One Love: LGBT Families

The Valentine

There are many ways to define family, and there is no question that today’s families do not all look the same (they never really did). The concept of family within the LGBT community has historically and, out of necessity, been flexible. After coming out, many LGBT individuals are ostracized from their family and friends. However, everyone needs love, and the LGBT community has been actively creating support networks for decades.

Without access to marital, adoption and parental rights, LGBT families have existed outside of the legal framework and have used what options were available to provide protection to their loved ones. States began to pass legislation recognizing same-sex couples in the early 2000s, with Virginia legalizing same-sex marriage in 2014. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court made its landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry. LGBT families are now beginning to have greater access to the legal options available for major life events – getting married, having kids and preparing for the future. Families are just being families.

In collaboration with Richmond Region Tourism’s OutRVA campaign and photographer Michael Simon, One Love: LGBT Families recruited families from the Richmond metropolitan region to pose for portraits and to share their perspectives - from challenges and points of pride and to things they love about each other and about Richmond. 

Anthony and Jason Leone and their daughters of Chesterfield County, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Anthony and Jason Leone and their daughters, Chesterfield County, Virginia
Photographed at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Henrico County, Virginia

Anthony and I have been together for 20 years and were finally "allowed" to legally marry the year our twin girls were born, two years ago. We are both listed on their birth certificates as their fathers. That is rare but thankfully becoming more common. Creating our family was a challenge from the beginning. We worked through three failed adoptions before meeting our surrogate. Here we are two years later with twin girls who are picky eaters, don't like nap time and love to sing and dance. We cherish every minute of it! We love each other as much as any other family.

Jason Leone

India Lipton, Dylan Lipton-Lesser and Shirley Lesser of Chesterfield County, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

India Lipton, Dylan Lipton-Lesser and Shirley Lesser, Chesterfield County, Virginia
Photographed at Greater Richmond ARCpark, Richmond, Virginia

Shirley and I married on October 6, 2014, the day same-sex marriage was legalized in Virginia. Shirley then adopted our son Dylan three months later. She was the one of the first legally gay parents in Virginia to adopt a child as a legal spouse of the birth parent. Our adorable and inspiring son has special needs and uses a walker and hearing aids. He's had 22 brain surgeries to treat a condition commonly known as “water on the brain.” We are pretty typical in raising our son and live in a single-family home in the ‘burbs. Dylan participates in soccer and goes to school. Our greatest wish is for our son to grow to be a healthy, happy, contributing member of society.

India Lipton

Sam and Caroline Moyer-Kardos of Richmond, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Sam and Caroline Moyer-Kardos, Richmond, Virginia
Photographed at Black Hand Coffee Company, Richmond, Virginia

Family, to me, means safety, security and love. Family means people who will accept you for your true self; people with whom you can be totally authentic. Samantha and I are newlyweds, and we are so happy that we could blend our two extended families who mean so much to us. Having gotten engaged just a few months after marriage equality passed in Virginia (and just a few months before marriage equality became legal nationwide), we got really lucky – we didn’t have to postpone our marriage plans based on the law. We know that the hard work and struggles of those who came before us helped give us our right to get married when we wanted to.

Caroline Moyer-Kardos

Rachel Leyco, Jennifer Jackson and sons Elijah and Lucas of Chesterfield County, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Rachel Leyco, Jennifer Jackson and sons Elijah and Lucas, Chesterfield County, Virginia
Photographed at Pocahontas State Park, Chesterfield County, Virginia

Elijah was born before our marriage was legally recognized in Virginia. We temporarily relocated to Washington, DC, to assure he would be born where both of our names could be on the birth certificate. My wife then had to adopt the son that was genetically hers (I had carried) to assure her parental rights would be recognized in Virginia. This challenge was not unique to us but was the path chosen by many having children before marriage equality. When Lucas was born here in Richmond, just months earlier our marriage had been legally recognized, allowing us both to be listed as parents on his birth certificate.

Jennifer Jackson

Kate, Forde, Caroline, Piper and Travis Hall of Henrico County, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Kate, Forde, Caroline, Piper and Travis Hall, Henrico County, Virginia
Photographed at Kings Dominion, Hanover County, Virginia

Our oldest came out to us as transgender in 2015. Now, we have two daughters and a son, but we're essentially the same family – except that maybe with our hearts opened a bit wider.

When we told our two younger children that their brother truly felt she was a sister, we were worried they would resist the change, but they barely skipped a beat. We couldn't be more proud of the way that they wrapped their minds and arms around their big sister. They're all fantastic kids!

