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Cheri Pies, Lesbian Parenthood Pioneer, Dies

July 25, 2023

An entire generation of lesbian parents can thank Cheri Pies.

Cheri Pies, a professor of public health who broke barriers with her landmark 1985 book, “Considering Parenthood: A Workbook for Lesbians,” died in her home in Berkley, CA on July 4th at the age of 73. Her wife, Melinda Liner, confirmed cancer was the cause of death.

Before becoming an author, Dr. Pies started her career in the 1970s at Planned Parenthood as a health educator, counseling straight women who were considering being mothers. In 1978, she and her partner adopted a daughter. At that time, same-sex parents were largely unheard of.

She was inspired by same-sex parents who were blazing the trail to parenthood without any support. She started running workshops in her home in Oakland, CA that supported and informed same-sex couples of common obstacles they would face. She advertised these workshops in women’s bookstores and other lesbian-centric locations.

By the early 80s, Dr. Pies was receiving calls and letters from lesbians nationwide, begging for her guidance. In order to support these women, she compiled her work into a book, “Considering Parenthood: A Workbook for Lesbians,” which provided advice on topics such as sperm donors, legal issues surrounding adoption, and ways to build a support network.

The effects of her book rippled for years, so much so that there was a term coined for the influx of lesbian parents: “gay-by boom.” Newsweek covered the exponential growth of lesbian parents, writing, “Adoption agencies report more and more inquiries from prospective parents — especially men — who identify themselves as gay, and sperm banks say they’re in the midst of what some call a ‘gayby boom’ propelled by lesbians.”

Dr. Pies was a lifelong student, earning a master’s degree in social work from Boston University in 1976, a master’s degree in maternal and child health from Berkeley in 1985, and a doctorate in health education there in 1993. She served as the director of family, maternal, and child health programs for Contra Costa County before teaming up with Dr. Michael Lu to create the Best Babies Zone initiative. The Best Babies Zone studied health conditions in economically challenged neighborhoods around the country with the intention of improving them.

She became the principal investigator for the initiative in 2012 and oversaw home health visits and work with community leaders to create parent-child play groups, improve park safety, and enhance job-skills training. This program is still in service today.

Ms. Linder says that an entire generation of lesbian parents continues to show their appreciation of Dr. Pies’ work. “Cheri and I could be anywhere in the world — on a hike in New Zealand or just walking in the Berkeley Hills — and people would see her and stop to thank her, saying how Ben or Alice or whoever would not be in their life were it not for Cheri,” she said about her late wife.

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