A new three-part docuseries lifts the lid on a lesbian couple’s historic legal battle with the gay sperm donor who conceived their youngest daughter through artificial insemination and later sued them for paternity rights in the early 1990s.
The daughter in question – filmmaker Ry Russo-Young – directed and produced HBO’s Nuclear family, which chronicles her mothers Sandy Russo and Robin Young’s path to parenthood in the 1980s, when same-sex marriage wasn’t legal and lesbian couples had few fertility options.
“Being gay meant you wouldn’t have children. It was like giving up that right to a family,” Robin explains in the trailer for the upcoming series, which will premiere on September 26.
Candid: Ry Russo-Young directed and produced HBO’s Nuclear Family, detailing her mothers Robin Young and Sandy Russo’s legal battle with their sperm donor Tom Steel
Legal battle: In the early 90s, Tom (pictured in the middle) sued Ry’s paternity after the couple forbade him to bring her to California alone to meet his parents
In 1979, Sandy and Robin fell in love and wanted to start a family while living in Greenwich Village in New York City. They turned to insemination at home and found donors through mutual friends because sperm banks wouldn’t serve same-sex couples at the time.
They specifically sought out gay men living across the country to be their respective donors, as they didn’t want them to be part of the family, The New Yorker reported in 1994.
Sandy, who is 15 years older than Robin, welcomed their oldest daughter Cade Russo-Young in 1981 after being artificially inseminated with sperm from San Francisco donor Jack Kolb.
“I’ve always wanted kids,” Sandy says in the teaser.
Going rogue: Sandy (left) and Robin (right) turned to insemination at home and found donors through mutual friends because sperm banks wouldn’t serve same-sex couples at the time
Family: Sandy welcomed their oldest daughter Cade Russo-Young in 1981 after being artificially inseminated with sperm from San Francisco donor Jack Kolb
A year later, Robin van Ry gave birth to sperm from Tom Steel, a gay lawyer from San Francisco. He initially agreed that he would have no parental rights or obligations to Ry.
“I always describe my parents as Julia and Julia,” Ry, 39, says on the series, noting that her “childhood was very magical.”
Tom had no contact with the family until 1985, The New Yorker reported. After Cade asked about her father, the mothers arranged for both of their daughters to meet their biological father.
The family became friends with Tom and they were visited at their respective homes in New York and Northern California. However, the relationship became more and more tense over time.
Donor: A year later, Robin van Ry gave birth to sperm from Tom (pictured), a gay lawyer from San Francisco. The family initially had a friendly relationship with him
Hard: The family’s relationship with Tom became strained and he sued Ry for paternity to Ry when she was nine. The lawsuit lasted more than four years, but he eventually dropped the case
Latest conversation: Ry (right) last spoke to Tom when she was 16 years old after learning he was dying of AIDS
As one person points out in the trailer, “Tom, the donor, didn’t think, ‘I’m going to fall in love with this kid.'”
In 1991, Tom filed a paternity rights lawsuit after Sandy and Robin refused to take Ry to California alone to meet his parents.
“He’s changed his mind,” Sandy explains.
Tom didn’t see Ry at all during the four-year legal battle, which inundated the couple with legal fees and led to their daughter having nightmares about the police coming to get her. the guard reported in 2004.
Happy together: Ry is pictured with her mums and sister Cade in a recent family photo
In the series, ‘Ry explores the aspirations and desires of her mothers, her sperm donor, and all of their allies and enemies as she struggles to hear and accept their diverse perspectives’
In 1994, the Appellate Division of the Manhattan Supreme Court promised Tom legal status with Ry’s father – 13 years after her birth – but did not rule on visitation rights. He eventually dropped the case.
In the upcoming series, ‘Ry explores the aspirations and desires of her mothers, her sperm donor, and all of their allies and enemies as she struggles to hear and accept their diverse perspectives,” the network’s description reads.
Tom was estranged for years from Ry, who called him when she was 16 after learning he was dying of AIDS.
“He was high on drugs,” she told The Guardian of one of their latest conversations.
He said, “I’m sorry, I loved you, I never meant to hurt you, I always wanted to be your father.” But after going through the case, I rolled my eyes. You know, “So now you want me to forgive you for being on your deathbed?”
“I mean, there was a time when I cared about him a lot,” she added. “Not as a father – more like an icon of a man.”