"Family Diversity is an Enrichment"

Lena Herrmann-Green

Lena Herrmann-Green is a 19-year-old student with two younger siblings who lives a relatively normal life. But she was one of the first children in Germany to be conceived via anonymous sperm donation.

“People are always asking me if I miss my father and want to meet him,” says Lena Herrmann-Green with a self-assurance that comes from years of media experience. She collaborated on a book on the topic at the age of nine, recently spoke before the European Parliament, and was one of the main speakers at the Rainbow Families Meeting that took place outside Lisbon in October 2015. “I have a problem with the definition of ‘father,’ because for me that is someone who loves you and is there for you,” explains Lena. “In this sense I don’t have a father but rather two parents who love me, and I don’t need anyone else. We are complete as we are; there is nothing missing.” She adds that constant questions about a father show the extent to which people disqualify family models that don’t fit the traditional father-mother-child mold, stressing that it is finally time to put an end to this. After a moment of pause, Lena tosses back her hair and rolls her eyes and says: “I'm the product of artificial insemination and I don’t have three eyes.”

As a kid, she says, she relished the attention given to her family and enjoyed discussing her experience. “Back then I openly told everyone of my background, but my family situation did not affect how I lived my daily life,” reports Lena. One of her mothers is Dr. Lisa Green. The dedicated psychotherapist and co-founder of NELFA, the Network of European LGBTI Families Associations, clearly understands that children in rainbow families perceive their families as “normal,” and that they must first grasp why the outside world shows interest in them. As she sees it, they must first, so to speak, be initiated into heterosexual society. In workshops titled “Strong Parents Strengthen Children – Preparing the Path to Heterosexual Society,” Dr. Green sheds light on this topic and shares her experiences as a lesbian mother. It becomes clear where Lena got her confidence from. “Our parents walked us through a whole bunch of questions, and also used role-playing exercises to prepare us for possible reactions to our family,” she says.   

Lena’s parents separated when she was 13, which made her withdraw from the world and not want to give any more interviews. “The problem was the constant need to prove that there was nothing wrong with our family, says Lena. “I no longer had any desire to explain my situation and to demonstrate how great my family is.” She describes how parents and children in rainbow families are under enormous pressure to be role models and to not make any mistakes. “The pressure to be perfect comes from outside and from within, but that doesn’t mean that rainbow parents expect their kids to be perfect,” explains Lena. “It rather means that we belong to a minority that is not yet fully accepted. Because so many changes are occurring in the political arena regarding this issue, every statement I make can have a significant impact.” It becomes clear that this issue is now her main priority, and that the awareness of the responsibility weighs heavily on her. This makes her chief concern even more understandable. “The pressure must be taken away!” she says. “Rainbow families must finally be allowed to make mistakes.”

 Lena sees the recognition of rainbow families as families under the law as the first step toward easing some of this pressure: "I hope that the view spreads that recognizing our families as families should be a matter of course, and that this relieves the pressure of having to prove oneself."

So far, only a fourth of Europe’s countries have recognized rainbow families. The result is that large numbers of such families live in a no-man’s land fraught with discriminatory practices, which particularly cause the children to suffer. Not allowing the recognition of both parents as legal guardians – through, for example, the granting of full adoption rights, i.e. joint adoption and second-parent adoption – is tantamount to not recognizing the family as such. Second-parent adoption puts stepchildren on the same legal footing as biological children. Until 2005, when second-parent adoption became possible in Germany, only one parent was legally registered as such in Lena’s family; the other mother was “a nobody in the eyes of the law.”

Today, 13 of 47 European countries grant full adoption rights. This includes Andorra (2014), Belgium (2006), Denmark (2010), France (2013), Iceland (2006), Ireland (soon), Luxembourg (2014), Malta (2014), the Netherlands (2001), Norway (2009), Spain (2005), Sweden (2003), and the United Kingdom (2005/2013). Three of 47 allow second-parent adoption: Austria (2013), Germany (2014), and Slovenia (2011). Starting in 2016, Austria will permit full adoption and Estonia second-parent adoption. In November 2015, Portugal’s parliament voiced its support for extending adoption rights to same-sex couples.

Lena Herrmann-Green wishes to see a Europe in which no legal distinctions are made between same-sex and other-sex parents and in which family diversity is considered an enrichment and treated as such in practice. “After all, the family is where there is love,” she points out, “no matter what the parents’ genders are.” As a spokesperson for family diversity, that is something she will surely have to repeat frequently.