“We make cocoa the same way as any other family” – Family therapist and activist Krisztián Rózsa on rainbow families and the effect of the new homophobic law on children

Oszd meg!

(Zsigmond Kassai, 24.hu)

  • Psychologist and family therapist Krisztián Rózsa has been working with sexual minorities for 15 years.
  • He was one of the first people in Hungary to adopt a child as a member of a gay couple in 2012. He has two children.
  • He says he was not hindered in parenting in Hungary either, but in Norway, where he currently lives with his family, it is much easier.
  • He is working with people in the intersection of immigrant and LGBTQ identities.

You were one of the first people in Hungary to work with rainbow families 10 years ago, as a founder of the Foundation for Rainbow Families. At the time we could hardly hear about same-sex parenting. What motivated you in this work?

When we started, there was already a foundation in Hungary dealing with same-sex parenting, but it focused more on the legal obstacles. At the same time, we experienced that many gay people were not even aware they could have a child and how. 10-15 years ago, even gay people had a lot of prejudices about this issue, due to the lack of information. The reason is that we live in a society which mostly provides models and support for a heterosexual lifestyle. This is true for parenthood as well. At the time there were hardly any same-sex couples in Hungary who came out as a rainbow family, so this information didn’t trickle down into the LGBTQ community. This was what we wanted to change.

What methods did you use?

Initially we focused on information and community building with my colleague, Csilla Faix-Prukner. We had monthly workshops for several years. We practically discussed all the possible ways of becoming a parent, we discussed the psychological aspects of these and invited couples who had had children with the given method. We had close contacts with the Hungarian Family Therapy Association, thus we had the opportunity to hold presentations and trainings for a wider circle. This is how we started and operated for quite a few years. Then the foundation was dormant for 6-7 years, related to the fact that two of the three trustees had moved abroad, so we were mostly limited to online work. The foundation became active again in relation to the #familyisfamily campaign, with new trustees and a new impetus. The focus has changed as well: reflecting on present needs, we emphasize social communication and representing the variety of family forms. Now we should speak more about how we do not differ too much from other families. We do have specific problems, of course, but we make cocoa the same way as any other family.

You are also a family man, as you adopted a child back in Hungary in the early 2010s.

As far as I know, we were one of the first ones to be out to official institutions as a gay couple wanting to adopt– that is, to the guardianship authority and child protection services. Our oldest child is soon 11 years old, we adopted him nine years ago. Though regulations at the time allowed only one of us to participate in the process, we were present as a couple all along.

Did you experience any resistance from the authorities?

No, we didn’t. Although being the first is always difficult, we were received with a neutral or positive attitude. We didn’t experience any homophobia or discrimination among the people working on our case.

We handed in the application in August 2011, and the next August we were already getting to know the child, so the process went rather fast.

Did you experience any discrimination as gay male parents in Hungary?

When we became parents, our parental identity became more important to our environment than our sexual orientation. Whether on the playground or anywhere else, our connection to others was the fact that we were parents, and people focused much less on the fact that we are living in a same-sex relationship. The little negative experience we had was mostly linked to the fact that our oldest child is hearing impaired and of Roma origin. Once a doctor commented on the child’s behavior that we should rather have adopted a dog, and that we’d see his Roma blood would show. Our other experience – again ten years ago in Hungary – was that when a father was walking down the street with a small child and no mother, many people felt the need to flood him with advice. It seemed to confuse people that a man could be a primary caretaker.

You moved to Norway eight years ago. Is it easier to raise a child as a gay parent in Oslo?

It is definitely easier. We didn’t have serious problems in Hungary either, as we were lucky to living in a supportive, accepting, protected environment. We were not forced to leave, so it was my husband’s job that motivated it in the first place. In Norway, the idea of men taking care of children is much more accepted and supported even on the state level. The legal environment also supports fathers’ involvement in parenting, so you almost see more fathers than mothers in the creche or kindergarten. Men can spend quite a long time on parental leave, and there is a mandatory paternal leave as well. There is no inequality between the sexes in terms of parenting. At the same time, people don’t pay so much attention to other people’s origins or skin color. Oslo is a multicultural city, and the whole school and kindergarten system is structured in a way to support diversity. From early childhood, kids are told that we are diverse, and this is good.

Non-heterosexual people’s possibilities of adoption were narrow in Hungary from the start, but were made virtually impossible as a result of a change of legislation last fall. According to the new regulation, Minister for Families Katalin Novák will decide who can adopt as a single parent. How do you see this legislation?

It is packaged as if it wasn’t a specifically anti-LGBTQ regulation. However, it stigmatizes single parents. Its message to society is that the only good families are the ones with two parents, which simply does not reflect contemporary Hungarian reality. In Hungary, about 40% of marriages end in divorce. This means that many children live in single-parent families. The specific message of the legislation is that LGBTQ parents are worse parents than their heterosexual peers. This stands in contrast with professional literature and research results from the past 30 years. We should not forget that this area has been widely explored. In Western countries, studies are made on samples of several thousand people, because the number of rainbow families enables it. There is at least one generation of people who grew up in rainbow families and are now adults. 99% of studies have demonstrated that children raised in rainbow families do not suffer any disadvantages; claims to the opposite are usually caused by the external environment, or wrong research questions or methodology. It is now a proven fact that the quality of parenting is not affected by sexual orientation.

