| AMY TANNENBAUM
“Columbus, Ohio was pretty close to where we put our finger down on a map,” says Valerie, about the journey that brought her to the Midwest. Valerie was born in Queens and raised on Long Island, but in her mid-20s, her sister invited her to come along on a cross-country adventure, and on a whim, she agreed. “Once we got here, it all kind of came together.” All the things that came together included meeting Shannon, who she calls, “the love of my life.”
Shannon’s situation was complicated, to say the least. Born and raised in central Ohio, she came from a very conservative family. Shannon married young, had two children, Maeven and Vaeda, then several years later came out to her family
and left her husband. At the time that she and Valerie met, Shannon was still married.
The night continued with dancing and laughing. “She told me she loved me the first time we hung out!” says Valerie. They went to Hounddog’s Pizza with a group after the show, where they discovered an empty bottle on a table. This inevitably turned into a game of Spin the Bottle. As Valerie and Shannon watched the bottle spin, they both recall hoping that bottle would land on the other. When it did, and they went in for the kiss, Shannon says, “it happened in slow motion, and there were fireworks!” They couldn’t deny their feelings any longer. A week later, they became a couple.
Valerie’s transition into motherhood happened right away. “I wasn’t sure if the kids would like me, or if I even wanted kids, but there was a complete and sudden immersion,” she says. “I was completely in love with them.” Valerie moved in a couple of months into their relationship. Everyone around her couldn’t believe how quickly she took on the role of parent — and neither could she. “It’s probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” Valerie says. “If I could legally adopt them, I would.”
But complications were not behind them. Shannon was still going through the process of divorcing her husband, and they were in a bitter custody battle. To make matters worse, he didn’t approve of Shannon’s relationship with Valerie, and he dragged the court battle out for as long as possible. Shannon and Valerie found themselves struggling to continue fighting for the kids with a draining bank account.
One day they observed Shannon’s nephew raising money for a trip to France by selling t-shirts, and they found their avenue to fund
their legal fees. Valerie sketched their first design on a napkin and ordered 20 shirts with what felt like the last of their money. It was just one color, navy blue with a white print. They filled backpacks of t-shirts and walked down High Street during Pride with their girls. They sold out before the parade even began!
After Pride, more shirts were sold at ComFest, and Valerie was convinced that she could make the shirts herself. She bought all the equipment and materials and made it happen! Thus, Homohio — now called Local Liberations — was born. The t-shirt company now offers more than 20 designs, and they sell their shirts at festivals all over Ohio, as well as through their online store. Their designs reflect a message of equality and hope, and products and supplies are locally purchased.
With their legal battles behind them, Valerie and Shannon now focus on being together as a family, raising Maeven and Vaeda. “There is a lot of laughing and silliness in our family,” says Valerie. “We value important things, but we try not to take ourselves too seriously.”
“We’re both really sarcastic with the kids,” says Shannon. “Maybe one day it’ll come back to bite us in the butt!”
Their next battle? Marriage equality. The family has appeared on two marriage billboards in Columbus this fall, as a response to an anti-equality billboard that appeared in August. Shannon and Valerie say they won’t marry until marriage equality comes to Ohio.
Looking back on overcoming court battles and building a successful business together, Valerie says, “We are a unified front, and neither of us fits into one role.” Shannon adds, “We complement each other really well, but people ask me all the time, ‘How did you end up with a Jew from New York?’”