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WESTSIDE : Psychologist Helps Same-Sex Couples With Child-Raising

August 06, 1995|SUSAN PATERNO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Standing in a cash register line at Wal-Mart, two men and a smiling toddler jabber away while a clerk rings up their purchases. "Oh, what a cute little girl!" the checker remarks. "I bet she looks just like her mother. Where's mom today?"

For most men, the offhanded question is easy to answer. For dads who are gay, it can present a bit of a quandary.

"How do you tell a clerk at Wal-Mart that you're gay and you got your child through adoption? Do you really want to explain the whole story to a stranger?" asks Greg Travis, a Westside psychologist who does preconception and pre-adoption counseling for same-sex couples.

Along with helping gay and lesbian couples overcome the hurdles of conceiving or adopting children, Travis helps them deal with the practical aspects of raising children, most of which are no different from those that straight couples must learn to manage, he says.

Occasionally, though, a Wal-Mart sort of situation arises.

"How do you handle that? There is no one right way. Except don't lie," he said. "I help people understand that, with children, it means you'll come out in ways you never even thought about before. And I help them understand how that will affect them and their child."

Opponents raise two main objections to homosexual parents: that children of gays and lesbians will become gays and lesbians, and that their lives will be different from and therefore harder than those of children raised in a heterosexual family.

But research shows that children of homosexual parents are no more likely to grow up homosexual than children in heterosexual families, Travis said.

The possible shame and rejection faced by the children of homosexual parents, however, is something for couples to be aware of, he pointed out.

"When kids compare themselves to other classmates, they'll know that they're different. It's a child's right to have parents who are thinking about what it means to raise kids as a same-sex couple."

Just as historic prohibitions of interracial marriages have eased, recent changes in laws and attitudes are prompting more same-sex couples to start families, Travis said. Travis presents couples with options, including adoption or using a surrogate mother; then he helps the couple follow through.

"I help them to become good parents," Travis said. "Or, if I think they're not going to be good parents, I try to dissuade them from going forward."

Fifteen years ago, few same-sex couples decided to have children, Travis said, largely because it was socially unacceptable. When Travis was in the doctoral program at USC in the 1980s, it was just accepted, he said, that gays and lesbians would never be parents. Today, Travis counsels a 23-year-old gay man "who thinks, 'Of course, I'm going to have kids.' More and more gays and lesbians, especially the younger ones, just assume they'll have children."

Travis' work stems from his interest in helping parents create healthy families and his desire to work with the gay community. Like many gay men his age, Travis, 37, assumed for a long while that he would never have children. After finishing training at USC, he worked for a number of years with HIV- and AIDS-affected patients.

Then, a couple of years ago, he became interested in starting a family of his own. As he and his partner grappled with the question of whether to start a family (he says they have not yet decided), Travis signed up for early childhood development training at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and eventually started the hospital's first "Daddy and Me" class.

He then started working with an infertility clinic's gay clients, which made him realize the growing number of same-sex couples in need of education, referrals and support.

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