A new documentary follows three lesbian families as they fight for equality in Alabama. Watch a trailer and learn more about the still-ongoing struggle for relationship and parenting equality in this state.
The documentary, co-directed and co-produced by Lara Embry and Carolyn Sherer, gives us a glimpse into the lives of these families at the height of the battle for federal marriage equality—but also reminds us that marriage is only part of the picture:
- Cari and Kim had their son Khaya 11 years ago in Mobile, Alabama. When he needed open-heart surgery, the medical staff at the hospital refused to train Cari in how to care for him because they did not recognize her as a parent. “Cari and Kim are not activists by choice,” the filmmakers tell us.
- Kinley was married to a man and had a child with him before she came out. She lost custody during their divorce because she could not afford legal representation. When she discovered that her ex-husband’s new wife was beating the boy, she fought for temporary custody and then became embroiled in a lengthy custody fight in family court where she observed, “the judges here prefer to give a child back to an abusive parent or step-parent instead of a lesbian.”
- Patricia Todd is Alabama’s only openly LGBTQ state legislator, and originally ran for office after testifying about marriage equality at the state capitol in 2005.
The documentary grew out of Sherer’s 2012 photography exhibit, “Living in Limbo: Lesbian Families in the Deep South,” at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. When she traveled with this exhibit to California, she met Embry, a clinical psychologist, and writer who had been awarded the Justice Prize by the National Center for Lesbian Rights in 2009, and had been co-vice chair of the board for The Trevor Project. Embry, an Alabama native, had also been through her own custody battle when her former partner in Florida attempted to use the state’s anti-gay laws to deny Embry custody, despite Embry’s second-parent adoption. (Embry ultimately won.) The two quickly developed the idea of a documentary, just as the federal marriage equality conflict was reaching its zenith.
Despite the wins for marriage equality, however, as the filmmakers tell us, there is still much work to be done:
Even though marriage became settled law in 2015, Alabama’s LGBTQ families remain in jeopardy. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore led the charge to reject the federal rulings recognizing same-sex equality. Judge Moore ordered probate judges, who report to him, to stop issuing marriage licenses rather than grant them to same sex couples. Lawmakers continue to introduce bills that would authorize discrimination in marriage licensing and adoption.
Alabama is one of 28 other states across the country where there are no legal protections for LGBTQ citizens from losing their job, housing, or access to public accommodations. On May 3, 2017, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill into law making it legal for private adoption agencies to follow faith-based policies— such as not placing children with gay couples. While much of the nation has moved toward LGBTQ equality, many states have become bound in conflict, and families that call these states home have suffered.
Sherer notes, “When I started this film, my goal was for America to understand that conservative states needed Federal protection to secure minority human rights. Now, I think these stories illustrate what could happen to Americans everywhere when the lines between church and state are unclear. We refer to this new concern as the potential Alabamafication of America, and it does keep me awake at night.”
She and Embry manage not to make this a film of gloom and despair, however. As Embry, who has returned to live in Alabama, observes, “Before I came back, I would have thought Alabamian’s efforts were Sisyphean—living here, I can see how their efforts are contagious and emboldening and it fills me with hope.”