Arizona Family Fights Against LGBT Inequalities
Arizona residents Naz Meftah and her wife, Lydia Banuelos, have been tireless advocates for LGBT families over the past several years. They have testified before lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and spoken to the media about the need to change state and federal laws to help protect the 2 million children who are raised by the 1 million parents in this country who are LGBT.
In fact, Meftah, one of the two "mommies" of 4-year-old Andrew and twins Katherine and Matthew, 3, testified during a Capitol Hill hearing on the subject late last month.
"I was asked to sit on a panel before the House and Senate to speak out about some of the thousand or so rights and protections and benefits that our families and kids don’t presently have," Meftah told EDGE. "I wanted to share some of the real life impacts these disparities can have."
After all, Meftah and Banuelos lived them.
Nearly three years ago when Meftah was pregnant with triplets, doctors told her that one of her sons had not developed properly in her womb. Although Meftah and her wife are legally married in California, Banuelos was unable to accompany her spouse when she underwent a procedure at a Los Angeles hospital because her employer (a pediatric ophthalmologist) would not allow her to take time off because it did not recognize their relationship.
"We lost our son... and she couldn’t even come with me," Meftah told EDGE. "Those kinds of wounds are real hard to heal. It would have gone a long way to help heal them had we been able as a family to be there together and go through it together."
While speaking to both the House and Senate at the U.S. Capitol last week, Meftah said the experience was "inspiring."
"I felt like I got to contribute and make a difference for our families," she said. "The work we are doing is for all families. This is more than just and LGBT issue. These inequalities in health care have a far-reaching impact. This includes single parents, stepparents-all families and all children."
But Meftah’s road to Capitol Hill and activism didn’t begin-or end-last week.
While in high school in the San Diego area, Meftah worked with those who developed and implemented the D.A.R.E. program that taught young people not to take drugs. "I’ve always believed in giving back," she said.
While growing up, Meftah said she never knew what she wanted to do when she was older. She said she always thought, "I just want to make a difference."
And she has.
Meftah and Banuelos are among the same-sex couples featured in a report that the Center for American Progress, the Movement Advancement Project and Family Equality Council released last October that highlights the inequalities that LGBT families continue to face because of societal stigmas and a lack of legal protections.
With her wife and three children by her side, Meftah said there is nothing they can’t accomplish together.
"Naz Meftah and Lydia Banuelos are great examples of how some of our families are raising their voices in support of fairness not only on behalf of their children, but on behalf of all LGBT families," said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council. "In spite of the fact they juggle jobs and parent a 5-year-old and toddler twins, they have felt compelled to take the time to share their story in a bid to help changes laws and attitudes so that all families are respected and protected. They, like many LGBT families, have felt the sting of discrimination and been faced legal and economic barriers that have been costly, time-consuming and heartbreaking. Still, Naz and Lydia maintain a positive attitude and are able to change hearts and minds with their powerful and personal account."
Meftah: Activism is a Gift
The very first public display of activism that Meftah and Banuelos did as a couple took place in 2003 in San Francisco when they and other same-sex couples married on the steps of City Hall.
They will celebrate their 11th anniversary this month.
"We actually met while doing some volunteer work," said Meftah. "We struck a friendship and love grew from there. I just knew I had to take her off the market! She is my best friend. We believe in each other and always have each others’ backs. We empower each other."
It was during their trip to San Francisco in 2003 that Meftah said she realized that this moment was historic because of all of the images of gay and lesbian couples that would stand as a testament that LGBT people are real. "We were putting names and faces to the issue of marriage equality," she said. "The general public could see that we are your friends, your neighbors, etc.-we’re no different than any of the rest of them. When it becomes that simple, when the facts come out that we are just regular people just trying to live our lives, people begin to change the way they feel towards us and they begin to recognize our families."
From then on, the two women have never looked back-only forwards the goal of full equality.
Meftah told EDGE there is nothing more important to her than Banuelos and their kids. "I have a picture on my nightstand of Lydia holding our oldest son on the day he was born" she said, holding back tears. "If you look at her face you can see the love there as she held our little boy in her arms. It’s pure joy."
It was always Meftah’s dream to have a family, and she is very protective of them.
"I’m a better person because I am their mom," she said, noting she really learned how much capacity she had to love until she had her children. "They are little walking miracles. Our life together would not be complete without them. And they are the best gift I could give to Lydia."
Meftah admitted that when she first met her wife, Banuelos did not see kids in her life’s plan.
"There’s no jewelry, trip around the world-anything-that would’ve been a better gift than our kids," she said.
Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.