By Gary Hurtubise
A tireless advocate for LGBTQ family rights, Dana Rudolph is also a news correspondent, a website content and marketing manager, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a spouse, and of course, a mother.
Dana grew up in rural Connecticut with her mother, father, and younger brother. Her mother stayed home until Dana was 12, then worked as a mental health worker at a private psychiatric hospital. Her father was a textile chemist and worked first for a thread and yarn manufacturer and then for a fabric printing company.
Dana came out first to herself while in college and then to friends in the following years, but it wasn’t until she met her now-spouse, Helen, in grad school that she came out to her family.
“They were very accepting; I have perhaps the world’s most boring coming out story,” Dana insists. “I think my family was more surprised when I told them (years later) that we were going to have a child—but that had nothing to do with my being a lesbian, and more to do with the fact that I’d never talked much about my desire to start a family.”
Dana studied astronomy and medieval history at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. When asked about the unusual pairing of subjects, she explains, “I had been planning to study astronomy, but took a medieval history class to fulfill the humanities distribution requirement. I loved it and decided to continue with both subjects.”
Ultimately, Dana realized her interest was in the history of science and the interaction between science and society, going on to earn a Master’s of Philosophy in history from Oxford University in England. “It was also a chance to experience a part of the world that wasn’t my own and to see things from a different perspective.”
Eventually, though, Dana realized that academic life was not for her. “Academic posts in medieval history are rare, and I’d likely have had to move around to different short-term posts before getting a tenure track position, with no guarantee it would be in a location I’d desire.”
Instead, Dana was fortunate to find a job doing internet strategy and marketing during the first dot-com boom at a now-defunct startup that was willing to take on liberal-arts folks. From there, she became a vice president at Merrill Lynch, still doing internet strategy and marketing for several of their early online initiatives. “I was also, in a volunteer role, the first leader of the firm’s LGBTQ employee resource group.”
Dana met her spouse, Helen Maynard, while both women were in graduate school in Wisconsin (where Dana spent a few years after Oxford). “We both volunteered for a non-profit that provided free, safe rides to women at night. She was a driver and I was a dispatcher,” Dana explains.
Helen earned her Ph.D in materials science and landed a job on the East Coast; Dana went with her. Today, Helen works as a semiconductor engineer in the field of computer chip fabrication.
The couple will be celebrating their 27th anniversary this spring.
Ten years into their relationship, Dana and Helen decided to start a family. “Helen and I chose in-vitro fertilization, with my egg, her womb, and sperm from an anonymous donor.”
The initial plan was for Helen to stay home with their child, since she would be the one nursing him. Several months after his birth, however, Merrill Lynch had a reorganization, and Dana chose not to stay with the new business unit. The couple decided to put both of their resumés out, agreeing that whoever got the best offer would go back to work. Helen did, and Dana stayed home with their son, Jordan.
The family currently lives outside of Boston. They enjoy traveling, playing board games and video games, and cooking together. Jordan is now a junior in high school and is, at the moment, interested in computer science as a career. His other interests include music and tennis. “This year, most of our family adventures,” Dana says, “will center around visiting potential colleges for our son!”
When asked by his mom, Jordan reports that he hasn’t had any negative experiences related to having lesbian moms, and that he’s been treated the same as his peers with straight families. Dana recalls one incident when Jordan was much younger.
“Jordan and I were hanging out with the other parents and pre-school kids at the end of the day,” Dana begins. “My son wandered over to the sandbox, where another boy his age was playing.
‘What’s your dad’s name?’ the other boy asked. I kept silent, wanting to see how Jordan handled it. He paused for just a second to think.
‘Well, that’s Mommy,’ he explained, gesturing to me. ‘And the other one’s Momma, but she’s at work now.’
‘This truck can go faster than the boat,’ said the other boy, picking up two of the toys sitting in the sand and doing a demonstration.
“Bravo, young man, I thought, proud that my son had found his own answer and that the other boy had simply accepted his response. Maybe they will indeed grow up in a better world, where differences of families and identities are a welcomed part of the great variety of human experience.”
Dana follows up her story by adding, “we needn’t fear exposing our children to such differences, because we know that they have been exposed to them from the start – and nothing ill has come of it.”
Despite her positive attitude, and her son’s encouraging experiences, Dana still holds some trepidation. “The hardest thing about being a queer parent, for me, is knowing that there are still people who don’t believe our family should exist, and that our son may encounter that fear and hatred at some point in his life. I can only hope Helen and I have helped Jordan to be confident in himself and his values so that he can navigate these choppy waters even when he is on his own.”
When Jordan was eight, Dana went back to work as the online content manager for the National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) at the Wellesley Centers for Women. “SEED is a 33-year-old program that trains educators and others to lead conversations in their communities around diversity and equity, in order to find ways of driving change toward social justice.”
The role allowed her to combine her professional expertise in internet content and marketing with her blogging and social justice experience. She also had the opportunity to come back to her roots, at Wellesley College.
