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Amaya Chasteen-Scheer, Our Kind of American Girl

American Girl dolls have, for decades, been young girls' most fiercely coveted toy, its catalogue pored over and the impeccably curated tiny scenes memorized by heart.


Since Mattel bought the line 15 years ago, its focus has shifted from chronicling the lives of characters in historical settings through each doll's personal book series to modern dolls that look “just like" the girls who own them. The corresponding American Girl Magazine aims to inspire and empower girls from diverse backgrounds by featuring girls making an impact in the world, even at a young age.

Eleven-year-old Amaya Chasteen-Scheer is certainly making an impact. Amaya, a former foster kid just like her three brothers, enthusiastically helps her parents assemble suitcases and backpacks full of necessities and toys for children in the foster care system.

Their impact in the Washington, D.C. area won them a volunteer award from Washington, D.C.'s Child and Family Services. Rob Scheer (see photo above), one of Amaya's two dads, received the award. In his acceptance speech, he told the crowd how his adopted daughter's enthusiasm for the cause drives his family's charity work.

With that statement, he unknowingly catalyzed a series of events that would thrust their organization, Comfort Cases, onto the national stage. After the awards ceremony, a writer for American Girl Magazine approached Rob to ask if she could interview Amaya.

Girls who are interviewed by American Girl Magazine face stiff competition to make it into the magazine. So when the call came that Amaya would be featured in the most popular issue of the year, the whole family celebrated.

The family received advance copies of the issue mid October. “Mind you, we still had not read the story," Rob says. The journalist had taken a walk with Amaya on the family's farm, so no one but she and Amaya knew what they had talked about.

Amaya Chasteen-Scheer

The story, written by the interviewer from 11-year-old Amaya's point of view, detailed her journey from foster care to finding a loving family – and the passion her experience gave her for helping other kids in foster care.

Several professional photos of Amaya with her stylish pink accent braids, plus a photo of the whole family, ran with the piece. Amaya began crying when she saw herself on the pages of the magazine.

Rob asked her if something was wrong. “'These are all just happy tears,'" Rob recalls her saying. “She said, 'I just can't believe it. This is going to help so many kids in foster care, Daddy.'"

But then an email from a friend punctured the family's elation. Had they seen the outcry against the article?

The right-wing activist group One Million Moms, which vows to protect children from “immorality, violence, vulgarity and profanity" in media, had urged a boycott against American Girl and its parent company, Mattel, for publishing Amaya's story.

Then came the phone calls and online comments. (The family keeps their phone number publicly listed in case the kids' birth parents ever get clean and choose to re-establish contact with the family.)

Rob received one particularly vicious phone call: “We're praying for your boys because we know you and that other gay man is raping them every night."

“That was pretty rough," he says.

American Boycott

One Million Moms' call for a boycott had an immense impact – but probably not the one the organization intended.

In the days after One Million Moms expressed their outrage, the hateful calls and comments gave way to calls from media outlets eager to tell the Scheer family's side of the story – and an outpouring of support for Amaya, her family and Comfort Cases.

Local D.C. news stations Fox 5 and NBC Washington, Human Rights Campaign, The Washington Post, AJ+ and most recently, RawStory, picked up the story.

American Girl declined an interview, but provided this statement: “American Girl stands in strong support of all girls everywhere. Our singular goal is to encourage, inspire, and unite girls of all ages and backgrounds, and we love shining a spotlight on their amazing gifts and achievements. Amaya's story about her efforts to help kids in foster care is a perfect example of how one young girl is making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. The article is very much in line with the thousands of others we've shared in American Girl® magazine over the years, and we are proud to have shared Amaya's story with our readers."

They did speak with Rob after the backlash broke out. “American Girl contacted us and said, 'We're sorry because we should have prepared you,'" he says. “'This is going to be the biggest story we have ever had.'"

The entire Chasteen-Scheer family

Under Siege

As a mixed-race family with two dads, this isn't the first time the family's been glanced at sideways. Rob says the kids know not everyone thinks their family is as beautiful as they do, so they've equipped them with what they believe are the best responses: Lead by example. Speak up for what's right. Pray for those who mistreat you.

But this situation felt different to Rob. It was much bigger, and somehow it stung more coming from a group of mothers.

