Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund

1979 – 1992

Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund

1979 – 1992

Theme: Lesbian

This essay written by Yoka Neuman was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993.

Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund (LMDF) was based in Dunedin. It aimed to provide a positive support system for lesbian mothers, whether single or previously married, who were faced with possibly losing custody of their children. Support took two forms: working to dispel myths and misinformation about lesbian mothers and their children; and supporting the women concerned through networking, information and advice in connection with custody disputes. Heterosexual mothers were also able to use LMDF information in custody cases.

Before the 1980s, homosexuality, male or female, was considered the deciding factor against awarding custody. The almost universal condemnation and inappropriate assumptions and questioning which lesbian mothers encountered in the courts made custody battles doubly stressful.

In 1979 Yoka Neuman of Dunedin heard a representative of Families Need Fathers state on radio that the forthcoming Guardianship Amendment Bill No. 2 should include a clause preventing children from being brought up in homosexual households. She sent in a countering submission in the name of the National Gay Rights Coalition, citing research findings (at that time mainly from the USA) that children brought up in such households are no more likely to become homosexual or to develop problems than other children. While researching the submission at the Wellington Women's Resource Centre, she found information about a Canadian group called Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund, and decided a similar organisation was needed here. Mothers formed their own informal networks around the country, supporting the LMDF with money and feedback.

In January 1980, Neuman responded to the select committee's request for additional material and clarification, raising consciousness of the issue among both parliamentarians and the public. LMDF then began distributing research and information disproving long-held myths to lesbian mothers, and (initially through the mothers) to lawyers and judges. Every opportunity for public education and positive publicity was used, for example at seminars and conferences. Soon a major focus was supplying the rapidly growing body of research findings directly to legal, health and welfare professionals.

From 1980 other submissions on relevant legislation, for example on artificial insemination, followed. Another important issue from the early 1990s was custody and access for non-biological co-mothers. By 1993 LMDF was promoting acceptance of a relatively new US legal term, 'domestic partnership', to give lesbian parenting partnerships the same status as heterosexual ones.

All work done for LMDF was voluntary. A grant toward printing an advice pamphlet came from the Advisory Committee on Women's Affairs in 1983, and grants from the Ministry of Women's Affairs (1986) and Wellington Lesbian Line (1989) helped with ongoing distribution costs and the purchase of published research. A lack of funds forced a cutback of activities, but in 1989 two lesbians, one a mother, offered to take on the custody case workload.

From the 1970s, court decisions and judgements slowly began to change from outright rejection to more informed and considered outcomes. The Fund ceased to operate in 1992, when Yoka Neuman retired from political activities.

Yoka Neuman

Unpublished sources

'Children of Lesbians: A Case For Custody' (pamphlet), LMDF, Dunedin, 1983

Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund records, 1979–1992, LMDF, Dunedin

Neuman, Yoka, 'The Myths about Lesbian Mothers and their Children', paper presented at a workshop on custody and access, Victoria University of Wellington, October 1986

Published sources

Knight, R.G., 'Female Homosexuality and the Custody of Children', New Zealand Journal of Psychology, Vol. 12, 1983

Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund, Lesbian Mothers Publications List, LMDF, Dunedin, 1989

Saphira, Miriam, Amazon Mothers, Papers Inc., Auckland, 1984

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