Tim Gordon and Earl Hawley don’t fit the 1950s Americana picture of the nuclear family. In fact, as two gay white men who have adopted black children, their family portrait is a snapshot of the very mores surrounding adoption, sexuality and race that America is re-examining.
But when Hawley and Gordon speak, their stories touch on themes familiar to all families-doting grandparents, crocheted gifts and trials of raising a fearlessly defiant 2-year-old.
“A few months after we adopted June, I thought, ‘Oh, thank goodness we didn’t get twins!'” Hawley said with a laugh.
The concept of ‘normalcy’ applies to this Forest Park couple in many of the ways it would apply to any other family. Those similarities are the focus of a photo exhibit sponsored by the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in nearby Oak Park. The exhibit features 20 framed photos of gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgendered people with their families, each accompanied by the family’s story.
The show is called “Love Makes a Family,” and hails from the Family Diversity Projects out of Massachusetts. The exhibit also features the About Face Youth Theatre group, which gives gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgendered youths a chance to tell their own stories.
“PFLAG’s goal with this exhibit is to educate people about how gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgender families function and to acquaint the community with the fact of their existence,” Sylvia Menninga said.
Menninga is a member of the Oak Park chapter of PFLAG, and estimates that at least 100 gay families reside in Oak Park alone.
“We have many such families in our communities who need our support in raising their families. They want to fit in like all families do, and they make fine contributions to our communities.”
Hawley and Gordon do recognize that their family has different qualities than most, but their sexuality is a non-issue. What makes them different is both men have Ph.D.s and are raising two African-American kids, the couple said. Their sexual orientation has little to do with how their family functions, they said.
Meta Kroker, who lives in Oak Park with her wife Joy, came out to her parents nine years ago. Despite some initial misgivings, Meta Kroker’s parents said their relationship with their daughter-in-law is amazingly normal.
“Since I have two (biological) daughters, I never thought I would have a daughter-in-law,” said Meta Kroker’s mother Kate Kroker. “Joy has been a huge plus in my life.”
Kate Kroker is the president of PFLAG.
Meta Kroker’s father Phil Kroker remembered that when his daughter came out to them, he mistakenly gave up the fantasy of ever walking his daughter down the aisle.
“I was wrong about many things,” Phil Kroker said. “One in particular was that we walked Meta down the aisle two years ago this June in front of over 200 dear friends and relatives. What I thought eight or nine years ago was turned topsy-turvy, and now I’ve got a daughter-in-law.”
Holidays for the Krokers have turned out to be fairly similar to what the family imagined they would be if Meta had married a man. Emily Kroker, Meta’s sister, said that nothing has changed about their family any more than if she had a brother-in-law.
Meta Kroker’s wife Joy said her sexuality doesn’t seem to impact her social life either.
“For the most part I feel like I’m mainstream,” Joy said. “Meta and I don’t hang out with a lot of gay couples. We’re not trying to not socialize with gays and lesbians, but most of our friends and family are straight.”
Jackie Zdziarski-West and her lesbian partner Paula are raising three daughters in Oak Park. Both women are veterinarians and have been partners for 18 years. Likewise, they said most of their friends are straight, but it isn’t because they seek out heterosexual people. The Zdziarski-Wests said what they look for in their friends is not a sexual orientation, but their values.
“I don’t think our family is 100 percent like everyone else, but I think that what makes our family different doesn’t originate with the fact that we’re a lesbian couple,” Paula Zdziarski-West said. “I see it more as we are a family that tries to stay rooted in what is important. We’re trying to focus on each other and the people around us. We try to make choices that originate from God, family and community more than a lot of the material things that this culture tries to throw at us.”
Hawley and Gordon, the Forest Park couple, adopted their second child roughly a year after adopting their daughter. June is named for Gordon’s grandmother and Hawley’s mother and their son Charlie is named after their two fathers.