Why Chosen Families Are Essential to LGBTQIA+ Parents and Their Children

Many queer people grew up without seeing themselves reflected in their world. Today, LGBTQIA+ parents are intentionally raising their kids in and around queer communities.

Young family with two dads taking a selfie while drawing and coloring
Photo: Getty

When I came out, the first person I told was my best friend. Not my sister, mom, or cousin. Subconsciously, it was the ultimate way I could test acceptance. If a friend could love me the same way—a relationship that's unbound by blood or law—then I thought my own family would too.

Friendship is its own special kind of love. An unspoken contract that two people get to define, insulated from societal expectations. A friend is a keeper of secrets, a time capsule of memories, a confidante, and a place to call home.

For queer people, friendship is more than the people we choose to spend our time with. For many, our friends are our family. Queer couples receive more social support from friends than heterosexual men and women receive from their friendships, according to a National Library of Medicine study.

While the need for community was once—and still is for many—a way to protect ourselves from rejection, today we create our chosen families with an intention to our raise children in queer communities. To have our identities and family structures mirrored back at us and positively affirmed.

There's more than one way to define a family, and for many researchers and social scientists, home has become a social construct. In addition to the physical, psychological, and social aspects, where we belong lives in our ideals. One of the most cherished parts of the queer experience is the ability to write our own 'rules' and traditions, especially around what family means to us.

Meeting Donor Siblings

Sara Swikard and her wife, Bianca Marino, from San Diego, California, have two children. Marino carried their first child; Swikard their second. They knew by using an anonymous donor, their kids would have half-siblings, also known as donor siblings, from families who used the same donor. But they never expected to connect with four other families and choose to raise their kids together as siblings.

"We were aware our anonymous donor had confirmed pregnancies, so the possibility of siblings was something we prepared for from the start of our journey. In our research, we found a couple of Facebook groups for donor siblings. We got to speak with adults who grew up knowing their half-siblings, which helped us understand their lived experiences," Swikard says.

"After hearing those perspectives, my wife and I felt we had a responsibility to provide our children with the most information that we could from their donor side of the family. That's how we found the Donor Sibling Registry."

The couple add their name to the registry once their daughter was born. 18 months later, they were notified that they had a donor sibling match—who also happened to be a LGBTQIA+ female couple. They exchanged social media profiles and on the following day there was a second match. This was the beginning of a group text.

"I don't think any of us expected the relationship to become as prominent as it did in the short time we've all known each other. Getting to see [the kids] interact for the first time, with undeniable similarities and mannerisms, is a pretty crazy experience," Swikard shares.

"It felt like a piece of the puzzle was finally filled. We're creating new traditions for the kids to share, such as our winter cabin trip in Big Bear. We're all in and so are the kids. We all agree these people will be a part of our family forever. We're the poster kids for the modern family," says Swikard.

The New Family Portrait

The notion of the traditional family has changed. More heterosexual people are choosing not to have kids, in exchange for travel, career success, and life on their kid-free terms. While others are choosing to raise kids as part of platonic relationships.

According to Pew Research Center, in 2021, nearly half of adults (44 percent) aged 18 to 49 stated it's unlikely they'll have children—an increase of 7 percent from the 37 percent who were surveyed in 2018.

In parallel, there are more children growing up in LGBTQIA+ families, because of greater access to reproductive technology and a culture that is more likely to champion inclusivity.

In 2019, approximately 15 percent of same-sex couple households in the U.S. had children. And the LGBTQ Family Building Survey done by Family Equality Council showed that 63 percent of LGBTQ Millennials (aged 18-35) were considering growing their families, either as first time parents or by having more children.

The Power of Representation and Community

Georgia Clark and Lindsay Ratowsky are one such queer couple expanding their family. They're married and live in New York City with their 7-week-old baby girl. Clark moved to the United States from Australia in her late 20s.

"Being far from family, I need to have friends and a community in New York to rely on, enjoy life, gain insight, and achieve my goals. The great relationship expert, Esther Perel, talks about how your partner can't be your everything. Friends and community strengthen my family by fulfilling those different roles and expanding my worldview, which is vital to being an open-minded human," Clark says.

For Clark and Ratowsky, they don't have a need to have a chosen family over their real family. They have both. "I see chosen family as people who are closer than friends who you've gathered around you, based on similar values and outlooks, that fulfill familial-type roles."

There are also different versions and lifespans of community.

Clark found a home in the improv comedy community when she was in her 30s. Now, she runs a storytelling community called Generation Women, where she connects with women of different ages and backgrounds.

"People have been coming to the show for years and it's been a beautiful way to create community. It nourishes me in its own way, although I probably wouldn't call them up to ask to babysit."

Given most New Yorkers are transplants, there's a collective sense of openness to meet new people. The challenging part is the city's transience. It makes those decades-spanning relationships difficult to maintain.

"Although the queer community is just one part of our support network, it's really important to raise kids around other LGBTQIA+ families. We want our daughter to see there are other family structures [like hers], so she doesn't feel unusual because the dominant culture is still so heterosexual. We'll be actively creating that down the line to provide comfort and exposure for our child and ourselves."

Community is deeply ingrained in the queer experience. Whether it's out of necessity or inspiration, it drives us to seek and honor one of the most sacred parts of life: our friendships.

I know when I become a mother, our baby will enter our world of unconditional love and will be raised by our chosen family.

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