Nu-queer family

“Are you her mommy?” a little girl asks Penny Miller, 31, as she follows her 3-year-old daughter Amelia Rose around the indoor playground at McDonald’s.

“Yes, I’m her mommy,” Penny says smiling at the curious child.

“Then who’s that?” the little girl counters, pointing to the table where Jamie Haight, 29, sits watching Amelia running around and laughing.

“That’s her mommy, too,” Penny says of her partner of five years.

“Oh,” the little girl says in her most carefree voice before darting away with Amelia to play.

Penny and Jamie, who adopted Amelia at 3 months old, wish everyone would be just as accepting.

“We still get looks when we’re out in public,” Penny said. “A big portion of the world thinks `a same-sex couple raising a child` is wrong and that we’re going to raise her to be gay. But what we are really teaching our child is not to take people at face value. Just because someone is different doesn’t mean that they’re wrong.”

Penny and Jamie are just one of the approximately 46,000 same-sex couples living in San Antonio, according to research done by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law. In a similar study called The Gay and Lesbian Atlas, San Antonio ranked first in the number of queer couples raising children in the U.S.

Although statistics show that gay couples raising families in San Antonio are not unusual, when Penny and Jamie (who is Amelia’s biological aunt) decided that they would raise Amelia after she was removed from an unfit home by Child Protective Services, they wanted to ensure that any red tape they encountered would be handled properly and nothing would come back to bite them once they settled down as a new family.

“We found a support system with our friends and our church,” said Penny. Penny, Jamie, and Amelia are members of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Antonio and Penny is a founder of MCC Families, a networking group open to LGBT and straight members. “Then, of course, we found a lawyer that didn’t have a problem with our lifestyle and was willing to do what it would take to get us Amelia.”

“It is a challenge for same-sex couples `to adopt`, but not as much as it was when I first started practicing law 20 years ago,” said Lisa Vance, Penny and Jamie’s lawyer.

Despite the challenges, Vance says judges in Bexar County have a favorable track record when it comes to approving adoptions by same-sex couples. She still believes, however, that there are some judges and caseworkers currently practicing who let their personal prejudices and politics get in the way.

“You’re not going to find `same-sex adoption issues` in black-and-white,” Vance said. “It’s a very gray issue as to whether or not a same-sex relationship is going to affect a judge’s opinion. You just have to know how to handle the issues with sensitivity and focus on the child.”

According to Patrick Crimmins, spokesperson for the Department of Family and Protective Services state office, there is no policy that separates LGBT individuals or couples from those that are heterosexual. A person or couple’s sexual orientation, he says, is not considered when caseworkers are evaluating them as potential adoptive parents.

“We don’t screen out applicants based on whether they are gay or straight,” Crimmins said. “There are many couples who are the same sex who have adopted children, but we don’t know how many because we don’t keep statistics. It’s just not a factor.”

Numbers may not matter to CPS, but they do to same-sex partners Mark and Andy Sutherland-Treviño, who reside in Northwest San Antonio. Mark and Andy have adopted seven children ranging in age from 21 months to 15 years. The couple made international headlines this past January when they appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about their experiences as a gay couple raising kids.

“We didn’t plan to have seven, it just ended up that way,” Mark said. “San Antonio, fortunately, has some pretty good judges who really are fine with same-sex couples adopting children.”

Like Penny and Jamie, the Sutherland-Treviños say they are not concerned that they are missing part of what society considers a nuclear family. Both couples are surrounded by enough male and female figures in their lives that they feel are suitable replacements for an absent mother or father.

“We have aunts, grandmas, friends that can give `our daughters` the female role model that they need,” Mark said. “Should `our daughters` have questions, I feel comfortable that I can answer them. Personally, I think I can read the instructions on a package of tampons … and feel pretty capable in telling them what to do.” •