Families with Gay and Lesbian Parents
When your parents are two men or two women
This country has come a long way in accepting the gay and lesbian community. Many celebrities and politicians support the anti-bullying campaigns, such as The Trevor Project and “It Gets Better”. Facebook has thousands of followers on its Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook (WHOF).
Much of the turn-around was the result of the torture and murder, in October 1998, of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. He was murdered because he was gay. And Middle America finally woke up.
In Sonoma County, the gay and lesbian movement began in the 1970s. It became a favorite vacation spot for San Franciscans. The Lower Russian River soon became the “Gay Mecca”. Annual events such as Women’s Weekend of Lazy Bear Weekend brought thousands of people to the small towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio.
Many decided it was a great place to live as well. Gay real estate agents opened up offices, and connected to the Bay Area markets. Local struggling businesses thrived with new gay and lesbian owners.
Eventually the two towns became pretty well mixed in sexual orientations year-round. Some gay couples started raising families.
Remember when Coffee Bazaar on Armstrong Woods Road was owned by Tom Printy and Tony Garcia? They were a gay couple who raised Tom’s son, Tony. Few people of either sex doubted how hot young Tony was, working in CB as a barista. He was straight, but extremely accepting of all people.
But sexual orientation is still a touchy subject when it comes to raising the children – not so much for the sons and daughters, but for some neighbors, some employers, and some classmates.
Because this month the theme for the Gazette is The Family, I was asked to interview gay and lesbian families in Sonoma County. Unfortunately, most declined. While there may be some comfort and support within a town such as Guerneville, telling everyone who reads the Gazette that you are gay and raising children still raises eyebrows. It goes against religious beliefs, or social mores.
For several couples, their children have grown – often in a family where a father “coming out” resulted in divorce. The new same-sex mate then assisted in raising the remaining children until they grew up and moved on their own.
Others are young and just starting families. As you read this article, a new child has entered the world, with lesbian parents. The baby is genetically theirs as well, because the brother of one of the women was the sperm donor.
But they chose not to go public.
One respondent, however, bragged about raising two gay kids and a redneck! If you shop at Safeway in Guerneville, you know Nina Cantacessi. Her soulmate is a princess of a prince: Edye Prince.
Edye tells their story
I met my “girlfriend” when I was 35 and my children were 9, 13 and 15. Up until that time, I was a straight woman, recovering from a volatile 13-year marriage from my kids’ father. I was a single mom raising three kids on her own and, gender and sexual identity aside, what comes to mind about that time was the saying, “ It takes a village”.
I worked in Guerneville and lived in Forestville, both tolerant, caring and giving communities; and in thinking back, there was no issue whatsoever in how my family was treated or perceived by my choice of having a same-sex relationship. We did not live together until the children were grown, a choice we made to maintain the family dynamic as it was, but she was a constant presence and force all along.
My children embraced my partner as part of our family. My community – neighbors, friends, co-workers, all accepted my coming out and being gay. Almost everyone seemed to see beyond the gender issues and saw simply that I was with someone who was kind, decent and loved both me and my kids with fierceness and loyalty.
Almost everyone except for my mother. Her reaction was extreme and damaging. While visiting our family from Santa Cruz, she noticed a pair of new shoes my girlfriend had bought me and questioned our relationship. I was no longer willing to lie to my parents anymore, so I told her we were together.
At that point, she left for home, stating her disgust, taking my 13 year-old daughter with her and keeping her for 2 weeks, filling her head and heart with words and thoughts that to this day haunt us both. As painful as all that was, though, it brought home the message I had always given my kids - that no matter what, I would always love them and accept them and would stand behind any decision they would make.
My son Spencer become one of the founding members of the ‘Gay Straight Alliance’ while in El Molino High School in Forestville. And even though I had a vague feeling he might be gay early on, I actually found out he was gay by reading an article in the local paper about the group.
My daughter Elisa told me she was gay at the age of 19. I remember she came into my room and woke me up to tell me. She said she would have told me sooner, but her experience with my mother when I came out scared her into silence.
My youngest son was the definitive macho guy, straight as they come, but he was tolerant and amused by it all and his loyalties never wavered.
My parents finally came around after 5 long years, after I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and needed surgery and radiation treatments. It was at UCSF Medical Center during my surgery that my parents and my partner were together – in the same room for the first time - with the same agenda; their common love for me. Since that time, it’s as if they’ve always been good friends and all is well.
My kids are all grown now, out on their own and thriving. I am proud of all of them and they are still a source of joy and light in my life. I was and still am very lucky to have had that “Village”, that great, amazing Village where I could raise my kids, Spencer, Elisa and Trevor, with the help and love of an entire community, and within that community, anything is possible.