Tag Archives: Families

We are mothers and fathers teaching our children to love and accept each other’s intrinsic humanness. We are sisters and brothers holding the hands of our siblings with great pride in who they are.

Ally Profile: The Dunham Family

Dunham Family_FP

I am coming out as a straight ally because I have two Gay Moms who love me and take great care of me.  I love them very much. –Jayda Dunham, Age 8

Michelle Caldwell and Serena Dunham met in 2001 at Holy Cross Metropolitan Church, located in Pensacola, Florida and celebrated a Holy Union in 2006. Although they could have legally wed in other states, it was important that their marriage be recognized in their home state of Florida, so they waited until that day would come. That day finally happened on January 6, 2015.

Michelle grew up near Pulaski, Tennessee, where the KKK was started. She observed first-hand the hatred of those who wore sheets to cover their shame, as they burn crosses and hurt people who were a different color, or in any other way, from them.

As a service connected disabled veteran, Michelle is the Founder and CEO of Monument to Women Veterans Foundation. Her organization is dedicated to creating a Monument that will honor and recognize the 2-million women who have served this country and have been in combat since 1948. She advocates for more empowerment of the role of women who currently make up 23% of our Armed Forces.

Serena is originally from Vermont. Coming from a large family, she had always wanted. After winning her battle with breast cancer, the possibility of having a child of her own would be a miracle. When they were given an ultrasound picture, in late 2006, and asked if they would be interested in adopting this baby at birth, they answered with a resounding YES! Serena carried the picture of the ultrasound, in her lunch box, and looked at her picture every day.

The baby was African-American and would be adopted by two white women, living in a predominantly white community. As parents who just happen to be gay, Michelle and Serena were not concerned so much for themselves, they were concerned about the possible discrimination their daughter could experience as a child whose parents are gay. Living in the conservative South, they were also concerned about the discrimination she may face, being a black child with white parents.

Like any good parent, these concerns required further introspection. Michelle and Serena hosted weekly bible study groups in their home. The group would pray over the ultrasound picture, for a healthy baby and guidance in raising their daughter. They came to understand that if God was allowing them to have this child, then God had great plans for that child.

On May 21, 2007, 8-week old Jayda Danielle joined the Dunham Family. Today Jayda is a happy, healthy third-grader who loves science, drama and, most of all, traveling. She is a great athlete, student and recently, received the award for “Terrific Kid” from her school, which, of course, we think fits pretty well! One of the things Jayda loves the most, is helping Michelle work with the homeless Veterans program at Christmas. “Home for Holidays” takes homeless veteran families off the streets and places them in a hotel for 30-days. Santa Claus comes to visit the children and Jayda gets to be Santa’s helper.

As a family, we believe in the basic principle, “To love one another as God first loved us.” We do this without judgment or prejudiced towards others and we strive to teach others by leading a good example. It is our goal to raise Jayda into a well-rounded person. We have taught her to extend God’s Love and grace to everyone, and instilled the importance of the needs of others. She has learned that, despite the world’s differences, all lives are important and matter.

We stand up for Straight Allies because we want our children to grow up in a world that is equal to all people, regardless of race, color, or sexual orientation. We must educate people and reach out across the barriers to see the rainbow inside all of us.

Gary and Nancy Chartrand

Gary and Nancy Chartrand proudly join the “We are Straight Allies” campaign in support of their son, Jeffrey, and for the entire LGBT community. In their own words, they describe the importance for why they are ‘coming out’ as allies. Read their full profile here: http://wp.me/p3PnKk-fV

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Frieda Saraga, PFLAG Jacksonville

Frieda Saraga, Trailblazer and Mother of five children — all adults one gay son, two twin daughters who are lesbian and a son and daughter who are straight — shares how they all love one another very much and supportive of one another and why it is important that we pass a comprehensive Human Rights Ordinance in the city of Jacksonville.

Read Frieda and Len’s story here: http://wp.me/p3PnKk-hd

For More info on how you can pledge your support visit:
http://www.wearestraightallies.com and TAKE ACTION!

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Ally Profile: The Calise Family

Calise_FP_PrintMeet Matthew and Jill Calise.  Matthew J. Calise is a native of Jacksonville, Florida and a proud supporter of his hometown. With a diverse upbringing, he found a passion in the arts. Matthew graduated from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and now proudly serves on the Alumni Board. He has been a long time friend, volunteer, and advocate of Theatre Jacksonville, Players by the Sea, and the 5 & Dime Theatre Company. After high school, he attended Florida State College at Jacksonville where he received his Associate in the Arts degree. Matthew then moved to Tallahassee to pursue one of his dreams of graduating from Florida State University with degrees in both marketing and management. He began his professional career with the Wounded Warrior Project, and is now a marketing coordinator for Swisher International, Inc.

Jill Flowers Calise was born in 1954 in Norfolk, Virginia, to Max and Lantha Flowers (a proud Navy family) along with their first daughter, Cindy. Jill attended Duval County Public Schools, Cedar Hills Elementary, JEB Stuart Jr. High School and N. B. Forrest High School. She pursued a teaching degree at the University of Florida and attained a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of North Florida.

Jill considers herself a patriot and LOVES America. She is passionate about teaching and loves the students she serves. She goes home every day from teaching to two of her other great passions, gardening and her little dog, Gizmo.

