Translation: The Family of the Millennium
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Daniel Alarcón: Ok, alright. Introduce yourself.
Teresa Prévidi: I’m Teresa Prévidi. I’m a professor of cinema and also a documentarian. For the past year and a half I’ve been working on a documentary with my friends Ángeles and Mili.
Daniel Alarcón: And why? What’s special about your friends?
Teresa Prévidi: Well, nothing special. They’re average ordinary people. But the fight to be treated that way has been an odyssey.
Daniel Alarcón: Welcome to Radio Ambulante, I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Well, how and when did all this start?
Teresa Prévidi: Well, Angie and Mili are a lesbian couple and they are part of a group of friends that we’ve had for a long time. Which I call “the tribe.” And they decided to become mothers in 1995, but being lesbian mothers in such a homophobic and conservative world presented some obstacles that they never imagined they would encounter.
Daniel Alarcón: Today, on Radio Ambulante, the story of a Puerto Rican family. That’s it. A family.
Teresa Prévidi: Ok. In 1995, Angie and Mili had been in a relationship for about 7 years and they decided they wanted to have children and form a family. They thought about adoption but at that time in Puerto Rico the law did not allow gay couples to adopt. Then they thought maybe one of the men in the group, the tribe, could be a donor, but that was going to present a lot of complications. So, they finally decided to go with artificial insemination by an anonymous donor. Though, that wasn’t so easy. This is Angie.
Angie: First, there needs to be a doctor available and there needs to be a donor and you need to really carefully evaluate this donor because you don’t know him.
Teresa: Well, you don’t know him, but it’s not like you know nothing about him. That’s how these things work, right? It’s not like you choose completely randomly. There is always some information in these processes. And one day they found a donor who was the vice-president of a software company in Silicon Valley. The guy seemed brilliant from the information he gave. And this is what Mili told me.
Mili: He had 10 patents for nanotechnology, and I’m telling you, I say that but I don’t even know what I’m talking about. And he sent me two pictures of his children. And he sent me a packet of information about himself. His resume and transcripts. It was like his academic pedigree. Oh it was so funny.
Teresa: Yes, his curriculum vitae. It was like he was filling out a job application because he had his curriculum and his pedigree but it all sounded good. So they decided to choose him as a donor. Now, they just needed to get a doctor to perform the insemination on Mili.
And that was where they started to have problems. In Puerto Rico, even today, there are not many fertility specialists and there were even fewer then. In San Juan it would have been somewhere around four or six, right? So they started knocking on the doors of two or three doctors who started to say…
Angie: That they don’t help homosexual couples have children. They are private offices, they have every right to say no.
Teresa: Like that, up front. Very rude. And that was when they started to realize that this was going to be a much more difficult battle than they expected.
Milli described it to me like this:
Mili: Because I always assumed this is how it is, I’m going to do this and it’ll be done. Which is to say, I never thought I was breaking something so large. I just said: I want this. Why can’t I have it?
Teresa: It was several months of rejection and, of course, disappointment and anger. Even though they lived in a homophobic society, they had always been surrounded by their friends and relatives who supported them. But now homophobia was denying them their fundamental right to be mothers.
In the end a friend of ours who is a doctor found another option. Through her they found a fertility specialist who was ready to accept Mili immediately. And Mili and Angie went to the first consultation, but they were not very hopeful. When they went in there was…
Mili: A huge image of the Indian Fertility Goddess. And it’s like a shrine because the walls all around it are covered in pictures of children, babies. But one thing, I’m telling you, if you don’t know what you are going into, you think it’s all a bit crazy.
Teresa: This consultation was clearly very different from the ones with the other doctors, who were very cold and serious. So from the beginning it was something positive that gave them confidence, because it was a much more inviting space. And the doctor was very forward-thinking and was prepared to provide treatment to Mili from the beginning.
Mili: When she saw me she said: “You need to get pregnant now because this baby has to be born in 2000. This is the baby of the millennium.
Teresa: The baby of the millennium. It was already March, they only had 9 months left before 1999 was over. And they made it. Six months later, in October, Mili was pregnant. They were both getting ready for the baby to arrive.
Angie: I did the birthing classes with her because I wanted to be there when the baby was born. Mili took very good care of herself, in the last weeks… She had a really big belly so we went to the beach a lot and we walked around in the mall, which had air conditioning, because it was really terribly hot.
Teresa: They decided to name her Juliana.
Angie: Juliana was born on July 21st of a very hot summer. She had a natural birth and I saw her as soon as she was born.
Teresa: I wasn’t there for the birth but they told me that people saw Angie there in the hospital waiting and saying “who is she?”. In other words, if she’s not a cousin, not a sister, not the aunt, who is this woman? What is she doing here?
