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More Gay Parents Choose Suburbs - Neighborhoods Becoming Blended

Emily Sweeney, Globe Staff Correspondent

February 24, 2002

WALTHAM - Zane Kuchera is not just any weekend dad. His two children visit him every other weekend at his roomy house on Roseanna Park Drive, where they spend time together. Ten-year-old Zane Kuchera II carefully constructed a futuristic Lego-like roller coaster in his dad's living room. His two-foot high masterpiece, made from blue and purple K'nex pieces, is displayed on the living room floor. Zane's older sister, Alex, 12, often watches television and bangs out rhythms on her electronic drums in her bedroom upstairs.

A few things set this scene apart from many other suburban households: Kuchera lives here with Mark Herdeg, his partner of three years. Bay Windows, a newspaper for the gay community, lies on the coffee table alongside an issue of Wired magazine.

But Kuchera and Herdeg are not alone: According to the 2000 US Census, they are one of more than 180 same-sex couples living in this city of 59,000, at once a historic suburb and a hub for emerging technology businesses. Kuchera and Herdeg, both software developers, bought the house together two years ago and have blended into the neighborhood.

Kuchera and Herdeg belong to the group Gay Fathers of Greater Boston, a network of fathers who meet twice a month at the First Parish Church in Waltham to talk about issues facing their families. Some of the men have adopted children with their partners. Others, like Kuchera, have children from a previous marriage.

Gay Fathers of Greater Boston began with seven men in 1982, and has grown to more than 100 members. All kinds of topics are discussed, such as spending quality time with children and dealing with school administrators. Family outings and potluck dinners are also coordinated through the organization.

"I'm glad I found the group," said Kuchera, 39. "I think it helped my kids get comfortable with the situation."

Kuchera beamed at his two children, and proudly added that he watches over them "like a hawk."

Researchers estimate that up to 14 million children live with at least one gay parent. Census figures show that there are more than a half-million same-sex households in the United States.

Although it appears that there is a growing number of households with at least one gay parent, it's hard to tell if more gay and lesbian couples are moving to the suburbs to raise their families.

But anecdotal evidence suggests that is the case. For seven years, Jenifer Firestone worked at Boston's Fenway Community Health Center, coordinating its insemination program. In 1997 Firestone founded an agency called Alternative Family Matters, an agency that offers family planning guidance to gays and lesbians.

"There's a huge population of lesbian mothers in Metrowest area," Firestone said. Gays and lesbians "are a burgeoning population, and it's increasing as more gay people living in the city have children and move to the suburbs."

Like heterosexual parents, many gays and lesbians are drawn to suburbs for their school systems and big backyards. Firestone said it's important for children of gay parents to connect with other children of gay parents.

Kuchera and Herdeg take Zane and Alex on trips to Provincetown for "Family Week," when scores of alternative families trek to the tip of Cape Cod.

Kuchera was married until 1995. He talked to his children, then 4 and 6, when he came out, reading them picture books like "Daddy's New Roommate." He met Herdeg five years ago, when they both worked for Digital Equipment Corp. He now works for a Newton software company. Herdeg, 38, wanted to adopt, so he and Kuchera have proved to be a good fit.

Alex and Zane live and attend school in North Attleborough with their mother, and they visit their father and Herdeg every other weekend and during school vacations.

They describe their situation as a normal family in a typical neighborhood. "Our neighbors have been great," Kuchera said. They have even noticed another gay male couple living together nearby.

Meg Soens, 46, was happy to see the recent statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics supporting co-adoption by gay couples. She and her partner, Cecilia d'Oliveira, 48, are raising four young children together in Lexington.

Soen is vice president of the PTA and serves on the elementary school's anti-bias committee. She said there is a "handful" of lesbian couples with children in Lexington, and her family gets together with them once in a while for potluck dinners.

"It's nice to have your kids know that there other families like ours," she said.

Soens predates the early wave of gay parents, 10 years ago. The First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Lexington holds occasional potlucks for gays and lesbians and their friends, and those informal gatherings often turn into largely family events.

Soens said gay and lesbian couples blend in, but people must be educated and made aware of the diversity.

"Basically, people are very good and they try to be welcoming. I think it's a lot easier now, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done," she said.

There is an air of acceptance of gay parenting in recent years, but children - especially those who happen to be gay themselves - often have to tackle tough situations at school.

The Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays organization, commonly known as PFLAG, has an office in Waltham on River Street. Pam Garramone, director of the PFLAG Safe Schools and Communities Projects, knows the reality of playground teasing and the grim statistics associated with gay youth: They are three times more likely to have been threatened with a weapon at school, and four times more likely to have attempted suicide, according to recent survey results.

PFLAG provides speakers to schools and community forums to talk about personal experiences about coming out or living with a gay family member.

Garramone said some schools address gay issues better than others. Starting in first grade, some schools are teaching students that families can have two mommies or two daddies.

"Believe me, that sentence alone can produce outcry in the community and can be controversial," said Garramone. "Some gay parents have had to go in and educate their child's school administration, telling them: `This is our family; this is what it looks like. If you ignore our family, you're sending a message to our kid that something is wrong.' "

One PFLAG speaker is Sam Gloyd, 55. A father of three grown children, he works as a psycho therapist and lives in Newton. (There are 230 same-sex couples in Newton, according to census figures.) Gloyd came out when his youngest son was in high school.

Gloyd said he has noticed a decline in attendance of PFLAG support meetings, which may be because of increasing acceptance of gay and lesbians in society.

Gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgendered "issues have become more known to the general public. There are gay characters in the movies and on TV sitcoms. I think the trauma felt 10 years ago is not the same as it was before," said Gloyd.

Zane and Alex say their friends don't question their family situation. On the weekends with their dad, Zane plays video games on his Game Cube and eats chocolate-chip cookies. On Sunday mornings, Herdeg cooks homemade waffles for the children.

Herdeg said they have not come across any discrimination in Waltham. "It has just become more open, and more of no big deal," he said.