A film producer contacted me about two months ago about a story I'd worked on in the mid-90s for Florida Public Radio, NPR and This Way Out. It was the tragic tale of a mother and her eleven year-old daughter. The mom had divorced her husband because she had fallen in love with a woman. The split had been OK in terms of the custody of the youngest daughter, the eleven year-old. But when Mary Ward asked John Ward for more money in child support, it was as if she'd fired a shot across the bow, and he was determined to retaliate. Suddenly, John Ward decided that it was time to bring up "the L-word" in a bid to get custody of the daughter. In turn, Mary Ward's lawyers brought up "the M-word", as in John Ward had served time for second-degree murder in the death of his first wife.
The question now was before the courts in Florida: is a murderer more fit to be the custodial parent or a lesbian? For Judge Joseph Tarbuck of the Escambia County Circuit Court, it was not hard to reach the obvious conclusion: the girl needed to be brought up in "a NON-lesbian world." Mary Ward appealed the decision to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Two talented lawyers, Charlene Carres of Tallahassee and Kate Kendall of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, laid out a case that Mary Ward and her partner were providing a good and supportive home for Mary's daughter, and contrary to the arguments made by John Ward's attorneys, they were not doing anything sexually-explicit in front of the child. Still, a three-judge panel concluded that there was not sufficient evidence in the trial record to justify reversing Judge Tarbuck's order... even with Tarbuck's prejudicial statement in the record. The news sent a chill throughout this part of the state. It seemed clear that if you were lesbian and living in Northwest Florida, you were sub-human. Even a murderer was better than being a lesbian. Her lawyers planned an appeal to the state supreme court.
Mary Ward died of a heart attack a few months after the appelate court's ruling and before the next legal round. The First DCA then withdrew its opinion. It seemed an even sadder post-script to the story.
This documentary crew is now in the place of raising money to help get their film finished and distributed. I think this is a story that needs to be told. They have a website, and the above trailer. I hope that in the coming months, we'll see a schedule of festivals and screenings!