Meet the ‘rainbow families’ celebrating their new normal

‘You know, we, as gay people, get to choose our family’, Ru Paul said in 2013. 

Fast forward nearly a decade, and thanks to changes in legislation and a dramatic shift in societal attitudes, families are no longer expected to comprise a man, a woman and 2.4 children. 

Elton John and David Furnish have two sons. Tom Daley and his husband Dustin Lance Black became parents in 2018 when they had a son via a surrogate. The world’s most famous celebrity family, the Kardashians, have a trans parent. 

An estimated 2.7% of the UK population aged 16 years and over identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual in 2019 – the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics. There is no official figure for trans people, but LGBTQ+ rights organisation Stonewall estimates that around 1% of the British population – that is about 600,000 people – identify as trans or non-binary. 

As part of Pride month, meets four rainbow families and asks them about the new normal. 

‘I’m a much better parent since I came out as trans’ 

Marley, 37, came out as non-binary two years ago (Picture: thenonbinbaryparent)

Writer Marley Conte, 37, from London, told their husband and daughter – now six – that they were non-binary two years ago. They chronicle their experiences on Instagram under the name @thenonbinaryparent. 

‘I came out quite late in life; when we were married and parents,’ Marley tells ‘I was already out as bisexual and greysexual – which just means I don’t necessarily have very strong sexual attraction –  but this was another coming out I had to do.

‘My partner looked at me and said: “This is not a surprise.” He was very supportive from the beginning. He said: “As you’re not a woman, I’m probably a bit queer too”.

‘It was the perfect reaction – everything you could want from a partner. It strengthened the relationship. He’s the fiercest ally – he’s brilliant. 

‘He calls himself my husband, which is absolutely fine, but I call him a spouse. I feel like, if he is a husband, that makes me a wife. And that doesn’t work for me.

‘My daughter was four when I came out and we had to realign things a lot. I told her: “Mum doesn’t feel like a boy or a girl”. She took it straight away.

Their daughter still calls Marley ‘Mummy’

‘I changed my name but she asked if she could still call me “Mummy”. And we agreed for her that was fine, but for everyone else I am a “parent”. She tells everyone: “My mum isn’t a boy or a girl. She’s a they”. 

‘I never felt sad about giving up my mother status as I always felt quite uncomfortable with it.

‘Parenthood is so gendered and I think that’s is what brought me out as transgender. There was something that didn’t click.

‘I’ve always had the feeling that I might be non binary. I grew up in Italy and moved here when I was 20. Italy has always been a bit behind. I spent most of my life trying to hide that part of myself. I went through years of being so feminised with red lipstick, heels and dresses. I was over-compensating. I didn’t want to reveal that I was different. 

‘The first two years of being a parent were really hard and that is when everything started to click. When Covid hit, for me, I didn’t have to put on a front. I could be who I wanted, wear what I wanted and there was no-one looking in. That is when everything made sense. 

‘My family and friends have been a bit amazing; they struggle sometimes with the right pronouns and the right name – but they are putting in all the effort. I have to do a lot of explaining about what non-binary means – its a new word that the world is getting used to. When you come out it is like you are a living encyclopaedia for people – they have so many questions. 

‘I am still transitioning and am waiting on consultation for top surgery. I am lucky enough to be able to afford this privately so my waiting times are a lot less than the average trans person. I do not plan to have any other surgery or take any hormones after top surgery.

‘We like our little family-of-three’

‘We have no plans to have other children. We feel like our family is complete, and I don’t think I would be able to go through another pregnancy and labour. We like our little family-of-three. 

‘I am very open about everything, but I am also careful with how I talk to people about it. I don’t want playdates to be cancelled because other parents may have an issue.

‘Society does find it hard to accept non-binary parents, because you are neither here nor there and there is no language for it. The moment you are pregnant you are boxed into a gender. My gender is not technically recognised in this country. 

