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First Comes Love

Thousands have met their match at Swarthmore—it’s called the ‘Quaker matchbox’ for a reason. Here, we highlight LGBTQ couples who found love, light, and lifelong commitment along their College journey.

Megin + Katie

Megin ’97 and Katie Charner-Laird ’96 knew each other only peripherally in college, but fate still caused their paths to cross—in California.

As aspiring teachers at Swarthmore, Megin and Katie connected—separately—with a common mentor at Penn, an education professor who pointed them each to the progressive Prospect-Sierra School in Berkeley.

“We ended up doing recess duty and teaching an after-school class together,” they say. “Because, after all, don’t we all want to hang out with Swatties everywhere we go?”

Those hangouts turned into a relationship, which turned into talk of marriage, even in the face of discrimination.

“One place we called as a possible location for our wedding hung up after kindly informing us that it would ‘be illegal,’” they say.

Though the laws have changed tremendously in the 16 years since their wedding, Megin and Katie continue to make careful choices about where to travel or raise their children, opting for more welcoming communities like Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., and, most recently, Cambridge, Mass., where Megin is a professor and Katie a school principal.

“Because of where we’ve chosen to live, we rarely encounter overt discrimination,” they say. “However, the need to be careful is itself an indication of how much further we have to go as a country.

“Still, we’ve watched the broader landscape change around us, and now we virtually never have to cross out the ‘father’ line when filling out paperwork for our kids, because usually they say ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2.’”

Much of Megin and Katie’s free time revolves around their children, Quinn, 13, and Wylie, 6—shuttling them from cello lessons to swim meets and school events, and enjoying the outdoors and reading as a family. A planned visit to Swarthmore this spring for Megin’s 20th Reunion will include a prospective-student tour for an enthusiastic Quinn.

“Swarthmore is always a part of our consciousness,” they say. “The Quaker roots that we gained from our time there are definitely present in our lives.

“Honestly, we talk about Swarthmore a lot, and it’s wonderful that our kids are familiar with the school and understand how important it is to us. It is not a secret that we’d love our kids to go there.”

Jason + Robert

For Jason Albright ’99, First-Year Orientation brought new beginnings both expected … and not so much.

“We didn’t immediately think we would end up in a relationship,” Jason says of now-married-partner Robert Ruiz ’99, whom he met on Parrish Lawn his first day at Swarthmore in 1995, “but we got to know each other over the next few months on campus.”

By the spring of 1998, the pair were in a committed relationship, benefiting as a couple and individually from the examples of LGBTQ classmates, staff, and faculty, including professors Pieter Judson ’78, Kaori Kitao, Nora Johnson, and Patty White.

“There were a handful of people who came to Swarthmore with less-open views about LGBTQ individuals, but they were a very small minority,” Jason says, “and most of those views were transformed considerably in our time together.”

After moving to Miami Beach for Jason’s law studies, and then to upstate New York for graduate work at Cornell, they moved to D.C. for a job—and a future together.

“We decided to get married in 2015 when we were planning to buy a condo together,” says Jason. “We chose the D.C. Superior Court because we were thinking about marriage as a formality of an existing relationship.”

A small dinner party followed a simple ceremony on a chilly Friday afternoon in February, a low-key tribute to 20 years of friendship.

“It’s really a great time to be a gay couple,” Jason says. “What we’ve been impressed with is how quickly the LGBTQ community has achieved a number of core political and cultural goals that initially seemed like remote aspirations. Nonetheless, legal and institutional inequalities persist. It’s important to remain aware of them, active in fighting them, and resistant to any attempts to retrench the advances we have made.”

Josh + Tamar

Tamar Datan ’85’s mother had a sense her daughter would end up with college sweetheart Josh Gamson ’85.

They had a special bond with each other, and to each other’s families—Josh’s mom as a professional mentor and surrogate mother to Tamar; Tamar’s mom as a loving letter-writer and guardian angel to Josh.

