The following article appeared on the front page of the Sunday, December 1, 1996, edition of the San Francisco Examiner, and included photos from some of the participants in PQP. Many thanks to Elizabeth Fernandez for a sympathetic account of our lives.
OF THE EXAMINER STAFF
Meet Leland and Stewart.
And Bridget and Dolores.
They want to have a baby.
All four. Together.
So far, negotiations are pro ceeding with remarkable ease.
Address? They're searching for a house to share. If they can't find a suitable joint home, the baby will spend equal time in both gay and lesbian households.
Child rearing philosophy? This future child will not be spanked. And, most emphatically, will not be a whiner.
Names? Leland will be called Papa, Stewart will be Dad, Bridget and Dolores are still 20 mulling that over.
"It's like crossing from one world to the next," says Bridget Lawhon, 40, an Oakland neonatal nurse who will be the baby's biological mother while her partner, Dolores Trevino, will become one of four co-parents. "We are stepping into an unknown, and that can be very scary. But there is so much promise, and that outweighs the fears. Four parents is good. There is more love and respect and attention to creating an environment for a child to grow in and be nourished in."
Artificial insemination begins next month.
Hinging on faith and luck - and highly detailed, nonbinding contracts - gays and lesbians like these two couples are shedding longstanding notions of parenthood as a lost option and instead giving birth to multiparent offspring. The resulting patchwork families are grounded as much in hope as in pledges between parents who share not necessarily love for each other but unbounded devotion to their child.
The cornerstone for much of this movement is a little known but thriving Bay Area organization, Prospective Queer Parents. Informally dubbed the "sperm and egg mixer," the group is now celebrating its fifth anniversary.
"This is not social experimentation with children," says Leland Traiman, 44, a nurse who founded the group that to date has given birth to four babies.
"Lesbians and gay men talk for months, if not years, about having a child before they go about conceiving," says Traiman, who lives in San Mateo with his partner, Stewart Blandon. "These kids are the most planned, the most wanted children in the world. It's the heterosexuals who are having children by accident. They've been doing that for millennia, and frankly, they haven't been doing a very good job."
For more than a decade, lesbians have been routinely becoming mothers, often through the services of a sperm bank. In a society that often fails to recognize, encourage or protect nontraditional family units, the complexities of parenthood are intensely magnified for lesbians and gays willing to defy convention to forge new family configurations.
"A lot of this is pioneering, even in the gay community," says David Gordon, 43, a San Francisco resident who joined the parenting group a few years ago in hopes of finding a female match.
"I always wanted to have children, but it never entered my mind that it might be possible without getting married," says Gordon, a San Francisco printer on permanent disability with nerve damage in his legs. "Now, people are starting to accept the fact that they can have children, not just through a sperm bank."
As bagels, brownies and spiced soup are served in a Bernal Heights apartment, all conversation quickly focuses on children.
Prospective Queer Parents has scores of members, an approximately equal number of men and women. On this day, a dozen members gather for the monthly session.
Some are single, some attached. All are eager to become parents, but have varying ideas on the degree of involvement they want from their child's biological parent.
"We are looking for sperm," says one woman, holding the hand of her female partner. "We'd like a known donor."
Others want a co-parenting partnership, with custody to be split evenly between father and mother and their significant others.
Lloyd Princeton, 27, wants to contribute even more than 50 percent in a partnership with his future child's mother.
"I realize I'm a control freak," says Princeton, administrator of the American Society of Interior Designers in San Francisco. "I don't want to check with three other people before I make a decision about my child."
While conception for most straight couples is imbued with romantic overtones, baby-making in this group inevitably becomes blunt business.
Before insemination - invariably through artificial means - members of PQP engage in exhaustive negotiations about money, education, tax credits, day care, medical care, every imaginable aspect of life over the next two decades.
"It's not about a union, it's about a baby deal," says Princeton's partner, Avner Lapovsky, 43, a designer showroom owner in San Francisco. "There are hundreds of issues that come into being.
"I've never accepted the limits imposed on a gay life. Who says that just because I'm not living a traditional life I'm not qualified to be a father? It's not in the Bible. It's not in the Constitution. Our whole motivation here is love. And that is why you should have a child."
Would-be parents must agree on where the child will live, the possibility of job transfers, the protection of nonbiological parents. The shadow of AIDS overhangs every discussion: Members promise to abstain from unsafe sexual practices during the period of conception.
Some sign contracts, "parenting agreements" drafted with the explicit goal of ensuring a stable, loving upbringing for the child.
"We have the most planned parenthood in the world," says New York psychologist April Martin, a lesbian mom with two kids and author of "The Lesbian and Gay Parenting Handbook."
"We are creating a model of a parenting community," she says, referring to countless gay and lesbian parenting arrangements being formed around the country. "What ultimately needs to happen is for laws to change so these families will be protected."
Indeed, PQP members acknowledge that such contracts have questionable legal standing.
Moreover, the very nature of these business transactions sparks the ire of many who espouse traditional family values.
"A child is best reared where there is a male and a female committed to each other through the bond of marriage," says the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition. "To bring someone into the world, you have to follow the course of nature. They are violating the course of nature ... To have children through artificial insemination is to destroy the family as history has known it, as mankind has known it."
But members of PQP - and supportive relatives - believe it's time to toss away archaic notions of family.
"They are doing something responsible about parenting in a different way," says Dr. Richard Doherty, a noted medical geneticist in Maine whose son, Will, 33, a computer consultant in Bernal Heights, is contemplating a co-parenting arrangement with Amy Whitney, 31, a San Francisco lawyer, and Sherri Patton, 37, a graduate student.
"Obviously, all parenting is fraught with problems," says Doherty. "Their discussion of making a threesome a cohesive unit is really new ground. But they probably have done more thinking about it than a sizable number of heterosexual parents. I respect the care they are taking."
Theirs was not a traditional form of courtship, but it was a courtship nonetheless.
Searching for a man to father her child, Susan Williams attended the first meeting of PQP in 1991. Two years later, she met Phillip Parkerson, a brand new PQP member.
Four months later, she was pregnant.
"It was really like we were dating," says Parkerson, 31, a project manager at Charles Schwab & Co. in San Francisco. "We'd have dinner, we went for walks on the beach. She'd say things like "Are you sure you don't want to talk to other women, are you sure I'm the one?' I felt really good about her; there was no need for me to look for another woman.
"I guess it's like falling in love. When you meet the right one, it doesn't always have to take a lot of time."
Their daughter, Shanna Jaye Parkerson Williams, was born in January 1995.
Shanna, who knows her colors and can count to five, splits her time between Parkerson's home and the home Williams shares with her partner, Susan Halperin, and Halperin's daughter.
All five individuals have grown into what they consider a true form of family. They spend holidays together, every Wednesday is family dinner night, and Parkerson just bought a house a block away.
"Shanna will known she was the product of a form of love, the product of a desire for her," says Williams, who works at the San Francisco AIDS Office. "Phillip and I joke about it, that people shouldn't do it as quickly as we did. We knew each other only four months. But we knew it was right."
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