‘I haven’t come up against any opposition since coming out. I’ve been really lucky to have had a really positive experience. There are so many trans people living happy, successful lives, and the younger generations need to see those lives, so their growing up will be much easier. They need to see hope and change.

‘My family life has been happier since I came out as trans. I love being non-binary. I wasn’t happy before; I wasn’t me. Now life is better. I feel like I don’t have to put up a front anymore. I am free to be who I am. My marriage is better and I am a better parent.’

‘I want to show my daughter that anything is possible’

Kelly and Sarah are raising a disabled daughter

Kelly Gartland, 41, from Trowbridge, has experienced a lifetime of illness since she was diagnosed with the blood condition antiphospholipid syndrome in 2001, which left her blind. She is now bringing up a disabled child with her wife Sarah. 

‘I joined the Army when I was 18, and did two tours of Northern Ireland and loved it,’ Kelly tells ‘But in 2001, just before I was due to deploy to Iraq, I fell ill. I had two strokes and was left with visual impairment, epilepsy and a brain injury. I was medically discharged from the Army. 

‘At the age of 23 you don’t expect to lose your whole life; your health, your career, your independence and your driving licence. I was just existing and I felt like that for a long time.

‘I didn’t deal with the fact that I had lost my army career and did stupid things. I went from one pub to another, got drunk and silly. It was the only way I could cope. One night, I fell from a wall and landed on a park bench and broke my tibia and fibula. But that didn’t stop me. I got on with it.

‘When I got together with Sarah in 2009 I sorted myself out. We married in 2015 and had a baby. It was scary because until then it had just been the two of us. It was hard. I was worried about whether I could cope with a baby. Being very military orientated, I can be quite overly strict and regimental. Sarah will balance me out. We do have a little clash sometimes – who doesn’t?

‘That year, I was diagnosed with cancer. We were dealing with that and then Bethany was born five weeks early. It was a huge shock. Sarah had preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. I nearly lost both of them. It was very scary. Bethany was taken to intensive care. I couldn’t believe it was all happening. I’d just found out about the cancer and it was full on. But it didn’t get on top of me, I was just thinking about the girls. 

‘I didn’t deal with the fact that I had lost my army career and did stupid things. It wasn’t until I got with Sarah that I sorted myself out’

‘Then when Bethany was born at four days old they gave us the news that she’d had a bleed on the brain and cerebral palsy. They said she probably won’t walk and that she wouldn’t be able to speak. They were wrong. Her first word was “Bubba” – which is her name for me – Sarah is Mummy because she carried her. Bethany speaks now and doesn’t shut up. She’s very entertaining, very funny and goes to mainstream school. She’s a very clever little girl. She’s been through a lot but she’s never ever complained. She’s stronger than ever.  

‘Sarah has health issues now and we are waiting for an operation for both her and Bethany. It is a battle all the time. There have been ups and downs; we have been through a lot. Family life is hectic. We all help each other out in different ways. Sarah, bless her, is like a taxi. She does the cooking, we both do the cleaning. The cleaning that I can do, I do. Being from a military background it is ingrained in me.

‘I was worried about Bethany being bullied because she’s got cerebral palsy and two mums. But everyone at her school has been absolutely amazing. We haven’t experienced any tension or unpleasantness about the fact that we are gay women and we have a daughter. We were expecting it, but the teachers and the parents are all absolutely fantastic. 

‘I am clear of cancer now but am still being assessed. I feel like I am thriving, but I still feel I’ve got more to give and more to achieve. Bethany is my motivation. Because of all I have been through, I can relate to Bethany and the things she is facing. 

‘One of the ways I coped with everything was to go and do loads of marathons. I tried to be better than I was before. I did the London Marathon while I had cancer and I went to Canada to compete in the Invictus Games in 2017 and then Sydney in 2018. I do the 100m sprint, 200m sprint, indoor rowing, long jump and relay. Next week I will travel to Israel to compete in the Veteran Games.