“Before she died,” Tamar says, “one of the last letters she wrote to him said that the reason she was so sad that we broke up was because she was really looking forward to a grandchild between us.”

And in a way, they delivered.

Although Josh and Tamar split up shortly after graduation—due to their realization that, even though they loved each other, they were not destined to be together—they stayed in touch, with “that fondness you have for old friends,” Josh says, reconnecting once or twice a year over the phone.

Years later, each married and in their 30s, the two separately began to think about parenthood. Josh and husband Richard hoped for a baby, but the logistics and legal landscape of the early 2000s made for a daunting process. Tamar and her then-husband, Andy, decided a baby wasn’t for them.

“Then Josh calls and says, ‘I had a dream that you were pregnant,’” Tamar says. “I laughed and said, ‘That’s really funny, because I just decided not to have children.’”

Her biggest regret, she told him, was that she’d never have the experience of pregnancy and childbirth.

“And without hesitation, he said, ‘Have ours.’”

Tamar agreed to be the gestational carrier for Josh and Richard’s baby, a story lovingly detailed in the opening chapter of Josh’s book Modern Families: Stories of Extraordinary Journeys to Kinship. Another donor supplied the egg, with one of the fathers—Josh is careful not to say who—providing the sperm. In early January 2006—after a surprise success with the first IVF transfer, followed by a friendly lawsuit to establish paternity—Reba Sadie was born, to the delight of her fathers and her “belly mommy,” Tamar.

“Emotionally,” Tamar says, “I’ll be attached to her forever. I knew I wasn’t going to raise her but that she’d always be a child in my life.”

Reba and younger sister Maddy—born with a similar story but different donors—are both part of Tamar’s family, visiting their “auntie” in Virginia annually and regularly attending her family reunions. The girls were also flower children in Tamar’s wedding to wife Sandy in 2014.

A different kind of matchbox couple, “we are forever connected through Reba,” Josh says. “We were connected before, but this extended our link beyond our own lifetimes.”

Keetje + Sarah

When we asked Keetje Kuipers ’02 and Sarah Fritsch Kuipers ’04 for their love story, they responded in true Swattie fashion—an essay, written by Keetje:

Sarah and I met when I was in Grapevine, Swarthmore’s oldest women’s a cappella group, and she decided to audition. I was a junior and she was a freshman, and during her audition all of us older Grapes were totally charmed by her beautiful voice and sweet demeanor. At the time, Sarah was dating her high school boyfriend, and I also had a boyfriend who was a student at Swarthmore. We became friends through singing together, and more than a year later, a new kind of connection started to develop.

Our romance unfolded primarily at various parties we attended at the two fraternity houses on campus. We were regulars at these weekly social events, but we began to use our attendance as an excuse to sneak off together. For the first few weeks when we were testing out our romance, we kept it from our friends. But when we decided to share our happiness with others, we were met with enthusiasm and joy. In fact, at the end of the year, an acquaintance told us that if Swarthmore had a “cutest couple,” we would win.

We were devoted to each other for the next three years. I moved to New York after graduation and traveled back to campus often on the weekends to be with Sarah. However, when I decided to pursue an MFA at the University of Oregon, we made the decision to break up. It was incredibly painful, and for the next seven years Sarah remained, in my mind, the one who got away. We hadn’t spoken in more than a year when, in early 2011, Sarah emailed me. We got on the phone and the rest is history.

We got married on a ranch in Montana on New Year’s Eve 2015. We recently relocated from Alabama to Seattle; I gave up my position as a creative writing professor at Auburn University to give our family a chance to live in a more accepting community on the West Coast. I am the primary caregiver for our daughter, Nela, who is almost 4, and who knows that she’s very special to have a Mama and a “Rara.” Together, the three of us (and our dog, Prairie) love to get out into the Pacific Northwest landscape for hiking and fly-fishing. We hope to continue to grow our family in the coming years, and since Sarah is a fifth-generation Swattie, it looks like our kids will have even more incentive to follow in their parents’ matchbox footsteps.

+ LGBTQ matchbox couples, send your love stories!