Liberty Press

Donor Sibling Registry Supports New Families

As more and more children are conceived through artificial insemination, more and more teenagers are beginning to wonder about the possibility of additional family. Back in September 2000, Wendy Kramer and her son Ryan began to seek out information to see if Ryan had any half-siblings.

“It all began when my son was curious if he had any half-siblings and sadly we found there were no organizations to help with the search,” Kramer said. Kramer found that there was no central agency that was built to assist families and individuals find their biological counterparts.

Since then, Kramer has helped over 6,100 half-siblings (and/or donors) connect with each other through the help of the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR), which the Kramer family founded. The worldwide organization, based out of Boulder, Colo., helps families and siblings connect with each other when there is a mutual interest.

Kramer was always open with her son about his birth and she continues to be a huge proponent of a child’s right to know. “At DSR we support a child’s curiosity because while it may not be important to the parent, we really need to honor the child’s need to know,” Kramer said.

Another factor in the disclosure process is understanding that some parents haven’t been open with their children, and Kramer’s son Ryan had that very experience.

He’d found a half-sibling, but the mother of his half-sister hadn’t told her daughter and wasn’t planning on it. It can be a very emotional and trying experience, Kramer says. It’s one of the struggles of having donor siblings.

Other struggles include the non-biological parent feeling left out since there is no biological connection with the child, especially when they are meeting other blood relatives. A local Kansas City couple, Tracy and Emily Lawler-White recently had a baby through donor insemination. The process of finding a donor and becoming pregnant was smooth and easy, they said. The couple, who have been together for 11 years are enjoying life with their first child and are learning about DSR now, so when the times comes to talk with Jonas, their newborn, they are ready.

“Our doctors didn’t talk about a sibling registry,” Tracy said. “But we stumbled across it and now we’re members of the Yahoo group and are just enjoying learning about the process.”

While the couple doesn’t have a need at Jonas’ young age to search out siblings, they are following the stories of similar families, and learning how to build up trust and honesty with a donor-inseminated child at a young age.

Emily came from a large family and didn’t see the need to know about Jonas’ half-siblings, but through the group, she understands why children may want to know about their relatives. “It has helped me to understand what Jonas’ perception might be and what will happen as he gets older,” Emily said.

While there are a lot of concerns parents have when it comes to extending their families, there is something unique and rewarding seeing a child connect with a sibling.

“They share personal experiences, issues they’ve had, their challenges and their joys,” Kramer said. “It was absolutely worth it.”

There are many groups to help a family learn and decide what is best for them. You can connect with the Donor Sibling Registry at http://www.donorsiblingregistry.com.

In addition to the DSR organization, there is a local group in Kansas City, the Midwest Alternative Family Alliance (http://www.kcmafa.org), which is a collection of local gay and lesbian parents and prospective parents that offer a voice, support and a way to connect with each other.

This article appeared recently in Liberty Press.

Phil, Fired? Say it Ain’t So

I received a great email tonight from my editor at Liberty Press. She was updating us on our deadline for the March issue, but what she said made me laugh.

We all know that the wonderfully gregarious party maven (pooper) Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow last week resulting in six more weeks of winter. (I think Kansas City failed to take the notice with high 60′s yesterday but snow today. Maybe we are still in winter? I digress.

My editor’s seven-year-old was posed a question: What if Phil was replaced? Interesting. Sadly, in this economy many people are being forced with that very proposition. Some view it as a negative, others as a positive. I can’t really tell you what to do. All I can do is offer help. From the articles and blogs I’ve been reading there are a few constants that come through all the suggestions.

1) Relax. Enjoy the time off. I know it’s hard to do when you’re stressed about health insurance and making rent, but use the time off to re-focus yourself. (And pick up a book! A few suggestions.)

2) Research. Even if you were let go from your job, was it a job you loved? If not, use this time to find out what you really love. (Focus on your Goals.)

3) Re-visit. This time can be used to re-network yourself and re-acquaint yourself with lost friends in your circle. (Focus on People.)

4) Revamp. Add to you! Take a class at the local college or just do something you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time. You have it now; use it wisely!

5) Re-give. Seinfeld made this word a part of our language, but this word has new meaning here. For the purpose of this blog, I mean that you should give some of your time to an organization or group you care about. Use the skills you have to help them out.

These of course are just suggestions. Staying under the covers sounds good to me too!

For days my editor’s seven-year-old thought about Phil getting fired as children do. He came to his mom and said he didn’t want the groundhog to be out of work even if he is only right 40% of the time! A great laugh for stressful times. Good luck!

First Gay Marriage in Kansas

Lawrence, Kan. – - 1,800 miles. A two-hour flight. Nine years. Those numbers signify the distance Lawrence residents Mike Silverman and Dave Greenbaum had to travel to become legally married.

With the recent decision by the California Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage, Silverman and Greenbaum knew right away that they were going to become legally married.

The journey began over 12 years ago when Silverman was a student at the University of Kansas and Greenbaum was going to law school. Silverman’s roommate introduced them because they were both Mac computer lovers. They became quick friends. However, they didn’t immediately come out to each other.

“We’d been dating the whole time and didn’t know it,” Greenbaum said. “It was great because we started out as great friends. We could take the relationship to the next level.”

After dating for a few years, Greenbaum had a realization: they’d been living together for awhile and he said to Silverman, “If we were a straight couple, we’d probably be married by now.” Silverman agreed.

Soon thereafter, they married in a traditional Jewish wedding in Omaha, Neb.

“We found the Jewish community to be pretty open minded,” Greenbaum said. “I’ve always wanted to have a Jewish wedding. So, we asked.”

To their surprise, after meeting with the Rabi, who has the sole discretion of religious ceremonies performed in their synagogues, the marriage was approved.

Part of their marriage in traditional Judaism was having a ketubah which stated the couple would need to seek ‘any and all recognition of their relationship.’ Up until a month ago, that wasn’t possible.

“I was at work and something came across the screen that the California Supreme Court had overturned gender exclusive marriage,” Greenbaum said, who immediately called Silverman.

“By the time he’d called, I’d already started making reservations to go,” Silverman said. Having already been married in the eyes of the church for nine years, the trip to California was somewhat anticlimactic. But that didn’t stop the couple from enjoying the moment. Standing in line, filling out the paperwork and talking with other couples from all over the state were all just a part of a moment of making history.

They were regarded as the first out-of-state couple to get married, and thus the first married gay couple in Kansas. But that’s not the focus Silverman and Greenbaum want to take.

The couple wants to turn this story away from a same-sex marriage story to a simple love story: One person taking care of another for a lifetime.

“I tell other couples to really take advantage of this,” Silverman said. “There is something different about a state office pronouncing you married. It’s sort of a magical thing.”

Greenbaum agreed. “Despite the Missouri and Kansas Constitutions which don’t allow state recognition of our marriage, it shouldn’t deter other couples from that recognition. They will get protections abroad and it also doesn’t mean your family and friends won’t recognize it. Our goal is the day when people say, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

This article was published in the July 2008 issue of Liberty Press.

KC Pride Celebrates 30 Years

Kansas City – - This year Kansas City Gay Pride will celebrate its 30-year anniversary with music performances, a commitment ceremony and various other festivities.

The events, held from May 30-June 1, will again bring together people from all backgrounds and orientations in celebration of the GBLT community. “What started out as a small picnic has grown to include all the many facets of our community,” John Koop, President of KC Pride, said. “[We] come together to celebrate our gifts, talents, accomplishments, losses, and gains.”

As in years past, the entire celebration, from start to finish is free to all participants. The pre-events start May 28 with an interfaith service on May 28th at Metropolitan Community Church at 7 pm followed by an AIDS Memorial dinner on the 29th.

The celebration officially starts on Friday when the Street Blast begins at 6pm at 19th & Main where it will last until midnight and feature world-renowned artist Martha Wash. Wash is best known as one of The Weather Girls, whose international hit It’s Raining Men has become a gay anthem. Last year, over 17,000 people packed the streets for the kickoff event.

The two-day festival, held in Liberty Memorial/Penn Valley Park starts Saturday, May 31 and will bring over 60,000 residents and visitors alike to one location.

“It’s not a party,” Koop said. “This is the only event where every organization comes together and works together. To me it’s a political, educational and celebratory event.”

Saturday will be jam-packed with multiple stage acts beginning at 11 am and going until 10 pm, rain or shine. Coming all the way from Amsterdam is 2Unlimited, the top-performing Eurodance group that was formed in 1991, and has produced hits including Get Ready For This, Twilight Zone and No Limit.

Closing the festival on Sunday will be the DC Cowboys, a gay dancing group from Washington D.C., as well as Deborah Cox.

For the second year, there will be a commitment ceremony held at 3 pm at the main stage. Couples wishing to make the public commitment with their partner should visit the Website and follow the instructions to participate in the ceremony.

“We are all out there and more importantly, it shows we can be out and public,” Koop said.

President of KC Pride for the last five years after volunteering for 15 years prior, Koop continued, “The best message this event sends is that ‘we are here.’”

The Hyatt Regency Crown Center is this year’s host hotel. When booking, request special KC Pride pricing, or click the link on the KC Pride website. Also, for up-to-date festival information or to volunteer, visit www.kansascitygaypride.org.