And people’s reactions in the clinic were an indicator of what they would face later; that society would not recognize Angie as Juliana’s mother. Mili explained it to me like this:
Mili: If something happened to me, if I got sick, how were we going to deal with that?
Teresa: Of course, if Mili were ever not around-for whatever reason- there are a lot of things that require parental custody, like medical appointments, and school, among other things. And the law in Puerto Rico doesn’t allow a homosexual woman to adopt her partner’s child.
And if Angie wanted to be recognized as Juliana’s adoptive mother, she would have to go to the courts to challenge the laws in Puerto Rico. And that was when the University of Puerto Rico Law School’s legal clinic came onto the scene.
Angie: They have a clinic that has different specialties. This one in particular focuses on defending against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The lawyer that was in charge of the clinic told us they were looking for a case like ours.
Teresa: And on top of that, they offered to cover all the costs, so of course they accepted.
Angie: They initiated a process through the clinic and the Department of Family Affairs and started a complete investigation that they carry out with all couples.
Teresa: But it was very difficult because the social workers investigated everything. Even their underwear. Because, of course, generally adoption cases come from families in which there has been mistreatment, but that wasn’t the case. Juliana had lived her whole life surrounded by love. But all the same, they investigated everything to the bottom.
Mili: Then the social worker went to the house. Which I’ll never forget because she came and found everything just fine and looked at the house. And when she was about to finish, after asking us all of the questions, she said “oh, and why don’t you have another baby?” She left the house saying that to us.
Teresa: The next step was going to court. And Angie and Mili went for the first time in 2006 and arrived in the courtroom dealing with family cases in San Juan.
Mili: Physically, these rooms are super-bright, which bothers your eyes. It’s cold. Forget it. There is nothing to cover you up because its cold and institutional. And the people’s faces, my God, the people’s faces. I’m telling you, it’s a place where anguish lives.
Teresa: They hear cases of child abuse, mistreatment, and divorce cases in those courtrooms. There’s a negative energy in those courtrooms.
Mili: I mean, it is a very trying place, very trying, because they work with very sad stories there. There is a lot of inequity. You can’t look away. You can’t stop realizing that justice, well, that there is not justice here.
Teresa: But even though it sounds weird, Angie and Mili felt confident because the most important testimony was going to come from the social worker and she had said very positive things about the family. But what she said in front of the judge was very different.
Angie: She used arguments that bordered on religious. She said that the child was fine and that everything was fine, but that children really need a father and that the civil code doesn’t recognize it and that the judge in that case cannot rightly grant me the adoption because there was no regulation in that direction.
Teresa: The justification they gave them was this: they were always looking out for the child’s best interests but her best interests were there. The problem was that they were a lesbian couple. That’s it. Because if Angie were a man, they would have granted it to her.
Mili: When those people told us no, Angie started to cry. Oh it was really, really hard. I was so angry at them for making her cry. In that moment, she was… Ángeles isn’t someone who cries that easily and she fell apart. Because, what do you do when the highest authority tells you no?
Juliana: I knew that, you know, there were some people who didn’t recognize us as a family but I didn’t know much about the legal aspect.
Teresa: This is my very dear friend Juliana. She was a pre-teen by now and was conscious of everything that was happening. Plus, she has always been a very smart girl, even though she is very shy. She is more private than anything. She’s like Angie that way, who likes to stay behind the curtain. And during this whole process they were protecting her a lot.
Juliana: I always knew about it more or less, because my moms had told me: even though all families are different, you come from a special family.
Teresa: Because none of her friends had two moms.
Juliana: But it wasn’t like…I didn’t feel bad about it, it was like “oh we’re different… ok.”
Teresa: But there were times when neither Mili nor Angie could protect her from other people’s prejudices. When she was younger, a classmate said to her:
Juliana: “Who do you love more, your dad or your teacher?” And I said “oh I don’t have a dad.” And he said: “Why not” And I said: “I have two moms, that’s all” and I explained it to him. And he said: “Ugh, those moms are patos [lit. ducks]”.
Teresa: In Puerto Rico there is an ugly tradition, you know, it’s very insulting, of calling gay men and lesbians “patos” and “patas” in a degrading way.
Juliana: That was that first time. I mean, my moms had talked to me about homophobia before, but it was the first time something so direct happened to me, so it was like I was paralyzed and shocked.
Teresa: And there would be even more difficult situations to face. As Juliana kept growing, Angie’s case continued processing through the courts in the country. In eight years, two courts had denied her the adoption. Now all that was left was the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico
Milli: The Supreme Court sat on the case for three years.
Teresa: And while they were waiting for the court to finally accept the case, Juliana had an idea.
