Gay Families Raising Kids in Southeast Michigan
Same-sex marriage – and parenting – can be a controversial civil rights topic. But what's the experience really like, in reality? Here, local families share how it's gotten better – and worse.
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Dan and Todd Jacey live in Troy and are raising a 5-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. While they have legal protections in place that list Todd as guardian if Dan, the legal parent, were to die, their bigger concern is custody if something should happen to their relationship – there is no legal way to protect the relationship between the non-legal parent and the children they helped raise.
"I am the only legal parent of both children and, while we see ourselves as married to one another and trust we will stay together, the idea that Todd, who stayed home from work to raise our children, would have no legal rights to them is simply unfathomable," Dan says. "To them, he is most certainly their dad, too."
Erin White lives in Berkley with her partner, with whom she is raising twin boys. For her, one of the major issues their family faces is child support. She was living in Arizona with her previous partner when she had her sons; when that relationship ended, she had no access to child support either there or in Michigan.
"She worked, and I stayed home with our kids, and there's nothing for child support," she says. "Normally, the state system would have supported that, but in this case there's nothing you can do."
Michigan had somewhat more protections for gays and lesbians in the past, but much of that has been reversed in recent years. "Overall, the state has been backsliding on LGBT policy and legislation," LaTosch says. "We are in a really bad place in Michigan."
Michigan voters passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions (for gay or straight people) in 2004. The Michigan Supreme Court has since interpreted this ban to also restrict domestic partner benefits. Last December, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law banning local governments and public schools from offering benefits to unmarried partners of employees, same sex or not.
White points out that no matter how someone might feel about LGBT rights, these policies have a negative effect on children. "Kids are the ones that suffer more than gay adults, in terms of these discriminatory polices," she says. "It becomes a disadvantage for them, to only have the legal protection of one parent."
Finding a friendly community
Where to live is definitely a big question for LGBT families. LaTosch's and Stanczyk's families are both within the Ferndale school district, although Stanczyk lives in Oak Park. Ferndale is one of the more LGBT-friendly communities in Michigan, so neither couple has experienced much discrimination either within schools or among the parents of their children's friends. Both families are very involved in their children's schools, with both moms in each couple showing up to school events and volunteering in the classroom.
"It's just really important to be involved in the school," LaTosch says. "The more people know you, the less likely you are to have a problem – it's really easy to make up stories and be fearful of people (you) don't know."
She will send a note home to the parents of her children's friends prior to a playdate if she doesn't know them, just to get any awkwardness out of the way; however, it's never been an issue, she says. She worked at Affirmations, the gay community center, for years, so she and her partner are pretty "out" and well-known in Ferndale, which helps.
Stanczyk and her wife take more of a matter-of-fact approach. "What we found tends to work is that we don't say much of anything unless someone brings it up," she says. Of course, she says with a laugh, "We're probably overinvolved and overcompensating, like, 'Hi, we're the awesome gay couple – here's 24 cupcakes!'" She does note that they blend in quite a bit more in Ferndale; when they were raising Cheryl's older daughters in Hazel Park, there was a bit more of a "double-take," she says.
White's sons will be in kindergarten next fall, so she and her partner chose to send them to a different school in the Berkley district than the one they would typically go to. "We know about five other lesbian families who send their children there. Because of the fact there are other lesbian families there, we felt that was a better choice than having to 'break in' a whole school," White says.
The Jaceys live in Troy, where Mayor Janice Daniels is the focus of a recall effort for some insensitive comments she made about gay people on her Facebook page before taking office. While they haven't experienced any issues within the community or at their children's current school, Dan says, they did face a bit of a challenge with their children's preschool. It was a Christian school, and the pastor called them in to inform them he did not agree with their situation. While this led them to investigate other schools, the close, positive relationships their children had with their teachers led them to stay. "Teachers and parents in the program treated us all well, and a few even told us that they appreciated us being there," Dan says.