News, Wit & Commentary for Lesbians
JIC Post:BY SCOTT THISTLEDuluth, MN NEWS TRIBUNESage Olson bursts through the back door and scampers across the kitchen into the living room. She launches from the carpet into the arms of her waiting mom, sitting on the couch.The family dog, Lucky Boy, jumps up, licking both on the face, and a pair of cats compete for affection, rubbing themselves on pants legs while purring.Sage and her mom kiss, cuddle and exchange greetings. After all, Sage, 7, hasn't seen her mom, Angie Nichols, since morning -- when Nichols left for work.But when Sage calls for mom, two women often answer."If she yells 'Mom' and one of us answers, and it's the wrong one, she says, 'No, the other one,' " said Beth Olson, Sage's birth mom."Sometimes we can just tell by the inclination of her voice which one of us she wants," said Nichols, Olson's partner.Olson, Nichols and Sage are the kind of nontraditional family that this year's Duluth-Superior Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allied Pride Festival hopes to highlight. The festival's "We Are Family" theme this year puts emphasis not only on the GLBT community's sense of solidarity but also on the broader definition of family."What is a family, really?" Nichols asked. "A family really is about love, and if you have love and concern for each other, then you have a really good family that you can be proud of."As in most families, time is a precious commodity -- so as Nichols continues a conversation with a visitor, Olson fixes Sage a quick bite to eat. The family is again running late for Sage's weekly soccer match.Sage's dad, who was divorced from Beth Olson three years ago, is also actively involved in his daughter's life. He, too, will be at the game to watch Sage run up and down the field.Married a year ago Saturday in Ontario, Olson and Nichols say they felt compelled to exchange formal vows to solidify their commitments to each other and to Sage.Both Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia legally recognize same-sex marriages. The Superior couple also had a church wedding at Duluth's Peace United Church of Christ.Nichols and Olson are also activists in the ongoing debate over the definition of marriage. Both are board members with Action Wisconsin, a GLBT group organizing to defeat efforts to amend Wisconsin's constitution to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions.NORMAL FAMILY LIFEIn many ways, the couple's family life is like any other Twin Ports couple raising a child. Both work at professional careers. Both share in Sage's daily care and both work at maintaining their home.Daily activities at home include all the things other families do every day. From tooth-brushing to mealtimes to going to Sage's soccer games, what happens in their life would be a familiar routine."We operate in the community just the same as any other family, except for that every time we go somewhere, we know that people are going to figure it out," Beth Olson said.Figure out that she and Angie "are not sisters," as she puts it. "They are going to discover, and then how are they going to treat us? How are they going to treat Sage?"It's a fear and a frustration for the couple. On top of that is the time they spend fighting to protect their rights, standing up for what they believe in and helping to educate others."At the end of the day, we say to ourselves, 'What would it be like if we didn't have to fight for this stuff?' " Nichols said."We would have a lot of free time. We would have a lot more time to spend with Sage. We could just do things that are relaxing and free our mind, and have more time and money to put into our life that we want to have like everybody else has."Overhearing Nichols, Sage echoes her, enjoying the attention: "Yeah, more time for me. Me, me, me."To some degree, the couple is also hesitant to bare their lives for public consumption in articles like this. They want Sage to know she is special and her parents are special, but they wonder how that is much different than most families.ACTIVIST CONCERNSBeyond being the only same-sex couple they know of in their part of town, Olson and Nichols are political activists. The two were arrested in 2004 protesting President Bush's visit to Duluth."Sometimes you have to make decisions that are personal and based on -- hopefully, a greater good," Nichols said.Those feelings aren't uncommon for activist gay or lesbian couples trying to raise children, said Tony Sheehan, board president of Action Wisconsin."In smaller communities, and particularly in places removed from larger cities where people interact on a more regular basis with quote-unquote nontraditional families, there are some hardships that these people have to deal with on a day-to-day basis," said Sheehan, who raised children with his male partner more than a decade ago.He shuns the term "nontraditional," asking, "What is 'traditional' in America these days?"Still, going against social convention is tough."It wears on people; I know it does," Sheehan said. "They are constantly having to answer questions or talk about why their family is just as important as traditional families."The growing number of gay and lesbian couples raising families has inspired the phrase "gayby boom" in GLBT circles. Often, same-sex couples are adopting children with health or developmental problems, including AIDS and other serious illnesses, Sheehan said.The trend counters the insistence by some Christian activists that marriage can only be between a man and a woman and that its main purpose is the creation of children. But child-rearing is a natural desire for many human beings -- gay, lesbian or heterosexual, Sheehan said.SEEKING ACCEPTANCECouples like Nichols and Olson -- who raise a child together and fight for the rights of themselves and others -- deserve acceptance and respect, Sheehan said.His admiration is echoed by Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson.Bergson made history in 2004 as the first Duluth mayor to sign a proclamation welcoming the Pride Festival to Duluth. He also took tremendous criticism, including hate e-mails and threatening phone calls to his office and home, he said.Still, Bergson stands by the decision and this year will welcome the GLBT community to his city during a reception next weekend."Back in the '50s and '60s, it was about the color of the skin. And today it's about sexual orientation," Bergson said recently. "I suspect in 30 years it will be something else."Nichols said she hopes equal rights for GLBT individuals won't take 30 years, but she acknowledges it could.She and Beth Olson recognize there are many people who don't see things the way they do. Nichols asks those people to try -- even if just for a moment -- to see life from their perspective."What most people don't realize is we are in the midst of our civil rights movement," Nichols said. "We are in the midst of a marriage movement where amendments are being proposed that will further entrench discrimination against our families."These are real families, too."
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