So, instead of their usual “stand tall and speak out" approach, Rob and his husband Reece searched for a way to protect their family from the backlash.

“We said to the kids, 'Listen, we can close our curtains. We can shut our front door. We can turn our phones off. We can sit here as a family and let all of this die down and then go about our lives,'" Rob says.

It was Amaya who protested. “It was our kids who said we can't do that," he says. “And it was my daughter who said, 'We lead by example, Daddy. We have to talk about this.'"

Finding a Way Home

Thirty-nine years ago, Rob entered foster care. He carried his belongings from home to home in a garbage bag. At 17, when he aged out of the system and became homeless, he continued to carry his only possessions in a trash bag.

Rob is now a successful man with a decade-strong relationship with his husband, Reece, but he's never forgotten how worthless he felt during that time.

Five years ago, the couple took in their first two foster-to-adopt kids, Amaya and Makai. They've since adopted two more sons, Greyson and Tristan.

“When my kids came, each one of them had a trash bag. [They] had nothing but torn and tattered clothes." He remembers thinking, “I carried a trash bag and they're still carrying trash bags?"

Rob founded Comfort Cases to change that. The first year, they aimed to put together proper suitcases full of new items that would give foster kids comfort: clothes, pajamas, toiletries and toys. Their goal was 300 cases. They made 800.

And last year, they made 7,000. This year's goal is 11,000, though because of all the media attention, they'll surely far exceed that number.

For Amaya, helping her family pack Comfort Cases is healing. It enables her to give other kids in foster care something she never had before her adoption: the knowledge that someone out there is looking out for them.

“They are important because when you're in foster care, you might feel like you don't even exist," Amaya says of the bags in the American Girl Magazine feature. “It's like you're invisible. I know because that's how I felt. Kids in that situation can be really sad. Our bags make foster kids feel as if they're loved."

And we hope that Amaya, her brothers and her two gay dads know that they're loved too.

To find out more about Comfort Cases and to support their good work, please visit their website.

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A Facebook message from the heart by gay dad Michael Anderson as he reflects on the outcome of the election and what it may mean for his family and loved ones.
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First, their birth photo went viral as a positive symbol of gay parenthood. Now, it's making the rounds for a different reason: Gays with Kids contributors BJ Barone and Frankie Nelson recently learned conservative activists have used their photo to fight against gay family rights for months.

Irish political candidate Mary Fitzgibbon, whose Twitter posts consist almost entirely of Frankie and BJ's touching birth photos, gory fetus photos and more gory fetus photos, believes gay surrogacy "robs" children of motherly love.

It's not the first time the couple has heard those arguments; they received plenty of negative comments when their photo went viral in 2014. But then, they were so overwhelmed by well-wishes from around the world — coupled with the sleepless delirium of parenting a newborn.

"It was very emotional and heartening to know that there's a lot of people out there who support you and support us and they just want the best," BJ says.

This is different.

"It's kind of shocking," BJ says. "They were using our photo to prove how disgusting that was and how wrong this is."

Italy's long-awaited gay marriage vote has stalled because it would expand gay adoption rights, thereby easing the surrogacy process. The Catholic church has strongly opposed the bill despite overwhelming public support of gay marriage.

In Ireland, a gay marriage law passed in 2015, with adoption and surrogacy again a heated topic. In both countries, polling showed the public still mostly opposed to same-sex adoption.

Photographer Linsday Foster has spoken out against Fitzgibbon's use of her photo and says Fitzgibbon also used the image in 2015 to oppose Ireland's gay marriage referendum.

Foster says when she confronted Fitzgibbon online, she replied that the photo had been co-opted by activists in Italy long before she used it.

"That was her response," she says. "Like I've singled her out."

Just like for Frank and BJ, illegal use isn't the only thing that's incensed Foster: "My work is being misrepresented for something I don't believe in."

Frank and BJ remain optimistic that their powerful photo will have positive effects even when used as a tool for hate.

"Even though it's now being used in negative ways, it's also bringing awareness, right?" BJ says. "A lot of people who might not understand [surrogacy] may look into it again."

Yesterday, BJ looked at the photo for the first time. Like, really looked at it.