Juliana: They were talking about: “Oh, we got news that New York legalized gay marriage”. And I said to them: “Why not get married there? New York is super cool. Even thought you’ve been together for more than 20 years, you’re not married so, why not get married?” And they said: “You know what, yes.”
Mili: I think she needed to have some legitimacy, to be able to tell someone: “Well, they’re married”, that can mean something, right?
Teresa: They got married on July 12, 2012. At that time, it was almost symbolic because that kind of marriage was not recognized in Puerto Rico. But that decision to get married becomes very important a little later on.
Teresa: And a little more than six months later, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico finally decided to hear Angie’s adoption case. But the outcome was not good. In February 2013 the court rendered its decision. 4 justices in favor and 5 opposed.
Angie: We almost won, right? it was almost a tie. And it was really hard. We wanted, at least I wanted Juliana to have all the rights that the daughter of a heterosexual couple would have. I don’t what my daughter to be discriminated against.
Teresa: Because since this whole discussion was public, everyone was talking about this family with lesbian mothers. And Mili said “well, they’re going to imagine a lesbian mother as something with horns and a tail, this terrible horrible thing.” Then when they lost the adoption case in the Supreme Court, there was a press conference and Mili said: “I’m going. I’m going to show my face.”
Mili: Because they had to see a face. These people had done such an ugly, offensive thing, they had to see how that impacts other human beings; because the people they did that to weren’t an idea, it was a real, flesh and blood family. I wanted them to see me and hear me.
Teresa: Overnight Mili became front page news. She was in the newspapers and on television. She was the most talked about person in Puerto Rico. But for Angie, it wasn’t so simple. She had a different personality, as we already know she is more private. Also, because of her profession…
Angie: I’m a child psychologist for children with special needs. And well I have always been very discrete, I was discrete because of my profession.
Teresa: She had a thousand reasons to feel pressured and anxious. But she was furious about everything that was happening too. Three months after the Supreme Court denied her the adoption, the legal team asked for the case to be reconsidered. Angie wasn’t planning on going to court that day, just her legal team, because they knew the media would be waiting at the court to cover the case.
But in her car, Angie called a friend and asked her, “what if I go to court today along with the lawyers?”. And they friend said: well…
Angie: “What can I say? At your office you’re going to have a line of people who are opposed all the way around the block, and then to your right you’ll have a line around the block of people in favor.”
And at that moment, I got off the expressway and turned and I arrived at the Supreme Court. And then the press arrived, all the photos of us got out. And well, that obviously totally changed our lives
Teresa: She thought maybe they would condemn her, insult her or throw rocks at her…but no. There was a lot of solidarity from a lot of family and people who came out in support.
Mili: I believe that the fact that we went out and that people saw us allowed us to get their empathy. But I imagine all those people thought about their own family, about that gay person in their family that everyone has, and they identified with us. No one wants their children or their siblings to be rejected, to have their rights taken away.
Teresa: But of course, not all of the reactions were positive. There were also other people saying awful things, all over social media and in the comments sections of newspapers online.
Journalist: Most Puerto Ricans resist change, at least in this, the newspaper El Nuevo Día conducted a survey which revealed that Puerto Ricans do not agree with homosexual individuals marrying and adopting children. Also, the archbishop of San Juan came out in defense of the Supreme Court which rejected a woman’s petition to adopt her partner’s biological child…
Teresa: All of the media attention they were getting was taking its toll… People recognized them at that point and Mili talks about how one time she was seated on a plane, at the window seat with headphones on, and a man sat in the aisle seat and started waving his arms to get her attention. Mili took off her headphones and the man started saying…
Mili: “God loves you! Christ loves you”, but in a way that was… Like he was about to hit me…
Teresa: Because, of course, he recognized her and that comes with being in the media, they see your face, they already know who you are and that you’re a lesbian, and homophobic people take that up with you. But Mili knew how to defend herself very well.
Mili: And I told him: “Go to your seat right now, because I’m going to call the…” I put my finger up, “I’m going to call her and they’re going to take you out of here in handcuffs.” He got up and left.
And I told the flight attendant, “look, that man just came over here and I want you to watch him. If he comes over here again, do me a favor and call security.” He didn’t do it again.
Teresa: On May 2nd, 2013, the Supreme Court said they would not reconsider the case. The judges had made up their minds. “Abide by this court’s ruling” or in other words:
Mili: “No, and don’t come back”. That’s what they said: don’t come back. Which is to say: we don’t want to reconsider.
Teresa: It was really frustrating and it was a time to ask, “will this ever happen?”. At least I thought, “is this going to happen? Will it happen when Juliana is no longer a minor?” I don’t know if they had those questions, I did, because I saw how hard the fight was.
