Cheri Pies, pioneering author of lesbian parent handbook, dies of cancer, aged 73

Author Cheri Pies

Cheri Pies, the author of the US’ first parenting handbook for lesbians, has died aged 73. 

Pies, a professor emerita of public health at the University of California, Berkeley, died of cancer on 4 July at her home, her wife, Melina Linder, told the New York Times.

Considering Parenthood: A Workbook for Lesbians was published in 1985, decades before same-sex marriage was legal, after she and her partner adopted their daughter. 

Same-sex marriage in the US was first legalised in Massachusetts in 2004 and later across all 50 states in 2015, with each state holding separate marriage laws. 

In the landmark publication, which Pies described as a workbook, she offered a “guide to help you make your way along the path to considering parenthood”. It covered a range of topics such as sperm donors and legal issues surrounding adoption. 

The book’s introduction states the text aims to: “guide your thinking, present you with many possibilities and assist you in making choices that feel right to you, the life you have chosen for yourself and the life you hope to live”. 

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In the ’70s, prior to her role in academia, Pies was a health educator for planned parenthood, which saw her counsel heterosexual women considering motherhood.

In 1978, when the concept of gay parents was still unheard of, she and her partner adopted their daughter, a life-changing decision through which she became aware of the lack of support for same-sex parents. 

This led her to run workshops in her California home and by the early ’80s she was flooded with letters and calls from lesbians around the country, which prompted her to write the book which was published by the lesbian feminist press, Spinsters Ink. 

G. Dorsey Green, a psychologist and co-author of The Lesbian Parenting Book, writing in Pies’ obituary on Mombian, a website for lesbian parents, said: “She was absolutely a pioneer, and those of us who came later built on her work. 

“I would recommend her book to clients. That was when lesbian couples were just starting to think about having children as out lesbians. Cheri started that conversation.”

‘There are people walking the Earth because of Cheri Pies’

On the same website, Berkeley health and social behaviour professor Lori Dorfman said: “Because of Cheri’s work, there was a critical mass of people saying, ‘Yes, we can have the family we want’. There are people walking the Earth because of Cheri Pies.”

Jill Rose, a woman who attended her workshops in the ’80s, said Pies helped her and her partner find a sperm donor. In return, they considered her their children’s honorary godmother.

“Her group gave us the structure and knowledge about what steps to take. We didn’t know many people at that point who were doing it, so it was really important to find somebody we could ask questions of.”

In 1993, Pies earned a doctorate in health education and worked as the director of family and child health programmes for nearby Contra Costa County before becoming a lecturer at Berkeley.

She is survived by her wife Melinda and her sisters Lois Goldberg and Stacy Pies.