‘I want my story to  empower others. When you go through something like this, do you sink or swim? You just have to keep going. I am delighted that Sarah and Bethany will be coming with me to Israel. I feel it is hugely important to show our daughter that anything is possible.’ 

‘One in five adoptions go to a same-sex couples. LGBTQ+ families are keeping kids out of care’ 

Meet Michael and Paul, both full-time dads to four adopted sons (Picture: @atwalbricefamily)

Michael Atwal-Brice and his husband Paul are full-time dads to four adopted sons – and they foster too. They host the Diffability podcast on dadsnet.  

‘We have two sets of identical twin boys; Levi and Lucas, who are 16 and Luton and Lance, who are four,’ Michael tells us. ‘We are also fostering one 15-year-old boy, whose name we can’t reveal. 

‘Life is really busy and full on. Levi and Lucas have severe autism and epilepsy. It’s a really busy, full-on household, but it’s normal life for us as it’s all we’ve ever known.

‘Levi and Lucas were diagnosed when they were three and they started having seizures shortly after. It’s been a real rollercoaster. There’s been a lot of ups and downs. Levi has been ventilated and life support before.

‘But we do have a good time, and we try to have as much fun with them as we can when they’re well. They love going to theme parks and we try to grab those times when they’re healthy. 

‘I knew I was gay from a young age, and when I was a child, I never dreamed I would be able to create my own family. Paul and I met in 2002 and once we were financially stable and had a house, we started fostering to see how we’d get on. We were one of the first same-sex couples to be approved. There was a great celebration at the time because times were changing. It was exciting. 

paul and michael at the beach

Paul (left) and Michael (right) are also foster parents (Picture: @atwalbricefamily)

‘We adopted the boys when they were two. They moved in with us three days before Christmas but we picked up that there were difficulties quite early on. They would just sit and stare, or rock. We didn’t really understand autism or how it would change our life. 

‘At the early stages it was exhausting. There were so many hospital appointments. The boys wouldn’t sleep, they were up all night and if we tried to take them anywhere they would scream and get distressed. People would stare at us in the supermarket, comment and tut. It was really hard for the first few years.

‘So we learnt about autism, and how to get into the boys’ world. It took a long time, and everything was difficult. Brushing their teeth they’d get so upset. Haircuts were impossible as they would have a meltdown. It was awful. 

‘It was a really dark time. We thought life was always going to be like that. But as the boys have matured they are a lot calmer now.

‘When we heard from the local authority that another set of twins were due to be born and they were going to come straight into care, we decided we would do it again. 

‘No one really bats an eyelid that we are two dads, although sometimes you’ll still get the odd “where’s mum?”’ (Picture: @atwalbricefamily)

‘We didn’t rush into it; we thought really hard about it. We asked if it would be fair on Levi and Lucas. We ended up biting the bullet. Luton and Lance were born in August 2017 and we picked them up from the special care baby unit where they had been born prematurely at 33 weeks – they were only 2lbs and 3lbs. We were there from the beginning and were the first to bathe them.

‘Paul is a heavy sleeper, so when we got home, I would do the night feeds, with my arms criss-crossed with a bottle in each baby’s mouth. Life wouldn’t be the same without them. They get on well with the other boys, they are really lively and full-on. 

‘Family life is settled now. We live in a four-bedroom house – there are two people in each room. The twins share a room each, and Michael and I share.

‘Our house can be chaotic. The four-year-olds are typical messy kids, pulling every toy out. But we have to have a routine for Levi and Lucas. We have a really structured day with meal times at a set time. Everything has to work like clockwork and we have to be strict about things like bath times because of the boys’ autism.

‘No one really bats an eyelid that we are two dads, although sometimes you’ll still get the odd “where’s mum?”.

‘We live in an old mining village and we always thought we would get a lot of flack because we are a same-sex couple. We have had homophobic abuse before we had kids – abuse shouted and windows put through. But that’s all we’ve ever experienced.

‘Apart from trolling online, which we just ignore and delete, in terms of our community, we get a lot of support.

