Pride in the Valley: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning in the Hudson Valley, NY

Our region has proven to be a welcoming place for members of the gay and lesbian community. This series of articles includes profiles of local gay couples raising families, a look at the LGBTQ Center in Kingston, and how a Poughkeepsie student helped to form a gay-straight alliance at his school



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meg stewart and jill schneidermanA family affair Meg Stewart (left) and Jill Schneiderman hang out with their kids, Tillie, 11, and Caleb, 14

Photograph by Teresa Horgan

Same-sex Parenting: One Woman’s Perspective

It’s normal for a child to ask his or her parents, “Where do babies come from?” But does the answer become more difficult to explain for same-sex parents?

It doesn’t have to be complicated, according to Jill Schneiderman, who has two children with her partner Meg Stewart. “We’ve always spoken to our children about what makes our family different from others,” Schneiderman says. “There was no big drum roll and conversation; it’s always been ‘She’s mommy and I’m mama.’ ”

Schneiderman, 53, is a professor of earth science at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, the same town in which she and former geologist Stewart, 50, reside. They met as presenters at a Geological Society of America convention 19 years ago and have been together ever since. They had a civil union when it became legal in 2000, then married in Massachusetts in 2005, and today are proud parents.

“When our relationship grew, Meg and I established that we both wanted to become parents one day,” Schneiderman says. “We have two beautiful children — Caleb is 14, and Tillie’s 11.” They’re often asked about how their children came to be, as same-sex couples have a variety of options for starting a family, but the pair has decided that it’s not their story to tell. “We feel that it’s our children’s own precious stories,” Schneiderman explains. “We believe it’s beside the point anyway; the focus on ‘origin’ takes away from the real truth: that your family is made of the people who love and take care of you and who will always be there for you, no matter how you came into being.”

Of course, since the kids are still young, their friends are naturally curious and aren’t afraid to ask questions. “While driving a few of Caleb’s friends to a class trip, one asked how did Caleb ‘get born.’ Caleb asked me to explain, and with his blessing I did. The friend’s response was just, ‘Oh.’ Then he began asking why we were driving that particular road when he knew another way to get to the destination. There wasn’t a negative reaction, he just accepted it and moved on,” Schneiderman explains. She says she considers herself lucky because she can’t recall a time when her family’s been targeted or discriminated against because of its structure. But for parents who have a more difficult time explaining these stories to children, or answering questions from other adults, Schneiderman says there is a proliferation of books that describe different family types.

As much as she says she loves parenting — “it’s beautiful, it’s fun, and we love having family adventures” — Schneiderman admits there have been challenges along the way. At one time, there was a fear associated with the public school system — they didn’t want their children to be subjected to bullying or prejudice based on their family structure. “We originally enrolled them in a little private school where a premium was placed on tolerance of diversity,” Schneiderman says, “but now they go to a public school and we couldn’t be happier with how everyone’s been received and accepted.” She says the couple tries to be as active and supportive within the school as possible. (“There was a Veteran’s Day event and the room was full of all these older veterans — plus a lesbian couple,” she laughs.) The overall diversity within the school helps to show her children that each family has its own unique circumstances.

The most vexing problem for her family, according Schneiderman, is with school administrative forms and other legal documents that ask the name of the child’s mother and father. “We usually have to cross it out and write ‘parent and parent,’ ” she says. “When we were traveling out of the country, we had to fill out two forms for each child to get through customs. It’s a problem for many family types, not just gay couples, because some children are raised by their grandparents, by multiple parents, and so on.” Groups such as the Family Equality Council in Boston are working to amend these issues.

Otherwise, Schneiderman says she and Stewart go through the same trials as other parents she knows, both heterosexual and same-sex. “As a parent of a teen and a ’tween, I know my children are at the age when it’s important to help them develop a sense of independence and begin to let them stretch their wings — anyone who’s a parent knows that feeling, and it’s not always easy. But it’s an experience all families can grow from.”

 

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