This article was published in the May 2008 issue of The Liberty Press.

Finney County Attorney calls gays “unlawful”

This story appeared in the April 2008 issue of Liberty Press.

Garden City, Kan. – Students at Garden City Community College (GCCC) were given quite a presentation on January 30. In response to a sexual assault on campus, the college invited Finney County Attorney, John Wheeler to give a talk on sexual offenses, prevention of such offenses, and procedures to follow after an offence has occurred.

To the surprise of some in the over 100 students in attendance, Wheeler made the following statement during his presentation: “Homosexuality is a crime in Kansas.” His PowerPoint slide, obtained through a student showed the word ‘unlawful’ in all capital letters.

One student was visibly shaken and voiced her concerns about the message.

Kristie Stremel, a musician from Kansas City and a newcomer to GCCC, took offense to Wheeler’s comments. “I just wonder why he’d bring up a law like that. The Supreme Court has found those laws unconstitutional. But he still felt the need to tell the gym full of students that it [homosexuality] is a crime in Kansas.”

Stremel sent e-mails to friends, one of her professors and the media expressing her outrage.

“I’m not used to going to lectures and hearing stuff like that,” Stremel said.

“I came full-circle into the gay world when Mr. Wheeler made those comments. If there was a kid in the audience who was uncomfortable with his/her sexuality that comment must have been devastating.”

The sodomy law that Wheeler was making reference to is still technically on the books in Kansas, but is effectively unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

Kansas City Lesbian, Gay and Allied Lawyers issued a press release saying, “The Lawrence decision rendered both the Kansas […] sodomy statutes unconstitutional […] Mr. Wheeler’s statements were misleading and wholly unsupported by the law.”

Not only did the Lawrence decision overturn the Kansas law, it was effective in overturning similar laws all across the country.

Stremel believes the presentation has had the opposite intended effect of providing accurate information to the students. “I think it’s agitated the college’s student body. The next week in class students were verbally gay bashing.”

Many of the local papers picked up the story and the controversy that ensued.

In the Hutchinson News on Feb. 13, Kansas Attorney General spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett was quoted as saying, “a ban on consensual sex between two people of the same sex is ‘on the books.’ But any case made based on that would be found to be unconstitutional.”

Wheeler later appeared on local radio station KIUL and said of the firestorm created by his comments, “I made the statement, and it is in fact, in my opinion, accurate that sodomy still remains defined as criminal on the books in Kansas. My purpose in giving these presentations isn’t to give opinions on laws. One person took offense at that as if I was attacking and expression opinions; I have no such feelings in me.”

As for Stremel, she is still making her voice heard. “A lot of people can’t come out of the closet. There are a ton of gay people in Garden City. They are teaching our kids, policing our streets, they are professionals. They can’t come out of the closet because they are scared and comments like this just make it worse.”

Speaking of the GLBT students who may have attended Wheeler’s presentation, Stemel said, “They are not criminals. Everything about them is okay.

“I hope some good comes of this,” she added. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

DCAP Hires New Leader

*This story was published in the April 2008 issue of Liberty Press

Lawrence, Kan. – The mission of providing support for communities affected by HIV/AIDS has brought Elena Ivanov to the Douglas County AIDS Project (DCAP) as their new Executive Director.

As Executive Director, Elena will be charged with ensuring the organization and all its volunteers work towards fulfillment of their mission. She will be responsible for directing the day to day programming efforts, coordinating the agency’s programs and their fundraising efforts.

Having graduated with her Masters in Public Administration from Kansas University in 2001, Ivanov is very familiar with DCAP and its mission. Her extensive background in community service as well as case management will undoubtedly enhance DCAP’s ability to achieve their mission within Douglas County.

“For the past five years, I have advocated for people with disabilities and committed myself to do whatever it takes to get these individuals the quality of life they deserve,” Ivanov said.

Even though HIV/AIDS has been in the public’s eye for nearly three decades, Ivanov believes there is still a lot of education that needs to be done. With more than 33 million people infected with HIV and with no cure on the horizon, DCAP takes its mission very seriously.

“It’s all about education to me,” she said. “As much as we can provide the prevention services, communication is the best way to change the outcomes.”

With the rising cases of HIV and the need for more education, DCAP will make a bigger push this year with their workshops designed to help parents keep both an open door and an open mind when it comes to sex.

By joining the DCAP staff, Ivanov has again surrounded herself with a caring staff that is wholly dedicated to helping those in need; both emotionally and physically.

“I would like to just help people – anyone who cannot advocate to their full extent – and assist them to help them have choices, how to become self sufficient and have a high quality of life,” Ivanov says of her personal mission.

