28 | Up for Debate

Meet the Guests

Kinsey Morrison is a graduate of Stanford University. She has been a civil rights activist since 2015, when she spoke outside the Supreme Court with Family Equality Council. Kinsey is currently the Chief Community Officer & Director of Recruitment with Lead For America.

Maya Newell is an Australian filmmaker with a focus on directing documentary. Maya’s film Gaby Baby was selected for Good Pitch Australia 2014 and premiered at Hot Docs in Toronto in 2015. Folks in the states can watch the film on Netflix! Maya was outspoken during the 2017 Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, which ultimately resulted in marriage equality becoming law in the country.

Further Reading

Recent Blog Posts

Episode Transcript

Emily M.: Some of my clearest memories of eighth grade revolve around the rights of my family and the fact that they were frequently debated on the news and in the classroom. In late 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that state’s ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional. By February 2004, the state legislature met for a constitutional convention to debate, same sex marriage. If they voted to pass the amendment that would ban same sex marriage, it would then go to a statewide referendum in 2006. Thankfully the court upheld marriage equality in Massachusetts in 2004, so at that time, for the first time, people were openly talking about LGBTQ people and families on TV, on the radio, in the cafeteria, and in the classroom. Most of the time what I heard from adults and my peers was infused with ignorance and bigotry. Most of the time I tried to remain calm and share my story. Only one teacher in all my time at school ever tried to stop homophobic slurs. One. Everyone else was silent, so when I was fed up, I reacted. Mostly I spoke reasonably and tried to educate others and sometimes I snapped. Once a student said something so horrible and offensive and the adult remained so silent that I walked out of the classroom and directly to the vice principal. I share all of this because when our families and loved ones, their rights, their safety, dignity, there value are being debated or denied, it is harmful. Whether it’s marriage equality, licensed to discriminate bills or the right to just use the bathroom that matches your gender identity, children and young adults are hearing that and more often than not, we’re hurting. We’re also protesting and speaking out and marching and just refusing to be silent with me. Today are two fellow people with LGBTQ parents who have experienced what it’s like when our families are up for debate and they have spoken out. Kinsey Morrison is a graduate of Stanford University. She has been a civil rights activist since 2015 when she spoke outside the Supreme Court with Family Equality Council. Kinsey is currently the Chief Community Officer and Director of Recruitment with Lead for America. Maya Newell is an Australian film maker with a focus on directing documentary. Maya’s film, Gayby Baby was selected for good pitch 2014 and premiered at hot docs in Toronto in 2015. I have to say I’ve seen this movie multiple times. It is absolutely fantastic. Maya was outspoken again and has been outspoken during the 2017 Australian marriage postal survey, which ultimately resulted in marriage equality becoming law in the country.

Emily M.: Who is in your family and how was it formed?

Kinsey M.: I have two moms, two younger sisters named Jillian and Tegan and a dog named after a Broadway drag queen. So I joke that my family has more estrogen than Mitt Romney’s binder full of women. I’m sort of joking but really serious and my family was formed partly through a sperm donor. My mom had all three of us with the help of a biological sperm donor and IVF. Then my other mom adopted the three of us after we were born. So both of my moms had been in my life my entire life and that’s been really special to really get to see my family from the beginning, since I’m the oldest and to really see the love that they have had for each other and for us.

Maya N.: Amazing. Yes. So I’m 30 right now and I’ve got two moms, Liz and Donna, who have been my parents since birth and I’m an only child. I think that’s in part because in Australia, which is about maybe 10 years behind the States in terms of the age of our families, it was a very tricky time. There was no support for same sex families to have access to sperm donors or sperm clinics. So it was much more kind of relaxed turkey-baser situation for me. And also my donor is actually a Japanese man who was a friend of my parents. I think in some ways in retrospect, the distance of him living in Japan was a really amazing safety net for my parents. I had two really loving parents and grew up in a west suburb in Sydney.

Emily M.: I know that all of us had some formative years during surges and fights for equality and justice. What are the big political moments that were really impactful to you and what are some of your strongest memories from those times?

Kinsey M.: I think for me, certainly the biggest moment was the national marriage equality Supreme Court case, but I think also the Prop 8 case in California really made me see how much the country could rally around our cause. I will never ever forget all the people on Facebook changing their profile pictures to the red equals sign. Maybe that didn’t change a single person’s opinion who didn’t believe in marriage equality, but that meant a lot to a high school girl who still had trouble with always being completely open about her family in Kentucky where I’m from, a very conservative area in Kentucky. Seeing all of those red equals signs on Facebook made a world of difference to me. And so I think seeing that happen during the Prop 8 case really made me brave enough to share our story in the national marriage equality case a few years later. So both of those moments, seeing our family stories at the forefront of American politics.

