Is London Too Conservative?
In doing research for City Mom I came across this great community of local Moms called London Moms. The whole idea is much like any other online forum and cyber meeting place. You sign up for an account, hit the boards and start introducing yourself. As I was reading the intro forums, I came across a young couple with an infant son who were inquiring about information on our city. They joined London Moms while still living in Toronto because they are planning to make a move away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. They wanted to know what kind of city London was. Simple enough, especially for me! I am City Mom living in London, after all. What was holding me back from typing up a long-winded response on how great I think this city is and how family oriented I find it to be, was the fact that their question was worded like this: “London seems like a really friendly city, but we have been warned that it might not be as friendly to families like ours [same-sex couple with young child]. Can I ask you all for an assessment of how homophobic London is to give us a more accurate picture of London…”
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t know how to respond. I have never had to look at London from this view-point and I truly didn’t know the answer. I guess it could have been left at that but I felt this was a really good question to find the answer to and something I really wanted to put out there and bring focus to. Is London overly conservative? Are Londoners [as a group] homophobic? I was hoping that the answer was no, but I thought I would do some investigating. I was fortunate for the opportunity to ask some questions to a wonderful same-sex couple who live in London who are raising their thirteen year-old daughter together.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge while raising a child as a same-sex couple?
A: One of the hardest things we have been through as a couple raising our daughter was going to family court with my parents who are homophobic and believed that raising a child in a same-sex relationship was considered wrong. It lasted 6 years (in and out of court) our daughter was assessed by the courts and by many doctors. In the end we won. The lawyers and judges praised us as parents and said they wished they saw more families like ours. Meaning it wasn’t about us (same-sex couple) it was always about raising our daughter and her well-being.
Q: Do you find London to be conservative or ‘homophobic’?
A: I don’t feel London is as homophobic as it is [a bit] conservative. We have found it is best to be who you are, do what is right for and your child, stand up for your child, don’t label yourself, don’t walk into a room and say “I’m Gay!, so do this for me”. Don’t expect more because you are gay, but don’t expect less because you are gay. Just be who you are. Be yourself. Treat people like you want to be treated, you’re going to find that 95% of the people are going to act positively towards you because of who you are and because you’re a good person. You’re going to get that 5% who don’t like you. It might be the colour of your skin, the type of car you drive or because you are gay, but you have to move on.
Q: What, if any, challenges do you face being part of a same-sex couple in London?
A: We have faced challenges that my not actually exist, but in actuality we have created those challenges ourselves. For example: walking into a meeting at our daughter’s school, thinking to ourselves, what is their reaction to us going to be? We have been going to school meetings since our daughter was in grade one and it’s never been an issue. She has gotten more than enough help; everyone has been great with her. I think it’s because we walked in as a concerned set of parents, and just that. Not a concerned set of “GAY” parents asking for something special or with a chip on our shoulder. We have just tried to do the right thing for our child. Sometimes it’s people’s ignorance that makes them uncomfortable; they don’t know how to react until we make them feel at ease. They may look at you. While asking themselves “who are these two women with this child?” Once you say this is my partner, or this is M’s other mother they understand. It’s not so much the homophobia as it is the document. Every form says Mother/Father, Husband/ Wife. Society says every child should have a mother and father. So how do I write this down? So we make them feel comfortable by introducing ourselves as parents. It’s all about educating London.
Q: What advice do you have for other same-sex couples who want to raise a child in London?
A: Be yourself. Don’t put a label on yourself. Don’t look for people to react to you; don’t walk around with a chip on your shoulder. If you’re looking for a reaction, you will get one. It’s the same as if you walk around with a mini skirt and high heels on, you’re going to get a reaction to that or if you’re walking around with piercings and tattoos, you’re going to get a reaction to that too. It’s because London is somewhat conservative, but if you give people a chance you’ll find for the most part that 95% of the time you’re going to get a warm welcome. We just moved into a neighbourhood of older conservative families around us; 65 year olds with grown children. Here we are a young gay couple raising a teenage girl. And yes we were nervous, but we have been embraced. We were actually called normal by one of the most conservative couples across the road. “It’s nice to see normal people living here.” he said. We are not saying change who you are, but be honest about who you are. The main challenge for anyone moving to London that may be perceived as anyone outside the norm is the fact that London is conservative. I can say this because I have lived in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and London. It takes London a bit longer to catch on. London is a small town, posing as a big city.
You have to do what is right for your family and your child. If you’re doing something for their education, health, well-being, it’s only going to be because of that…not because you are gay. If you’re pushing for something because you are gay, or you think that your child should have more because you are a gay couple it doesn’t correlate. You need what you need because your child needs it. We have never had an issue raising our child as a “gay family” in London. We have brought our daughter many places as a couple; school, the mall, to doctor’s appointments etc. Gay couples raising a family won’t be turned away. Not from the reaction that we have gotten.
After reading through these responses I am reminded that this couple’s issues, worries and pleasures are the same as any parent’s when it comes to raising their children, and why shouldn’t they be? It doesn’t matter whether you are gay, heterosexual, Caucasian, Hispanic or Asian. Whether you are rich, poor, highly educated or not. What matters is the love and care we provide to our children and the guidance we can offer as role models in their lives. London is a warm and friendly place to raise a family no matter who you are and I wouldn’t have expected any less.
Thank you so much to M’s wonderful parents for sharing their experiences!