Growing up as a queer and trans person, my definition of family began to change early and change early. Because of my identity, not all of my blood relatives were ready to accept me as their family. So, like many people in the LGBTQ+ community, I had to create my own.
Chosen families are nothing new in the LGBTQ+ community—many of us are starting our own to share mutual support, create safe spaces where we can belong, and support each other through life’s inevitable ups and downs. That’s why a bill on Governor Newsom’s desk—Assembly Bill 1041—is vitally important to people like us who love and rely on the families we’ve built ourselves.
AB 1041, authored by Rep. Buffy Weeks, D-Oakland, would allow Californians already provided with protected leave from work to care for a sick spouse or family member to instead use that time to care for a specific person, someone who is equivalent to a family relationship. This update to California employment law will finally recognize the diversity of families in our state – especially those in the LGBTQ+ community.
In my chosen family, we show up for each other in countless ways: creating meal trains when someone is sick or postpartum, supporting a friend facing a crisis pregnancy, taking shifts during a friend’s mental health crisis to we guarantee their safety. I have dozens of stories like this, including mine.
By the time I saved up enough to have the ultimate surgery (chest reconstruction), my partner at the time was pregnant with our second child and our 2 year old was barely sleeping. During this challenging time, I learned that my surgeon—a pioneer in transgender care—was about to retire, and I made the difficult decision to move forward, even though my partner was limited in her ability to care for me.
I called on my chosen family to support me during my recovery – and they showed up. They picked me up after surgery, gave me pain meds, changed my bandages, fed me crackers and soup, and reminded me to hydrate through the extra-long straw a loved one bought me. They all had to adjust their work schedules to ensure I had the love and support I needed.
Society reduces advanced surgery to something selective and artificial, but for me it changed my life. The family I chose was critical to my physical and emotional healing and that is something I will never forget or take for granted.
Not everyone in the LGBTQ+ community has this kind of support — having flexible employers is a privilege few have. California has the fourth largest LGBTQ+ population in the United States and yet our parental leave laws do not recognize a chosen family. California leave laws still narrowly define family as specific, immediate family members, although all federal workers and seven other US states have updated their laws to include a broader definition of family.
People who are already vulnerable due to illness or marginalization should no longer have to fight because of laws that do not reflect our reality. Adapting California leave laws to include selected family is long overdue, and we can finally do it with AB 1041.
On behalf of all Californians whose experiences with family far exceed what our current laws recognize, I urge Governor Gavin Newsom to sign AB 1041.
A family is much more than a small list of nuclear family members. Family is care, love, support and belonging. Family is what shows up for you when you need help. No one should be left without the support of their family when they need it most.
Milo Manopoulos Bateman is an attorney. He lives in Auckland with his partner and two children.