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‘I was never picked on for being the son of lesbians - just for having an English accent’

As one of the very few adults in Ireland who has been raised from birth by "out" gay parents, Conor Pendergrast has been the subject of endless supposition and stereotyping.

He has heard the claims that children who grow up in homosexual families can turn out confused, sexually promiscuous, alienated from mainstream society but he feels perfectly well-adjusted and couldn't imagine having a happier childhood or more devoted parents.

"There are some incredible fallacies about people like me," he says, "the funniest being the idea that because you've grown up around gay people, you're bound to turn out gay. That's just ridiculous. By the same logic, if you've grown up around straight people, you have to end up straight. It's nonsense.

"I don't think there was ever a point in my life where I turned around and thought to myself 'Oh my God, my parents are lesbians. I'm so different to everyone else'. For me, having two mothers was the most natural thing in the world and if you think about it, there are far more children growing up in disturbed heterosexual households than same-sex households."

Conor is a 22-year-old psychology student at UCD who works part-time with children in care. He is spearheading a campaign to highlight what he sees as the unequal status of children of gay families in Irish law.

He is delighted that his parents' relationship will be recognised in law when the new Civil Partnership Bill comes into effect next year, but dismayed that no provision has been made for the children of homosexual couples.

"I am the oldest person I can find in Ireland who is in this situation but there are plenty more coming after me," he says.

"In spite of the fact that Bernadette raised me for the last 22 years, that doesn't mean a thing in terms of custody or inheritance. The new Civil Partnership Bill does not recognise children of same sex couples and it doesn't legislate for them. We are completely left out of it.

"Even though Bernadette is my mother, if I were to be admitted to hospital, she would not have the right to visit me as her son. She would not need to be consulted or informed of any medical decisions made. I cannot inherit anything from her without paying a hefty, hefty tax, because in the eyes of the State I am not her son.

"A man and a woman could meet on the street, have a one-night stand, and nine months later, they have all the rights they need to protect their family. We have been a family for 22 years and we don't have any of those protections."

In the tiny Kildare village where the boys grew up, the family's living arrangements were far from conventional, but Conor cannot recall ever being treated differently because of them.

"I was never picked on for being the son of lesbians but I was bullied for having an English accent, so I got rid of that pretty quickly.

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"Nobody said anything directly. I just remember someone pointing at me once and saying there's the boy with two mums.

"I was totally open about having lesbian parents. I thought if anyone has a problem with it, it's their problem, not mine. To anyone who asks, I say: 'I have two mothers, they are lesbians, they have been together my entire life and no it doesn't affect me at all'.

'It's difficult to ascribe one as Mum and the other as Dad. You couldn't say one was butch and the other feminine. That's another stereotype about lesbian couples -- but it's not true in their case.

"Ann had a nurse's training, so if I was sick she was the one who knew what to do, but Bern was just as much of a mother to me. I couldn't pick one over the other. They are both Mum to me." Conor has no desire to meet the man who helped bring him into the world, nor does he feel he has missed out in any way by not having a father.

"He donated his sperm and that's all I need to know. Ann and Bern define me. They are my parents. For all I know I could have tonnes of brothers and sisters dotted around the place but I've never needed anything more than what my mothers have given me.

"There are people who say they don't want to see same-sex couples having children because the traditional family is the ideal. But how is my family going to impact on them? It's not going to make their family worth any less or change them in any way.

"For my entire life, I have had the same two adults taking care of me and they have done a wonderful job. Not everyone gets brilliant parents, but I did. I was very lucky. There is no guarantee that heterosexual parents will be brilliant.

"We are a perfectly ordinary family who happens to have one minor difference. But that shouldn't stop us getting the same respect and rights as a heterosexual family."


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