Change the World

On World AIDS Day, Gay Dads Talk About Being HIV Positive

They didn't think that they could do it.

The barriers were too high, the paths impossible to navigate. But they tried anyway. They are a special group: gay, HIV-positive dads. And these are their stories.

Forming a family as part of a same-sex couple or as as a single gay man is fraught with obstacles to begin with. But this group faces challenges far more daunting than navigating the adoption process, or finding a suitable surrogate, or working with the foster care system. These men are also dealing with a life-changing disease.

In honor of World AIDS Day, we're highlighting the stories of six gay dads who also have dealt with this singular health challenge. (The interviews were done in partnership with, a comprehensive online resource for people living with HIV/AIDS.)

While all of the dads’ stories are different, the focus today is on their similarities. And there are many.


Nearly all of these men wanted to become parents early in their lives. They simply knew, from very early on, that this was a path they wanted to take. But given the times and circumstances, they didn’t know if that goal was achievable.

“I was actually engaged to a woman when I was around 21,” says Greg Guelda of Louisville, Kentucky. Now 46, he has a 7-year-old daughter named Ruby. “And one of the reasons we were sort of moving forward more quickly with that was because we both wanted kids.

“I've always seen myself as wanting children. So there were years and years in which I didn't think that was going to be possible.”

Justin B. Terry-Smith, a veteran and activist who writes an HIV advice column, strikes much the same note. “I always wanted to be a father – in my head, and in my heart, and in my soul,” he says. “So that's always been there, on the back burner, for me.”

The Maryland resident and his partner adopted a 15-year-old about three years ago.

For Whitney Kyle of Las Vegas, parenthood was an integral part of the future he imagined for himself. He has since nurtured a diverse group of five children.

“I kind of was aware that I was gay from an early age, but I still dreamed of being a father with kids. It was just part of, like, lists of things I wanted in life,” he said.


For most gay men who become fathers, the process itself is fraught with considerable challenges and drama. But for this group, HIV proved an unexpected complication.

Greg’s diagnosis was intertwined with a challenging journey into fatherhood. He split with his partner shortly before Ruby’s adoption. And shortly after that he learned he had become infected with HIV.

“On a one-month sort of scale, I became single, became a parent, discovered my HIV status, and then celebrated my daughter's first birthday,” Greg says. “I never had the opportunity to process HIV, what HIV would mean for me as a parent.”

Justin’s reaction to the news was unexpected.

“I thought, oh, my gosh; I'm not going to be able to be a father now. And my second and third thoughts were: My parents are going to be very disappointed in me, and I'm going to die,” Justin says.

“If you look at it, that's not really the order a lot of people think of things, when it comes to being diagnosed with HIV. They don't think of fatherhood the first thing.”

Richard "Rick" Nadan of Queens, New York, has four children born via a surrogate. Calista and Elizabeth are 2, while Keith and Savannah are 7. He learned of his status while the oldest children were in utero.

“I basically had found out that my surrogate was 10 days pregnant when I got my diagnosis,” Rick says. “So going into it, or going into the whole process, I was negative.”

After seeking medical advice and ensuring that everyone involved would be safe, he and his surrogate moved ahead. The children were born healthy, and Rick eventually decided to go through the process again.


Of course, the meaning of an HIV/AIDS diagnosis has changed radically over the past two decades. What was once considered an inevitable death sentence has become a chronic manageable disease. The fathers we talked with fell on both sides of that divide.

Although Steven Brandt was diagnosed 10 years ago  after that switch in understanding the disease  he still found the news difficult to take.

“I took it really hard. I knew there was medicine and all this to, you know, live a longer life. And I really didn't care to hear anyone's theories on that,” he says. “I just kind of wanted once again to be left alone, crawl into a shell, with the highest hopes that I would just basically kick the bucket.”

Whitney was diagnosed with HIV nearly 20 years ago, and with AIDS some 13 years ago. That news – along with the health of his partner  seemed to derail any hope of starting a family.

“My partner and I were looking into adopting a girl from China. But then, when he became ill, that kind of was postponed. We didn't know which direction it was going to go. And his health just went down,” Whitney says. “By the time that I was diagnosed myself, with full-blown AIDS, I kind of figured it was just not going to happen.”

For Steven and Rick, the disease looked like an endpoint for their hopes of fatherhood. But there would be much more in store for both of them.


They had to keep living. Despite their HIV/AIDS diagnosis, all of these men we talked to knew that they had to push forward, however they could. And that meant digging into parenthood with unparalleled fortitude.

In Steven’s case, that happened when his best friend asked him to have a child with her. It was a big step, especially for someone who was HIV positive.

“I did have the fear that, even being undetectable, when my best friend and I decided to have a kid, that the virus could spread to her, or spread to her and then be passed on to our child,” he says. “For some reason, we went ahead and risked everything. And everything turned out perfect.” Their son, Jerryd, is now 6 years old. Steven, 34, says that everything is different now.

“He changed my life a lot. He got me out of the party scene. I grew up pretty fast, having him. I was stuck in a funk. I was just wanting to, I guess you could say, be forever young and party. And when my friend came around it just really hit me that that really wasn't the life I needed to be living anymore.”

