Boy’s Mother Says Adults Were Friends, Woman Was Godmother

From — St. Louis Post-Dispatch

April, 3 1996

By Martha Shirk Of the Post-Dispatch Staff

In a case that reflects the complexities of family relationships in the ’90s, a lesbian has asked a judge to give her custody of a child born to a woman she claims was once her lover.

The lesbian says she raised the child, now almost 3, from the time he was 2 or 3 days old until last June, when she returned him to his mother under threat of prosecution.

She gave the court videotapes and albums filled with photographs to prove it. “God gave me a gift when I got T.,” the lesbian, known in court re-cords as A.L., testified at an all-day trial, Tuesday. “I’ve built my whole life around him. He needs me, and I need him.”

St. Louis Family Court Judge Thomas J. Frawley will decide who gets the child after testimony resumes next week.

Leigh Joy Carson, the child’s attorney, is urging Frawley to sign an order of “equitable adoption.” The effect would be to give both women standing as a parent. The child’s father is not seeking custody.

In recent years, many courts around the country, including those in Missouri, have been asked to resolve custody disputes between a gay and a non-gay parent. Frawley and Carson believe this is the first custody case in Missouri involving a lesbian who is not a child’s blood relative.

A-L. is a 35-year-old warehouse worker and 11th-grade dropout. The child’s mother, known in court records as Y.R., is a 25-year-old 10th grade dropout who lives on welfare. Besides T., she has three other children, ages 4, 6 and 8; the two middle children live with their paternal grandparents.

A.L. testified Tuesday that she met Y.R., whom she calls “Pooh Pooh,” at a now-defunct gay nightclub here called “The Spirits.” She testified that they had a sexual relationship during two yearlong periods over the last six years.

A.L. said she ended the most re-cent sexual relationship after Y.R. became pregnant with T. But she allowed Y.R. to live with her during the pregnancy so she would not have an abortion, and Y.R. promised to let her raise the child, A.L. said. “She didn’t want him, and I did” A.L. testified.

A.L. cannot bear children herself because she had a hysterectomy after a childhood accident. Y.R. gave birth to T. on June 19, 1993, and gave him the first name A.L. had selected, as well as A.L.’s surname. When he was 2 or 3 days old, A.L. testified, a friend drove Y.R. and the baby to A.L.’s house. And honked the horn. A.L. went out, and Y.R. handed her the baby through the car window, A.L. said.

“I was so excited,” A.L said “I laid him on my chest so he could hear my heartbeat. But I kept thinking, she’s going to come back. When he stayed the night, I knew he was mine.”

A.L. claims that T. spent only one night with his mother during the two years he lived with her. As proof of A.L.’s maternal role, her attorney offered into evidence the child’s hospital bracelet and his umbilical stump, which A.L. had carefully preserved.

A.L. also described the significant milestones in T’s life, including first word (“ba ba “), his first step and his first birthday party. The -child’s mother in contrast, could not name his favorite book. The child’s mother is seeking to have the case dismissed on the grounds that A.L. has no legal standing. Y.R. denies having had a sexual relationship with A.L. but agrees that they were close friends. She says that she allowed A.L. to keep him “for a week at a time “because she was his godmother”. She denied promising to allow A.L. to raise him.

Y.R.’s attorney, Allen Harris made A.L.’s sexual orientation an issue during the trial. “A few years down the road he will be going to go to school,” Harris said.

“What happens when his friends start making fun of him saying ‘Your mother is gay, your mother is queer’?”

Y.R. “would have the same problem,” A.L. countered.

Since last June, when a juvenile court worker advised A.L. to return the child to his mother, he has little to do with her. On Feb. 9, Frawley ordered that the women share custody temporarily. He now lives with each woman for a week at a time.