My very first encounter with the issues involved in lesbians having and raising kids was Choosing Children, a documentary by Debra Chasnoff and Kim Klausner.
I honestly don’t remember where I saw it. I was barely out, dating a reporter that gave me access to so many events that they are all jumbled in my mind. I do remember that the film had been out a few years — long enough to make an impression on the community. And I remember the tears, some happy, some not.
Choosing Children was the first film to chronicle the journey of gay men and lesbians to become parents and contributed to a new definition of family, one that included LGBT parents and their children. It also captures much of the history that has led to recent LGBT family rights victories like the California ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
This year marks the 25th year since Choosing Children’s release. To celebrate, Bay Area LGBT organizations are joining to sponsor a screening of the restored 35 mm film on September 14 at Herbst Theater in San Francisco. The event will raise funds to permanently preserve the documentary on DVD.
If you aren’t immediately familiar with Chasnoff, whom AfterEllen.com profiled in 2007, you may remember her from the Oscar Awards when she won for her 1991 documentary, Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment. She made history that night when she lifted the statue over her head and thanked her then life partner Kim. That was one of the few times I’ve ever seen gay men speechless during an Academy Awards party.
Recalling the making of Choosing Children, Chasnoff writes,
At that time, in our social circle, a frequent topic of conversation was wondering if it would ever be possible for us to have children as open lesbians. We all knew women who had had children while they were involved with men, but none of us knew anyone who had had a child in the context of an out gay relationship.
It seemed really scary and daunting. It was just a given that part of what one gave up when you came out was the possibility of having children, of raising a family. It went with the territory of being out and proud. We all went to political meetings, not to PTA meetings.
Keep in mind that many of the things we scarcely consider now had never been openly addressed. How do lesbians get pregnant? Would a sperm bank even consider a lesbian applicant? If a man would donate directly, would he have a role in the child’s life? What about the need for a father figure to a child? What about having a child with a gay man? And on and on.
Chasnoff and Klausner put ads in gay and feminist newspapers to find lesbians who had kids after they were out. They met as many of the respondents as they could and chose six diverse families to be in the film. Then they set about learning how to make a film. And, to their surprise, they discovered in the process that they wanted to have kids of their own.
“Choosing Children changed my life dramatically,” Chasnoff writes. “In addition to showing me the power of making and distributing a film as a tool for social change, it led me to having children of my own! Kim and I went on to have two sons together, Noah who is now 22 and Oscar who is 16. Kim and I separated in 1997, but we have co-parented these two wonderful young men together and feel so lucky to have been able to choose children.”
We, in turn, are lucky to have brave filmmakers like Chasnoff and Klausner to help pave the way for the rights we now have to create families – and the increased rights to come.
If you’ve never seen Choosing Children – or even if you have – you can learn more about the film and the fundraising celebration here. You can also find information at the site about sponsoring a screening in your area to raise funds for the DVD.
Meanwhile, join us in congratulating Chasnoff and Klausner for this remarkable achievement.