Greg, who learned of his diagnosis shortly after bringing his daughter home, was fortunate enough to be able to take time away from work. Successful businesses meant he could spend three years focusing on his daughter. He seemed to find a refuge in parenting.

“It took me years, to be honest with you,” he says. “It took me years before I would even let my daughter – won't say out of my sight; that sounds so controlling  but she didn't go to anyone else's house. She didn't go with a babysitter. I took care of everything all the time.”

Paul Costantino, who lives north of Boston, had a different experience than many we talked to. He and his wife had two sons and were married for more than a decade. But in the early 1980s, he knew that the time had come to change.

“Consciously or otherwise, I chose to get married, and meant it to be forever. But I had my two kids and after 12 years of marriage, I had to deal with my personal issues of realizing I was gay, and coming out,” he says.

He remained a key part of his children’s lives, as did his partner. “We vacationed with my sons, and traveled with them. And they stayed with us, growing up,” Paul says.

As for Rick, he decided that having two children wasn’t enough. He went through the surrogacy process again. This time, though, his HIV-status didn’t come as a surprise. Everyone knew upfront, and things went off without a hitch.

“The second surrogate, she did some of her own research and, when she spoke with me and the surrogacy agent, was fine with it and said, ‘Let's go ahead and do it,’” Rick says.


All parents have to decide how much of their lives as adults they should share with their children. For dads dealing with HIV/AIDS, the question is especially pressing.

Justin, the advice columnist (and Mr. Maryland Leather 2010, if you must know), has an open approach with his son.

“So now that he's 17, he's very well informed,” Justin says. “He actually reads my advice columns. And he says, ‘Wow, Dad. That was pretty good.’ And I said, ‘Oh, thank you.’ And he said, ‘Yeah. Now that I read your advice column, I think I'm the expert now.’”

For Paul, disclosing meant tackling an ever bigger and more difficult subject: the failing health of his longtime partner, and a man who was close to his children.

“We were together for 13 years. He died in '93 of AIDS complications. And in 1992, he was getting real sick, and I knew I would have to talk to my kids,” Paul says. “I had already talked to them about being gay. That was something I did with a lot of pride, and felt very good about. But talking with my kids about being HIV-positive was probably the most difficult thing I've ever had to do.”

Rick’s children are still young, so they don’t yet know the specifics of his diagnosis. But his treatments have become part of the family’s everyday routine.

“They just know that I take my medicine every day,” Rick says. “But when Grandpa and Grandma were around, they saw them take medicine every day. They don't associate it with anything in particular. My son has ADHD so he takes his Ritalin every morning before school. So for them it's just like, okay; this is part of our morning or evening routine.”

Like Justin, Whitney has been very open about his positive status.

“For one thing, I'm not 65, and I'm on disability. So, pretty much every kid that's come into the house, I've informed,” he says. “And I also had a rule that I no longer enforce, but for a kid to come spend time at my house, I had to meet their parents first. So it's been out in the open all the way through.”


And the journey continues. These men's families continue to grow, to thrive, and to evolve.

Greg finds motivation and strength in his relationship with his daughter.

“Being a parent is not only the most important thing in my life; being a parent saved my life,” he says. “There are times when being a parent is really the motivator for getting things together and taking care of myself.”

While Justin says he and his partner are probably not going to adopt another teenager, surrogacy is a possibility in the future.

Whitney is still looking after three of his five children, emphasizing their education above all. “If they're going to stay here, they're going to go to school,” he says.

Rick is busy with his four kids. Steven splits time with his son with his best friend.

So we close with Paul, who has been a parent for longest, and seen the landscape change the most  both for those with HIV/AIDS and gay men who want to become parents. He’s also worked as an AIDS awareness educator for 20 years.

“As my sons have grown up and had families of their own I've been active in babysitting for my grandchildren. And I just recently came out to my granddaughter, who is 13 years old,” Paul says.

If someone has a positive diagnosis, he says, it shouldn’t deter him from parenthood.

“We know that HIV-positive people can live a very long, healthy, normal life. But you have to be vigilant in taking your medications and keeping up with doctor's appointments,” Paul says. “But if you have the desire to, and want to be a parent, there's no reason why you can't.”

Show Comments ()

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

How This Dad 'Redesigned' the Holidays After Coming Out of the Closet

Rick Clemons describes how he made the holidays work for him and his family again after coming out of the closet

What I'm about to describe to you, is something I am deeply ashamed of in hindsight. I was a jerk, still in a state of shock and confusion, and "in love" with a handsome Brit I'd only spent less than 24 hours with.

I was standing in the Ontario, California airport watching my wife walk with my two daughters to a different gate than mine. They were headed to my parents in the Napa Valley for Thanksgiving. I was headed to spend my Thanksgiving with the Brit in San Francisco. It was less than one month after I had come out of the closet and I was so caught up in my own freedom and new life that I didn't realize until everything went kaput with the Brit on New Year's Eve, that if I was ever going to manage the holidays with dignity and respect for me, my kids, and their Mom, I was going to have to kick myself in the pants and stop acting like a kid in the candy store when it came to men. Ok, nothing wrong with acting that way since I never got to date guys in high school and college because I was raised to believe – gay no way, was the way. But that's another article all together.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less

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%).

Fatherhood, the gay way

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

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse