As a Chinese-American who grew up in Washington, D.C., Cynthia Chin-Lee knows what it feels like to be an outsider and to be ostracized.
So when the children's book author heard about a lesbian couple at her church, First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, whose kids were being bullied and harassed because of their parents' sexual orientation, she was inspired to write a book.
"It's really a sweet story because it's looking at it from the kids' point of view. They love their parents and want to see their families validated in society," Chin-Lee said.
The book tells how two kids, 8-year-old Alex and her younger brother, Nicky, are teased by their classmates because their parents — two moms — aren't married. The book is set in the Bay Area in the months preceding the passage of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage.
In the book, the children encourage their parents to marry, and much of the book concerns the personal story of their family.
"I think it's important to open the dialogue, the conversation. There are over 18,000 couples that got married in that short time in California when gay marriage was allowed, and lots of those marriages have children. The little boy that posed for Nicky in the book has two dads. There are celebrities. ... You see it, and there are kids that are going to wonder about it," Chin-Lee said.
The family that inspired the book told Chin-Lee that they had Mormon friends who were confused about Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California, but went along with the church doctrine to support it. After the election, they "said they did the wrong thing because they liked the gay people as people."
Chin-Lee noted that children of gay marriages "are normal kids … (and) it's unfair to them not to have their families get the validation of society." Although some people disagree with her, "I hope that just by talking to them that they'll begin to realize that there's a different way of thinking," she said, pointing to the many ways families can be different. Some are headed by single parents; some are interracial or inter-faith.
"It's not so long ago that the Supreme Court made a decision about interracial marriage," she added.
Chin-Lee, who is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the author of "Amelia to Zora," "A if for Asia" and "Almond Cookies and Dragon Well Tea," among others, sees "Operation Marriage" as a civil-rights story.
"The book is for all kids, all families, not just kids with gay parents. I have a particular passion for social justice and celebrating diversity. ... We grow from our shared humanity," she said.
She is currently trying to partner and donate a portion of the proceeds from her book to the Human Rights Campaign and Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
Ultimately, she said, "If I just change one person's mind, that makes it worthwhile. And I feel that there's been much more support. It's been a great project."