Jonica and Nkenge Burkhead of Hazel Park with their children, Patric, 9, and Johan, 2.

Lesbian and Transgender Moms Changing the Face of Motherhood

Non-traditional Families Celebrate Love and Parenting on Mother's Day

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Mother's Day is an opportunity to recognize the growing profile of lesbian and transgender mothers through personal stories, which Between The Lines asked willing families to share along with a photo. In many ways, these women and their children are a lot alike - compassionate with deep, unconditional love for each other. By living their lives authentically, these families are showing the world that a healthy bond between a parent and a child knows no boundaries.

The Burkhead Family

The best part of motherhood for Nkenge Bulkhead of Hazel Park, she said, "is observing people, children, with a fresh untainted view of this world explore it. The innocence of parent to child interaction. An excuse to give into my own childlike desires."

Her wife, Jonica, too, said she loves exploring the world with her family, in addition to dancing in the living room together and playing video games.

"I enjoy spending time with my sons and seeing the joy in their eyes when they learn a new skill or discover a new park. My favorite part of the day is coming home from work and seeing my boys rush to the door with happiness. Motherhood is great, but sharing this experience with my wife makes life seem magical. Nkenge and I have a great balance, where one of us might fall short the other parent stands tall."

Jonica, the non-biological mother, said the Obergefell v. Hodges case was huge for her.

"I was very happy to be legally recognized by the U.S. as a married couple. That meant I could give my family great healthcare benefits through my job. Also, that my wife and I could receive government benefits such as filing taxes together and so forth."

When asked what advice they would offer to other lesbian and transgender mother's just starting out, they agreed "it's important to connect with other queer families so that the children see other families that look like their own."

Christi Smarch with her mom, Diana

The Smarch Family

Since she was a little girl, Christi Smarch of Madison Heights has always had a strong relationship with her mother, Diana.

"A good portion of my friends called her 'mom' when I was growing up and even now. She is the kind of mom I think everyone wants to have," she said. "My mom will make me dinner and muffins and then have a blast on the dance floor with me. We always have a great time when we are together."

It took some time for Diana to get used to the idea that Christi - the middle child and her only daughter - is a lesbian.

"I came out later in life after being married and having a child," said Christi, mother to her 22-year-old gay son Drake.

"I gave her the space she needed and the time. It was not long before she came to terms with everything and admitted that all of her issues really stemmed around simple fear for me. 'The world can be a cruel place,' she told me once. I understood her fear then and I understand it even more now."

Christi is married to her wife, Misty Gamez, who gave birth to their now 4-year-old daughter Gracie, the result of a successful intrauterine insemination.

"It is no different in that she is my beautiful daughter and I love her with all my heart," said Diana. "My pride in her love of her wife, her son and daughter knows no bounds. I've seen her overcome such great trials with strength and grace. She has become a beautiful, loving and brilliant lady."

Christi describes her mother as the "kind person who always looks for the best in people."

When asked what kind of advice she would give to other mother's with LGBTQ children, Diana said, "Please try and understand that your child is your flesh and blood and they only want one thing, to be loved and accepted by you. They are no different in their heart than before they shared their heart. To not love and hold them is losing God's most precious gift."

From left to right: Jamie Blatnikoff, Leah Blatnikoff, Leslee Kanar, Annette Kanar, Emily Rubinstein, Randi Rubinstein, Craig Janes. Wedding day at Lelli's on the Green in Farmington Hills.

The Kanar Family

Annette and Leslee Kanar of West Bloomfield, who each have children from previous marriages, were married in August 2015.

"Our kids walked us down the aisle, which was wonderful," said Annette, noting that it was important for them to get married to solidify their relationship. "We're not afraid to tell our story because we want people to know they can live their truth and live a happy life with family and friends. Be legit. Those that love you will continue to love you."

Known in their community for being role models for their children, Annette said, "Our famous saying is 'two moms are better than one.' The kids call us bonus moms."

The couple built a brand new home to accommodate their children who range in age from 16-26. "We don't all live together. We never have. But when they come over, we cook and have fabulous meals. We all get along great," said Annette. "We lean on each other for support. We value each other's feelings and opinions. When you love your kids unconditionally, they love you back."

Sarah Mackey, Nicole Derusha-Mackey and their son, Devin Addington of Swartz Creek. Photo courtesy of Amanda Clark Photography

Sarah, Nicole & Devin

Sarah Mackey has been in the lives of Nicole Derusha-Mackey and her biological son, Devin Addington, since he was 5. Devin, now 12, was born with Barth Syndrome and underwent heart transplant surgery when he was just 9 weeks old.

"When we took Devin to the doctor or hospital, as we often did, they would never acknowledge Sarah as a parent," said Nicole. "For years, she was always listed as 'Friend' or 'Other.'" That changed when their marriage became legal in Michigan. Devin was 8 at the time. "Sarah was now my legal spouse, and recognized as Devin's parent. It seems like a minor thing, but being a parent in a medical setting gives you a voice. And as the parents of a chronically ill child, your voice is everything."

Nicole said she has enjoyed seeing the world through her son's eyes. "He is an extraordinary, charismatic, and extremely loving little human who has faced many challenges in life. Leading him through some of those challenges, and standing by his side as he works through others, is an incredible journey, and I appreciate the person it's helped me become."

When asked about her parenting journey with Sarah, Nicole said she has been the "perfect partner. She has been so supportive since the moment she entered our lives, and I couldn't be more grateful. She's the balance that I need in parenting - the logic to my emotion, and the bad cop to my good cop - much to Devin's chagrin."

What does Devin think? He said, "I'm proud to have two moms because some people usually don't even have two moms. My mom is nice, and sometimes Sarah is nice."

LaKeisha Burchett, secretary of LGBT Detroit, with her son Jacobian Lawrence Burchett

The Burchett Family

At 20 years old, Jacobian Lawrence Burchett is working hard and trying to decide what he wants to do with is life, but there is one thing he knows for sure.

"I love my mom for giving me life and raising me. I can talk to her about anything on this Earth. We may not see eye-to-eye about certain things as time and life goes on, but she is always there to help me understand, and for that, I am grateful."

That kind of respect and admiration is something he learned from his mother, LaKeisha Burchett.

"I enjoy guiding and instructing Jacobian. I enjoy showing him how to live and love others and what he should do to preserve the value of his life in general," she said. "I do my best to make him smart and I always try to keep him active in the mind. I made him an intentional person."

Jacobian lives with his mother and her fiancee Terry Reeves, who she will marry on Aug. 5 this year. The couple has been together for six years, which LaKeisha said she has always had an open dialogue with her son about.

"I have raised him to respect love and that family comes in very different shapes, colors and spiritual natures. I did not bring it to him until he was fully aware and able to process and articulate his feelings on my relationships that I have had," she said. "There were many challenges along the way. Mostly about myself being a lesbian and the relationship with his father. But he has been a Phoenix throughout and he now understands greater than he has ever."

Jacqui Leaonna Turner and Kara Marie Ramsey of Plymouth with their 8-year-old daughter

Jacqui Leaonna Turner and Kara Marie Ramsey

As Jacqui Leaonna Turner of Plymouth began her transition two years ago, the way she felt about her two children never changed.

But, it was her transgender daughter, who was 5 at the time, that "had the forsight to teach me about real courage while being 'true' to my authentic self," she said about her youngest child who began displaying signs of being transgender as early as the age of 3.

"And now that 'she' has passed the 'torch of light' and life unto me, I feel obligated to inturn share it with the world and other children that may identify as being transgender...that 'we' are all beautiful, both inside and out." Mother's Day for Jacqui and her fiancee, Kara Marie Ramsey, means "being a surrogate mother to the children of the world, as 'we' guide and show them that 'we' are all deserving and entitled to self-identity and self-exploration of our own unique qualities as we live and grow into our own 'truths' of becoming the best versions of ourselves that we possibly can...as we are all teachers as well as students to the miracle of life."

BTL wants to hear more real-life stories about people and things happening in the LGBTQ community. Contact kate@pridesource.com to share.
  • Latest News

Enter To Win

Enter contests to win great prizes like CDs, DVDs, concert tickets and more

Special Section: World AIDS Day
Rising Above

Activist Cleve Jones has lived an extraordinary life, filled with world-changing friends and figureheads from Harvey Milk to Dustin Lance Black.

View More World AIDS Day
This Week's Issue

Download or view this week's print issue today!