‘ONE of the other couples lived together for three years as landlady and lodger with a spare room; their family didn’t know they were together,” says Stacey Powch-Scott, a founding member of Rainbow Families, a social group for LGBT parents and their children.

February is LGBT History Month, but this ­memory, Powch-Scott points out, isn’t “from the 1950s” or “an episode of Call The Midwife”: “This was 20 years ago.”

When the group started in 2005, Powch-Scott, who had two small children from a previous relationship with a man, was expecting her third child. Her ­partner Georgie had become pregnant through a private arrangement with a friend.

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“The GP, midwives and Health Visitor [who knew I was Georgie’s partner] were great, apart from one consultant who was utterly awful,” she ­remembers. “She would sit with her back to me and if I asked a question, she would look at Georgie when answering.”

When their son was born, Powch-Scott sought ­legal advice on her parental rights and was advised she had none. This has changed somewhat since ­same-sex couples were allowed to be civilly partnered in 2006 and married in 2014 (both of which they did as soon as it was legal), but she is not named on her son’s birth certificate because the laws around this did not change until 2009, four years after his birth.

For Powch-Scott, this period was particularly ­isolating because she had “no family support”.

“My oldest daughter, who was seven, really ­struggled with it because my mum was so ­homophobic and so vocal about it to the children,” she says.

Against this backdrop, groups like Rainbow ­Families, which was – and still is – part of the charity LGBT Health and Wellbeing, were vital sources of practical advice and an opportunity to “be around people where you don’t have to justify or explain your relationship”, Powch-Scott reflects.

In many ways, the formulation of this group ­encapsulated a moment in which a new type of ­family was quickly becoming more common. Despite an absence of legal rights, the tide was beginning to turn on social attitudes, and lesbian couples were choosing to start their own families.

Six years earlier, the Edinburgh Lesbian Mothers Group (ELMG) had been established but was made up predominantly of women who had children from previous (or, in some cases, ongoing) marriages with men. ELMG, and later a network called Lesbian Mothers Scotland which connected with groups in Glasgow and Aberdeen, was set up by Marian ­Thomas, who passed away in 2011.

Sue Robertson, now aged 72, was approached for help in providing premises for the group because of her role at the time as director of the charity One ­Parent Families Scotland. She too was coming out of a marriage as a lesbian with her own children, and she and Thomas would become lifelong partners.

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Robertson recalls that the group offered advice on custody issues (around which there was “a lot of anxiety”); supported women whose ex-husbands were “really hostile and putting them through a lot of hassle because of [their coming out]”; hosted guest workshops on parenting and self-insemination; and simply provided a place to socialise that wasn’t a pub.

However, the primary goal was “the social ­awareness that lesbian and gay families existed and were valid”, she says. “This was important for parents and children because a lot of parents were very ­worried that their children would be bullied, and that did happen.”

Robertson’s family was “lucky” in that respect, she adds. Nevertheless, this was the period when the repeal of Section 28 – which prohibited teachers from ­“promoting homosexuality” – was ­being debated, and Robertson notes there was a “broader context of hostility”, with ­“concerns expressed about lesbian and gay parents and whether that was ­damaging for children”.

“My son was in sixth year [in 2003] before anyone mentioned anything about gay people to him,” she says. “I know there was some reticence from our ­children to talk about [having lesbian ­parents] with friends.”

YET even then, LGBT people were finding ways to celebrate their families. “In 2002 my partner and I had a lesbian marriage ceremony at St Columbus by the Castle. This was way before there was officially marriage for lesbian couples, but the Episcopal Church was very positive towards lesbian and gay relationships.”

At the same time, gay fathers were ­coming out of their own marriages and adjusting to a life of new opportunities and challenges. It was 2005, and Neil, then aged 41, was a single ­parent to his 10-year-old son when the death of his father sparked his decision to come out.

Shortly afterwards, Neil had a chance meeting with the chair of Gay Dads Scotland (GDS), a group which had started in 2000, and he has been involved on and off ever since.

“I met someone very quickly when I came out, and the support group helped me explain it to my son in terms he would understand,” he remembers.

This was one of the main reasons men went along to the group, as was “the fear ­factor” that coming out to their ex-wives would stop them from being able to see their children.

“That’s one of the big changes – today that would be illegal and there’s a lot more tolerance. A couple of guys I know, their wives found out and made their lives a living hell for years,” Neil says.

