texasmonthly.com: Your story focuses primarily on one couple, Della Nagle and Ruth Pinkham. How did you find them and why did you choose them as a typical Texas gay couple?
Nate Blakeslee: I met Della and Ruth at a gay-parenting conference in Dallas. It struck me that their story nicely illustrated the variety of ways in which gay couples can have children: they had two kids through artificial insemination, they adopted one, and two more joined the family through Child Protective Services, the state foster care agency. (There are also two grown daughters from a previous marriage, which is pretty common, too.) I also liked the fact that Della and Ruth were both schoolteachers and practicing Catholics who went to church every Sunday. A gay family is still considered pretty exotic to most Texans, I think, but the day-to-day concerns of this family are utterly familiar to most people raised in this state: ballet, Boy Scouts, homework, and so on—right down to the big brown pet rabbit that didn’t make it into the story. On the other hand, the abuse that two of these kids went through before they joined the family makes theirs a special story, one that I think defies any easy moralizing about what’s best for kids and who ought to have the “right” to raise children.
texasmonthly.com: In a state with Robert Talton on one end and Della Nagle on the other, do you think Texas is becoming more or less gay-friendly?
NB: It’s a cliché, but in some ways, this is the best of times and the worst of times for gay families in Texas. Clearly, there has never been a better time to be out and gay and raising a family in Texas. More and more gay couples—and single individuals—are raising children, and they have the support of institutions that cater to them and advocacy groups that lobby for their interests at the Capitol. Public opinion is gradually shifting in their favor as well. On the other hand—and perhaps as a reaction to this growing acceptance—there is a very real backlash against what is often characterized as “special rights” for homosexuals. This has been most evident in the organized effort to ban gay marriage, which has now been proscribed not only in the Texas statutes (twice), but also in the Texas Constitution. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down those provisions, it is hard to imagine gays in Texas getting the right to marry—or even enter into civil unions—for at least another generation. We will have to see what happens this session with respect to gay parenting. There have been no bills filed yet, but the effort to ban gay foster parenting came late in the 2005 session, in the form of an amendment to another bill. Anything can happen.
texasmonthly.com: What surprised you most about this piece?
NB: I was surprised to learn that San Antonio had the nation’s highest rate of gay couples with children, and that Texas as a whole had a much higher rate than the rest of the nation. For some reason, gay couples are more likely to have kids here than they are in most other states. Nobody really seemed to know why this might be, but Gary Gates, the demographer who identified the trend, thinks it might have to do with the fact that gays and lesbians tend to come out later in life in more conservative areas of the country. That means they are more likely to have kids from previous (hetero) relationships. Gates also notes that the same-sex couples that include a black or Hispanic partner are more likely to have kids than Anglo couples. Of the nation’s four regions, the South has the highest percentage of these two minority groups. Hence, more gay families with kids.