A look at the origins of the holiday and an interview with a mother and her lesbian daughter
by Tony Luck and Donald Miller
Motherhood has been celebrated since ancient times. The Greeks paid homage to Rhea, the Mother of Gods, and there are records of the Romans worshiping a mother Goddess known as Cybele as early as 260 BCE. The more contemporary way of honoring mothers began in England in the 1600s, when “Mothering Sunday” was observed on the fourth Sunday of the Christian Lent.
Over the years, the term “Mothering Sunday” has fallen into disuse and has mostly been replaced by “Mother’s Day,” which is used the world over.
Fantastic duo: Jessie and Vanessa Harris
The first Mother’s Day in the United States was held in 1907 when Julia Ward, who wrote the words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” held a ceremony to honor her mother. She then successfully campaigned for a formal holiday to honor mothers and by 1911 most states had taken up the idea. This was followed in 1914 by a declaration by President Woodrow Wilson that Mother’s Day should be celebrated as a national holiday on the second Sunday in May. The idea quickly spread to Canada and Mexico and many more countries throughout the world.
In honor of all the mothers out there who share a special relationship with a child that is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, Q-Notes takes a look at one mother and daughter who have forged a special bond.
Vanessa Harris is mother to two children: Josh and Jessica (she prefers Jessie). With the death of her husband six years ago, mom Vanessa became the sole provider. Needless to say, the family is a tight-knit threesome.
“I have a very good relationship with my kids,” says Vanessa. “I need to be supportive of them. That’s my job as a mom. They can’t function independently if they don’t have love from home.
“All of the three of us are very close-knit. We do so much together. For quiet time we’ll read together, and often we end up in numerous, really deep discussions. Jessie and I like to play Scrabble and go to movies together a lot.
“We have this kind of old-fashioned household. Everybody has to pitch in to make sure things get done because I have no family here. It’s just my kids and me.”
Vanessa points to one particular individual who served as a strong mentor for Jessie: Time Out Youth’s Nicole Hoagland.
Although Vanessa and her husband were open-minded and accepting of their children under any conditions, Vanessa admits she was surprised when Jessie came out to them when she was in the fifth grade.
“She mentioned it to me and my husband when she was 11,” Vanessa recalls. “We thought she didn’t know what she was talking about because she hadn’t been [in] any sexual [relationships]. We just kinda left it at that and thought, you know, whatever.”
Jessie recalls the experience from her perspective: “We were all having dinner one night, and I just said it. I was so comfortable talking about it, it didn’t really seem any different from telling her that my favorite color was blue. I didn’t think there was a problem with liking girls, because I had never been taught such a thing.”
Jessie’s pronouncement also evoked a response from her brother Josh.
“He was very supportive and intrigued, but I think a little bit uneasy,” says Vanessa. “Not because of her sexual orientation, but because it would be bringing other people into their relationship. They’ve always been very close.”
It was later in Jessie’s teen years that Vanessa decided it was a good idea for Jessie to visit Time Out Youth.
“I went with Jessie the first time,” Vanessa recalls. “When we got there they were meeting in the basement of St. Luke’s on the Plaza. I felt she was uncomfortable because I was there, so I left, so that she could feel more free to talk about who she is and her experiences and not have to be thinking ‘my mom is here.’”
“My mom is the most understanding mom there is,” Jessie says proudly. “She’s always so sympathetic and really great about putting herself in another person’s place.”
Vanessa confirms that over the years Time Out Youth became a haven of safe refuge for Jessie.
Jessie Harris to mom Vanessa (left): ‘You’ve taught me to keep a bigger perspective on life.’
“This was a place where she could say what she wanted to say and be who she was,” Vanessa recalls. “She would take the bus over there and hang out after school. It took precedence over everything else in her life, and I think it really helped her with challenges she faced at school.”
Always very active in school, Jessie was outed by an unsympathetic fellow student, which made her high school years increasingly painful. “It wasn’t a good experience for her,” Vanessa recalls. “They were very unkind, and the administration was not supportive, although the teachers were very supportive. The students were the problem. They would yell at her, call her names and throw water on her. They were just ugly to her. It affected her learning, and all the stress of trying to fit in socially took its toll.”
Despite the challenges Jessie faced in her high school years, the support of a loving mother and brother and guidance from Time Out Youth has aided Jessie in her journey to becoming a strong and driven 19-year-old who’s currently majoring in psychology and journalism at NCA&T in Greensboro. She plans to transfer to UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall to be closer to her brother.
To her mother, she says this: “Thank You. No matter what happens I’ll always carry everything that happens between us inside. You are responsible for making me the person that you are so proud of. My whole structure is based on who you are. Your open mindedness, your core beliefs, everything I believe has been based on replicating your behavior. You’ve taught me to keep a bigger perspective on life.”