Maya N.: I think that for me in Australia, definitely the fight for marriage equality has been the most significant, overt battle in my lifetime. But I think in some ways I’d like to go back because the concept of protest and resistance is such a common thread and familiar thread since I was a child. I think some of my earliest memories are of being hoisted up on shoulders and walked down the Sydney gay and lesbian Mardi Gras parade, which runs down Oxford Street, one of the main streets in Sydney. And at that time it was an event which is kind of better than Christmas in our family. And this idea of protest and not just for our rights as a queer family, but also for the rights of the indigenous people of this country. And the Walk for Reconciliation, the rights for children who are in detention or people in conflict, that’s just been such a core part of my development as a human and I’ve got so many memories of fighting for our rights. I suppose that thread that grew me up led to the biggest fight which I actually had quite a big role to play in in Australia, which was the marriage equality fight where I really understood the depth of how hard it is to campaign and what our community has suffered over the years in Australia. As in America, it got very ugly.

Emily M.: Yeah. Well, Kinsey, it was really interesting for you to talk about seeing an outpouring of support through social media because in 2004, when I was really becoming aware of how extreme the debate could get about our families and our rights, there was no real social media that we were using. I wasn’t finding outpouring of support on Myspace. It is so different. And Maya, I’m really interested in Australia, was that something that you noticed as well that that people were sharing their support really visibly on social media?

Maya N.: Yes, they were. In some ways it was an incredible uplifting experience to go onto your own social networks where your own circle or bubble of friends were sharing beautiful messages of compassion and community. But I think when our government set us up against each other, then it highlighted the polemics and gave license to the far right and to the very conservative parts of Australia to just have a free-for-all, with abuse. It was a very traumatic time for everybody. So as soon as we stepped out of our bubble or you picked up the front cover of the newspaper or turned on the radio, the most heinous things were being said, things I would never think that anyone could say out loud. So it just sort of let loose this war in Australia, that I didn’t know we were capable of, to be quite honest. One tragic story is that during our marriage equality plebiscite, one of the children who I work with, woke up in the morning to go to school, opened the front door and someone had spray painted Vote No on their house as a queer family, which is just horrendous. Obviously that person knew that there was a queer family that lived in that house. It was a very traumatic time for a lot of children.

Emily M.: Yeah. I have such strong memories of somebody saying, I’m not so sure about gay people, but they definitely shouldn’t have kids because what would that be like for them? And I was like, I’m one of them. I’m doing okay. And that was in kindergarten and it continued, which then of course puts on an additional pressure. When people’s assumption was that I would be damaged, then I could never show any sort of cracks in anything to be perfect. By discussing the morality and the capability of LGBTQ people to parent, the child feels pressure to be this exception to this perceived rule.

Kinsey M.: I think that is something that absolutely resonates with me. Really. Everything you said. I largely felt growing up too. I wanted to prove that not only were the kids of gay parents just as good, but perhaps even better because I think you have to try twice as hard to be considered half as good. But the other thing I wanted to bring up is I certainly felt the pressure to prove that I was straight. That really shows probably the ingrained homophobia that I had growing up. Even having LGBTQ parents, I felt that pressure. But also it is true that the many people who would ask me about my family in Kentucky, they would ask if having parents who are LGBTQ would affect me for whatever reason. And I remember in one example, I literally pulled out a cross necklace as this woman was asking me this. I was trying to be subtle. I don’t know that I actually was and you know, just went in to prove to her that I was the straightest, most well-adjusted person she’d ever met. I would say, no, it really doesn’t make a difference, we’re just like you. As I grew up and became more confident and met other people with LGBTQ parents and sort of dealt with some of the internalized homophobia, I went from saying, we’re just like you to we’re not just like you, we’re equal to you and we’re just as good as you.

Maya N.: What both of you say resonates with me as well. I don’t know who actually termed it, but this ‘poster child syndrome’ is that notion of just having to project a certain image for fear of playing into rampant prejudices of others. And certainly, I did that. It takes a long time to get over that and it takes a society that is not constantly pointing the finger, which results in us constantly being on the back foot, constantly being in a defensive position. As soon as that begins to shift, it creates space for us to tell different kinds of stories and not be ashamed to talk about it when our parents break up or if someone fights. Actually the issue is not our parents queerness, it’s that we’re humans like everybody else and our families are too.

