Although they sometimes face discrimination and hardships, Milwaukee's "rainbow families" continue to thrive, and, in most cases, they offer their kids the same love, support and amenities as hetero-headed families.
Because gay couples don't have a legal record to document their bond -- and because some gay families are still underground -- it is difficult to get an accurate number of same-sex families living Milwaukee. However, the 2000 U.S. Census was the first to note an increase in the number of households led by same-sex partners, showing that gay couples live in 99.3 percent of all counties across America.
Many of these couples hope they can soon legally marry their life partners so they have the same parental rights and respect as straight people, but whether or not gay marriage is legalized in the future isn't stopping some Milwaukeeans from forming the families of their dreams.
OnMilwaukee.com spoke to many local "rainbow" families, and here are a few of their stories.
Scott Lone and Joe Maddalena
Lone and Maddalena have been together for two years, and the couple now live together in Grafton where they are raising their two children, ages 5 and 9. The kids are biologically related to Lone, who fathered them during a previous marriage to a woman.
Lone, a teacher, and Maddalena, a non-profit director, say they plan to have a commitment ceremony within the next year, both for themselves and to show their children that they are together forever.
At an early age, their kids noticed that their family was special. "Our son and daughter began asking questions about the diversity of our family shortly after we met," says Lone. "We shared with them that families come in many shapes and sizes -- some are led by one parent, some by two, others led by parents of the same sex."
Lone says, so far, his kids haven't been upset by the idea of their family being led by two men. Their son has helped to educate his friends about the situation, and provides appropriate language for them to use when talking about his family.
Lone and Maddalena say they get a lot of support from the Rainbow Families Milwaukee organization. "It offers our children a unique opportunity to gather and socialize with families in similar environments," says Lone.
The couple is also fortunate enough to have support from their friends, who are both gay and straight. Some of their family members, however, are less enthused.
"We have encountered resistance, disapproval and subtle ridicule, but we believe that as adults, we're both much happier living our lives together and it has made a significant positive impact on our children -- they're happy, achieving high marks in school and seem to be well-adjusted," says Lone.
Samantha Hansen and Alisha Hunt
Hansen says she has been attracted to girls since grade school, but because she lived in a small town where nobody was openly gay, it wasn't until much later in her life that she came to terms with her orientation. After a five-year marriage that produced her son, PJ, Hansen accepted the fact she was a lesbian, and today, the 30-year-old lives in Franklin with Hunt, who has been "out" for 13 years.
Hansen says, at first, Hunt was a bit daunted by the prospect of motherhood. "Originally she thought I was kidding when I told her about my son. She was a little nervous," says Hansen. "But she warmed up to PJ very quickly, and now treats him as her own."
Seven-year-old PJ has already started to ask questions about the family dynamic and at one point asked for definitions of "gay" and "lesbian," which he now defines as "when two girls are in love or when two boys are in love."
On Mother's Day, PJ makes cards for both of his moms.
Hansen and Hunt are not completely sure how they will handle the future, or the possibility of people making fun of their family. For now, they have told PJ to ignore the negative and to be proud of who he is.
"His friends have sometimes looked at him weird and said, 'You have two moms?' and he says, 'Yeah, so?' He thinks it's natural," says Hansen.
As for the school setting, Hansen says she makes a point of telling PJ's teachers about their family very early in the year so they are not surprised when two moms show up for conferences and performances. She says only one of his teachers has seemed slightly disturbed by their family.
"I am very active in volunteering in the classroom, and PJ thinks it's neat that I know all of his classmates names," says Hansen.
Like the Lone/Maddalena family, supportive friends surround Hansen and Hunt -- and luckily their families have accepted the situation as well.
"My family has seen that I am a much happier person since I came out and that I am in love," says Hansen. "Alisha and I are very excited in hoping that we will be allowed to be married legally in our state."
Wendy Pologe and Mary Thoreson
A few years after Pologe and Thoreson had a "joining ceremony" in 1985, they began to discuss the possibility of raising a child together.
"Mary actually brought it up in 1988, totally out of the blue, and as we talked about it we agreed we had a lot to share with a child and that a family with children was the way we wanted to go," says Pologe, 50.
They both asked their brothers for a sperm donation, and because Thoreson's agreed, Pologe provided the egg and carried the baby. In September 1989, their son, Dan, was born.
Today, the family of three live in the Sherman Park neighborhood. Pologe and Thoreson have been together for 25 years, longer than many heterosexual couples in the neighborhood.
The women have always been honest with their son, who is now 17, about their family situation, and have told him there are many different kinds of families in the world. They admit to encountering negativity along the way, but believe everyone is judged at some point in their life for their choices.
"Haven't all kids been harassed and hasn't every parent experienced stuff from people that is mean and horrible?" says Pologe. "Mean people suck."
However, the women say their friends and family -- as well as their son's teachers -- have been very supportive. As a teenager, Dan has even benefited from his family's dynamic.
"Sometime he gets 'cool points' from the other kids for coming from a queer family with two moms," says Pologe.
Brendan Barrett and Vance Skinner
Barrett and Skinner have been together for six years. In 2002, the couple went to Vermont and had a civil union performed, and in 2003, they were legally married in Toronto.
"This helped solidify our family plans with regard to co-parenting our children under existing law," says Barrett.
Children were in the couple's plan from the start of their courtship, and shortly after their civil union, they began their journey towards becoming parents.
The couple had a difficult time finding the right surrogate mother. The first woman was considering a move to Mexico, and the men decided they were not comfortable having their baby born outside the United States. The second woman to offer was a friend, but after a while, they mutually decided it was too awkward.
Finally, they found a woman through a fertility and surrogate organization website, who was married and had three children of her own. The men decided she would carry the child, but they would implant the eggs of another woman.
"The relationship was positive throughout the pregnancy. However, in the end we all went our separate ways, in part due to the non-biological nature of the relationship," says Barrett.
Today, Skinner and Barrett are the parents of 2 1/2-year-old twin girls. They are fraternal twins -- one of whom is biologically related to Skinner, and the other to Barrett. Technically, they are twins and half-sisters simultaneously.
"It was not planned this way, but ended up being a double blessing and quite the surprise," says Barrett.
Not even three years old, the girls have not questioned their family situation yet, but the couple is already talking with family and friends about how they will field difficult questions in the future, and what they will do when their girls ask why they don't have a mother.
"Being a part of Rainbow Families gives us and them a chance to see all kinds of families. We have straight friends with kids and gay friends with kids. Hopefully they will be well-rounded and they will just know that they are not missing anything because they have two daddies that love them a lot," says Barrett.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.