‘Times have changed. There are now three same-sex families in the younger boys’ year at school. LGBTQ+ families are much more normalised. One in five adoptions go to a same-sex couples and they are keeping those kids out of care. They’re getting a proper home for the rest of their lives. It’s a really positive thing.’ 

‘My dad’s 22-year-old boyfriend is like a mother to me’ 

Jen lives in a flat with her dad and his younger boyfriend

Content designer Jen Kaarlo, 37, divides her time between London and Denver, US, where she lives in a flat with her dad and his younger boyfriend.   

‘I was born in the USA in the 1980s, and that wasn’t a good time to be a gay man,’ she tells us. ‘My parents got divorced when I was ten and my dad started dating men.

‘When he came out in 1997, he got a lot of backlash from family and friends that wouldn’t speak to him anymore. There were guys at school that wouldn’t date me because my dad was gay. I find that crazy as we are in such a different situation now, but back then, that sort of prejudice was just so prevalent. A lot of people would tell me I was going to hell. It was religious bullying.

‘My dad really embraced the gay community and culture, and I loved it. I grew up going to Pride parades and the theatre, and it became part of my community. My teens were very similar to the Birdcage with Robin Williams – a movie about a drag club in Miami. It was just a great time. 

‘Then I moved away; I lived in New York and Miami, and have been in London for over a decade. During that time, my dad and I went through a difficult patch. He went to prison in 2012 for financial-related crimes and was there for seven years.

‘I just felt that he let me down and he let his family down. We didn’t speak for a while.

‘During the pandemic, I went through a breakup and I lost my job. I had to move out of my apartment and life was chaotic. I lost a big sense of myself and my identity. My dad suggested I come home, but we hadn’t been very close until that point and I didn’t know how it would work. 

‘My dad’s boyfriend is like a mother to me’

‘He promised to support me, to take care of me and help me get back onto my feet. I couldn’t imagine me – a grown woman – moving into my dad’s downtown Denver flat, where he lived with his much younger boyfriend. Fernando is 22, while my dad Michael, is 58.

‘I spent six weeks with them and it completely changed my life for the better. I was just surrounded with so much love. Not only is Fernando the most loving partner in the world, the three of us became best buds. 

‘Now I go out regularly, every few months. Fernando cooks for me. He goes to the store, he sews clothes for me. I’ve never had that. He’s more of a parent to me than my actual mom.

‘When I go back they welcome me with open arms and I bring my dog with me. We have the most fun. We sit on their balcony, drinking beer, and just laugh. 

‘Everyone in my dad’s apartment black knows them and says they are the most fabulous couple around. It’s a very blended family because my dad is this kind of grumpy, older guy that kind of resembles Bruce Willis. And then there’s me in the middle. 

‘Fernando’s family have now spent a lot of time with us as well. They are all from Venezuela and they don’t speak English. We met up last summer and it was just mind blowing to me how much love there was in the room. They’re comfortable with their son being with much older man. The dynamic just works, even though there’s such a language divide – we just speak in broken Spanish – it just doesn’t matter. 

‘My dad and Fernando are very affectionate; they’re always holding hands. They have encountered homophobic reactions in the past, but they’re just so proud of who they are. My dad always says, he hid who he was for more than 30 years, he kept secrets from the people he loved the most and he’s not willing to do that anymore. His attitude now is: “If you have a problem with who I love, you can bugger right off”.

‘They are just so proud of who they are and their love. They don’t hold back whatsoever.

‘I am so happy to call them my family. It makes me really proud that they are who they are and they aren’t afraid to show that to the world. Being with them made the heartbreak and the pain of the pandemic so much easier to get over. We’re inseparable now; we text multiple times a day. 

‘They’re not married yet but they will be. We are planning it and talk about it all the time. My dog is going to walk the ring down the aisle.’ celebrates 50 years of Pride

This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.

MORE: Find all of’s Pride coverage right here

And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, we’ll also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offering their insights. 

During Pride Month, which runs from 1 – 30 June, will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.

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