Maya N.: I also think I had a bit of a realization in working out how to depict our families when making Gayby Baby. There’s the kind of desire to bring that poster child syndrome into the making of a film when you’re really thinking about how to represent our families. Should we just say, you know, we’re normal? We’re just like everybody else, we know cook the roast dinner? What are the dramas to pick out in order to tell this story about our families? And I think I arrived at a place in between because I decided that our society, especially in Australia, needed a story that was absolutely about connection and sameness. I feel like we’re still in that first court, but at the same time needed to acknowledge that this idea of normality actually ignores the qualities that make our families what they are – families created out of courage and perseverance and love. Out of parents who went against society to make us. They stood up for love and that’s a pretty incredible place to start your journey in the world.

Maya N.: What you were saying about having a pressure to be heterosexual – absolutely that was my experience. I’m just agreeing with both view all the time. But I also can laugh at it now because I remember my thought process as like a young teenager. It was more like a fear of heterosexuality. I was like, I think I am heterosexual, but I’m not sure. It was like this fear of a life of, you know, dull heterosexuality.

Kinsey M.: One other thing I wanted to say just based on your point earlier about feeling like you can’t say when your parents break up. I actually I did that just now. My parents actually did separate after 25 years together and my biological mom is now remarried. So the marriage equality case still really affected my family in a positive way, but it wasn’t in the way that I initially expected. Even within the LGBTQ activist community, I frequently don’t want to tell that story that way and certainly not when I’m on a podcast about LGBTQ equality. But since you brought it up, I felt like I had to be fully open about that because it is not the sort of clean cut story that used to be. It is a happy ever after, but it’s a little bit of a more circuitous path to that. But if I’m not open about that story really, especially on a podcast like this, then how can I expect other people to be open, especially in some of the most difficult circumstances. So just a little clarification on my end.

Emily M.: Thank you. And I completely understand that. So in 2003, 2004 while all of marriage equality was being debated, I was out about my family at school. Most teachers knew to some degree or I had come out to them. I remember hanging out in a teacher’s classroom after school and she asked me if my parents were going to get married. Just a handful of months before my parents had broken up and so all of a sudden people were starting to become aware of my family and our rights. And just as that was happening, we were dealing with their own personal stuff. So it was very strange to be happening at that same time. You’re fighting so hard for your right to marry, while my parents are breaking up. Outsiders had such a hard time understanding that and that’s that same reason initially when LGBTQ people are getting divorced, there was an extra stigma around it for our families and for those individuals, which was so unfair because we’re human.

Maya N.: I think that the, the truth of it is, is that LGBTQ parents screw up or fight or separate just as much as heterosexual parents. And in some ways I think the truth of that kind of hurts because in all of the campaigning that I was doing for rights, I actually thought that the negotiation and trust between two people on equal gender footing, actually made for a better relationship. Like, yeah, we do it better. But, you know, obviously we’re just all human and LGBTQ people probably divorce at the same rate as any other people. Our relationships are just as tricky and raising children is really hard for everybody.

Emily M.: So all of this was happening. There were debates going on in all of our different states and countries and laws are being passed and pundits on TV and at school we’re talking about things. Did you have conversations at home about what you might be hearing and seeing to sort of prepare you? Did you as a family really talk about what you were hearing and seeing?

Kinsey M.: I think we did and I think to some degree we talked about it most of my life growing up, certainly in relation to my experiences at school and stuff like that. The most powerful conversation that I had with my mom during the marriage equality debate, beginning with the Prop 8 case and leading up to the national marriage equality case, was her transition back into activism. When they were younger, both my parents were very much on the forefront of activism. My mom went to the March on Washington for LGBT Rights herself. And then eventually she says she got sick of fighting for her life and just wanted to live it. And I think we both sort of had this transition together of realizing that unfortunately that is not enough. And so during the national case, my mom did become more of a public activist. She was really scared actually about not necessarily losing her job, but losing donors at her job if we publicly became part of the national marriage equality case. But she ultimately decided that it was worth it because she wanted to make things better in Kentucky for other families like ours. And so it’s been really cool to watch her over the years, just become more and more vocal as my sisters and I did too. I’m so proud of both of my moms for speaking up when in some ways, they have more to lose than I do.

Maya N.: It’s been quite an odd space for me during the fight for marriage equality and throughout the making of Gayby Baby because one of the objectives of that film has been to push for marriage equality. And that’s one of the things we’ve been campaigning on for a long time. My parents are very actively against marriage. My mom probably boycotted a lot of weddings as a woman in her teens. Both of them probably did. They just generally don’t believe in that institution given its history of using women and sort of anti-feminist history. And so I’ve had to make that decision that even though it’s not really a right that is ingrained in me or in my family, or really in any of our family friends – I mean I’d never even been to a wedding before – I was fighting for this thing for our community. I had to sit with myself and just think, it’s not something that I want. It’s not something that my parents want. But they should be able to if they did.

