History of the Straight Spouse Network - founded in 1986
Founder Amity Pierce Buxton, Ph.D
It all started with our founder, Amity Pierce Buxton. She had been married for 25 years and had two children when her husband came out. That was in 1983. Since then she has been a dedicated, tireless force; helping others having the same experience and speaking out to educate the public on this silent epidemic. She has written several books: The Other Side of the Closet: The coming out crisis for straight spouses and families. Unseen-Unheard; Straight Spouses from Trauma to Transformation; and Herbert the Hedgehog (with co-writers Lynn E. Mueller and David Tinoco).
In 1986, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (now Parents, Families, and Friends –PFLAG) formed a Task Force for Spouses of Lesbians and Gays. It was comprised of regional contacts and a few US and British support groups with a packet of procedures and article reprints for group facilitators. In 1991, the Task Force and an independent National Organization of Straight Spouses turned everything over to Amity Buxton. She combined and expanded the organizations into a worldwide network of support, education, and advocacy for straight spouses of gay, lesbian, or bisexual partners and mixed-orientation couples.
Named the Straight Spouse Support Network (SSSN), with Amity as Director, the new organization remained a PFLAG program receiving minimal financial support for office work. As contacts and facilitators multiplied, group support information expanded, and outreach grew to include spouses of transgender partners and trans-nontrans couples. A Five Year Plan was formulated and a web page was set up by the Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition (now Family Equality Council –FEC). With the network’s first donation in 1997, FEC became its fiscal agent.
As activity expanded in 1998, the name was shortened to Straight Spouse Network (SSN). An Advisory Council made up of a wide diversity of spouses and a volunteer staff members was formed to handle Communications. In 1999, a brochure with mission statement, and donation form was printed and disseminated, Internet mailing lists for Straight Spouses and Mixed-Orientation Couples established, and the first issue of News & Notes newsletter was published. In 2000, a board of directors was formed and SSN was incorporated as an independent 501(c)(3), non-profit organization, with FEC and PFLAG continuing in affiliated relationships.
As a recognized entity, SSN participated in the Millennium March on Washington, where 50 straight spouses and number of mixed-orientation couples marched. In 2003, the Board of Directors expanded to nine members, a Part Time Operations Director and a newsletter editor were added. Soon came a Technical Director a Development Consultant.
A “triage” process was codified for a First Response Team to handle requests for help. The Board formulated a Position Paper in support of same-gender marital unions and established affiliation guidelines for face-to-face groups and online support lists and criteria for event sponsorship.
Over time and with monies from a grant and an individual giving campaign, the Operations Director was promoted to Deputy Executive Director. Coordinators of Support/Field Services, Education/Communication, Couples, operations assistants, the first paid Executive Director were hired. Amity, Director, remained on board as a nonvoting member.
Working teams formed to develop guidelines for a Speakers Bureau/Media, Group Facilitator Training, and Outreach to Underserved Constituents. In 2008, an Underserved Project Manager and a Communications Assistant for the Speakers Bureau were hired. The Board adopted an updated Mission Statement and new tagline, established Publication Guidelines, adopted a position paper against Reparative Therapy, and developed a comprehensive Group Facilitator’s Handbook.
In 2009, SSN won a Great-Non-Profits Award and published a cookbook, its first publication. More media articles appeared, a blog was added to the website, a Facebook page developed, and work to create a new updated website launched. The Underserved Project was completed, and Guidelines for Approving Research using SSN Constituents were developed.
In 2011, the board completed a Strategy Building and Reorganization project. Staff consolidation included Executive Director, IT Director, Communications Director and Assistant (all part time). Database overhaul began and the first monthly newsletter as an eblast was sent.
2013. Triage continues with 3 to 5 inquiries daily, while media articles and TV appearances increase. Face-to-Face Support groups total more than 50 in the US with several abroad. Contacts are available for every state and over 10 other countries. Besides individual donations, grants from $5000 - $15,000 have been received since 2004 to help with operations.
Our current endeavour, an updated website, brings a fresh look and exciting new features that will provide supportive resources for straight spouses and educational information about this largely invisible group of people for the public and professionals. We continue to seek new and innovative ways to encourage funding to support reinstatement of previously shortened staff hours, thereby enabling us to bring more services to the growing number of straight spouses across the globe.