"It's overwhelming to me. Now that Milo is 19 months, it's so interesting to look at his face," he says. So much has changed since he was a slime-covered newborn, the umbilical cord still attached when the photo was snapped.

"And I'm so happy that Milo is ours." That, he says, Fitzgibbon cannot ruin. "Milo is one of the happiest and healthiest little boys we know. Frank and I look at Milo and are so lucky that he is our son. We are doing our all to give him the best life possible."

To speak out against illegal and hateful use of their family's photo, Frankie and BJ ask that you share your own beautiful family photos with @MaryFitzgibbon on Twitter (or via email at maryfitzgibbon2016@gmail.com) using the hashtag #wearefamily.

If you'd like to see more beautiful tender photos of gay dads and their kids, check out the photos in Tender Moments: The Best Instagram Photos of Gay Dads Cuddling and Sleeping With Their Kids

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Do We Have a Biological Right to Fatherhood? Absolutely, Says This Gay Dad

Jay Bostick, a gay foster dad, responds to Kevin Saunders' controversial essay "Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children"

Editor's Note: Below is an essay by Jay Bostick who eloquently lays out many of the reasons why he and many other readers were upset by a post we ran yesterday by Kevin Saunders titled, "Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children." This post clearly touched a nerve! (Check out the ongoing discussion on our Facebook page.) While some of our readers appreciated Saunders' viewpoint, many others felt slighted by his reasoning for not having children, calling him everything from "self-involved," "selfish," and an "insufferable narcissist." Many other readers rightly questioned why Gays With Kids would even run an essay from a man who does not want children on (of all place) a parenting website.

The former point is a matter of opinion, but I'll offer some clarification on the latter. We agreed to run this post for two reasons. First, Saunders' perspective is unique among many adopted gay men. We have run countless essays on this site featuring adopted gay men who, inspired by their own upbringing, decided to give back by opening up their homes to children who need them. Saunders' experience, however, led him to conscience decision not to have children, a perspective worthy of discussion particularly by anyone who has been touched by adoption in some way. Secondly, as a 52-year-old gay man, Saunders is starting to find himself alienated from many in his LGBTQ peer group for his decision not to have kids. Again, we are so much more familiar with the opposite perspective on our page: when they become parents, many gay men find themselves ostracized from the broader, childless LGBTQ community. That the inverse is also starting to become true is a testament to the increase in LGBTQ parents in the United States, and an interesting dichotomy we believed warranted further exploration.

All that said, Saunders' essay is a matter of opinion, and one our readers (nor we) certainly don't have to agree with. This is why we were thrilled to receive this "counterpoint" to Saunders's essay from Bostick. We, at least, are enjoying the respectful exchange of ideas, and hope you are as well. Give Bostick's essay a read, as well as the original, and then let us know what you think in the comments or at dads@gayswithkids.com.

--David Dodge, Managing Editor

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Adults

Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children

Do we have a biological right to parenthood? Kevin Saunders, a childless 52-year-old gay man, says no.

Guest post written by Kevin Saunders.

Two dear friends of mine, each partnered, capable gay men of relatively sound mind and body, have recently decided to become fathers, and I could not be more unnerved. The expense, the risk, the potential for disappointment, the logistical complexity that they must navigate leave me baffled and at times enraged with the lingering question that I have, out of respect, refrained from asking, "WHY, WHY, WHY do you want to do this?!" These feelings toward what most would consider a happy occasion beg a reciprocal enquiry: "Why do you care?" The answer is rooted in a disposition and a history that has left me skeptical of the innate right to biological parenthood that many, gay or straight, seem to feel entitled to.

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Gay Dad Life

Gays WITHOUT Kids (If Just For a Day...)

Andrew Kohn explains why he decided to leave his kids at home this Pride

I'm not a monster. Yes, I saw the wagons carrying lovely toddler children waiving their flags and eating their graham crackers. The children were plentiful wearing their Pride family shirts, bejeweled in rainbow. The weather was perfect and the crowds were as prideful as ever. But my husband and I had a day where we didn't have to worry about someone else, not on the constant lookout for the next available bathroom or calming emotions because we could buy one unicorn costume and not every unicorn costume. We had a day without kids.

