Home' LOTL : May 2004 Contents So how did a woman as publicity shy and as private as Kelli
end up with one of the most public women in the world? Pure
chance. The two were fixed up on blind date by Rosie
O'Donnell's brother, Danny. Six years later, they are still together.
At first glance, Kelli O'Donnell (formerly Carpenter)
seems to be everything that Rosie O'Donnell is not. She's a
tiny, slender woman with electric blue eyes and blonde spikey
hair. She's a southern charmer to Rosie's urban wiseass. Kelli
grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One of four children,
Kelli says she always knew she was gay. "I was going to gay bars
at 16!" she laughs. However, being gay in the south was not
easy. In fact, this staunch supporter of gay rights tells me that
her very religious parents actually tried to "cure" her of being
gay, sending her to Homosexuals Anonymous.
"My parents wouldn't pay for me to go to college unless I
got help. I had to attend counseling and conferences in order
to stay in college. I feel like I had the foresight even then to
know that education was freedom and to know that it was just
four years and I would be done and then I would never have
to see my family again. And luckily that's not the end of the
story but at the time, that's what I was feeling," Kelli told me.
Indeed, Kelli offers hope to anyone who might be
estranged from their parents because of their sexuality.
"To say that something is never going to change is never
the tr uth. And I really thought it would never change but I
can't get rid of them now!" she jokes. "And Ro has an
excellent relationship with my parents and they came around!
They matured in their own way and learned that it wasn't
really as scary to them as they thought it would be."
What turned it all around was motherhood. As soon as
Kelli's parents realised that they had grandchildren, they
changed completely. "I don't know if this is true or not but I
wonder that somehow, if you're a family, if that removes the
sexuality out of the equation that scares them so much. It
becomes less about a relationship and they see a family unit
instead. It really was what sort of changed my parents. And Ro
took a stand with them and said, 'We have kids, we have a
great life, and you can either choose to be a part of it or not.
It's your choice.' And so she sort of forced them into making
a decision and they have stood by that."
Kelli Carpenter was working at Nickelodeon as the
Director of Marketing before she met the woman who would
change her life, and her last name. (Carpenter has legally
changed her last name to O'Donnell as a Christmas present to
Rosie.) Says Kelli, "I thought it was a nice proclamation ... and
the other thing was with the kids in school and if I needed to
take them to the emergency room for stitches or something ...
I don't have to answer any questions like why don't we have
the same last name or this or that. It just makes it a lot easier."
With four children, all under the age of ten at home, making
things easier is a big deal. When the couple first met, Rosie was
a single mother of Parker and his little sister, Chelsea. After a few
years together, the couple then adopted son Blake, together.
When Blake was about seven months old, the couple decided to
become foster parents to a young girl named Mia. It was then
that Rosie and Kelli became political advocates by bringing the
subject of gay adoption to the forefront.
On national television, Rosie very publicly announced that
even she, as famous as she was, was denied the opportunity to
adopt the child they had fostered simply because Rosie and
partner Kelli were unwilling to lie about being a lesbian
couple. Florida, one of only two states that still refuse to
legalise gay and lesbian adoption, refused to budge on the
issue and are yet to change the law. Sadly, whilst the argument
over gay adoption blazed, Mia was quietly adopted out to
another family, although Rosie and Kelli are still able to see
her. And then, because three children plus one foster child
wasn't enough, Kelli decided to get pregnant and in
November of 2002, she gave birth to Vivianne Rose, a blonde,
blue-eyed stunner who is the spitting image of Kelli herself.
So just how hard was it for two celebrity lesbians to get
pregnant? Well, remember what happened when Melissa
Etheridge and Julie Cypher decided to have a child. The hunt
was on as everyone tried to find out who their sperm donor was.
Astonishingly, Kelli and Rosie were able to remain anonymous
in a way that Melissa and Julie could not -- although that didn't
stop Rosie from blurting out to anyone who would listen that
Kelli was pregnant with their child. Sighed Kelli, "That would
be my other half that can't keep her mouth closed. You know I
think we were at the one-year anniversary of Rosie Magazine,
and I was newly pregnant. I mean like newly enough that you
don't even tell people yet. And she couldn't help it; I mean she
was walking around telling everyone.
"That's what I love about her. It's the complete opposite
of me and so, it's the same thing that draws me to her. And so
I love it that she speaks her mind and is opinionated and smart
and challenging and all of those things are what makes me
crazy about her."
Listening to Kelli, it's not hard to notice that six years and
four children have not done anything to change the couple's
devotion to one another. As other celebrity unions, straight
and gay break up, Kelli and Rosie have continued to grow and
flourish. On February 26, 2004, the couple flew to San
Francisco to become the only Hollywood lesbian couple to get
legally married. They have also founded r Family Vacations
(www.rfamilyvacations.com), offering the first ever vacation
adventures for gay and lesbian families.
What's the secret of their success? Kelli reminds me that the
most important thing for couples to remember is that "Your
kids are going to thrive if you're happy. The happiest child has
happy parents. If you're miserable then they're going to be
miserable, so I just think you've got to take care of yourself."
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