Shawn Hennessey, 32, has launched a crowd-sourced fundraising site to generate funds for his surviving mother, Maureen Hennessey — and to raise awareness about marriage inequality.
Maureen’s wife, Mary Beth McIntyre, passed away last month after a four-year battle with cancer. Because of DOMA, Maureen, who legally married her partner in Massachusetts, cannot receive Social Security survivor benefits. She will also have to pay a state inheritance tax, from which heterosexual married couples are exempt.
Hennessey, songwriter and percussionist for the band Hennessey Bonfire, is midway through a one-month IndieGoGo campaign seeking to generate a total of $108,518; while he estimated that his mother could incur a loss of up to $300,000 that a heterosexual spouse would have received, he chose that number in recognition of the time and date that McIntyre died.
“The number has significance to us but it’s also arbitrary to show the ridiculousness of the necessity of this project,” Hennessey said.
Depending on the level of their donation, supporters can receive items such as a signed Hennessey Bonfire CD, music lessons and private performances.
Hennessey, a music teacher at Germantown Friends School, said his love of music was fueled with the support of his moms.
“I wouldn’t be the musician I am today and wouldn’t be able to write the songs that I do if I wasn’t raised by these two women,” he said. “They made me who I am.”
Maureen, 53, is Hennessey’s biological mother and met McIntyre when her son was 4. At the time, McIntyre was caring for her young niece and nephew after her sister passed away.
“I met Mary Beth through a mutual friend and very few other lesbians had kids then,” Maureen said. “We met and I found out she liked to do things like go to Great Adventure on the weekends with the kids. We liked the same music, we liked to have a cocktail after the kids went to bed. We had so much in common. And then she kissed me, and my whole world changed. That was Jan. 21, 1984.”
The two were together since, settling in Germantown and together raising Hennessey and McIntyre’s niece, Kerry, and nephew, Paul, who has since died.
“It was a very loving household,” Hennessey said. “We had a lot of parties, a lot of friends, a lot of fun. They supported me in whatever I wanted to do. I just had a really fun childhood.”
McIntyre worked as a government contractor until about seven years ago, when she started her own business contracting for the U.S. Navy supporting the Foreign Military Sales Program, a venture that quickly grew from six employees to more than 20. When the pair met, Maureen was a UPS driver but, at age 35, earned her teaching degree. She went on to teach with the city’s school district and later at a charter school.
While Hennessey said his moms provided him an idyllic childhood, Maureen said she and McIntyre experienced the same pressures and challenges as all couples and parents.
“I’d love to say it was always perfect, but it was sometimes tough. We had to deal with the step-parenting issue so that was sometimes a challenge. When it was good, it was very good, and when it was bad, it was horrible because were two bull-headed Irish women,” she said. “But our ideas about family were always the same — the importance of being there for our kids and involved and keeping them safe and teaching them to love and not hate. That was both of our main thrust.”
Maureen left her teaching position to care for McIntyre after her 2009 cancer diagnosis.
Once McIntyre learned that she wouldn’t be able to overcome the disease, Maureen said, they had to confront the realities of her passing.
“We had some heartbreaking discussions about what she was going to miss and how much we would miss not having her here. Shawn’s having a baby in July and she wanted to make it for his CD release party, and we knew she wasn’t going to. Everybody has those same discussions, gay or straight; when your other half leaves you, it’s devastating.”
The couple also had to have some practical financial discussions.
“She was always the breadwinner,” Maureen said. “She was the totem pole that held this family together. We had some debt. Because her company was new, we didn’t have a lot of life insurance. As hard as it was having those other discussions, we also had to talk facts and financials.”
The record was near completion in McIntyre’s final days.
As a tribute to his moms, Hennessey used a photo of the pair from 1986 on the CD and ultimately he and his friends conceived of using the CD to think bigger.
“We wanted to use music to change people’s minds about how the laws right now are hurting gay couples who are raising families. They made me the musician I am, and I want to draw that connection for the public. So people can say, ‘Oh wow, here’s a good musician with good songs, and he was raised by two women.’”
Maureen said McIntyre was wholeheartedly behind the idea.
But, Hennessey had to push the CD release back because of McIntyre’s condition. She ultimately passed May 18 at age 55, surrounded by her family.
Hennessey held the CD release party and the launch of the IndieGoGo initiative at World Café Live 10 days later in a party called “A Grand Bazaar for Marriage Equality,” in reference to his song, “Grand Bazaar,” written for McIntyre.
Hennessey said that, if this campaign is successful, he could see it being replicated by other families of same-sex couples or by LGBT organizations.
Maureen acknowledged that she was initially uncomfortable with the idea, but believes in its mission — and in her son’s music.
“I’m not accustomed to having attention or even talking about money out loud. But Shawn’s intentions are so true. Money’s one thing but the fact that this can let people know that our families are, at a minimum, as good as everyone else’s, that’s what this is all about,” she said. “And Shawn’s music is so good, he’s phenomenal. All I care about is that his music is heard. He has so much love in his heart and so many things to say. Both Kerry and Shawn are great kids, they’re perfect. Their hearts are so real and honest and neither of them have a bone of discrimination in their hearts. We may not have money, but I think Mary Beth and I did a kick-ass job. We raised some great kids.”
For more information or to contribute to the campaign, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/life-love-death-and-marriage-equality.