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Serving up Mom's Apple Pie: three filmmakers document the tragedies and triumphs of lesbian moms.

The last woman Shad Reinstein, Jody Laine, and Shan Ottey interviewed for their full-length documentary sat down in front of the camera and burst into tears.

"I can't believe that after 27 years, it's still so raw," she told the filmmakers.

The documentary is Mom's Apple Pie: The Story of the Lesbian Mothers' National Defense Fund, and the woman interviewed lost custody of her 3-year-old son when she came out as a lesbian in the 1970s. With the help of LMNDF, she fought for legal visitation rights and eventually had two more children by artificial insemination.

"Having children is a human right," she now insists, echoing the organization's motto.

"LMNDF was a group of dykes who were not trained lawyers," explains Reinstein. "They were political activists in the 1970s and '80s who understood the custody issue in terms of a wider feminist political agenda. They taught women how to organize around their cases. They taught lawyers how to defend those cases, showed communities how to support the women, and helped with emotional and financial support."

Reinstein--along with her partner, Laine, and their friend Ottey--make up the Seattle-based Three Big Dykes Productions. The trio, all in their 40s and 50s, have backgrounds in radio documentary and community technical theater. They began making videos for small, progressive nonprofits and became interested in telling the story of LMNDF while enrolled in an eight-month documentary training program offered through the University of Washington.

In the 1980s, Ottey was a foster mother to over 30 children, frequently caring for gay and lesbian teens. At the same time, Reinstein and Laine heard of a friend going through a custody battle in rural upstate New York.

"I told her about LMNDF," Reinstein says. She notes that another ex-lover chose not to seek child support for fear that the father would bring up her lesbianism in court. "She became poor out of fear of losing her children."

The average custody case cost about $10,000 in the 1970s. LMNDF, founded in Seattle in 1974, received between 120 and 180 calls annually during the early years when they worked throughout the United States to help women defend their parental rights. The organization also produced a quarterly newsletter, Mom's Apple Pie.

Initially, Three Big Dykes produced a 12-minute video documenting the organization's political activism. Women who saw the short version wept throughout the entire film.

"The stories are heart-wrenching," says Reinstein. "We knew we had to tell the [organization's] story. We used the shorter video as a trailer to encourage women to talk about their experiences."

Over the past year, Three Big Dykes has traveled across the country to interview lesbians fighting to keep custody of their children as well as children affected by court battles. Initially, some women were reluctant to discuss their experiences. One mother, a business owner from a conservative suburb, agreed to be interviewed and then backed out, afraid that her business would suffer. Another mother who lost custody of her three small children in 1979 suggested that the filmmakers block out the face of her adult daughter on the documentary.

LMNDF co-founder Lois Thetford sums up these reactions succinctly: "I know these women, and it hurts too much to talk about it."

Still, women began to speak up.

"People would hear about our work and e-mail us, thanking us for telling their story," Laine says. "A quarter of our documentary class at the University of Washington was gay, but people didn't know the lesbian custody movement existed."

The movement, she notes, was part of the reproductive rights faction that gave women the right to control their own bodies. Back then, child custody wasn't so much a lesbian issue as it was a feminist issue.

"Gay adoption, the lesbian baby boom--these movements can be traced to women saying, 'I have the right to have children even though I'm a lesbian.'"

Reinstein's own bisexual mother, Julia Boyer Reinstein, was the subject of one of her first documentary attempts.

"She attended an all-girls school and had these fantastic stories about women who got together in the 1920s," Reinstein says. "Later, she became a schoolteacher, and author Elizabeth Kennedy wrote articles and books about her."

These days, Three Big Dykes Productions is busy preparing to submit Mom's Apple Pie to film festivals as well as TV stations (Sundance is on their wish list) while the short version is available to schools and universities.

Their upcoming projects include a documentary on Smiley, a lesbian Native American elder, and a film celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Women's Peace Camp Movement.

"We're really intent on telling the story of the average person who does extraordinary things," concludes Laine, "to encourage people to know that they have the power to change the world."
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Title Annotation:Hollywood Extra; Lesbian Mothers' National Defense Fund; Shad Reinstein, Jody Laine, and Shan Ottey
Author:Hart, Melissa
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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