As They Welcome a New Baby, Tennessee Couple Speaks Out for True Freedom

Danielle & Jennifer Hounshell • Johnson City, TN

It’s a special year for Danielle and Jennifer Hounshell: They’re preparing to welcome their second child into their lives, a baby they’ve named Shay.

But as they prepare for Shay’s arrival, the women – who married in Connecticut in 2009 and have been together for nearly a decade – have become more conscious than ever of the fact that their family is not fully protected in the state they call home, Tennessee. LGBT Americans are not afforded any formal protection from discrimination in the state: Only two cities provide limited local protections, and several laws explicitly disadvantage LGBT Tennesseans.

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Danielle and Jennifer are acutely aware of this reality – and they often feel the real difference of living in TN when compared with their experiences in other states.

“We came from a state where we were protected,” Jennifer said, describing their time in Connecticut. Danielle added: “It felt fantastic to be protected. But when we moved down here, you start to realize that you don’t know for sure whether you’re going to lose your job or whether your kid’s going to get kicked out of day care or whether your doctor is going to take care of you. Every time you meet someone new, you’re coming out again. And right now in Tennessee, people can do anything they want with that information.”

When we move, we have to think, ‘Which state are we covered in? Which state do we have to worry about our children being discriminated against because they have two mothers? In which state are we equal? It’s this never-ending process.– Jennifer Hounshell

Jennifer and Danielle, who work as a therapist and marketing specialist, respectively, may not stay in Tennessee forever. But they know that even when they consider their next home, they’ll have to think about these questions again and again.

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“We have to think, ‘Which state are we covered in? Which state do we have to worry about our children being discriminated against because they have two mothers? In which state are we equal? It’s this never-ending process. The fact that we even have to consider when and where we are fully protected citizens of the United States of America is absurd. If I want to move, I should think about the neighborhoods and the school system and what we can afford. It shouldn’t be about whether our kids are protected or recognized as our children. I would give anything to have the normal stress of moving, but nothing else. This is normal stress times five hundred, because we have these extra caveats layer into our lives that we didn’t ask for.”

“Freedom means not having to think about these things,” Danielle added. “It would be nice to not have to constantly be on the defensive.”

To live free is beautiful. But it’s hard to live when you have a thumb pressed against you at all times with discrimination.– Jennifer Hounshell

That’s why the couple is speaking out in favor of passing comprehensive non-discrimination protections for gay and transgender Americans. They want the freedom to live their lives, and they want their children – their 2 year-old daughter Kieran and baby Shay – to live in a state and world free from discrimination.

“I don’t need strangers to respect what I do or approve. But I would like to live my life without restriction,” Jennifer said. “To live free is beautiful. But it’s hard to live when you have a thumb pressed against you at all times with discrimination.”

Photo below by Sean Trent

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