When asked if she and Helen have ever faced discrimination based on their relationship, Dana reports that the couple did encounter financial constraints because of their legal status, before marriage equality became law. “When I stayed home with our son, my medical insurance was through Helen’s employer. She still paid federal tax on that as if it was income. Also, she could not contribute to a spousal IRA for me when I left employment to care for our son, whereas a different-sex spouse could.”
This financial discrimination was part of Dana’s motivation to start her website, Mombian. “I figured if I could make even a little money from it, I could put that into an IRA. Missing those years of contributions and the compounded interest they generate could have had a big impact later on in life.”
Mombian (a combination of Mom + lesbian) was the creation of several converging influences in Dana’s life. “I’d been involved in LGBTQ advocacy as head of Merrill Lynch’s LGBTQ employee network, but becoming a mom channeled my interests into LGBTQ family issues.” After leaving Merrill Lynch to stay at home with Jordan, she wanted an activity that would keep her activist and professional neurons firing, and blogging fit the bill.
At the time, there was a mix of entertainment & political LGBTQ sites, personal blogs by LGBTQ parents, sites focused geared towards prospective LGBTQ parents, and of course lots of sites with advice on parenting but geared towards heterosexual families.
“There seemed to be a need,” Dana explains, “for a site at the intersection of these areas; a place that combined general and LGBTQ-specific child raising advice with LGBTQ news from a parent’s perspective, as well as reviews and commentary on books and media for and about LGBTQ families.”
Dana created Mombian in 2005, writing about political and legal issues impacting LGBTQ parents, featuring personal stories from LGBTQ parents & families (current and historic); reviewing LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books & television, and summarizing social science research on LGBTQ parents and their children.
In 2007, Dana started the Mombian newspaper column, which has become one of the longest-running LGBTQ parenting newspaper columns in the country, appearing in Bay Windows, Between the Lines, Philadelphia Gay News, South Florida Gay News, Washington Blade, and Windy City Times newspapers.
In 2012, Mombian won a GLAAD Media Award for ‘Outstanding Blog’; in 2018, Dana was honored with the Hostetter-Habib Family Award from Family Equality Council, for ‘an unwavering commitment to our core values of love, justice, family, and equality.’
For Dana, though, it’s not about the awards. “They are less important than the community of LGBTQ families and advocates that I’ve had the honor of meeting through this work. I’ve made new friends, learned much myself about parenting and inclusion, and been strengthened as a parent and a person.”
In 2006, with Mombian up and running, Dana decided to create and host the annual ‘Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day’, a day of storytelling and sharing to celebrate and support LGBTQ families.
Today, #LGBTQFamiliesDay is held at the start of June, between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, in order to honor both, but also to highlight that not all families fit into the traditional structure of one mother and one father. Since its inception, hundreds of people have contributed posts, tweets, and videos for the event.
Dana has also branched into news correspondence, working for the Keen News Service, with her pieces appearing in numerous LGBTQ newspapers, including Bay Area Reporter, Bay Windows, Between the Lines, Dallas Voice, Georgia Voice, Metro Weekly, LGBTQ Nation, South Florida Gay News, and Windy City Times.
“I’ve also had pieces in the Huffington Post, the Washington Post’s ‘On Parenting’ site, Women’s Review of Books, the Advocate, and several other LGBTQ news sites.
Dana has been a speaker and a panelist on LGBTQ parenting at a number of conferences, including the LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change, BlogHer – the leading conference for women content creators – and the Out & Equal Workplace Summit.
With all this, it’s easy to forget that Dana still has a ‘day job’ – she continues as the
online content manager for SEED, having led the launch of their website and social media presence. “I now ensure the creation and maintenance of information and resources on our website and related social media pages for both existing and prospective SEED leaders, and develop marketing materials for both online and offline use.”
When asked about her feelings with respect to today’s political climate, Dana doesn’t mince words. “I am angry, frustrated, and saddened by it, and by a president who behaves in ways I wouldn’t tolerate from a child – bullying, threatening, and name-calling. LGBTQ rights have taken a big step backwards since he took office, as have those of other marginalized groups. As a Jew, too, I find anything that smacks of despotism and institutionalized xenophobia to have particularly worrisome historical echoes.”
Given the opportunity, Dana would encourage legislators to listen broadly to LGBTQ families telling their stories. “By doing so, lawmakers will better see that we love and care for our children like any other parents, but also that there are certain specific laws (such as nondiscrimination laws and simple ways to ensure the rights of nonbiological parents) that would make it easier for us to protect our families on an equal footing with others.”
“Ultimately,” Dana continues, “it is the children who benefit when all families are treated with equal rights and respect – and they are more likely to respect and value a country that respects and values them and their families. That makes our nation stronger overall.”
For more political insight from an LGBTQ perspective, and to learn more about Dana Rudolph, visit mombian.com.
The article was first published in the March-April 2020 issue #129 of Gay Parent Magazine.