This year’s Baltimore Pride is the first since marriage equality was passed in the state, but far from the first for Marylanders who grew up with gay parents.
A recent study released by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law, found that 20 percent of same-sex couples in the Baltimore region are raising children. Just five other regions in the country had higher percentages. Based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, Maryland now ranks 12th for the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children.
Though the stats reflect recent population data, these couples have been around in the state for decades. We decided to talk to two such families, who raised children in the state as young adults and now have children who are adults themselves. We discussed their family life, how things have changed for them — or not — when attitudes in the state and nationwide have shifted more in support of gay rights and marriage equality. What have been their ups and downs, their struggles and their moments of happiness?
Here are their stories.
That Looks Familiar
Ken Travers and Bob Harris mark their anniversary by their first kiss.
That moment was exactly 33 years ago on the day we spoke last week. They still remember it well. “He was wearing a pink T-shirt,” said Harris.
But their long relationship has also included many hidden kisses. The couple met at a bar in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., when Travers was married and had three children. One of his children, Kate Oliver, was 4 when she met Harris. Travers, now 66, ended up divorcing Kate’s mom and coming out at the same time. He has been with Harris, 64, since, and mostly had one day a week with his children until a bitter custody battle ended and he split time more evenly when Kate was 13.
“When joint custody was reached with the kids, it was like me having the first full breath in a decade,” said Travers.
Oliver, now 37, was silent for a while as she listened to her father speak. She sat with them in their screened-in gazebo behind their home in Silver Spring, in a quiet neighborhood of winding streets, full blooming trees and mothers walking their children in strollers. Travers and Harris’ Maltese, Lucas, sat on her lap.
“If we didn’t maintain this illusion of separate bedrooms, of us not touching or showing affection around the kids, my lawyer said to me that I’d never see my children again,” said Travers.
“We knew, and we knew that we weren’t supposed to know or say anything,” Oliver said.
Eventually Oliver had what she called her “a-ha moment.” In high school, she had a teacher who was gay, and saw him once riding up an escalator with someone who was clearly his partner. She called out his name and waved. They heard her and reacted. “I saw the man with my teacher step back a little and then step off the escalator like they didn’t know each other,” said Oliver. “I thought, ‘That looks familiar.’ I had seen my dad do that his whole life with Bob.”
Oliver’s voice broke; her eyes watered. Her father sitting next to her silently looked at his daughter. It had been ingrained in Travers and Harris’ life to not be outwardly couple-y and affectionate. Even now, 33 years in, Harris, who was also once married with children, said he still hesitates when a patient recognizes Travers, an obstetrician. He still feels himself moving to distance himself.
Oliver said her relationships with her father and Bob have “evolved” over the years. She’s been direct since high school with people who asked about her “gay dads.” She eventually married and has two young daughters. Harris, once a trauma nurse, recently quit his job to provide child care for Oliver’s children — children’s playsets sit in their backyard, just beyond a manicured fish pond. To them, Travers is Grandpa, Harris is Pop Pop. Oliver has pushed for marriage equality in Maryland, talking with lawmakers in Annapolis, sometimes bringing along her daughters who would clutch pictures of Grandpa and Pop Pop.
Both Travers and Harris said getting married in Maryland now would be mostly symbolic. “Legally, [getting married] wouldn’t impact us much,” said Travers, who has set up power of attorney and other financial structures already with Harris. “But we want to marry in Maryland, having seen how hard my daughter worked it for it. It was really touching how hard she labored for it.”
They have had a commitment ceremony. In 2007, the pair celebrated in Hawaii, where they plan to move when Travers retires (they later had a civil union in the same state). Oliver and her family were there to watch what she rarely ever got to see between her father and man he has loved for so long — a kiss.
“Even then, we thought, ‘Oh my god — do we kiss?” said Harris. They did, in front of everyone, in front of their granddaughters.
And one later said, “I saw you!”
They Are It
Sometimes a family fits together so perfectly, the interactions seem effortless