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And good evening and welcome to woman. Tonight our topic is lesbian mothers and the custody of their children. With me is Mary Jo richer. Mary Jo is from Dallas Texas. She is a lesbian and is involved in a custody case over her 10 year old son. Also here is Ann Foreman and is from Dallas Texas. She is the mother of a 12 year old daughter and her daughter live with Mary Jo Mary Jo. Did you lose custody of your son because you are a lesbian and because you were therefore considered an unfit mother. Well Sandra the foreman of the jury Tony Lucio who is a former Dallas Cowboy football player. Voted for me in the. Court decision along with another gentleman. And the verdict came in 10 to two. He did mention to the press afterwards that in the jury room. They could never let the lesbian issue out. In other words anything they talked about
someone would say but she is a lesbian in the courtroom. At no time did they ever prove that I was an unfit mother. Doctors went on the stand. Educators. Babysitters relatives friends. Psychologist and a psychiatrist. And. At no time. Did they prove that I was unfit. In essence what Tony Lisieux said was the jury took Richard Calvin from my home a good home and put him in what the jury considered a little better home. And as far as I to my understanding the court was not to take Richard from a good home. He was to take be taken from what they considered an unfit home and that they never proved. So you really feel your sexual preference was their deciding factor in the case. That would be the conclusion I would come to yes. OK custody has become a very controversial issue these days. Is
it more usual for a court to decide against the mother than for the mother. In this kind of case. I definitely feel it is as a matter of fact most parents are and a lot of lesbian mothers we run across during our travels and also have known in the past when when it comes to the final time when it's time to go in the courtroom sometimes they just relinquish custody without even going to court because they can't take the pressures of it. So it's not only just a court situation but people have lesbians so and also gay men so afraid of society that they they just would rather not put themselves through that kind of problem. Well Mary Jo your case has gotten an awful lot of publicity both locally and nationally. Did Was that a hard choice to make to decide to fight. Well Sandra it was not my intention for the public to know my sexual preference to begin with. Just like I don't think the heterosexual people really care whether someone you know identifies them as a heterosexual.
I did not ask for a jury trial. To my understanding. We found out that it was the first jury trial in the in the history of the United States against a lesbian mother which brought it national attention and has kept it still in the public's eye. Have you always been openly gay. I mean you were married at one point and divorced at that time were you openly gay. No. In fact. Until I and I went into the courtroom in December of 75 We still maintain a fairly. Closet type situation. How long was that between the time that time it took between the time you went into court and the time of your divorce. It was almost five years. I had custody of the two boys for almost five years. And at that time were they aware that you were gay. My only son was Jim. Richard to my knowledge you're
still unaware that I am a homosexual. You lead a very conventional life. You were a chaplain of the Eastern Star you were involved in the Dallas PTA. Well yes I was the president of the Dallas County Council PTA which consisted of the largest Council in the state of Texas. I'm an honorary member of the state of Texas parents and teachers association. I guess you guys say and I'm a past. Woman Sunday school teacher in the Southern Baptist Southern Baptist church and pass. A. Junior boy and girl Sunday school teacher Sally so I have led a very active life and my life has been revolved around children working and for the betterment of all our boys and girls. And you didn't have problems did you. Getting custody of your daughter Judea. No i my ex-husband as a matter of fact testified Mike and Mary Jo's behalf. I thank you. Somehow I had grown with the situation and was a
little well mine is a very intelligent man and I feel like that somehow he's managed to deal with the situation in a much more rational way. So really he's very supportive of my daughter and he gives her all the support she needs and I somehow feel like this is made it much easier for her. She does know where Gary. She's has a strong support for us so I think that all this love and understanding within the groups of her people are important. There's a 19 74 Texas law that really has caused a lot of problems for you. What is that. Well until the summation of the jury I didn't realize that. Just. Prior to that that the state of Texas had passed this this family code law in that in the family code it states that. In a section of it that a child will be brought up in a religious environment. And I was I was pretty taken by that in when the the
lawyer for my ex-husband said it and it is true it is in there. And. It could be you know it a lot of parents could be you know I start getting pretty concerned about a. Statement like that I would always also says a broad statement what do you consider religious in that particular area to be Southern Baptist. Anything else might not be acceptable to you. You are Southern Baptist. That is my religion yes. So my. Life. And when did you when did you come out. I guess about I had to think about teen years and I'm sixty nine and 10. Were you married at that time. Yes. For a brief period of time when I finally well I say I started realizing that I. Should indeed live the lifestyle that I wanted to and I was married but I've been got a divorce so I could feel like I was free enough to live my. Own
