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L.A. at Large

One Day a Month, When Gay Parents Are Just Parents

March 25, 2001|LAURIE K. SCHENDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bernie Cummings steadies 1-year-old Caelan as she kicks her feet forward with reckless abandon, attempting to take a few steps in the thick grass at West Hollywood Park. "You don't know how quickly and deeply you can fall in love until you become a parent," says Cummings, unable--or unwilling--to take his eyes off his little girl.

Caelan and her parents are just one of the 90 or so families commuting from as far as Bakersfield to take part in this third Family Day in West Hollywood. Once a month, the kids swarm over jungle gyms and picnic tables and the parents mingle close by, boasting about one child's agility and another's leadership qualities, and swapping information about the best schools and finest doctors.

It's a typical day in the park--except that all the parents are gay or lesbian.

It's not exactly the "gay scene" West Hollywood is known for, but it is a growing one, says Rebecca Isaacs, policy director at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, who organized the event. "The needs of the community are evolving," says Isaacs, the mother of a 6-year-old daughter. "People are really desperate for family programs."

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Eager to check out an opportunity for daughter Jordan to make friends with other kids with two mommies, Jane Kass, a film editor with Steven Bochco Productions, came from Sherman Oaks with her partner of 15 years, Carrie Ellison, to a recent Family Day. Though Jordan has lots of playmates, her parents believe it's important for her to know there are other families like theirs. "You can see by the turnout that more [homosexual] people are having children," Kass says.

Changes in the political climate coupled with biological advancements have made the difference, says Mark, a physician who declined to give his last name. Because of that progress, he and Adam, his partner of nearly 12 years, were emboldened to make good on a pledge that they made the day they met--that one day they would be dads.

Now the fathers of 9-month-old twins, Rose and Max, the two proud papas say they have more in common with heterosexual parents than they do with their old single friends. "The kids become your life," is the parent mantra of the day.

Seated on a blanket under a shade tree with their two bright-eyed, playful babies, Mark and Adam compare notes with Julia Salazar, the mother of 17-month-old twins.

"People who are opposed to gays being parents are opposed to the idea of it," rather than the actual parenting, says Mark, playfully lifting Rose to the sky. The new dad adds that he and Adam have been "married longer than our parents were together."

It's important to both men, they say, that the children have a female presence in their lives, and that's one benefit of events such as Family Day. Though there are groups for just gay dads or lesbian moms, Family Day is the first official event open to both gay and lesbian parents.

"There was an element of separation in the past," says Andrew Rakos, 42, the father of Seth, 2 1/2. "Now we've found we have something very serious in common--how to raise our children." That common bond is also what has resulted in more open arms from heterosexual parents.

"You tend to be friends with the parents of your kids' friends," says cardiologist Marcellin Simard, who has two children with his partner of 16 years, attorney Will Halm. "Things are a lot different than 10 years ago."

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These days acceptance in school and on playgrounds is an issue most parents are taking seriously in the wake of the recent school violence. Teaching children to understand that there are different types of families is the responsible thing to do, many parents believe.

"It's important that Caelan grows up knowing everyone in the world, both gay and straight," says Cummings, "because the world is gay and straight."

One thing that one dad says is true of gay and lesbian parents is that they have made a conscious decision to have children. "There are no accidents when you're gay," he says.

So when a friend recently asked Mark if becoming the father of twins had turned his life upside-down, his response was immediate. "I said, 'No, it turned it right side up.' "

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For more information on Family Day, contact the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center at (323) 860-7320.

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