Relationship help for all kinds of couples

Solano Pride offers workshops for gay partners

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

Beth Lancaster was 16 when she felt an attraction for another woman.

It was during the late 60s, the tail end of the counterculture movement, when aspirations and dreams blanketed the young population but topics of homosexuality were still unspeakable. At least, they were for Lancaster.

She remembers feeling ostracized by her family and society and as a result, 'went back into the closet.'

Subsequently, she became a wife and mother.

Eight years ago, at 47, she met a woman and fell in love. Unlike her reaction of three decades ago, she was going with her feelings this time.

Lancaster and her partner have lived together for seven years, shared myriad experiences as in any relationship, and yet they are viewed as two separate individuals in society instead of a couple.

Their medical rights for one another are stifled, meaning Lancaster cannot make decisions for her partner in an emergency situation, nor will they have access to each others social security.

These are privileges, however, that a married heterosexual couple are bestowed.

'There are a lot of things we have to pay an attorney for to achieve rights that others take for granted,' Lancaster said. 'We have to have documentation just to get something close to the same rights. Its different in gay relationships.'

Lancaster and her partner dont shroud their relationship in public. Instead, Lancaster owns a Web applications business in Vallejo and is a part of the mainstream, members who contribute their time and effort to other resources in the community.

'We dont hide who we are,' said Lancaster, a mother of two. 'In my business, I make it clear that I have a domestic partner, that Im gay. And theres never been any repercussion.'

Cathy Parker is a licensed clinical social worker who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology. She understands gays and lesbians have to deal with issues relating to society, but its time to look forward to the next step.

'If we focus on gay issues, that will keep us segregated and we need to go beyond that,' she said. 'Instead, we need to look at the subtler pieces and find that there are similarities in all relationships.'

Beginning today, the Solano Pride Center, a nonprofit organization that provides services to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of Solano County, will host a four-part relationship workshop series entitled, 'Beyond the Moment.'

They are workshops that focus on the intricacies involved with a gay and lesbian relationship that quite often are similar to that of a heterosexual couple.

It is the first time the nonprofit has partnered with local mental health professionals in Solano County and is an avenue available to educating the public.

'Whats different is that two women are not coming into a relationship believing one will stay home and not contribute to the economy of the relationship,' Parker said. 'During these workshops, well look at the relationship and what money means to each of us.'

The workshops, held once a month beginning today through July, encompass finance, romance, dating, homophobia and 'coming out.'

More importantly, they underscore the depth a homosexual relationship can embrace.

'People think its different, that it isnt the same kind of love you feel in a hetero couple,' Lancaster said. 'But really, youre loving a person, not what sex they are.'

For Ric Duran, 44, and his partner, Richard Johnson, each day revolves on sharing moments together and enjoying the sunlight. And the reason is because they are both HIV positive, with Duran given six months to live 20 years ago.

'Im OK with who I am and I make no qualms about it. That comes with not knowing what my life expectancy will be,' Duran said. 'Time is short and life is unpredictable. You just make the most of what you can do.

'We still dont know how much time we have but we manage our health and keep our weight down,' he continued. 'We put everything in a trust for one another and its all prearranged so financially were ready. But at the same time, who knows.'

Workshops will be given by Parker; Claire Siverson, licensed clinical social worker; and Barbara Cornell and James Orlando, both licensed marriage and family therapists.