Angie: I spent days…crying, with immense, terrible pain. Like… Every time I got prepared for this, every time I got ready for this and I still get emotional… To think, this whole tangled mess, you know, that somehow brings together one person’s life with another’s isn’t recognized by society or the State.
Juliana: I remember she told me in the car and she was really frustrated. “Oh they told us no again. Oh! But we’re going to keep trying, we’re going to keep going” and I said: “Ok, let’s go, we can do this.”
Teresa: But how? It seemed like Angie’s case had come to the end of the road. The highest court on the island had denied her petition for adoption three times. But there was another court they could appeal to, because in Puerto Rico, the Supreme Court of the island doesn’t have the final say. You have to remember, for better or for worse, Puerto Rico is a US territory, and the courts there have the final decision, not here. And in this case, that was very important…
At that time there was a very important case for the gay rights movement in the US. The movement was about to get a law called DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, declared unconstitutional. Under DOMA, even if a state recognized gay marriage, the federal government was not required to.
And on Friday, June 26, 2015 the US Supreme Court made its decision.
News: A historic victory for defenders of gay marriage in the United States, the Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority in the country, has declared unconstitutional the 1996 law defining marriage as a union between a man and woman.
Teresa: And that same day I started filming a documentary about my best friend’s family.
Angie: We won! How marvelous!
Teresa: This was the first scene I filmed. I was at the school of public health, where Mili had an office as a professor. She was there with Juliana who was feeling tired, almost overwhelmed, and didn’t process much of the news. The phone wouldn’t stop ringing… Mili’s office is very small. It’s full of books and gay flags. It filled up with her coworkers and students who were lining up to congratulate her… Then Angie arrived, and they hugged with this great joy because now Angie was getting closer and closer to being able to adopt Juliana…
Angie: It’s so wonderful to feel like you’re equal to everyone else under the law!
Teresa: And since Mili and Angie had gotten married in 2012 in New York, their marriage was now legal in Puerto Rico. Even though there were no marriages between same-sex couples on the island, the US Supreme Court’s decision made it so that Angie was Mili’s “legitimate” wife. It was an unexpected way to achieve the change they were looking for in front of the Puerto Rican authorities.
Mili: Because they never thought they would approve equal marriage.
Teresa: Whatever impediment there was to the adoption was solved, because in the constitution it says that a member of a married couple can adopt their spouse’s child. And at no point in the constitution does it say, “except in gay marriages.”
In order to make the adoption official, Angie had to return to the place where she had started the process ten years ago: the Family Affairs court in San Juan. On December 9th, 2015, Angie and Mili returned with their legal team.
Mili: It was like another country. Another planet. Totally different.
Teresa: The court wasn’t that cold, threatening place that Mili and Angie faced for the first time in 2005. This time, it felt like a party. We were all all there…the friends, the family that had supported Mili and Angie in this process. And this time there was a testimony given by a witness who couldn’t be there the first time: Juliana.
Juliana: Well, I was a little nervous in the court because I said “what happens if… I uh… I say something wrong and we lose the case, or if I get nervous and they think I’m lying or something.” I don’t know…
Teresa: When it was her turn to testify, the judge started asking her questions…
Juliana: “Do you like living with your two moms?”, “What does your family do?” I don’t know how many things. But because I was crying so much and was so emotional I said very little.
Teresa: Mili remembers one question in particular that the judge asked Juliana…
Mili: “What do you want?” and Juliana told her “I want to be adopted by my mother so that it will be legitimate. She is my mother and I am her daughter, but I want that to be recognized.”
Teresa: The judge was very clear. Because generally they hold their decision and send it later on but she made her decision right there because it was so clear and defined. It was approved and it was very moving. Obviously, I was there with my camera to capture the moment they left the courtroom.
Angeles: Juliana Acosta…
Teresa: Here you can hear Angie calling Juliana by her last name: Acosta. Finally, the law recognized that she was Juliana’s mother. Now no one could deny what she has always been: her daughter.
Angie, Mili and Juliana left the courtroom holding hands. They were another family, like any other. And in the end that is what they had always been looking for.
Daniel Alarcón: Teresa Prévidi is a professor of Communication at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in Santurce, Puerto Rico. At the moment she is finishing a documentary about Angie, Mili and Juliana’s family. Be on the look out for it when it comes out. Teresa produced this story with our producer Luis Trelles.
This story was edited by Camila Segura, Silvia Viñas, Luis Trelles and me Daniel Alarcón. Martina Castro was in charge of sound design. The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Barbara Sawhill. The executive director is Carolina Guerrero.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin American To hear more, visit our website,radioambulante.org. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.
Translated by Patrick Moseley