herman made a mad dash to finish it for the book publication. “When I was doing 40 portraits in five months with a newborn at home, it was very much, ‘Let’s try to find an interesting photo in this half-hour window,’” she laughs.
No story is the same and, moreover, Herman has never ceased being surprised. “I would think I had heard every story, and then a new one would come up.”
Over the seven years that she has been photographing the kids of gay parents, Herman says a lot has changed. “In the beginning, it was hard to find subjects, and even if I did find them, they wouldn’t want to be photographed,” she says. People who were raised by gay parents in the 1970s and ’80s had frequently lost them to the AIDS epidemic, and lived with shame for much of their lives. Herman’s younger subjects, on the other hand, were more proud. Having a gay parent, she notes, has “become kind of cool.”
More than anything, the book proves that stability and happiness have nothing to do with the sexual orientation of your parent. A good parent will be a good parent no matter whom they love.