Yes, Pride has become commercialized. Some companies want my gay money, but others march and have a presence because one gay voice spoke up and asked why the company hasn't marched. I marched in the parade with my employer – who marched for the first time this year – because I started the conversation about why we hadn't marched before. My husband and I were present. We honored Stonewall. And praised Nina West. And we did it without carrying a bag with extra panties and a couple sippy cups.

Believe me, I get sharing the day with your children. With your family. But in my house, we live Pride every day. Two white dads caring for two black kids makes us walking billboards for equality, love, and acceptance. I don't need a day to celebrate my family with my children. We do it in the grocery store. We do it at preschool. We recognize our uniqueness and celebrate it. My children don't need a meltdown and a long walk to tell them about their history and their fathers' connection to the past.

Instead of worrying about where we would find lunch and, again, where the closest bathroom was, I saw beauty that took me by surprise – and I was able to be in the moment with it. Trans men waking boldly and bravely around only wearing only their bindings. Watching high school kids sitting in the grass, wearing crop tops and eating french fries, literally carefree looking up at the clouds. We experienced a community that was free and uninhibited, if just for one afternoon, where who you are isn't odd or something to be hidden. But rather something that is a definition of you and should be your reality 365 days a year.

I know that being gay and having kids can be overwhelming at times. We ask ourselves if we're representing our community adequately (or have we become too heteronormative?). If we have children of a different race, are we giving them the experiences they need to know who they are, as well as navigate that world with gay parents? Are we so embraced at school functions because of our contributions to community or are we a token family? And yes, I'll ask it, are we good enough for acceptance by all gay families, who as if we're single again, judge each other on wealth, looks, and status? No family is better than any other, and gay parents certainly have opportunities to be better towards one another.

Our Pride ended in a small fight while walking to the car, like all good Pride's should. But it wasn't about kids bickering, or kids getting upset they didn't get the right treat. It was about us centering ourselves in a community that isn't exactly welcoming in certain spaces to gay families other times of the year. It was about us catching up with our past while also seeing our collective future.

And the kids didn't seem to mind. They had fun with a babysitter and lived their Pride out loud when they shopped for daddy and papa gifts for Father's Day. That's our Pride. Maybe when the kids are older, and really get the meaning of Pride, we'll start marching together in solidarity. But for right now, daddies needed a little time alone to reconnect with their LGBT family. And while there may be too many beer ads and not enough voter registration tables, we celebrate visibility and love. And my husband and I had time together, reminding us of who we are, who our original family was, and how we will connect who we are now, and our children, with that family as it grows.

At the end of the day, we're all in it together. And my children will be enriched by the experience. Just not this year. This year, we fertilized our roots so that our branches can grow.

Antwon and Nate became dads through the foster care system. Nine months after becoming licensed, they received a call on a Tuesday, and two days later, their daughter moved in. "It was very quick," said Nate. "Honestly, it was more just shock and nervousness for me."

As new parents, Nate took unpaid leave for two weeks, before going back to work part-time. Antwon didn't receive any leave.

"It's definitely important to have time off to bond, but it's also important to be financially stable when you do it," said Antwon. "I don't think you should have to choose between staying financially afloat or showing your kid love... and I don't think anyone should have to make that choice."

Only 15% of dads in the U.S. have access to paid paternity leave. We want to change this.

Watch Nate and Antwon's video to find out how:

Sign the pledge: www.dovemencare.com/pledge

Like Antwon and Nate, we're helping Dove Men+Care advocate for paid paternity leave for *ALL* dads! Over the next three months, we will be sharing stories of gay dad families and their paternity leave experience. Our goal is to get 100,000 folks to sign the Paternity Leave Pledge.

Dove Men+Care has collected over 30,000 signatures on the Pledge for Paternity Leave in three short months, in a mission to champion and support new legislation for federally mandated paid leave laws in the U.S. With the conversation growing on Capitol Hill, Dove Men+Care will target key legislators to drive urgency behind paid paternity leave policy and provide a social proof in the form of real dad testimonials, expert research and signature support from families across the country.

Our goal is to help Dove Men+Care bring 100,000 signatures to key policymakers in Washington, D.C. for their Day of Action on the Hill, and drive urgency behind this issue.

If you believe *ALL* dads should receive paid paternity leave, sign the Paternity Leave Pledge.

Fatherhood, the gay way

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