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My Moms and Me

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Happy Mothers’ Day: David Rosen with his “Mom” and “Other Mom.”
Happy Mothers’ Day: David Rosen with his “Mom” and “Other Mom.”

Double the moms means double the love in David Rosen’s family.
by David Rosen
Photo by Theresa DiMenno

One day when I was in fourth grade, the kids on the playground at recess ran around calling each other “gay” or “gay-y” (the extra syllable denoting some sort of super-gay condition). One of the kids came up to me, called me gay, laughed tauntingly, and then ran off. I had no idea what the word meant or why I was supposed to be hurt. That night, I asked one of my moms what the word “gay” meant.

My parents were both elementary school teachers. They had a way of explaining the world to nine-year-olds. Up to that point, they were known to me as “Mom” and “Aunt Vivian.” But I also knew that they loved each other.

“Mom” (Andrea) and “Other Mom” (rapidly promoted from “Aunt Vivian”) have been together 27 years now, since I was one year old. My parents are my heroes, my best friends, my role models.

***

It’s easy to forget how difficult things were for our family just a few years ago. Both of my parents come from Catholic families, and both sets of my grandparents initially shunned them when they first came out as lesbians. My grandparents told my moms that they were betraying their faith and they were going to screw up their kids.

“Other Mom” had it really rough at work. For almost all of my childhood, she worked as a physical education teacher at an elementary school on the southwest side of Houston. Vivian got artificially inseminated in 1987 and gave birth to my little sister, Marsha, in 1988.

Viv’s colleagues knew she was not married and lived with another woman. When she got pregnant, they called her terrible names at school and avoided her in the hallways. One of Viv’s colleagues threw her a baby shower at her school. Of the 65 teachers invited, only two came to the party. For many years, Vivian worried silently about being fired from her job because of who she was and who she loved.

In 1988, my parents bought a house in Alief. Almost immediately, the neighbor next door replaced his backyard chainlink fence with a tall, impenetrable, scary-looking wooden fence. We figured later that it was probably because two women with short hair moved in next door. The neighbors on the other side of our house eventually stopped talking to us, too.

I can remember two instances when our family walked into a restaurant and was denied service. We have been called bad names and flipped off in traffic more times than I can count.

This was all before shows like Glee and Modern Family cast a positive light on gays and gay parents. I remember the night Ellen DeGeneres announced on her show that she was gay. My family was huddled around the television, hanging on her every word. It was one of only a few times from my childhood where I remember feeling like we had someone in our corner.

***

“Mom” spent 15 years as a technology teacher at Grimes Elementary in Sunnyside. She was a skinny gay white woman with glasses, leading classes filled almost entirely with black kids. When I was young, she would let me play hooky as much as I wanted in elementary school—so long as I would come with her to her classroom.

Mom’s classroom walls were covered with colored pieces of laminated paper with quotes about tolerance. On those walls, Elie Wiesel spoke about the Holocaust, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about civil rights, and Ghandi spoke about peace.

If one of her kids could recite one of
the quotes from memory, Mom would give them a piece of candy. She taught a lot of kids a lot of quotes during her 15 years at Grimes Elementary, and she gave away a lot of candy.

***

I joined a fraternity in college. It was a rough-and-tumble group of guys who were almost unanimously conservative Republicans. They introduced me to cheap beer, chewing tobacco, and many other unhealthy habits. They also got me involved in student government.

I climbed the ladder quickly in student government at the University of Houston, and was elected student body president in 2007. That year, we fought what I thought was the good fight—we lashed out against tuition increases, we railed against the skyrocketing cost of parking permits and textbooks, and we called for more transparency in university spending.

By anyone’s account, we were one of the most conservative UH student governments in recent memory. Then, in one of our last meetings, we unanimously passed a bill calling for the school to extend its anti-discrimination statement to include “gender identity and gender expression.”

That night was the first time I had
publicly mentioned to a large group that I had LGBT people in my nuclear family.
Now, I tell our story at least two or three times a week.

***

In July of last year I announced I was running in the Democratic primary for the office of Harris County Treasurer. One of the first things I did was make phone calls to hundreds of local elected officials and precinct chairs to ask them for their support and build up a list of endorsements. I would introduce myself, read a carefully written script, and then ask if I could count on their vote.

In these calls, I would tell people that I supported offering same-sex partner benefits to the employees of Harris County, and that I had two gay parents who were married, but who weren’t able to get the same health insurance benefits that other married couples have always had.

One older woman, admittedly more conservative than most Democrats, showered me with a barrage of questions about my family. I came to the conclusion that she had never met anyone who had been raised by gay parents. “So your parents are gay? How does that affect your sexuality?” “Did you play sports when you were a boy?” “Did you have girlfriends? Do you have a girlfriend?”

These are some of the stereotypes that I often encounter. People who don’t know any better assume that there must be something different about me because of the dynamics of my family.

The truth is, there is something different about me because of the dynamics of my family. If I hadn’t witnessed bigotry firsthand, I probably never would’ve gotten involved in politics. If the people that I loved hadn’t been treated like second-class citizens for all of my life, I probably wouldn’t care as much about the suffering of others. Most importantly, if my parents were not loving, happy, giving people, it’s easy to imagine that I would have taken a different path with my life.

I’m a lucky guy. There is nothing I would change about my family, but there is plenty I would change about the way my parents have been treated over the past 27 years.

My parents become more outspoken and look more confident each time another state legalizes same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, my generation has come out nearly unanimously in support of marriage equality. Almost everyone I speak to agrees that it’s only a matter of time before my parents’ relationship is recognized by the State of Texas.

Someday, “Mom and Mom” will become “Grandma and Grandma.” When that time comes, I look forward to telling my kids the story of how my parents carried themselves with such poise and grace in the face of intolerance.

David Rosen is a lifelong Houstonian and is running as a Democrat for the office of Harris County Treasurer.

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