Change the World

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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News

World's First Sperm Bank Opens for HIV Positive Donors

Sperm Positive, started by three non-profits in New Zealand, hopes to end stigma surrounding HIV and parenthood

"Our donors have so much to give," say the promotional materials of a new sperm bank. "But they can't give you HIV."

The new sperm bank, Sperm Positive, launched on World Aids Day this year by three non-profits as a way to fight stigma surrounding HIV and parenthood. For years, scientists have known that those living with an undetectable level of HIV in their blood thanks to antiretroviral treatments can't transmit the virus through sex or childbirth. Yet discrimination and stigma persists.

The sperm bank exists online only, but will connect donors and those seeking donations with fertility banks once a connection is made on their site. Sperm Positive was started by three New Zealand non-profits — Body Positive, the New Zealand Aids Foundation and Positive Women Inc. — who hope the project will help disseminate science-backed education and information about HIV and parenthood.

Already, three HIV positive men have signed up to serve as donors, including Damien Rule-Neal who spoke to the NZ Herald about his reasons for getting involved in the project. "I want people to know life doesn't stop after being diagnosed with HIV and that it is safe to have children if you're on treatment," he told the Herald. "I've experienced a lot of stigma living with HIV, both at work and in my personal life that has come from people being misinformed about the virus."

We applaud the effort all around! To read more about our own efforts to end the stigma surround HIV and parenthood, check out our recent round-up of family profiles, resources, and expert advice that celebrate the experience of gay dads living with HIV here.

Change the World

'Homosexuality is Wrong' Utah Teacher Tells Boy Who Gave Thanks for His Two Adoptive Dads

The substitute teacher went on to say two men living together is "sinful." She was fired shortly after.

To anyone with a heart, the moment should have done nothing more than bring a tear to the eye. Last week, just before the Thanksgiving break, a substitute teacher in a fifth grade class in Cedar Hills, Utah — just south of Salt Lake City — asked her students to name something they were thankful for this holiday season.

"I'm thankful for finally being adopted by my two dads," said Daniel, one of the boys, when it was his turn.

Rather than grab a tissue to dab her eyes, or ask the classroom to join her in a hearty round of applause to celebrate Daniel finding his forever family, the teacher took it upon herself to impart her personal religious beliefs onto the young boy. "Homosexuality is wrong," the teacher said in front of the class, adding that it was "sinful" for two men to live together.

The teacher, fortunately, was fired from Kelly Services, the substitute staffing company that employed her, quickly after the incident, but the moment is nonetheless receiving widespread attention in the press — no doubt in part because one of the boy's dads, Louis van Amstel of "Dancing With the Stars," posted a video clip to his 76,000 Twitter followers with the title: "Our child was bullied."

"It shouldn't matter if you're gay, straight, bisexual, black and white," he said to the New York Times in a follow up interview. "If you're adopting a child and if that child goes to a public school, that teacher should not share her opinion about what she thinks we do in our private life."

Louis also revealed that the moment may not have come to light were it not for three of his son's classmates, who told the principal about the teacher's bigoted comments. His son, Daniel, didn't want to report the incident for fear of getting the teacher into trouble.

Louis expressed thanks that the staffing company responded as quickly as it did following the incident — and also stressed that his neighbors and community have rallied behind he and his family in the days afterward, offering support. He wanted to dispel stereotypes that Utah, because of its social conservatism and religiosity, was somehow inherently prejudiced.

"It doesn't mean that all of Utah is now bad," he told the Times. "This is one person."

It's also true that this type of prejudice is in no way limited to so-called red states, and incidents like these happen daily. LGBTQ parents and our children are subjected to homophobic and transphobic comments in schools, hospitals, stores, airlines and elsewhere as we simply go about living our lives. These moments so often fly under the radar — many classmates don't have the courage, as they fortunately did in this case, to report wrongdoing. Some administrators are far less responsive than they were here — and most of us don't have 76,000 Twitter followers to help make these moments of homophobia a national story.

All that aside, let's also get back to what should have been nothing more than a heartwarming moment — Daniel, a fifth grade boy, giving thanks to finally being legally adopted into a loving family.

Change the World

9 Stories That Celebrate the Experience of Gay Fathers Living with HIV

This World AIDS Day, we dug into our archives to find 9 stories that bring awareness to and celebrate the experience of gay dads living with HIV

December 1st is World AIDS Day — a day to unite in our collective fight to end the epidemic, remember those we've lost, and bring much needed attention and money to support those who continue to live with HIV and AIDS. For us at Gays With Kids, it's also a time to lift up and celebrate the experiences of fathers, so many of who never thought they'd see the day where they would be able to start families.

Towards that end, we've rounded up nine stories, family features and articles from our archives that celebrate the experience of gay fathers living with HIV — the struggles, triumphs and everything in between.

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What to Buy

Shop with a Purpose with Our 2019 Holiday Gift Guide

Want to find amazing gift ideas while *also* supporting LGBTQ-owned and allied businesses? Look no further than our 2019 holiday gift guide!

'Tis the season to show loved ones you care. And what better way to show you care, by also supported our LGBTQ+ community and allies whilst doing it! Shop (LGBTQ+) smart with these great suggestions below.

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Diary of a Newly Out Gay Dad

A Newly Out Gay Dad Feels 'Demoted' After Divorce

Cameron Call showed up to his first family Thanksgiving since coming out and getting a divorce — and struggles to find himself "stuck with the singles."

Cameron Call, who came out in summer 2019, has generously agreed to chronicle his coming out journey for Gays With Kids over the next several months — the highs, lows and everything in between. Read his first article here.

Denial is an interesting thing. It's easy to think you're potentially above it, avoiding it, assume it doesn't apply to you because you'd NEVER do that, or maybe you're just simply avoiding it altogether. After finally coming out, I liked to think that I was done denying anything from now on. But unfortunately that's not the case.

And this fact became very clear to me over Thanksgiving.

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Resources

New Report Details the 'Price of Parenthood' for LGBTQ People

A new report by the Family Equality Council takes a deep dive into the current state of cost for becoming a parent as an LGBTQ person

Parenthood is expensive. But parenthood while queer is still prohibitively costly for so many segments of the LGBTQ community interested in pursuing a family, according to a new repot by the Family Equality Council, titled, "Building LGBTQ+ Families: The Price of Parenthood."

Among the more interesting findings was this one: the cost of family planning is relatively similar for all LGBTQ people, regardless of income level. This shows "that the desire to have children exists regardless of financial security," the report's authors conclude.

Research for the report was conducted through an online survey of 500 LGBTQ adults over the age of 18, and was conducted between July 11-18, 2018. For comparison, the survey also included 1,004 adults who did not identify as LGBTQ.

Other interesting findings of the report include:

  • 29% of all LGBTQ+ respondents reported an annual household income under $25,000 compared to 22% of non-LGBTQ+ respondents.
  • 33% of black LGBTQ+ respondents, 32% of female-identified LGBTQ+ respondents, and 31% of trans/gender non-conforming LGBTQ+ respondents reported annual household incomes below $25,000.
  • Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have volunteered to participate in online surveys and polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to multiple sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, and error associated with question-wording and response options.29% of all LGBTQ+ respondents reported an annual household income under $25,000 compared to 22% of non-LGBTQ+ respondents.
  • 33% of black LGBTQ+ respondents, 32% of female-identified LGBTQ+ respondents, and 31% of trans/gender non-conforming LGBTQ+ respondents reported annual household incomes below $25,000.
  • Regardless of annual household income, 45-53% of LGBTQ+ millennials are planning to become parents for the first time or add another child to their family. Those making less than $25,000 a year are considering becoming parents at very similar rates as those making over $100,000.
  • Data from the Family Building Survey reveals that LGBTQ+ households making over $100,000 annually are considering the full range of paths to parenthood, from surrogacy and private adoption to foster care and IVF. The most popular options under consideration in this income bracket are private adoption (74% are considering), foster care (42%), and IVF or reciprocal IVF (21%). At the other end of the economic spectrum, for LGBTQ+ individuals in households making less than $25,000 annually, the most commonly considered paths to parenthood are intercourse (35% are considering), foster care (30%), and adoption (23%).

What to Buy

A Gift Guide for LGBTQ Inclusive Children's Books

Need some ideas for good LGBTQ-inclusive children's books? Look no further than our gift guide!

Every year we see more books released that feature our families, and we're here for it! We're especially excited for the day when diverse and LGBTQ+ inclusive books are less of "the odd one out" and rather considered part of every kids' everyday literacy.

To help us reach that day, we need to keep supporting our community and allies who write these stories. So here's a list of some of the great books that need to be in your library, and gifts to the other kids in your lives.

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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