lifestyle. A minute ago you mentioned that your daughter knows that you are both gay. Did you tell her or you. We didn't have to tell her it's. I haven't been really close I have you know it's not something it's just something she's lived around and she's has some positive reinforcement and I think she you know has just kind of accepted the fact that we are she realizes there's a love relationship like. Like her father and his present wife more or less in the constant support of each other socially it was just something she knew. One day she just started talking about it it was just kind of there. It wasn't something that really you know she opened and she talks to me about things that maybe doesn't she doesn't understand at that point. But it's just kind of a gradual thing and she sees things and she just puts it in the place like a puzzle. And she's growing old. One of the articles I read about your case. I read that your daughter had had some psychological testing and that was one of the things that made your husband feel comfortable
about allowing her to stay with you. Right. That was as a matter of fact separate apart from the psychologist in psychiatry's. We had it was about a year or so before the trial. And he was a psychiatrist in Dallas and we felt like it was weird to see him just have her evaluated and see what the situation was. And they have valuation as usual came out that they're. Both both the children and my daughter included as well balanced age appropriate normal healthy happy. And I think that's probably what parents should strive to have an internal. Was that something you were concerned about at the time I mean were you worried about her. No not really we. She was going to a private school for suspicious of a reading problem she was a little she had she was just a slow reader. And we had her in private school and we wanted to make sure she didn't have any mental blocks or any problems not necessarily considering that but anything like traumatic experience she had in the first grade in public school so it just kind of evolved and came in with it.
It was something particularly happen we did during the trial when it was another thing that I read in the newspaper clippings was that the testimony of your son Jimmy who was then about 17 he really overrode the testimony of the experts who tended to say it was all right that there was nothing horrendous wrong with it with the situation. What was that all about. Well I guess one of the remarks that you night and it seems to have been publicized a lot is the fact that. The statement that he was embarrassed about has been ism. I'm not saying that you know it wasn't embarrassed as possibly to my lifestyle anymore that I would say that as a teenage boy or even a teenage girl would be unfair to the overweight at the mother. Their. Father might be a dominant force that they would be embarrassed about you know especially if they were
around their friends what have you. I cannot wait Jimmy saying that he was embarrassed about my Lisbon ism any more than I would say that you know I don't think the. Teenager is happy about anything that their parents are doing. And. I think he was going through a period of his own growing and it was just. It was just another phase that maybe mother wasn't exactly like you wanted or maybe father wasn't exactly like you wanted. I didn't I didn't weigh too much and you may say he was embarrassed and thin too. We did have some of Jimmy's teenage friends to call us and actually volunteer to go on the stand and that they knew Jimmy was not embarrassed about my lifestyle. He had been living with you up until Jimmy knew. About an in-law relationship that you know we were going together and everything. Probably about
three months before we moved in together and. He encouraged me and was happy at the move when we moved in was an idolater and remained with us for almost 10 months. I'm curious to know it's seems to me that some of the questions that were brought up during the trial really didn't have. As much bearing on the cases as the base issue of your being a fit mother or not. It seems like motherhood was on trial. Being a wife was on trial. All kinds of other things women also you were asked many what seemed to me very embarrassing questions during the trial. I was thinking of one particular question. Would you give up your homosexuality for your child. Talk about the trial and that experience a little bit. Well the did ask me would I give up my homosexuality if it was put in to me in a hypothetical question. If you knew at this present
time that you could keep Richard. Would you give up your homosexuality. I did not think it was a fair question to ask me because as I put it back to the attorney. I wouldn't have thought that a court would have allowed an attorney to ask any member of that jury would they give up their husband or wife for their child. Another thing the psychologist that evaluated her. We were in consultation with and what have you said that. Individual people are adults have to. To you know be happy. Them sales before they can make those around them happy. And removing an eye from one another we're happy with what with one another. Removing us from one another would to me only create an happiness for two children and daughter who loves me and Richard who adores a man
and. Not only would I be unhappy and be I'd have you but two children would be unhappy also. Then again I'd like to. Are we going to ask our children to be taught to give up everything for their children in a continuous thing. None of our. None of the next generations are going to be happy to somewhere we have to start allowing our children to think about themselves also as well as other people and I think it'll be a much better society in the future. Young girls are taught by their mothers who sacrificed everything for them and their husbands. Then again they have to sacrifice for that they were they are taught they have to sacrifice for their children and their husbands and it's a continual cycle in them. That child needs to have an opportunity to think to make decisions of what is worth giving up and what isn't when where you can if you have the love and understanding. Like as Mary Jo and I have together then we can operate together. A child may be much more than we could if we had to give up.
We had been hard to bring it will understand me and what role did you play in the trial. The other woman I guess that's what his cousin many times actually testified yes. Mr. Richards attorney called Mary Jo both as hostile witnesses. And so we've both testified at the very beginning of the trial before our side came on but I think really the reason I was there was to inflame the jury that's my personal opinion I really have no earthly idea but that there was many questions there that were probably not necessary in deciding on any one individual's ability to be a parent but somehow we were managing to him when we had to deal with these questions such as the one Mary Jo was asked in my words that's the same thing and religious questions that may or may not been bordered which on homosexuality which I believe does not have anything to do in rearing a child. So.
I don't know there's lots of things going on in the current a very lengthy trial but I feel like that there were many things that the psychologist pointed out that were not needed to be asked Mary Jo in on it one point close that Richard and a couple of occasions became an issue. What was that all about. Well the court appointed psychologist stated on the stand that. On one occasion he viewed Richard and I wanted to have you see a t shirt and a blue jean Western suit that Ted belonged to and which she had outgrown which Richard had really admired and which studio and headed down to him which was a boy's blue jean outfit. Actually it was. And if if if the psychologist was trying to say
that Richard was in direct it then Julianne was a drag because she's the one that had the the boy blue jean outfit. But he made the comment that yeah under cross-examination by my attorneys that if it had been. Any other person heterosexual mother that it would have not made any difference but that I was a lesbian and I could never allow Richard to wear any garment that had been identified belonging to a. Girl. You know. And so and as far as the T-shirt. Richard was in advanced gymnastics at the YWCA in a class with boys and girls. Just like the YMCA in the country has a program set up for boys and girls. It just so happened that Richard was very fortunate in being and belonging to probably one of
the best centers in Dallas and we were very happy that in fact now the son belong to the YWCA. That's you know a little bit of that. So there was really a attempt to sensationalise with me there. That's a possibility. I feel like that with him. Mary Jo I wanted to ask you about Judy in that I suppose the thing that that people want to know most is you know what kind of lifestyle they have now what kind of home life do you have. Do you see yourselves as like any other family. Yes. And say we did we try to keep the family situation to say the least a lot of them were not. Not that much we've always managed to retain what we call a close family unit even though we feel like we're missing one part of it right now. We're still trying to choose Richard.
Yes and we also I guess even Judy or and just makes it a point to be at home when Richards they are on his one weekend out of every two weeks so that I don't know I think they need the reinforcement from each other as well as us they're together it's a warm feeling warm with a sense of security that's just an necessity right now. Not only that but. Richard almost insists that duty and be there. So I think he is looking for reassurance that everything is still the side and will be the side you know when he returns. And it's not like you know he's coming back just to and people he's coming back into the family situation that he was taken from. And so we we maintain the family situation we maintain it all the time you know with Judy and there because we still have a youngster there that still needs the reinforcement of us but we we make sure we're all there you know together that we can he's with us.
