A sick child, a dedicated family, a heartfelt reach out to homophobia, and a surprising response. Is it the Pride week Lifetime special? Nope, it's the Bay Area's feel good queer family story of the year and happily, word of it landed in my inbox yesterday courtesy of protagonist Jaime Jenett. Would you care for a shot in the arm to preserve those tingly feelings from the Prop 8 victory? “Most people think this is a political thing, but it's actually a personal thing,” Jenett told me over the phone. Let's do this. Open your mouth and say awwwwww.
Jenett started a blog with her wife, Laura Fitch upon the birth of their son Simon in April of 2008. It was meant to be a feel good family read, but when Simon was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and acute congestive heart failure, the site quickly morphed into a way for Jenett and Fitch to “keep people updated, and also for us to process,” Jenett told me. “It became a good way to manage.” The East Bay couple's determined fumbles at coping with a situation that really can't be coped with (interspersed with videos of blue-eyed Simon performing feats of adorableness without rival in the metropolitan Bay Area), has made followers of friends and other parents coping with children's illnesses alike.
But – goddammit – the family had to deal with politics that threatened to minimize their bond. “We intentionally got married before the [2008, when Prop 8 was on the ballot] election because we didn't know what was going to happen,” says Jenett. Queer families without the right to legal marriage can be denied visiting rights to their hospitalized children and paid time off from work when their kids are sick.
Even now, with Simon walking and talking in ways they could have hardly imagined when he was hooked onto that ICU as a newborn in the fight for his wrinkly little life, Jenett and Fitch were struck by how even their neighbors misunderstood the import behind gay marriage. One house in the neighborhood still had its “Yes on 8” sticker on it's minivan in May of this year -- and finally Jennet decided to do something about it. She dropped a letter in their mailbox, telling the family she didn't know all about the family she did know, and then posted the note on her blog.
“Prop 8 isn’t going to make it any less likely that someone is gay or that gay people will create families together. Instead, it just makes us sad and feel scared that some day someone may hurt us or our families,” she wrote. The response? Lots of kudos from her buddies online, but nary a word from the neighbor with the minivan. She never got one, in fact.
But life goes on. This summer, the family brought Simon to Camp Taylor, a free residential summer camp for families that have kids with cardiology problems. Finch and Jenett were nervous at attending their session, knowing that most of the attendees “live in the Central Valley in Stockton and Modesto and there aren't many out people there,” Jenett told me. They found out that the camp's founders, and many of the families that support the program were Mormon. Click on the home page of Camp Taylor's website and your computer emits a plaintive version of “God Only Knows.” When it came to anticipating their experience at Camp Taylor, Jenett sure didn't.
But the reception they found at the camp challenged their views of acceptance. “What was amazing was that no one batted an eyelash with us -- we could kind of tell that they hadn't had a lot of experience with queer families, but having kids with a severe heart condition kind of leveled the playing field,” says Jenett. One grandmother approached the family the last day of camp to thank them for coming and sharing their (homo) lives.
It was through this camp that Jenett got an email response to her letter.
“Your letter was written to me,” it began. A mom from the camp, who Jenett doesn't even remember meeting, had found the blog through a recommendation by her daughter, who had became Facebook friends with the couple at camp. Jenett's note to the neighborhood had changed her views on Prop 8 – and on the definition of marriage. “After meeting you two and reading your blogs,” the woman wrote in her email. “I'm so sorry for my stupidity. I saw the love you and Laura shared with each other and Simon. As a fellow heart mother I know whats it's like to have a child fighting for their life. Why would I or should I deny you or Simon the same rights as me.”
Jenett credits the shared experience of cardiovascular disease in a child as the fount of the woman's turn. “People don't get that somebody could be denied visiting family in the hospital. That's what touched her on a visceral level, she thought how could you possibly put families through that,” she says. Credit the Internet for its ability to allow us to delve deeper into the lives of casual acquaintances -- listening to Jenett tell the story, however, one can't help but think that ignorance is harder to support when “the issue” is attached to a face that you know, any face at all.