queer allies and parental leave

I have recently had a couple of very long weeks at work due to my coworkers’ issues around pregnancy and new babies, as in, one quit and the other is now on bedrest. So, more work for me. As a result, I am thinking a lot about family issues in the workplace and in particular how these are constructed around not only gender but also sexual orientation.

I appreciate that there are serious issues balancing work and family life, and that women in particular often get hit hard because pregnancy is a major medical event that can have unforeseen complications and requires recovery time in addition to all the stuff about breastfeeding which I am not even going to touch. I do not think that it is okay to fire women who are expecting children or who take leave, and I think more men should take time off when they have kids.

At the same time, I think there is a real problem with the limitations on family leave. Who is a family is typically constructed in heterosexist ways, as shown in the above paragraph where I talk about two opposite-sex parents.

In watching my coworkers’ family drama and seeing my workload increase in response to it, it occurred to me to wonder how different this would be for same-sex couple. It’s accepted that we all support my straight coworkers and their heterotypical reproductive choices, but what if I had a serious girlfriend and we decided to have a baby? I don’t even think she could get on my health insurance. Imagine how this goes for a lesbian couple who not only can’t sign up for insurance, but who can’t be out at work – one will have to get through all of the awkward questions about “daddy” and the pretense of being a single mother, and the other will have to pretend that nothing is going on or that she’s adopting. For two men, the complications are perhaps even greater.

My pregnant coworker had confessed to me early on that she was terrified to tell our boss she was pregnant. I had nodded, understanding the fear of having an employer find out about my personal life. Even so, though, I feel that my straight coworkers do not see the parallels between the ways we approach our personal lives in the workplace, and I think it would not occur to them to advocate for me to have the same room.

If you have used parental leave, you have increased the work load on your coworkers under the assumption that we all have lives and have to help each other out. That’s okay as long as it’s not a one-sided situation, where those of us who are queer or child-free help straight people with babies stay at work but our own families are sidelined or unacknowledged, denied official status and then denied other benefits because we cannot have that status. If you have used parental leave or you think you will need to, you have an increased obligation to be a good ally to those who are taking on your workload to advocate for insurance coverage for same-sex couples and for parental leave regardless of marital status as part of creating an environment where it is safe for us to be ourselves.

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