Homosexuality was finally decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967. A landmark step towards equality. This was followed with the long-overdue introduction of civil partnerships in 2004. Then came the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013. The law changes, along with more social awareness about sexual identities and sexual fluidity and better (but still lacking) representation in the media mean that many queer families are now blooming out in the open.
But for others, pressure to conform to heteronormativity has obstructed their lives. For many queer people, especially British people of Caribbean, African and South Asian descent, colonial legacies and strict societal norms dictating the importance of acting the part of 'the good immigrant' made coming out impossible. Centuries of homophobic penal codes exported to the British colonies left a lasting legacy; the perceived safety of assimilating into heteronormative culture outweighing living their best queer lives.
This inability to live out in the open means that many older queer folks’ formative relationships were heterosexual. While some still live behind closed doors, others have been able to come out in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. For those with kids from their heterosexual relationships, this means an enormous shift in that relationship. But that shift can be a force for good.
We spoke to three queer Brits who came out later in life to find out how their relationships with their kids changed.
Reverend Father Jide Macaulay, 55
My child was raised in a very hostile homophobic environment that has impacted my relationship with him.
Reverend Jide Macaulay says he initially found it challenging to find his place as a gay, Black and African man of faith.
"I prayed to God to take away my same-sex attraction. At first I believed that my prayers were answered when I met my girlfriend in the late 1980s. She then went on to become my wife. But in the several years we were together, I was living in a false reality that I was no longer gay. We even had a son in 1992.
"But I was mentally, physically and emotionally distant, so we divorced in 1994. But because my child was raised in a very hostile homophobic environment, that has impacted my relationship with him.
"Just recently, in October, Pope Francis said that it’s okay for gay people to enter into a civil union and also to be part of the family. Despite that, there are many conservative religious commentators who have claimed the pope was misunderstood, was misquoted. The fact that people have used the bible in such a hostile way is deeply upsetting. My current work, founding House Of Rainbow (HOR), which works with LGBTQ and BAME people of faith, as well as their allies, aims to create safe havens for us around the world.
"I’m now in a long-distance relationship with a man from Côte d'Ivoire that I met at a theology conference five or six years ago. He’s younger than me and he has always expressed the desire to have children. So maybe we can share that journey together and raise the kids together. I’m also godfather to two amazing people, who are now 22 and 18."
Victoria Richards, 39, writer
Kids accept it a lot more easily than adults do.
Victoria is white and separated from her male partner of 20 years – 10 of those were spent married – at the start of the year. By November, she had come to the natural conclusion that the ‘next stage of conversations’ was simply to start announcing that she is joining online apps for the first time and dating men and women, too.
"My parenting style hasn’t changed at all, as I’ve always striven to teach my kids that LGBTQ+ relationships are perfectly normal and that they can be whoever they want to be in the future without fear of judgement or condemnation. It’s as simple as saying, even to toddlers, ‘boys can marry boys, girls can marry girls, or boys can marry girls’. Kids accept it a lot more easily than adults do – so it’s really down to us to normalise it for them and then they'll carry the conversation forward.
"In a strange way, the fact that I’m now dating women has brought my ex [and me] closer together as friends. We share more now than we did when we were married – I tell him about the terrible first dates I've been on and we laugh about them over coffee together."
Michelle Codrington-Rogers, 42, teacher
My daughter is used to being in spaces talking about discrimination, prejudice and empowerment.
Michelle has a 13-year-old daughter from her previous heterosexual marriage and is now sharing parenting responsibilities with her partner, who is also Black and a trans man.
"All my sisters and I have children and we have many conversations around Black masculinity and how much should we embrace this idea of being colour-blind. I don’t want my daughter to be colour-blind, I want her to embrace who she is.
"I’ve been with my partner for five years now and he’s been a rock as my divorce process is still ongoing. My ex is in the military, which meant that essentially, I was a single parent from when my daughter was 1. I was detached from him for years as he has spent most of his career posted away from us. And then I met my current partner at Pride. We were just talking for hours and I was a hot, sweaty mess as I was leading people in the parade.
"Eventually, I told my ex-husband that I’d met someone and he moved out, and that’s how my current set-up started. And it’s great because now my daughter has two parents, with my partner channelling the ‘dad’ role.
"As a family, we go to Pride events together. I’m an activist within the trade union world, so my daughter is used to being in spaces talking about discrimination, prejudice and empowerment and we’re surrounded by people from all different walks of life. But she has had some difficulties with her dad, in that he continuously, purposely misgendered my partner. My daughter would find herself chopping and changing my partner’s pronouns around her dad.
"My partner is pre-‘T’ and so we’ve had that conversation about what that means. My daughter’s obsession is whether or not he’s going to grow a beard, because she like beards! But she’s a lot more confident now and calls my partner her stepdad."