Nancy Polikoff

The Yearning for Zion Ranch -- What's a Lesbian Mother to Think?

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | May 30, 2008 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: lesbian mothers, LGBT parents, raising children, wimmin, Yearning for Zion Ranch

The children of the Yearning for Zion Ranch are going home. Am I happy? Yes and no. The Texas Supreme Court says they should all go home, but a minority of the court wanted to keep the girls who had reached puberty in foster care, away from the culture that might marry them off any moment. That's the decision I would have made.

What does this have to do with LGBT parents?

Well, here's a story about me. I was raised Jewish, by Jewish parents, in New York City in the 1950s, surrounded by other Jews. Through second grade, I attended a school associated with our synagogue. By the time I learned there was anti-semitism, I felt so clear and so good about being Jewish that no amount of anti-semitism could shake that part of my identity.

So... when I had a daughter I wondered how to raise her to be a strong and self-assured woman in a sexist world. I couldn't live on "wimmin's land" in a rural area as some lesbians were; I'm an urban girl at heart. But if I could have, well, I might have. It did occur to me that if she spent her early childhood surrounded by strong and self-assured women, sheltered from sexism, she might be best prepared to later face a world that would try its best to channel her into a proper gender role.

When I learned of the wholesale removal of the children of the FLDS, I thought about the women raising children in communal and separatist communities. Think of what child welfare officials might say about those children! What keeps the state away from those children is the right of their parents to raise them as they see fit, short of neglect or abuse.

I believe the girls of the YFZ ranch were in imminent danger of abuse once they reached, say, 11 years old. I'm sorry to see those girls returned. As for the rest, well, further investigation might show them in danger as well, but in the meantime they should be with their parents -- whose ways I detest and who are raising their children to be part of an unabashedly patriarchal culture.

One more thing...I haven't heard enough about the education those children were receiving. Parents home schooling their children have to meet standards. I want to know if those standards were met for the children of the YFZ ranch. If not, that's reason enough to me for the state to intervene to guarantee those children an education. I want the children to have a way out of there, and without an education there's no hope of that.

Today's LGBT young adults in many parts of the country take for granted that they can have children if they want. But in some states, a parent who leaves a heterosexual marriage and then comes out will almost certainly lose custody of his or her children to the other, heterosexual parent. It is not far fetched to imagine a child welfare agency swooping into a community of radical faeries or lesbian separatists raising children. As you're making up your own mind about the children of the YFZ ranch, bear that in mind.

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Great post!

Complicating everything even further is the question of how "safe" state intervention and/or being turned over to the state really is for children or anyone else. Often that only serves as a further source of abuse and violence, both sexual and otherwise, and we should use this opportunity to open up that discussion.

That would include examining the ways that the state has historically intervened to separate families in order to destroy marginalized communities and use assimilation to erase their culture. So it’s definitely true when you say it’s not far fetched to imagine the state doing such a thing because we know that this has happened in the past (and continues today).

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | May 30, 2008 4:03 PM

Nancy, something to keep in mind is that all of these children, young women and girls as well as young men are in danger.

There are fundamentalist mormon colonies, or clots, as my Utah friends refer to them, in St. George, Minersville, Kanab, Cedar City, Hurricane and Hildale in SW Utah and Colorado City in NW Arizona. Young women in these communities are often bartered and assigned to marry church Elders in polygamous arrangements. Their condition can best be described as involuntary servitude accompanied by rape.

As for teenage boys and young men they’re usually exiled from households and communities to prevent them from becoming rivals for the affection of young women. The Elders want no distractions or competition from young men. Called “Lost Boys”, they end up on the street of Las Vegas and Los Angeles in awful situations.

“Up to 1,000 teenage boys have been separated from their parents and thrown out of their communities by a polygamous sect to make more young women available for older men, Utah officials claim.

Many of these “Lost Boys,” some as young as 13, have simply been dumped on the side of the road in Arizona and Utah, by the leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), and told they will never see their families again or go to heaven.”

I have no objection to the State of Texas keeping all of these these children in protective custody.

Nancy, I think you've made some excellent points about these fundamentalist groups. Growing up in a Mormon family, I can relate to a lot of the experiences that these girls have gone through. But thankfully, my experience wasn't as extreme. I agree with you that kids should stay with their families if at all possible. But I think there is very clear evidence that all of these children are being abused.

I think Nancy makes some really good points here. While I see Bill's points about the abuse and neglect, as long as there's not clear proof this is happening to the girls, they should go back to their parents.

Jerame and I had to fight tooth and nail to get custody of Paige - even though she had been abused by her mother. The court thought she was better off with her mom than with two gay men. Seriously. It took years for us to gain custody - and we had to have proof of the neglect and abuse.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | May 31, 2008 1:57 PM

I still think that misogyny and child abuse need to be handled by stern state measures aimed at dismantling these sects. Their policies are designed to protect and enlarge the wealth of the Elders. The practices of many religious groups, irrespective of dogma, are exploitative and sometimes extremely harmful. The public needs to be protected when they start passing out the Kool-Aid.

But, after reading Nicks comments I did a little research and I think he’s right; the foster care system seems to have it's share of idiot bureaucrats who can be very hard on children, or, as in the Bil’s case, legitimate caregivers. AlterNet recently published an article by Richard Wexler of the Nation titled The FLDS Children Seized in Texas are in Their Own Private Gitmo. which is introduced as follows. "Foster care is a toxic intervention, to be used sparingly. In the case of the Yearning for Zion ranch, Texas prescribed megadoses of foster care."

One significant new factor is the development of feminist thinking among women in the FLDS sect. Several women in the Utah and Arizona colonies have courageously agreed to participate in lawsuits against the FLDS Elders and are asking that the property of the Elders be transferred to them.

Legal precedents don’t trump political realities. Our movement is strong and finally (!) getting pushy again: we’ll eventually be able to win the battle to be parents, especially if our totally reasonable agenda continues to run into a brick wall of cult opposition. Nothing mobilizes and energizes like unfairness. Ask Sam Adams, Fredrick Douglass or Mother Jones.

This is such a complicated issue, especially considering how our government forcibly took Native children from their homes to educate in European lifestyles, specifically stating that it's cheaper to do that then to kill them all.

It's always a question of where the line is, because the state isn't the only body that can oppress people. Mostly, it just seems like popular opinion of what an appropriate home for kids is rules here.

Thank you for this post. You have articulated very well the critical side of this that I did not address in my own post, here.

Like Alex, I think that the question is where the line is at which point we can say these children are being harmed by being in the custody of these parents, and I have drawn it at the belief that adults should be able to have sex with and impregnate children.