Public health professor Cheri Pais, who broke barriers with her groundbreaking 1985 book Thinking Custody: A Workbook for Lesbians that became the bible of the post-1980s “gay boom,” died July 4 at her home in Berkeley, Calif. He is 73 years old.
His wife, Melina Linder, said the cause was cancer.
Dr. Pais (her first name was pronounced “Sherry”) later became a pioneering researcher and professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, studying the cross-generational impact of economic and racial inequalities on issues such as infant mortality and health.
But she made her name with a groundbreaking book decades before she turned to academia. That journey began in her 1970s. At the time, Dr. Pais was working as a family planning health educator, counseling a heterosexual woman contemplating becoming a mother to her.
Her focus began to shift in 1978. After the female partner adopted her daughter. At the time, the concept of openly gay parents was still largely unheard of in the culture as a whole.
That same year, New York became the first state to say otherwise. reject an application for adoption based solely on homosexuality. A year later, a same-sex couple in California broke down barriers and became known as the first to co-adopt.
Dr. Pais was struck by the lack of support available to same-sex parents and the lack of basic information about the unique challenges they face. She began running a workshop in her home in Oakland, California, advertising it with flyers in women’s bookstores and other lesbian gathering places.
By the early 1980s, word of her work had spread beyond the Bay Area, and she was inundated with letters and phone calls from lesbians across the country. In response, Dr. Pais compiled her teachings and experiences into a book. Thinking Parenthood: A Workbook for Lesbians, published by lesbian feminist magazine Spinstars, Inc., offers practical advice on a wide range of subjects, including access to sperm donors, legal issues surrounding adoption, and how to build a support network.
Published 30 years before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, the book sluice gate I read countless other books on LGBTQ parenting.
“she was A true pioneerG. Dorsey Green, a psychologist and author of The Lesbian Parenting Book (by D. Merrily Kournis, 2003), reportedly said in an obituary about Dr. Pais of Montbian, a website for lesbian parents: “She would like to recommend her book to clients. At a time when lesbian couples were just beginning to think about having children as lesbians, Cheri started the conversation.”
Dr. Pais received a master’s degree in social work from Boston University in 1976, but later turned to academia, earning a master’s degree in maternal and child health from Berkeley in 1985 and a doctorate in health education from Berkeley in 1993.
In 2003, when I heard Dr. Michael C. Lu, dean of the Berkeley School of Public Health, she was director of family and maternal and child health programs in Contra Costa County, which borders Berkeley and Oakland.
Dr. Lou spoke about a concept called Life Course Theory, which focuses on the idea that social and economic circumstances at each stage of life, beginning in early childhood, can have powerful and lasting effects across generations. “what What surrounds us shapes usexplained Dr. Pais in a 2014 lecture at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Some would argue that zip codes are more important than genetic information.”
At Berkeley, Dr. Pais would eventually collaborate with Dr. Lu and others to create the Best Babies Zone Initiative, a groundbreaking program to study and, ideally, improve health conditions in economically challenged communities across the country.
In 2012, after Dr. Lu took office in the Obama administration, she became the program’s principal investigator. These efforts included home health visits, working with community leaders to form parent-child play groups, improving park safety, and strengthening vocational training. The epidemic began in Oakland, New Orleans and Cincinnati and spread to six other cities by 2017, when Dr. Pais retired from Berkeley. This program is still active.
“There are people who are doing large-scale policy manipulation.” structural racismWe are changing policy and practice,” Dr. Pais said in an interview published on the Berkeley School of Public Health website in April. “The Best Babies Zone is the other end of the spectrum, doing small-scale change-making for people who can’t wait for policy change to happen.”
The high incidence of low birth weight infants and sudden infant death syndrome in these areas was the focus of the program. “The baby is the canary in the mine,” Dr. Pais said in a lecture at the University of Alabama. “If the baby is not born healthy, you know something is wrong in your community.”
Cheramie Ann Pais was born in Los Angeles on November 26, 1949, the second of three daughters of doctor Morris Pais and nurse Doris (Naboshek) Pais. (She has since changed her name to Cheri.)
Growing up in Encino in the San Fernando Valley, gregarious and energetic, Cheri is a fan of movies, especially musicals like My Fair Lady, and got into the world of medicine at an early age working as a receptionist in her father’s office.
After graduating from nearby Birmingham High School, he entered Berkeley in 1967 and received a BA in Social Sciences in 1971.
After the free speech movement that rocked the campus in 1964, Berkeley was a cauldron of Vietnam War-era political fervor. “I wasn’t actively participating, but I was certainly exposed to that politics,” she later said of the movement.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Pais is survived by sisters Lois Goldberg and Stacey Pais.
She ended up channeling Berkeley’s 1960s activist ethos as a writer and professor, working to improve the lives of openly lesbian parents in the 1980s and beyond. Their numbers grew so rapidly that by 1996 Newsweek reported that the estimated number of lesbian parents had grown. 6 million to 14 million Children in the United States had at least one parent who was gay.
“Adoption agencies are reporting an increasing number of inquiries from prospective parents, especially men, who identify themselves as gay,” the article said, adding that “sperm banks say they are in the midst of what some call a lesbian-driven ‘gay boom.'”
Many of that generation will be indebted to Dr. Pais for the rest of their lives, Linder said in a phone interview. “Sheri and I are everywhere in the world – whether hiking in New Zealand or walking in the Berkeley Hills – and people stop to look at her and thank her and say that without Sheri, whether it’s Ben or Alice or whoever, their lives wouldn’t exist,” he said.