Ivanov began to take interest in the HIV/AIDS epidemic when she first heard about the dramatic case of Bulgarian nurses being wrongly convicted of deliberately injecting hundreds of children with tainted blood in Libya.

“I felt bad about the infected children and their family and started educating myself on the topic,” Ivanov said.

Since its inception in 1989, DCAP has provided the community with free, confidential HIV testing, case management and education and outreach.

“I believe that the smallest good deed we all do to help HIV affected individuals is better than the grandest good intention anyone can have. Together we can stop this dreadful disease.”

Determination Lands Landers Back on the Field

This article was published in the February 2008 issue of Liberty Press.

She was well connected and on the rise. She had her own company, Miracle Media. She was still active in sports and was playing co-ed football for the Phoenix Hellraisers. It could be said that Landers was on her way to the top of the mountain, with nothing in her way.

On a day that seemed full of possibilities, she was sitting comfortably in her car on a nice pleasant drive through the heart of Arizona. But there was a sudden and unexpected change of plans in Casa Grande. This is where the mountain came crashing down. This is when she came home.

Growing up in Kansas City, Jennifer Landers was your all-American girl. She had the brains. She had the talent. A three-sport athlete at Tri-City Christian (Independence, Mo.), she was the standout. She even had the name that made you think, ‘white-picket fence.’

Following high school, she went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Missouri in 1998. After working for a few years in Kansas City, she took off for a new challenge in Phoenix where a great life started to emerge.

In Phoenix, Landers built a life. Miracle Media was growing. She had clients like the professional basketball team the Phoenix Suns, and Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. She had a mortgage.

Instead of growing her business and expanding her career, a stroke of bad luck took away everything she grew to expect.

It was September 2005, and on that nice, calm drive through Casa Grande, Landers’ life changed forever. The accident itself wasn’t life threatening, but it landed Landers in the hospital. The ironic part is that she was there because she had been wearing her seat-belt. Diagnosis: bruised chest.

“It may have been a bruised chest,” Landers said, “but it felt like a heart attack.”

And it wasn’t the actual accident that changed Landers’ life, it was the aftermath.

Just one week later, Landers was back in the hospital. She was there to see her business partner who was having ankle surgery. That’s when things got worse.

“Growing up, I had been prone to skin problems,” Landers said. While visiting, the doctor noticed something wrong with Landers’ skin. It turned out to be Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. More commonly: “Superbug.”

Somehow while in the hospital getting treated for the bruised chest, Landers contracted MRSA. It is unknown how she contracted this strain, but many cases begin at the hospital or school. Athletes are especially susceptible.

According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 300,000 people were treated in 2005 for MRSA, with an estimated 17,000 deaths. What makes this even scarier is that it is resistant to most antibiotics and can attack anywhere in the body. Living a high stress life only makes it worse.

Landers fought and fought but she couldn’t get rid of it.

“At one point, the doctors counted 120 places on my body with staph,” Landers said.

But she kept going and kept fighting. She was still traveling the country on business trips and on a stop in New Jersey, she found herself in the hospital again. “I was headed back to Phoenix [when] the flight attendants called an ambulance and I went back to the hospital,” Landers said. “I was basically ‘full blown’ and simply too bad off to fly.”

There was no way she was going to quit, but the staph had taken control of her entire life. She had no energy and her immune system was weakening. She lost her skin color and dropped weight. Even a small cold took its toll. With no energy she couldn’t work or play sports. Reluctantly, she closed the business she worked so hard to build.

The staph infection almost took everything away – including her life. But she’s a fighter and Kansas City gave it back. She returned to Kansas City last August and coupled with new treatment, Landers came back to life.

“My family brought me home which reduced a lot of stress,” Landers said. “Phoenix was nothing but perpetual stress.”

Beating the staph was no easy task. “I really think at the end it was mind over matter,” Landers said. “I wanted to live again.”

Living hardly captures what she is doing today. Defying the odds, her naysayers, and even medicine, Landers is now playing her first year of football for the KC Storm, the local women’s football team of the National Women’s Football Association.

“People tell me not to play,” Landers said. “But I may not be here tomorrow, so anything I want to do, I’m going to go and experience it.”

Founder of the Storm, Nance Wernes said that Landers’ enthusiasm is what stands out most. “She [Landers] has already established herself as a leader on and off the field. Her energy and enthusiasm are infectious.”

That infection, not the staph, the drive to succeed and enjoy life is shining through to her teammates. In losing everything in Phoenix, she seems to have found even more in Kansas City. Now back to work and in the best physical shape of her life, Landers is running towards her future with eyes wide open.

“There is too much to do to be done with it,” Landers said. And on top of that list: pull on the No. 22 jersey on opening night and prove that life is for living.