Are there any cases when it is the child’s interest to grow up in a single-parent family?

Yes, there are life stories, life situations or traumas which warrant this. So far, determining this was the competence of a set of institutions with decades of experience. It is unprofessional to assume that looking through the files, Katalin Novák will be better able to decide what is good for a given child than experts who have met the family, know the child, and know what is best for him or her. Also, LGBTQ adoptive parents are not necessarily single. They are made so by the law, which bans registered partners from adopting together. At the same time, LGBTQ parents are much more open to adopting children rejected by most heterosexual adopters. The Hungarian reality is that most heterosexual couples would like to have a healthy, white, newborn baby. LGBTQ adopters, on the other hand, are often more open to adopting children who have some illness, are older or come from a more difficult life situation. Based on the adoptions we know about in the past 10 years in Hungary, what we see is that a single parent is often a child’s last chance to grow up in the country where he or she was born. Otherwise, these children are left with the option of international adoption – or state care.

If the new regulation of adoption and the resulting practice is unprofessional, it can be attacked from a professional perspective. Have you heard of such initiatives?

No, I haven’t. The regulation is still too new. At the time the law was passed, several experts and organizations protested this procedure, but unfortunately to no avail. We can only start a legal procedure against this law after the first rejective ministry decision, but this takes time, as permissions submitted earlier will still be processed according to the old system.

On June 15th, the Parliament adopted the homophobic ‘pedophilia act’, which equates pedophilia and homosexuality, and bans even the representation of same-sex sexuality to minors under 18. What is your opinion of this law as a psychologist?

The group of pedophiles does not exactly cover the group of those who commit sexual abuse against minors; there is only about a 20-30% overlap. Pedophilia is basically sexual desire towards a minor. However, most pedophiles do not commit sexual crimes. Pedophilia has been a taboo in most societies for millennia. There have been some societies which were more lenient in this respect, but all modern societies condemn it, and people who have such sexual desires often struggle actively against them. Naturally, I cannot speak in the name of all psychologists, but most of us think: when someone asks for help to not act upon such desires, we must help them. People who commit sexual crimes are often not pedophiles but people in a life situation where they can abuse the power imbalance between adults and children. They are people who look after the children, whom the family trusts. This law, however, is built on a gut reaction, on the image of pedophiles as exhibitionists opening their trench coats near a kindergarten. The truth, however, is very different.

What makes this regulation extremely unprofessional is that it does not seem to do anything for prevention and victim protection.

Do you also mean that pedophilia should not be regulated in criminal law?

I am a psychologist, so this is how I think. In the context of sexual crimes, the emphasis should be on building systems that, besides prevention, would be able to react properly to cases that have already happened, and support the child victims and their families.

Most people criticize the law because it stigmatizes gay people and other sexual minorities, it restricts sexual education and bans the “promotion” of homosexuality.

The aim of sexual education is much deeper than what appears in the government-dominated discourse. Besides educating children about the diversity of sexual orientation, bodily awareness, self-acceptance, and relationships, it also speaks about intimacy, mutual respect for each other and each other’s bodies, and it provides children with a vocabulary for describing what happens in them in relation to this. The connection between child sexual abuse and sexual education is that many child victims have no vocabulary to describe what is happening to them. Therefore, sexual education programs should not be restricted but rather encouraged, so children would have more body awareness and a clearer vocabulary. The law, however, presents sexual education as something that propagates homosexuality and claims that it is better than heterosexuality.

If LGBTQ-focused school education programs are not about this, what are they about? 

Depending on where you live, you do not necessarily hear positive things about LGBTQ identity. These programs gave the opportunity for children who might feel their sexual orientation is different from the norm to receive reassuring information about how they could live with that. They could meet people who had the same identity and experienced the same struggles. After all, mainstream society conveys the norm that the ideal is to be heterosexual. Being gay creates a minority identity. Western cultures are often accused of having homosexuality represented everywhere. But let’s not forget that based on the latest research, minimum 8-10% of society have a nonnormative sexual orientation. The proportion of sexual minorities in film, theater, literature, and cultural texts in general is still lower than that – just like the cultural representation of other minority groups is less than their proportion in society.

And I assume this proportion is going to further decrease in Hungary.

Most likely. However, this legislation ignores the 8-10% who do not have a heterosexual identity, though they also have the need and right to see life paths, examples or models different from the heteronormative ones. At the same time, we cannot ignore that several positive changes have taken place in Hungarian society recently, and this is also reflected in numbers. The latest study by Ipsos  has found that 62% of Hungarians believe a same-sex couple can raise a child as competently as heterosexual parents. Moreover, even though the government wishes to, it cannot block all information about sexual minorities. Supportive communities, supportive family members and good schools cannot be banned.

I am not saying that all non-heterosexual teenagers will suffer as a result of this law, but there will definitely be children who will lack support in the period of self-acceptance, or for whom this period will be prolonged. The regulation sends a clear message that living with an LGBTQ identity is a bad thing, something to be forbidden, and this is extremely harmful.