Queer parenting: more than cute baby photos

Jamie Gajewski

Thursday, Nov. 13 four Lawrence University faculty members shared four unique versions of what it is like to be a queer parent in Appleton. While each tale differed in content and detail, several patterns emerged: All parents like to dress their children up as animals in ridiculous costumes and all parents worry that their children will not be accepted by others. In the case of children with queer parents, instead of having just two people love them, they often have a whole entourage that defies the traditional family unit and spoils them rotten.
The event, sponsored by GLOW (Gay Lesbian or Whatever), took place in Wriston Auditorium at 8 p.m. After taking turns sharing his or her story, the panel opened the floor up to questions from the audience, which was comprised of students of all sexual orientations and a handful of Appleton community members.
Nancy Wall, the current Associate Dean of Faculty and Associate Professor of Biology, spoke first. Because of its conservative reputation, Wall was tentative about the Midwest at first, but quickly found both Appleton and Lawrence to be welcoming. “I have been really lucky, very fortunate,” she said after describing the positive reactions of her neighbors.
After moving to Appleton, she and her partner decided to have a child. While they perused the sperm catalogue, which lists everything from hair color to height to medical history, the couple decided instead to pair with two close friends who were willing to “donate to the cause.”
Now, Wall’s child benefits from “too many overeducated parents.” Although the family is non-traditional in that four parents are present in the child’s life, it works well in what Wall calls an “almost storybook” way.
Nicole Buenzli, Associate Director of Admissions, is a proud parent of twin girls, Anya and Sophie, who were born June 25. After speaking with Wall, looking into co-parenting and reading different books, Buenzli and her partner decided that “we wanted the kids to be ours, and only ours.” Therefore, the couple began searching an on-line sperm system that lists “anything [the donor] has ever done.” Buenzli decided to bear the child and so the couple searched for a candidate that would be similar to her partner in appearance and interest.
During her portion of the talk, Buenzli highlighted some of the obstacles she has faced as a queer parent. Luckily, she found a physician who not only warned her of the possibility of having twins, but also allowed her partner access to important medical records, a right not given by current Wisconsin legislation. Likewise, Buenzli was concerned with what her daughters would call her. While Buenzli feels attached to the idea of being a mother, especially after giving birth, she realizes that it is important not to get hung up on labels.
Ben Rinehart, Assistant Professor of Art, hates the word partner because “it sounds like a rodeo thing.” He became a queer parent when his partner’s cousin was looking for someone to adopt her child. Although Rinehart’s mother predicted that the birth mother would change her mind about giving up the child, he and his partner were the first ones to hold and feed the baby, whom they named Harper.
Since Harper’s birth, Rinehart has had a good amount of contact with the birth mother. However, unlike the last two scenarios, the medical history of Harper’s biological father is unknown, which poses some complications for queer parents.
When it came to name calling, Rinehart was “willing to be Mama.” Rinehart also struggled with Wisconsin legislation pertaining to his and Harper’s rights. Fortunately, he and his partner were able to co-adopt Harper at the same time in another state. The couple is interested in having more children so that Harper can have a brother or sister. A close friend has even offered to have a child for them in the future.
Megan Pickett, Associate Professor of Physics, came to Lawrence in the fall of 2006. In her story, she highlighted some of the legal battles that queer parents face. Pickett also grew up in a religious background. Despite stereotypes that religion and queer issues are at odds, during difficult times, she found that “some of the nuns that I feared were the most supportive.” Distance is also a factor in Pickett’s relationship with her family, which creates challenges for any kind of relationship, queer or otherwise.
Each presenter shared pictures of their kids, which depicted the children with their families, during holidays and simply being ridiculously cute. The dark auditorium was filled with hushed “awwws” as audience members looked into the happy faces of children whose parents fought so hard to keep and love them.