Proud Lesbian Parents

Partners Jay and Shirl Mercado and their sons Jashley and Joriene travel throughout the country advocating marriage equality. (Photo courtesy of the Mercados)


When San Mateo County held its first official celebration of the lesbian, gay, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning and intersex community on June 15, Jay and Shirley Mercado were absent.

The couple, unofficial spokespersons for marriage equality, missed the historic gathering because of "family affairs throughout the weekend." They were represented by their family quilt, a segment of the Loving Quilt sewn and displayed at the event to signify support for and from families both like and unlike theirs.

"When you have children your activities revolve around them," Jay and Shirl Mercado explained.

Nuclear family comes first for the Pacifica, California, residents, who are parents to twin sons Jashley and Joriene, 16. They operate as one.

The boys cheered their parents at their February 20, 2004 wedding, officiated by then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and tagged along on the honeymoon. They mourned together when the California Supreme Court nullified 3,955 similar weddings six months later.

The family marched at the 2009 S. F. Pride Parade as "immigration equality activists–celebrity guests." The following year they rode with U. S. Rep. Jackie Speier, their ally in their quest for Shirl's permanent residency after the Immigration and Naturalization Service denied her asylum application and began deportation proceedings.

The Mercados have become the Filipino American face of same-sex marriage since they went public with their story three years ago. Since then they have flown around the country, speaking in support of the issue. Their vigilance has peaked with the U. S. Supreme Court expected to rule soon on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, the voter-approved California law banning same-sex marriage.

"We're nervous about the decision," Jay Mercado told Positively Filipino. "They should just dismiss the case and let the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal's decision to stand," she referred to the court ruling that declared the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Loving Quilt heralds support for LGBT community at the first county-sponsored Pride gathering in San Mateo. (Photo courtesy Jei Africa)

If Shirl's marriage to Jay, a U. S. citizen, were upheld, their predicament would be solved.

In April the whole family flew to Washington, D.C. to lobby for the comprehensive immigration reform bill.

"We met with Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Patrick Leahy and the staff of Sen. Dianne Feinstein to discuss the importance of including LGBT families in the bill," said Jay. They exchanged ideas with House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Representatives Zoe Lofgren, Jerry Nadler and their friend Speier, who had reached out to Feinstein, who in turn reportedly filed a private bill to pave the way for Shirl Mercado's legalization.

The Mercados' advocacy has had its dark moments.

"We were invited to speak for the re-introduction of the UAFA (Uniting American Families Act)," Jay Mercado recalled one such incident. "On our last day we watched part of the hearing for DOMA, when the person testifying started saying really evil things about the LGBT, driving the boys to near tears. They were furious!"

Upon the verbal attack, Shirl and Jay's parental instincts shot through the roof.

"We held them and assured them we were OK," Shirl said. "We told them the best response is to ignore what that woman was saying. We said everyone is entitled their opinion, good or bad; that people are free to say whatever they want to say."

Jay reinforced the message.

"We told them we cannot please everyone and that life is not fair," she said. "One day, we told them, critics will realize their mistake."

For someone who had never planned to have children until she met Shirl in 1986, Jay Mercado, a commercial insurance broker, plays the role to perfection, says her partner.

Shirl, in contrast, says she always dreamed of motherhood.

The Mercados have become the Filipino American face of same-sex marriage since they went public with their story three years ago.

"I've always imagined myself having children, that's why I convinced Jay to have kids," said Shirl, who operates a day care center at their residence.

Shirl, 47, carried the twins, whose arrival brought unity to both sides of the family, said Jay, 53, the family spokesperson.

Before Shirl delivered the boys, the Mercados' parents doubted the depth of their relationship. Their parents had been friends in their hometown San Pablo, Laguna, but parted ways when Shirl and Jay's ties developed beyond "sisterhood." They've since reconciled.

The Mercados' candor is the key to their family harmony.

"Our relationship from the start has been an open book," Jay said. "We have told the boys how we met and how we fell in love."

Jashley and Joriene used to call Jay "Mama" and Shirl "Mommy" until they were toddlers. Later they asked if they could call Jay ''Dad,'' which is how they address her most of the time.

The boys, now high school juniors, have always known about their parents' relationship and "have no problem with it," said Jay.

"Our boys are still the same sweet kids, still very supportive of us (now that they're teen-agers)," said the proud parent. "They are always with us in all the activities for LGBT. They are both doing great in school and are very responsible."

The Mercados celebrate their February 2004 wedding in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of the Mercados)

Openness is a family policy.

"We have always told them that they can tell us anything and our love for them will never change even if they find out later in life that they are gay (though they have said they are not gay). We're all very open to each other–no secrets–and we can talk about anything," said Jay.

The Mercados may be unique in their neighborhood, but they don't feel different. The community gives them a sense of safety and belonging, they said. The spectacular view in Pacifica was secondary in their decision to settle down there.

"It doesn't matter to us what city we live in as long as we are together and we are accepted in the community," Jay said when asked if they ever considered moving to famously gay-friendly San Francisco.

They say the media have helped by giving families like theirs visibility.

The Mercados give thumbs up to the hit ABC sitcom "Modern Family" for shedding light on their lives. While commending the Philippine and Filipino American press for recent coverage of gay rights, they urge Fil-Am LGBTs to come out and "share their stories" to help achieve justice.

Whichever way the high court rules on the issue that impacts them directly, stepping back is not an option for the Mercados, who take pride in their role as a family of advocates for equality.


Around Pride Month last year, concerned LGBT members brainstormed ways to support and empower the Filipino LGBT community. Those interested in participating as allies or/and advocates are invited to contact Dr. Jei Africa at

Cherie Querol Moreno

Cherie Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County on Aging, executive director of ALLICE Kumares & Kumpares and executive editor of Philippine News.