Growing up with gay parents adds 'flair' to life

By Simon Collins

Phoebe Balle was raised by two lesbian mums but says her unusual family background was never a problem at school. Photo / Greg Bowker
Phoebe Balle was raised by two lesbian mums but says her unusual family background was never a problem at school. Photo / Greg Bowker

Auckland student Phoebe Balle says that having gay parents has done her no harm - and added "flair" to her life.

Ms Balle, 19, grew up with two lesbian "mothers" from birth, plus a gay father who donated his sperm to her birth mother and looked after her every second weekend.

That gave her six grandparents, including the parents of her non-biological "mother" who loved her regardless of the biological niceties and continued to do so after her two mothers split up when she was 4.

"Three sets of families made for a lot of birthday presents. I have so many different people in my life, men and women, and it's just really enriched my upbringing," she says.

"Being part of that gay/lesbian scene just adds a whole other flair to life, going to the Big Gay Out and the Hero parades when we were younger."

Ms Balle is among a tiny 0.2 per cent of New Zealand children who were living with same-sex couples at the 2006 Census.

Two law changes that would affect their legal status are on the political agenda. Labour MP Louisa Wall is preparing a bill to let same-sex couples marry, and National MP Nikki Kaye and Green MP Kevin Hague are working on another bill to let same-sex couples adopt children together.

Same-sex couples can already formalise their relationships in civil unions, but are barred from marrying.

Children can also be adopted by individual adults, regardless of their sexuality, but can be adopted by a couple together only if one partner is a man and the other a woman.

Public opinion appears to have swung in behind both changes. A TVNZ poll this week found that 63 per cent felt same-sex couples should be able to marry.

Herald-DigiPoll surveys show support for same-sex adoption jumped from 41 per cent in 2009 to 54 per cent last November, with only 38 per cent still opposed.

Weekend Herald columnist John Roughan argued last week that legalising adoption by homosexual male couples would be unfair on the children because of the way they might be treated at school, although he saw nothing wrong with gay marriage or even a lesbian adopting her partner's children.

But Ms Balle said her unusual family background "has never been an issue" at the central Auckland schools she has attended.

"Thinking about friends of mine who maybe wore glasses and got bullied, or were a bit geeky and got bullied, I had it pretty easy," she said.

Her brother Thomas Joychild, 21, said he was bullied for other things but never for having gay and lesbian parents, even when he spent a year when he was about 16 living in Greymouth with his father, Mr Hague, the Green MP who is sponsoring the adoption bill.

"I did have a tough time of it socially on the West Coast," he said.

"The curiosity about how my family worked was a lot more intense, but it didn't actually get hostile at any point. It was just way out there for them."

Ms Balle has become lesbian herself, but Mr Joychild is heterosexual.

"None of my friends who are the kids of gays and lesbians are actually gay themselves," he said.

Anna Nelson, 32, has started a website for "people on the margins of society", Diversity Promotion through Social Networking (DPSN). She feels doubly marginalised with cerebral palsy and with a gay father who left her mother when she was 6.

But she also feels she has suffered no disadvantages apart from the stress that any child feels when parents separate.

Her mother has been remarried now for 15 years but recently told her that if she had not found her new husband she would have been comfortable with a same-sex partner.

"If anything, I thought I had an advantage," Ms Nelson said. "I got to experience with my mum being somewhat straight, and with her new husband, and my dad and his partner. I thought, 'Great, I get the best of both worlds."'

Her brother Mark Nelson, 29, a wine educator who now lives in Melbourne, said he was "never hassled" about having a gay father even when his dad took him to sports when he was growing up at Whangaparaoa.

"He took me to rugby every Saturday, sometimes with his partner," he said.

"I guess because I never tiptoed around the subject, I was always quite like, 'Yeah, that's who that is.' Once you've done that, you've told everyone, there's nothing to tease about."

- NZ Herald

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