Beliefnet invited Ms. Newman to reflect on how our culture has changed in the 10 years she's been living with "Heather Has Two Mommies."
It was a moment most writers never experience--or even dream of. Two years ago, at New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art, I stood staring at a copy of my book "Heather Has Two Mommies" hanging on the wall. "Heather" was part of an exhibit called "The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000," in a section called "The Culture Wars," along with, among other things, a photograph of Andy Warhol shooting his film "Prison" and a self-portrait of the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. I had arrived.
In the 10 years since "Heather Has Two Mommies" was published, the book has been awarded and lauded, banned and burned. I have been called everything from an honorary lesbian mother, to America's most dangerous writer. "Heather" has been read aloud at a United States Senate meeting (and as far as I know is the only children's book in history that bears that distinction). Several people have lost their jobs because of my book, from the library page who preferred to resign rather than re-shelve it, to Joseph Fernandez, New York City's former Chancellor of Education, who supported including "Heather" in New York City's Rainbow Curriculum, a resource intended to help teachers teach diversity.
I, on the other hand, found myself with a new job, the job of defending "Heather," freedom of expression, and the rights of lesbian families as I traveled to college campuses around the country to speak about Heather and my experiences.
Ten years ago, a woman stopped me on the street and asked me to write a book about a family like hers: two happy dykes and their daughter. I fulfilled the woman's request with a book about little Heather, who has two elbows, two earlobes, two kneecaps, and two mommies. Click here to read an excerpt.
Six months later, Sasha Alyson at Alyson Publications in Los Angeles, who had already published a book called "Daddy's Roommate," phoned me to ask if I wanted to join forces. I was glad to have my living room back.
The most frequent question I am asked by lesbian moms is, why aren't there more books for and about our families? While the publishing world has certainly opened up in the area of books for adults and teens with lesbian/gay content, publishers are still very wary about taking on books that show happy families of lesbian moms or gay dads with their preschool-age kids. Until Two Lives Publishing, a brand-new small press devoted to books for kids with gay parents, published its first two books this year, Alyson Publications was basically the only game in town. (A notable exception is "Is Your Family Like Mine?," a self-published book by Lois Abramchik.)
I have written several more children's books about our families, and the letters of decline (I avoid the word "rejection") I have recently received are remarkably similar to those I got over a decade ago. "We rarely take on 'special niche' stories," one editor wrote me. Several others said they would be happy to consider other manuscripts of mine, but this type of book was not "right for their list."
I also worry about kids who have straight parents. Kids like the son of a man who attended a lecture I gave at a prestigious East Coast university. This young man told me about an incident where he overheard a friend of his son call a third boy a fag. "What did you do?" I asked him.
"Nothing," he replied a bit sheepishly.
"What do you think you were teaching your child?" I asked, and then pushed a little further. "What if someday your son struggles with his own sexuality? What if he grows up to be gay?"
The man said nothing, but he didn't have to. The expression of horror and disgust that involuntarily and immediately crossed his face spoke much louder than anything he could have possibly said.
And what in turn could I possibly say to this? Could I make myself vulnerable enough to tell this gentleman how deeply and personally offended I was at his blatant display of revulsion over who I am? I decided I could not, but I wonder if I was as wrong as he was for not saying anything to his son and his son's friend on the playground.
Ten years later, I may have arrived, but we still have a long way to go.