Kate Hall

Monet and Nandi Alexander-Hinton of Richmond, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Monet and Nandi Alexander-Hinton, Richmond, Virginia
Photographed in Carytown, Richmond, Virginia

Family is everything to us. Everything we do is for our family to have a better life. Family is all about love, happiness and acceptance. My family is absolutely insane. We have very strong personalities that can often bump heads, but at the end of the day, we love each other unconditionally.

Monet and Nandi Alexander-Hinton

Philip Crosby and David Allan Ballas of Richmond, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Philip Crosby and David Allan Ballas, Richmond, Virginia
Photographed at Richmond Triangle Players, Richmond, Virginia

Family is both the one you are born into, and the one you choose. We have family that are blood relations, and family that are close in spirit. For so many years, our immediate family unit was not considered equal to others in terms of our love or our commitment. Thankfully, that has changed, and we are now recognized as a family like any other.

Philip Crosby and David Allan Ballas

Arianna Carrington, Michelle Livigne CuzimEdgy, Natasha Carrington and Reann Ballslee, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Arianna Carrington, Michelle Livigne CuzimEdgy, Natasha Carrington and Reann Ballslee
Photographed at Godfreys Restaurant and Nightclub, Richmond, Virginia

As a drag queen, "family" means those who look out for you. It's a group of other performers who are willing to help share tips and tricks, fix a busted zipper, grab the exact shade of lip stick you need and, above all, will support your crazy ideas. My family makes me proud daily. Natasha fights a devastating mental illness daily, but does so publicly, sharing her story with others who may need assistance. Michelle pushes the envelope on drag with unique costumes, hair and makeup. Her reign as Miss Capital City Gay Pride proved that Richmond's drag scene was growing and accepting of different styles.

Ryan Allen/Reann Ballslee

Carol Schall, Emily Schall Townley and Mary Townley of Chesterfield County, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Carol Schall, Emily Schall Townley and Mary Townley, Chesterfield County, Virginia
Photographed at Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, Virginia

Emily was born in 1998, a time when it was very risky to be out as an LGBT person. Yet, it was clear that neither Mary nor I could deny that Emily was our child. We could never pretend that one of us was anything less than her mom. We were the plaintiffs in Bostic v. Rainey Case for Marriage Equality that went to the U. S. Supreme Court and ultimately won marriage equality for Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. You see, names matter. Names like “mom” and “wife” make all the difference in the world. That is why we were a part of this case. That is what we won on October 6, 2014: the simple and profound right to call each other family.

Carol Schall

Grant Mansfield and Dominique Vines of Richmond, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Grant Mansfield and Dominique Vines, Richmond, Virginia
Photographed at Virginia Commonwealth University Monroe Park Campus, Richmond. Virginia

Family is more than just folks who share our DNA. Our family consists of those who love each other unconditionally, who choose to share a life together and stand by one another through thick and thin. We may not share the same skin color, cultural backgrounds or religious traditions, but we are one family through love and commitment. One of our favorite things about Richmond is its diversity. We are not the Confederate Richmond of the mid-1800s. Today, you can find people from all walks of life living and working together to make our city a better place for our children.

Grant Mansfield

Virginia Hayden and Nicole Gibson of Richmond, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Virginia Hayden and Nicole Gibson, Richmond, Virginia
Photographed at ChildSavers, Richmond, Virginia

We were really happy when my Mom surprised me and came to our wedding in Vermont, September 10, 2011. She was skeptical about coming because she had such a hard time dealing with the fact that I was marrying a woman. But in the end she said she knew I was happy, and that's all that mattered.

Nicole Gibson

Ellen and Israel Shaver of Chesterfield County, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Ellen and Israel Shaver, Chesterfield County, Virginia
Photographed at the Valentine, Richmond, Virginia

I had MRSA in 2009 and came out publicly in 2010 as a transgender person. I have NEVER thought to go back. In fact, being out has kept me alive. I'm more or less a “single mom.” My son is the most entertaining child I have ever met. He has Asperger's syndrome, and that doesn't stop him. His ability to make costumes is truly a unique talent.

Ellen Shaver

Gay and Robyn Giles with Kaitlyn, Megan and Ryan of Hanover County, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Gay and Robyn Giles with Kaitlyn, Megan and Ryan, Hanover County, Virginia
Photographed at Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge, Richmond, Virginia

Family is dancing in the kitchen, holidays filled with love, abundance and prosperity. Family is who you come to at the end of the long day to be your steadfast, your rock. Family is safety from the outside world. We may not always get along but we've got each other's backs.