Were you able to both keep your jobs through all of this. Mary Jo you're a nurse and you were an accountant. A You know none of us are going to an assistant into the growing political unit. Boyle. We now have your own business. I would say do you lose your job because of this. Well resign or resign. Well I don't think that. You can say that we fired. But when you become public you know in a controversial subject such as you know came out in the trial and then after that there are some follow ups own publicity. Especially you know myself being a nurse and coming in contact with you know with people directly. I suppose the institution that I worked for you know being small. Likes to keep their name their image out then. And. Maybe I was
putting a little blemish in that image and. I had one you know I was at a period of time you have to pick priorities. And at that time I was fighting to get Richard back and still am. And. I could be fighting to do things that of the place where I was working and trying to get my son back in and be able to function right with both with both sides. So of course I chose you know to put all my energies towards getting Richard back. You're a very religious person. Very true. Yes I am. Are you bitter about the reaction from some of the religious organizations and so on in so-called Christian people toward toward your situation. I can't say that I am. You know really bitter or. I am a little ashamed in a stance that I that
people that you know considers theirselves Christian and. Can sometimes be Amphitrite to and has betrayed to me some hypocritical. Type of nature. You know my personal opinion is that religion in Christianity is love that my brand and to try to have compassion and understanding for each other and somewhere I feel like that this was all lost and the religious aspects are wonderful and I am a religious people person and I still believe the same theories I did in the beginning. Sometimes it makes me a little bitter toward the people that seem not to be able to grasp what they preach so much. Now you can say a lot of things but if you don't live up to what you're saying then you're worse off than anyone that you feel might reward. But according to some of those people what tremendous harm are you doing. Are they mostly concentrating on the harm you are doing to the children.
I think that one of the the things that was discussed in the jury room was the fact that the some of the jurors were afraid that with Richard living within and I are in evidently any child living within a home a sexual relationship but of course this being the case with me that if Richard remained with me he would become a homosexual. Is there any evidence to support that. Well my mother and father. Are header sexual. They have. A son and two daughters that are heterosexuals and homosexuals. I don't see where you know Richard living with me is going to make him heterosexual homosexual. I mean that that is the issue with really whether your sexual preference is contagious or not in the serai And you know the psychologist and psychiatrist tried to make that fairly plain that that there's no way that they could ever say they're there for anything
you know because the majority of homosexuals are from heterosexual homes. Well I think I think the psychology has to you know have said there has no been no research and psychiatrist into why a person is homosexual. But in the same token there has been no research in saying why a person is heterosexual so we don't know. What about one of the another one of the issues that I read in again in the clippings was the stigma for the kids and the kind of damage that that might do that your life down might hurt them because of other people's responses to that. How do you answer that. Well yes the way we can answer primarily right now just by watching duty and living in our home now that we're public. And if anything my daughter is very supportive and she gets positive support from the people she's around such as her schoolteachers and her friends and the people that know and her relatives. So and
she's got tons of confidence and support for us so if there's if it's a case that the children are going to have a stigma it's not showing yet with my daughter and I doubt that it will. Mary Jo one of the questions that I had with it when your husband brought this back to court right there was a change of circumstances so that it should be looked at again and you had to prove you were fit rather than him having to prove you were unfit. How did that twist come about. Well of course you know. You know he was stating that I was you know in the subpoena. You know that I was unfit because I was a homosexual. I went into court to prove I was fit because and to show it. With five years that I had had you know the responsibility of the boys. I didn't you know I didn't share cherish the thought that you know when I were in that courtroom I was you know I knew I was a fit mother. And
yet. With all the testimony that came out. You know I was never proved unfit. And yet that's the implication the court you know generated that. You know how far are you going to go with this. We'll we will pursue that to the U.S. Supreme Court if we have to. Thank you both very much for being here. We're out of time. Thank you for watching. This program was produced by w any which is solely responsible for
its content. Make your funding was provided by public television stations. Additional support was provided by unrestricted general program grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Ford Foundation.
Episode Number
Lesbian Mothers and Child Custody. Part 2
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WNED (Buffalo, New York)
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Episode Description
This episode features a conversation with Ann Foreman and Mary Jo Risher. Mary Jo Risher is from Dallas, Texas. She is a lesbian involved with a custody case over her 10-year-old son. Mary Jo lives with Ann Foreman and Ann's 12-year-old daughter.
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Woman is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations exploring issues affecting the lives of women.
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Social Issues
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Director: George, Will
Guest: Foreman, Ann
Guest: Risher, Mary Jo
Host: Elkin, Sandra
Producer: Elkin, Sandra
Producing Organization: WNED
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: WNED 04425 (WNED-TV)
Format: DVCPRO
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:28:48
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Chicago: “Woman; 424; Lesbian Mothers and Child Custody. Part 2,” 1977-01-12, WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 26, 2023,
MLA: “Woman; 424; Lesbian Mothers and Child Custody. Part 2.” 1977-01-12. WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 26, 2023. <>.
APA: Woman; 424; Lesbian Mothers and Child Custody. Part 2. Boston, MA: WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from