In June 2019, Joan lost a short battle with cancer. She was duly honored and celebrated a few weeks later at the 2019 Lexington Pride festival. Two state legislators sent proclamations. Joan’s memorial service filled the Lexington Unitarian Universalist church to standing room only.
Interviewed by: Kate Kunath
Photography: ManSee Kong
Interview Location: Lawrenceburg, KY, USA
Birth Year: 1957
Jennifer Crossen was born in 1957 in Yokosuka, Japan, where her father was stationed as a doctor in the U.S. Navy. At three, Jennifer’s family moved to a farm outside Lexington, Kentucky. Although parents’ marriage ended when Jennifer was 13, she remembers her childhood as blissful, surrounded by cats, dogs, and horses.
Jennifer’s parents were progressives. Her father was an early advocate for women’s reproductive rights; her mother was active in the Civil Rights movement. They modeled involvement and engagement with the pressing issues of the day. Jennifer didn’t know that one day, she would channel their activist spirit on behalf of the LGBTQ community. At 23, she married the first man who asked her; they soon had a son named David. After seven years, the marriage fell apart. Soon after, Jennifer met Joan Callahan and, over time, they fell in love. With Jennifer’s ex-husband out of their lives, Joan effectively became David’s second parent.
In the late 1980s, there was no way for Jennifer and Joan’s relationship, or Joan’s relationship with David, to be recognized and protected under the law. In due time, that would change. Meanwhile, Jennifer and Joan engaged in ongoing battles to repel anti-LGBT bills in the Kentucky Legislature. Jennifer helped pass an anti-discrimination ordinance in Lexington / Fayette County. She served on the board of Lexington Fairness for more than 20 years. Today, the organization presents an award every year called the “Jennifer Crossen Out for Fairness” award. Jennifer and Joan were also on the forefront of efforts to get the University of Kentucky to add domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. And for 17 years, Jennifer and Joan hosted Lexington’s Pride festival on their farm. Jennifer dutifully mowed all 50 acres of the farm to make space for the event, which “grew and grew” as word spread of a safe and celebratory place for the Lexington-area LGBTQ community to gather. Eventually the festival outgrew the farm and moved downtown.
In 2013, Jennifer and Joan got married in Provincetown, Massachusetts. As a wedding present, Joan told Jennifer that she would like to legally adopt David, who by now was 30 years old. Around the same time, a federal judge named John Heyburn ruled that even though marriage equality had not come to Kentucky, the state was legally obliged to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. This paved the way for Joan to be able to legally adopt David, after 25 years as his mother. The same week the adoption went through, David and his wife announced they were pregnant, making Jennifer and Joan both legal parents, and future grandparents to boot.
Jennifer continues to live on the farm that she and Joan called home. “She is with me everywhere on the farm,” Jennifer writes. “I talk to her all the time. How can I not, after being together for 32 years?”