We have a strong faith and love our church. We have seen it more than double in size over the last few years, and it's great because their values are based on loving principles. I believe love, tolerance and acceptance are what will change the world.

Robyn Giles

The Smith-Carter-Janke-Todd Family of Henrico County, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

The Smith-Carter-Janke-Todd Family, Henrico County, Virginia
Photographed at Maymont, Richmond, Virginia

My family is unique because it is large in unconventional ways. My husband and I have been married almost 13 years and have three children together. I recently came out as a transgender man. My husband's girlfriend of four years lives with us. My boyfriend, who is also transgender, has a wife and a daughter that we consider an extension of our family. But in so many ways, we are the same as every other family. We argue over whose turn it is to clean the kitchen. We coordinate schedules for taking kids to and from classes, arranging sitters when we all want to go out. We argue over whether to get a new dog or not. We cuddle on the couch and watch TV.

Tyler Smith

Rodney Lofton and Faron Niles of Richmond, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Rodney Lofton and Faron Niles, Richmond, Virginia
Photographed at Comfort restaurant, Richmond, Virginia

In the Capital of the Confederacy, where some still fly the Confederate flag and racism still rears its ugly head, Faron and I are proud to be an interracial married couple. We are not pioneers by any means; we recognize the challenges of being not only a gay couple, but an interracial couple. We rely on our love and the love of our family to support and affirm our union. Faron and I were married on July 4, 2015, after the passing of Marriage Equality. When I reflect on a moment where our families made us proud, it would be the participation of not only our parents walking us down the aisle, but Faron's son and brother standing in as groom's men, and his daughter standing in as a groom's person.

Rodney Lofton

Ted Heck and Laura Goren of Richmond, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Ted Heck and Laura Goren, Richmond, Virginia
Photographed at Center of the Universe Brewing Company, Ashland, Virginia

Family is the people you feel closest to. Sometimes you are related to them, and sometimes you choose them. These are people who care about each other and who will make sacrifices to help each other.

We get frustrated with the fact that many people see us as a cis heterosexual couple, and our identities become erased, mine as a queer trans man, and Laura's as a queer person. Or if we're read as queer, we’re not seen a couple since we don't often engage in public displays of affection. It's a small thing, in the scheme of things, and not something we expend a lot of energy worrying about.

Ted Heck

Sigga Eiriksdottir with Brenda and Mahnaz Moosa and sons Carter and Dawson of Chesterfield County, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Sigga Eiriksdottir with Brenda and Mahnaz Moosa and sons Carter and Dawson, Chesterfield County, Virginia
Photographed at Short Pump Town Center, Henrico County, Virginia

Our family is the United Nations. It's multiracial and multicultural. Our twin sons are African American, my wife Mahnaz is Eastern Indian and I am fondly referred to as the pasty white one. We are a same-sex couple that decided to adopt and moreover to have an open adoption. We see the birth mom and her family every year. Our families have disowned us – my entire family for my sexuality and Mahnaz's father for adopting African American children. So we have tons of chosen family, including chosen grandparents for our sons. Sigga, our Icelandic foreign exchange student, lived with us for two years. Her family has become our family.

Brenda Moosa

Kevin Corn and Paul Brockwell Jr. of Richmond, Virginia, Michael Simon, 2016, From the collection of: The Valentine

Kevin Corn and Paul Brockwell Jr., Richmond, Virginia
Photographed at Quirk Hotel, Richmond, Virginia

The term “family” is often a code word used to indicate whether someone we know is gay, lesbian, bi or trans. Family has also come to mean more than just our blood relatives, but also the people who have loved and lifted us up when we needed it most.

We're both (now) proud, churchgoing Baptists (American, not Southern). Kevin grew up Catholic, and I've been in the Baptist church since the cradle roll. Our church is an incredibly affirming and welcoming community of faith in one Richmond's oldest suburbs with a reputation for being stuffy (Windsor Farms).

Paul Brockwell Jr.

Credits: Story

Exhibition Sponsors: Altria Group, Inc., Capital One, Diversity Richmond and Virginia is for Lovers

Photographer: Michael Simon

Project Manager: Meg Hughes

Project Partner: Richmond Region Tourism

Special thanks to all of our wonderful participating families.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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