Although he was initially “sceptical” about whether he needed peer support, because telling his family and friends had been “very smooth”, Neil soon ­realised that balancing being a ­parent – particularly a single parent – with ­managing a new life amongst other gay men brought its own challenges which were commonly discussed in the group.

“My partner and I were at different stages of our lives because his children were older, so I couldn’t do certain things that he wanted. Going into a same-sex ­relationship and what that brings with it in terms of social life, people liking to party, not being monogamous – I was like a rabbit in headlights,” he says.

However, Neil is glad that he did not take the route of some men he knew, who decided to forgo relationships ­altogether “because they were over-compensating for misplaced guilt”. Instead, he was “very open” with his son, which he believes has “created a closeness” ­ between them.

In 2009, just four years after Neil came out, the law changed to allow same-sex couples to adopt. By 2021, 9.2% of adoptions in Scotland were by same-sex couples, and around three in four of these were by male couples.

Around five years ago, Paul and Marc Aitken became one of those couples when they adopted their first of two children, who are birth siblings. Their experience is night and day compared with many of those who came so closely before them.

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“As soon as we spoke to our families about it, the first thing they said was they thought having a gay son meant you’d be alone and they wouldn’t have ­grandchildren. When we said we ­wanted to get married and have ­children they were crying their eyes out with ­happiness,” Paul Aitken says.

Going through the adoption process in his local authority, Aitken felt it was “very welcoming of LGBT people” from the outset. “When we went to the first ­information evening, there were four ­other gay couples, and we had ­phenomenal relationships with all the ­social workers,” he adds.

In fact, he recalls that the assessment asked a question about what you would do if your child was gay.

“I was like, is that a trick question?” Aitken laughs. “They said they’d see it as a red flag if you wouldn’t support it; that made me very happy. Every adopted child has some sort of trauma, so they don’t need adopted parents putting additional trauma on them.”

ADOPTION was something Paul and Marc had discussed from the early days of their relationship. “It got very serious very quickly and we started talking about our hopes and dreams and how we both wanted to support kids out there who needed it. It’s the most rewarding thing, but also the most difficult,” he explains.

Now, Aitken notices gay and lesbian parents everywhere, including those who have adopted. “Locally we have six LGBT couples who we are close friends with. I think I had imagined more ­people would be against it but it’s very normal now.”

This experience makes Aitken feels “very privileged”. “We didn’t have to fight for the right to adopt. I’m grateful to the people who came before us,” he says.

Like the Aitken family, Louise and her wife Lee* recently adopted and found that focusing on the unique needs of their young child was a greater challenge than being same-sex parents.

“Everybody was supportive of us ­being parents – the harder part was them ­understanding that welcoming a child into your family through adoption is ­different,” Lee explains. “It can be hard for family to understand that in ­adoption, in order to build an attachment between the parent and child, a lot of [their ­involvement] has to be held off.”

For them, activities like Adoption Scotland’s family events have felt more important than meeting LGBT parents.

“Had we been parents in the early 2000s it might be that we were trying to really tightly hold onto a network of same-sex parents, but we are accepted in the city, in the school and any clubs we go to,” Lee says.

That said, the couple decided to adopt through Barnardo’s specifically because they had a prior connection and “could tell the way they spoke about being LGBT inclusive was real”.

“I remember being really nervous that our child’s birth family might be ­homophobic and might respond ­negatively to that, but that wasn’t the case,” Lee adds.

For their child, accepting people of all sexual orientations and genders is a ­normal part of life. “We told our child that [gay] people used to not be allowed to get married and they thought that was ridiculous,” Lee says.

This, in itself, marks a huge step ­forward from when the couple were growing up. “I didn’t even think about marriage or anything. I was so far in the closet I was in Narnia,” Louise says. “I knew I was potentially going to marry a woman but I didn’t know how, when, if it was going to be legal.”

This is one sentiment shared by all the parents featured: things have come a long way.

For Robertson, many of the issues she campaigned around – from parenting rights to representation in the education system – have been achieved.

“There’s been huge progress in ­recognition and giving equal legal rights to members of diverse family types,”

she says.

“Things have massively changed,” Powch-Scott agrees. “My 17-year-old son’s high school had LGBT book clubs, an LGBT ambassador and did loads of stuff at Pride – that’s so refreshing.”

Perhaps Powch-Scott’s words can best explain the dramatic changes which have taken place in the lives of LGBT families over the last two decades: “Gay years are like dog years, we times it by seven for all the shit we’ve had to go through.”

*Louise and Lee are pseudonyms