Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe with their children Jaidon (11), Lennox (five), and Ava (14) . Santos and Volpe were one of the first legally wed gay couples in Illinois. Credit: Ryan Edmund

When queer people choose to start a family, major life decisions like where to live and attend school require extra consideration. Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe, one of the first legally wed gay couples in Illinois, are raising their three children in Evanston and enrolled them at Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette because of its progressive and inclusive community. “We had to consider how our children would be accepted in their school, as well as the neighborhood they grew up in, based on our family structure,” Volpe said. “Our children have thrived in their school because they had teachers who saw them for exactly who they are, embraced them, and created an environment where all differences are celebrated.”

Jaidon (11), Lennox (five), and Ava (14) on their porch in EvanstonCredit: Ryan Edmund

Acceptance and inclusivity within the family often requires a great deal of persistence and strength. Jamila Raegan gave birth to her son, Bashir Oliver, when she was 22. When her marriage ended two years later, Raegan had to navigate raising Oliver, who has autism, and cope with a family that didn’t fully embrace her queer identity. Now she and Oliver, who is 17, have a healthy nontraditional family structure. 

As a queer-identifying photographer, I’m often thinking about the representation and visibility of my community. After visiting the five families in these photographs, I’ve grown to have a deeper understanding of the complexities and planning that goes into the process of having kids for queer people. It takes time, money, sacrifice, and sometimes resistance. 

A photo of Oliver sleeping. Raegan visits him and his father at least once a month from Chicago while she attends school.Credit: Ryan Edmund

Greene and Zhou in their homeCredit: Ryan Edmund

Welch and Mya Welch-Taylor laugh in their Bronzeville garden.Credit: Ryan Edmund