We are incredibly grateful that Matthew visited our booth at One Spark this year and bravely chose to  share his family’s story with us.  Matthew’s parents, James (Jimmy) and Jill Calise, were married a little more than 25 years ago.  It was through her sister, Cindy, and her daughter, Jill Anne, that Jill met Jimmy in 1987.  One month before their wedding day,  Jimmy learned that he was HIV positive.  After sharing the news with Jill, he thought maybe they should call off the ceremony.  After careful consideration, Jill knew she still very much wanted to marry Jimmy.  Above all, they loved each other very much and she knew that would get them through any challenge life had ready for them.

In 1988, Jimmy and Jill married and the next year in May of 1989, they had Matthew.  His name means, “gift from God.” Jimmy and Jill lived as a couple for 8 years before deciding that Jimmy needed to openly live his truth.  So, when Matthew was 7-years-old, his father came out to him as gay.  At the time, Matthew says he didn’t fully understand what ‘being gay’ meant, but he clearly remembers how challenging life had been for his parents because of this fact.   Jimmy was disowned by by some of his family members and friends.   Matthew also found it difficult to be open with his friends about who his father was.

It wasn’t until Matthew was almost to middle school that his father’s HIV had progressed into AIDS.  Knowing that he didn’t have much time left, Jimmy’s only hope was that he would live long enough to see Matthew graduate from high school.  Matthew was just shy of 16 when his father passed away.  To honor the impact that Jimmy had on their lives, the wonderful father he was, and the great man he had been, Matthew and Jill each got a tattoo that they display with great pride.  Jill and Matthew are still very close. She tells those she meets, that they are “as thick as thieves.”

Their story seems uncommon, but they are not alone.  Today, many people live ‘under cover’ for fear of discrimination, abandonment, or threats of violence simply because of who they are, or who they love.  We have lost millions of spouses, loved ones, children, sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers due to complications from AIDS while millions more currently live with HIV.  In their statement, Matthew and Jill explain why it was important to them to join the ‘We Are Straight Allies’ community, “In our family, we believe that it takes a village to raise a child. We also believe it takes a village to make a change and create a movement. Today, we become a proud part of that community. One that believes in both love and equality for all.”

We appreciate the Calise family’s willingness to share their story in hopes that our community will begin to celebrate our differences, rather than fear them.

We’d also like to thank the Florida Times-Union for also sharing Matthew and Jill’s story with their readers on this very special Father’s Day.

To learn more about HIV/AIDS, please visit AIDS.gov

Ally Profile: Frieda Saraga

Frieda Saraga_FP_Print_new logoFrieda Saraga, mother of five children — all adults one gay son, two twin daughters who are lesbian and a son and daughter who are straight — they all love one another very much and supportive of one another.

My husband, Leonard and I have been married 62 years and certainly did not envision having such a diverse  family–we both had a great deal to learn.  Since they are all in their 50’s and a little beyond, there were no GSA’s, no local PFLAG chapters and no internet available to us for information but we had the main ingredient–we love our children very much.  We began realizing that being gay or lesbian was even much less accepted by many and I began to hear jokes and remarks that were hurtful and suddenly I stopped friends who were making those remarks and tell them these remarks are not ok to use–we have gay children I became an advocate without realizing it.  Our friends realized they still loved our children and being gay was just one thing about them.  Jacksonville was even more conservative if possible than in this day and age and many religion biases.

Growing up I remembered prejudice for being Jewish–as a child having children stick me with pins to see if I had blood like everyone else–ideas that parents had raised their children with and to realize my children and many of their friends might go thru greater prejudice made both my husband and myself aware that something had to change. After being in retail business with three stores for thirty years we were both at a loss as to what to do when we grow up–I started volunteering at the HIV testing clinic –this was twenty years ago when the gay population was being so infected with the virus.  i took the counseling training with the encouragement of my son who felt I would have compassion for the gay population that was coming in to be tested and have remained an HIV testing counselor during my 16 years at Planned Parenthood and the last four years testing every week end in the Bay Street jail with inmates.

At the same time a wonderful co-facilitator, Judy Higgison and myself were asked to take over an HIV support group called Positive Attitudes that met every Tuesday evening and for the past eighteen years we have been with many wonderful men and women thru the years–thankfully for the last few years we have seen people live their lives unlike the first ten years when we saw so many pass away.  The group is based on attitudinal healing and we both have gained even more than we have given. As this was all happening, about twenty years ago, our son, Scott, again suggested that perhaps we could have a group that parents of glbt children could meet together, thus the beginning of PFLAG of Jacksonville.

We found a place to meet and thru the years we had to find other meeting places and put something I believe about a support group in a small spot in the paper and a phone number with no address for the security of those who might attend.  Those first few years each monthly meeting brought mostly mothers of gay children who were crying and so many were torn because of religious beliefs.  Within time we became a chapter of PFLAG National and thru the years have met every month, have a hot line and have become a viable organization which gives support, education, and advocacy in the community concerning GLBT issues.  We work hand in hand with JASMYN and are active with many organizations in the community.

I have presented programs for companies, college classes and other groups.  Our biggest project being our Scholarship program–the only one in the state of Florida that has awarded over $250,000 to GLBT students since 1996.  Imagine conservative Jacksonville in north-conservative Florida having a program that you would expect to find in a more liberal south Florida!

My husband and I have had the privilege of being such a part of our children’s lives and having their partners and friends become our extended family.  Their older brother and sister are always advocates on these issues–we have a family that has embraced one another for who each person is and the key word LOVE prevails always.

Life brings many journeys –love and caring- made us speak for those who could not speak. I have been overwhelmed by the respect and love we have received from the community. For parents who refuse to love their child for who they are, and not embrace them with love, they have lost the gift of the journey we have traveled –not always easy–but so worth it–we have grown as a family to love and respect differences, not just likenesses.

See Frieda’s video statement here.