Maya N.: Then when we released our film, we decided to release the film in schools across the country because it was a film about kids and we wanted the kids to see it first. One of Australia’s major newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, caught sight of this and ran a cover story citing gay class uproar and commentators around the film were just outraged that schools would show a film that promoted a homosexual lifestyle. Government ministers, all the way up to our state Premier and Education Minister, responded by banning the film across all the state schools in New South Wales. And the media went into overdrive. Around the whole country, Twitter was trending for two days, talking about the experiences of children and gay families. Different states started putting their hands up and saying Gaby Baby is welcome in our state schools. And my favorite thing was in my local area, there was a fire brigade that put up a sign that said, calm down and watch Gayby Baby. It was really a national debate about this tiny low budget film. We opened in about 20 other cinemas after that happened because everyone now knew about the film and wanted to see the film that was banned.

Maya N.: The original trigger point for that was this idea of our families being exposed to school students. Both of my mom’s a primary school teachers and have experienced all sorts of institutional discrimination throughout their work lives. Both of them ended up talking much more publicly about their personal lives, perhaps not by choice. I kind of threw them into the spotlight, but it was a really interesting moment for our family and both my parents are now much more out of the closet at work. And it’s been a really beautiful transformation from that slight uncertainty around marriage equality into an issue that we all agree on together.

Emily M.: Maya, I know you’ve also then made shorter videos around revisiting some of the people that had been featured in Gayby Baby. And Kinsey, you’ve made short videos focusing on the stories and experiences of people with LGBTQ parents as well. Why did you focus on the voices of people with LGBTQ parents voices?

Kinsey M.: You know, it’s interesting. One video was called Sanctity, which was explicitly about trying to get marriage equality passed, and then the next one was called After I Do, which was about the other issues that LGBTQ families face. Even once we have marriage equality there’s so many other ways that we face discrimination. Originally I made these because I thought that sharing my family story and letting people know who we are would automatically change people’s opinion. I hope I really did it for more external reasons, but I was kind of disappointed in some ways by how people could see my family and really see us as people and yet still not change their mind. And so at first that was a little bit discouraging, but I think what the videos did, which I could not have predicted, was they connected me to other families like mine. Even if it didn’t always changed people’s opinions, it made people braver who did agree with me and it caused other people to reach out and it caused supporters to be more vocal.

Maya N.: Absolutely. In campaigning there’s a saying – don’t sing to the choir, they already know what they’re doing. But I’ve realized that the choir needs feeding and they need the support and they’re the ones that are going out on the front line of the battle. And you know, feeding the choir is absolutely sometimes the right way to do thing to do with activism work. And with the videos, I think in Australia all the politicians would just kept telling us that children need a mother and a father and it was baffling to me that no one was asking the children what they thought. I was like, Hey, like we’ve been around for decades, why don’t you come and ask us instead of assuming opposition? So in making Gayby Baby and a lot of the pieces after that, it was just about getting our voice into the mix. That way people weren’t just assuming that we were this kind of future thing, like – if we allow the gays to marry then maybe they would have kids. And would that be okay? It was like, hey, we’re here.

Emily M.: Thank you both so much. I think people who are listening would really love to know what are you working on now and how could they possibly find some of your work online.

Kinsey M.: Now I’m working on a project called Lead for America. It’s a new two year fellowship in local government that is helping recent graduates go into some of the highest need areas. And really work in communities that are struggling to attract talent and we’re also working to diversify government. We face every day the challenge of – how do you put diverse people in rural communities that are really struggling, but where those people might not feel totally safe? How do you put them there in order to change those communities for the better? If you were interested in Lead for America or want to follow the work, you can find us on Facebook or LinkedIn or our website is www.lead4America.org. If you’re a college senior, definitely reach out and I can send you an application.

Maya N.: I think my passion really lies in the intersection of documentary storytelling and social impact campaigning. And I think those two things go very well together. So I’m currently working on a new feature documentary which is set here in the desert on the land with the indigenous people of Australia. And I’ve been following similarly a very unique, amazing, intelligent, witty, young boy who’s got a lot to teach Australia about our dark colonial past. Gayby Baby is available on Netflix in the US, it’s also available on iTunes and you can also go to thegaybyproject.com where all of that information is there. There’s also a whole schools kit and program, which is Australian curriculum, but a lot of the lesson plans and outlines about how to make schools safe places and welcoming places for LGBTQ families.