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.

Show Comments ()
Change the World

After Suffering a Violent Homophobic Attack, This Gay Dad Turned to Advocacy

After Rene suffered a brutal homophobic attack that left him hospitalized, he and his family have turned to advocacy to heal

Guest post written by Rene and Nejc

We are Rene (35) and Nejc (29) and we come from Slovenia, Europe. I was an avid athlete, a Judoist, but now I am an LGBT activist and Nejc is a writer, who published a gay autobiography called Prepovedano. He was also a participant in a reality show in Slovenia (Bar) and he is an LGBT activist too. Nejc and I met by a mere coincidence on Facebook, and already after the first phone call we realized that we are made for each other. Nejc and I have been together as couple almost one year. We think we have been joined by some energy, as we have both experienced a lot of bad things with previous relationships and now we wish to create and shape our common path.

Keep reading... Show less
Change the World

What Gay Dads Wish for Their Daughters on International Women's Day

We asked our dads of daughters what they most wished for their daughters as we all continue our work fighting against the inequality they will inevitably face

Today is International Women's Day. A day to celebrate and honor the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

Much like LGBTQ+ equality, gender equality has come leaps and bounds over the past 100 years, but a perfect egalitarian society still does not exist. We asked our dads of daughters what they most wished for their daughters as we all continue our work fighting against the inequality they will inevitably face. Here's what they had to say:

Keep reading... Show less
Politics

Colorado Republicans Try and Fail to Outlaw LGBTQ Marriage and Adoption Rights

A bill introduced by four Republican state legislators in Colorado that would outlaw same-sex marriage and adoption rights was voted down.

The "Colorado Natural Marriage and Adoption Act," which would have outlawed gay marriage and adoption in the state of Colorado, was voted down in the state legislature this week. The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Stephen Humphrey and three of his conservative colleagues: Dave Williams, Shane Sandridge and Mark Baisley.

If enacted, the bill would have enforced "state law that marriage is between one man and one woman" and restrict "adoption of children by spouses in a marriage ... that consist of one man and one woman."

The bill, which had little chance of success, particularly in Colorado which has trended more progressive over the past several election cycles, was mostly symbolic, according to Sanridrge. "We all know this bill isn't gonna pass in this current left-wing environment," he told Colorado Public Radio. "It's to remind everyone, this is the ultimate way to conceive a child."

In a sign of how far we've come on the issue of LGBTQ marriage and parenting rights, most Republican legislators in the state did not endorse the bill.

Though the bill had little chance of passage, LGBTQ advocacy groups in the state are taking the threats seriously nonetheless. Daniel Ramos, director of the LGBTQ group One Colorado, told LGBTQ Nation that the bills were an attempt to return Colorado to its "hate status" of the 1990s, adding the aggressiveness of the measures were "a bit surprising."

Politics

Gestational Surrogacy Legalized in New York State

The Child-Parent Security Act, which legalizes commercial surrogacy in New York State, was included in the 2020 New York State Budget signed by Governor Cuomo

Yesterday, a years-long battle about the state of compensated gestational surrogacy came to an end in New York when the Governor signed into a law the Child-Parent Security Act in the 2020 as part of the state budget.

The effort stalled last year after opponents, including several Democrats, successfully argued that the bill didn't go far enough to protect women who serve as surrogates — even though it included a surrogate "bill of rights," the first of its kind in the country, aimed at ensuring protections.

"Millions of New Yorkers need assistance building their families — people struggling with infertility, cancer survivors impacted by treatment, and members of the LGBTQ+ community," the Family Equality Council said in a statement about the victory. "For many, surrogacy is a critically important option. For others, it is the only option. Passage of the Child-Parent Security Act is a massive step forward in providing paths to parenthood for New Yorkers who use reproductive technology, and creates a 'surrogate's bill of rights' that will set a new standard for protecting surrogates nationwide."

Opponents, led by Senator Liz Krueger, had once again attempted to torpedo legalization efforts this year by introducing a second bill that would legalize surrogacy in New York, but also make it the most restrictive state in the country to do so. "A bill that complicates the legal proceedings for the parents and potentially allows them to lose their genetic child is truly unfortunate," said Sam Hyde, President of Circle Surrogacy, referencing to the bill's 8-day waiting period. He also took issue with the bills underlying assumptions about why women decide to serve as a surrogate. The added restrictions imply that "they're entering into these arrangements without full forethought and consideration of the intended parents that they're partnering with," he said.

The bill was sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman, an out gay man who became a father via surrogacy, and Assemblymember Amy Paulin, who has been public with her experiences with infertility.

"My husband and I had our two daughters through surrogacy," Holyman told Gay City News. "But we had to travel 3,000 miles away to California in order to do it. As a gay dad, I'm thrilled parents like us and people struggling with infertility will finally have the chance to create their own families through surrogacy here in New York."

"This law will [give intended parents] the opportunity to have a family in New York and not travel around the country, incurring exorbitant costs simply because they want to be parents," Paulin said for her part. It will "bring New York law in line with the needs of modern families."


Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Just Like Dad: Ways My Kids and I Are Alike

Joseph Sadusky recounts the ways he and his adopted sons are cut from the same cloth.

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of excerpts from Joseph Sadusky's new book, Magic Lessons: Celebratory and Cautionary Tales about Life as a (Single, Gay, Transracially Adoptive) Dad. The book contains many stories about my life as a dad, as well as lessons learned, and we're excited to share several excerpts from the the book over the course of the next few months. Read previous installments here!

Keep reading... Show less
Expert Advice

4 Tips for Single Gay Dads Raising Daughters

Here are some ways to create a safe space for your daughter to discover who she is, with you by her side.

There's nothing quite like father-daughter relationships, and when it comes to single dads, your little girl likely holds a very special place in your heart. From the moment she's born, it's as if you can see every moment of her life in front of you, from her first steps to walking her down the aisle at her wedding. You'll be the first man she'll know and talk to, and you'll be her biggest example of what a loving man looks like. She'll come to you for advice on how to navigate challenges, be independent, treat others and grow into herself.

Your relationship with your daughter may be shaped by your personal history, whether you've been through a difficult divorce or breakup, you've transitioned out of a straight relationship, or you made the courageous decision to pursue surrogacy on your own. Whatever your situation is, studies have shown that children with involved fathers excel more in school and have fewer behavioral issues in adolescence.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

10 of Our Most Popular Posts Featuring Single Gay Dads

Happy Single Parent's Day! To celebrate, we rounded up some of our most popular articles featuring single gay dads.

Did you know March 21st is Single Parents Day? Well now you do, and you should mark the occasion by checking out our round up of some of our most popular articles featuring single gay dads!

Keep reading... Show less

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse