Monday, October 18, 2004
Gay parents face extra challenges
Raising kids can be their toughtest test
By John Johnston
Enquirer staff writer
Twins Audrey and Brielle, age 5, eagerly await dinner while 9-year-old Eryn, fresh from playing goalie at soccer practice, describes for her parents how the ball once squirted through her hands "like a bar of soap - shoosh!"
Early evening in the Robinson home closely resembles life in any household with children, save for one significant difference: The girls have two mothers. Teresa and Kelly Robinson are lesbians raising their three daughters on a family-friendly street in staunchly conservative Anderson Township.
"For us - and maybe it's because we're professionals, or because we live in a nice neighborhood, or because we don't look for prejudice and we really do give people a chance - life in Cincinnati's not so bad," says Teresa, 42, a former investment firm trainer who is a stay-at-home mom.
That's not to say life is anything close to perfect for the Robinsons and other gay parents, who regularly confront stereotypes and have to function without legal protections accorded to married, heterosexual parents.
As the region comes to terms this year with myriad gay issues, raising children is among the most sensitive.
The Census counts more than 3,600 households headed by unmarried couples of the same sex in the 13-county Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. An estimated one-fourth of those households includes children under age 18.
Only Florida bans any gay man or woman from adopting children, but laws can't dictate what people believe. More than half of area adults responding to a new Enquirer poll said it's inappropriate for same-sex couples to raise children.
The poll was taken just one month before voters will decide several gay issues. In Ohio, Kentucky and nine other states, voters will decide state constitutional amendments that would ban same-sex marriage. Cincinnati voters will decide whether to keep one of the nation's few municipal laws barring the writing of a gay-rights ordinance.
Groups such as Focus on the Family say issues involving gays and children are obvious: Children suffer when gay parents raise them, the groups say.
"Deliberately depriving a child of a mother or a father is not in the child's best interest and is never compassionate. But that is what every same-sex family does for the sole purpose of fulfilling adult desire," Focus on the Family's Web site says.
In recent years, however, a number of other groups have issued statements in support of parenting by lesbians and gay men. Among them: the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Bar Association.
Families treated with respect
Aside from that debate, several gays who are raising children here say their families generally are treated with respect.
Kelly Robinson, a 42-year-old engineer for Procter & Gamble Co., says that in many ways she and her mate have more in common with straight parents in their neighborhood than with their gay friends, many of whom don't have kids.
Adds Teresa: "Once people find out you're raising kids, that you cut your grass, you pay your taxes and you're in the PTA, (they figure) you can't be all that bad."
Jeff Luehrmann lives next door. His teen daughter and 12-year-old son baby-sit for the Robinsons.
"They're good neighbors," he says. "Do I agree with their (gay) lifestyle? No. (But) they aren't flaunting that part of their lifestyle in front of everybody."
James and Dawn Donaldson, who have three children at home, moved into a house across the street from the Robinsons about 21/2 years ago. Dawn says Teresa "was the first neighbor to knock on my door and bring me cookies and welcome me to the neighborhood."
"They're the holler-at-me-if-you-need-a-cup-of-sugar kind of people. They'll do anything to help you."
Teresa Dasenbrock, who lives around the corner, says her 5-year-old is best friends with the Robinson twins. As for the sexuality of the twins' mothers, "I don't think about it much," Dasenbrock says. "They're like everybody else."
But she must think about it a little. When her husband is with Teresa Robinson, Dasenbrock has been known to joke with her gay neighbor, "I don't have to worry about you, do I?"
Teresa Robinson says she always knew she wanted to be a mom. Kelly, though, assumed she'd never have children after coming out at age 14.
The couple met 16 years ago through a recreational basketball league. They dated several years before moving in together. Teresa insisted they get married before having children.
Both women became pregnant through artificial insemination, using a donor from a sperm bank. Teresa is Eryn's biological mother. Kelly gave birth to the twins.
The state doesn't recognize their marriage. And although Ohio permits gay individuals to adopt, courts in Hamilton County and most other counties will not approve second-parent adoptions; that is, a gay person cannot adopt his or her partner's children. As a result, Kelly has no parental rights over Eryn, just as Teresa has no rights over the twins.
Deciding who's the father
Russell and Eric Peguero-Winters of Sharonville faced a similar legal quandary when they adopted their son, Pablo, now 5. Only one of the gay men could be the legal parent. So they flipped a coin.
"Whenever people ask, we just say one of us is on the paper," says Eric, 36, a process improvement manager for a financial services firm. "Which one is it? One of us is, and one of us isn't."
Both love their son. Both helped coach the biological mother through Pablo's birth.
The men, who have been together for 11 years, held a union ceremony in 1994. For Eric, having a child was an essential part of the relationship.
"I hadn't completely closed myself off to the possibility (of children), but I worried about society, and the problems that a child might encounter," says Russell, 37, a social worker.
The choices they make, from the school Pablo attends to the street on which they live, reflect their desire to be among people who are at least tolerant, if not outwardly supportive. The cul-de-sac where they've lived for two years appealed to them because of its diversity.
Lisa and Michael LaPlant and their two teen daughters live next door.
"We couldn't have asked for better neighbors if we had planted them there," Lisa says.
She says she's heard disapproving whispers from another couple in the neighborhood. That couple didn't attend a party the LaPlants co-hosted with the Peguero-Winters in July, but almost everyone else on the block did.
"They've made a nice home for their son," LaPlant says.
Pablo recently began kindergarten.
"Kids ask questions, so Pablo needs to be prepared," Russell Peguero-Winters says. "Pablo is the kid who has a daddy and a papa. It's pretty well accepted (at his school).
"He knows his family is a little bit different, but there are other families who are different as well, whether it be single parent or divorced."
The mom? They both are
Lesbians Erin and Zaine Tepe of Covington embrace that attitude as they raise their 21/2-year-old son, Nicholas.
"We don't assume we're not going to be accepted," Zaine, 36, says. "We just present ourselves as a couple, and this is our son. When people say, 'Who's the mom?' We say, 'We both are.' "
Erin, 37, a veterinarian who owns an animal clinic, gave birth to Nicholas through artificial insemination.
Some people have questioned whether it's wise for them to raise a child who might be ridiculed.
"He's probably going to get teased about his fat moms, first and foremost," says Zaine, a veterinary technician. She stays home with Nicholas, but is looking for an evening job.
"We all have moments when we remember somebody saying something (negative) to us. I don't want to subject him to it, but if we live openly and are comfortable and accepting of other people, and we get that in return, I think he'll ultimately be OK."
For Russell and Eric Peguero-Winters, taking Pablo to a mall, restaurant or the movies has generally been positive.
"People sense that we're not ashamed of our family, and we are who we are," Russell says. "And just like heterosexual parents who worry about their kids eating enough veggies, a sippy cup that doesn't spill in the car and nutritious lunches, we're there."
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