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When President Barack Obama declared his support of same-sex marriage preceding his 2012 reelection, many prominent African-American ministers threatened to withdraw their support. It's a familiar refrain to those like Thompson and Allen who grew up in the church, forced to hide their sexuality or risk facing condemnation.
"The traditional black church is the biggest challenge for a black lesbian couple living in the South," Allen says. But she also understands Bible Belt conservatives who interpret the word of God literally. She just wishes they would interpret the whole Bible that way.
"Surely you're not telling me that you believe in one part of the Bible and not the other?" she says. "I can see where you get that interpretation. But if you keep flipping the pages, there is another one that says 'love' and 'don't judge.' So, I believe we can be in complete disagreement about the lifestyle and still be OK with each other and love each other. Because as Christians, that's what our commission is, to love one another and love God."
While gay-affirming ministries are growing even within the African-American church, the Vision Church to which Allen and Thompson and many of their friends belong prefers the term "inclusive." It's founder, Bishop O.C. Allen III (no relation to Tonya), also presides over the United Progressive Pentecostal Church Fellowship, of which Vision is a member church.
Two Sundays ago, Thompson preached a message in Bishop Allen's absence that could've easily applied to the struggles she and Allen have endured to become a family. It was a David vs. Goliath sermon about overcoming the obstacles in your life.
"Every giant must come down," she said, rattling off a list. "Finances. Health. Family. Hurt. Rejection. Lack of support. Feeling alone.
You are not alone."
Since overseeing the conception of their son with Thompson by means of artificial insemination, Allen's new moniker as "the Babymaker" has steadily gained credibility within their segment of Atlanta's lesbian community. Over the past year or so, she's consulted about 20 couples.
Not only is she a one-stop shop of resourceful information and family planning, she's also able to share with them the joys and pains of the entire process. Before taking on new clients, she assesses their financial and relationship statuses to determine if they're suited for parenthood.
"Do you use a turkey baster?" Teretha Jiles asks. It's one of the main questions Allen gets from clients during their first consultations.
A reservist in the Army/National Guard, Jiles has just arrived from drill in full camouflage to join her partner Yesmeen Jarvis, who is already at Allen's apartment with her 11-year-old daughter from a previous heterosexual relationship.
The two of them sport similar close-cropped cuts — Jarvis' is dyed blond and Jiles' is her natural color. Allen starts the conversation by establishing what she calls a "non-judgment zone" before delving into their history. They discussed having their own children before taking a yearlong hiatus from their five-year relationship. When they reconciled two months ago, they picked up the conversation again.
"We talked about it," Jarvis says. "But we didn't know what to do or how to do it."
That's why Allen's willingness to share her experience has made her such a popular resource.
"Now that technology is the way it is, you can Google and learn more about it, but you've still got to find [the donor]," Allen says. "You may know about artificial insemination and tracking ovulation, but you've got to get the sperm, and how do you get it?"
For the most part, she tells them, their budget will determine their options. They're some of the same options she and Thompson considered two years ago, including IVF and sperm banks. She encourages them to sign up on knowndonorregistry.com; she suggests an LGBT-friendly family law attorney; she even explains in intimate detail the process of monitoring ovulation.
When Allen reaches this point in her consultations, she repeatedly emphasizes to clients that at-home artificial insemination is against the law in the state of Georgia.
"I have to say that," she stresses a third and then a fourth time. "But, there is a way to get it in there. And whatever way that you get it in there is your business; it's none of my business."
In the article "Opting into Motherhood" published more than a decade ago in the scholarly journal Gender & Society, author Gillian Dunne wrote about how lesbian co-parents who have children via artificial insemination are "blurring the boundaries and transforming the meaning of parenthood."
The country, and the state of Georgia, are approaching a similar tipping point. In the past three months, gay marriage bans have either been lifted or deemed unconstitutional in five states. The Southern stronghold of Texas joined those ranks last week, when its ban was struck down in federal district court. Two days prior, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed publicly pledged his backing of a new $1 million media campaign to drum up support for marriage equality in Georgia and throughout the South. Reed's announcement as a spokesperson for the campaign is a complete one-eighty from the personal beliefs he "wrestled" with on the issue while campaigning back in 2009. The Southerners for the Freedom to Marry campaign is backed by several LGBT rights organizations, including Georgia Equality, whose director Jeff Graham points to a statewide Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll published last September that shows a plurality of Georgians support gay marriage for the first time.
Even as the state of Georgia inches closer to recognizing same-sex marriage, the battle to loosen the restrictions regulating same-sex conception could just be beginning.
Until then, Allen will advocate for the day when her path to parenthood isn't viewed so radically. It may not be so far away.
A couple of months ago, Allen, Thompson, and Preston were being primed for a potential Atlanta-based reality show on the subject until producers determined there wasn't enough ongoing drama to sell networks on a weekly series. In other words, they were too normal.
The scene at Preston's HippoHopp party is a good illustration. After helping the birthday boy open his presents ranging from a fresh pair of baby Jordans to a bow tie, Thompson and Allen thanked their "village" of 20-plus well-wishers who'd supported them through their first full year as parents. But the expected climax — blowing out the candle on Preston's "Sesame Street"-themed cake — ended up being rather anti-climactic. At the head of the knee-high table, Preston sat in one mommy's lap donning a gold sparkling crown, while his other mother lit the lone candle. Before he could blow it out, he upchucked a solid stream of baby puke, barely missing the cake, the table, and Allen's lap. Without skipping a beat, Thompson waved out the candle and everyone clapped as if on cue.
Whether the kids and parents were applauding the culmination of the last 12 months or Preston's accurate aim in that split second, both were perfect examples of life's little miracles.
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