Change the World

Directly Into the Face of Hatred

Gay dad Rob Watson on his message to the parents of an assaulted Georgia teen.


Over the last week, a video of gay teen Daniel Pierce’s experience with his intolerant family has gone viral. In it, the Georgia native defends himself from verbal and even physical assault in an “intervention” staged by his Bible-thumping parents and grandmother. The widely circulated clip sparked tears, outrage — and eventually donations. Friends set up a fundraiser for Daniel that garnered over $90,000 in just days; the now-disowned teen plans to donate much of it to an Atlanta-based organization that works with LGBTQ homeless youth.

The responses to the video have been overwhelming. But few have garnered the same attention as an open letter written by gay dad blogger Rob Watson. Posted on his website evoL = and directed to Daniel’s parents, the letter is an impassioned indictment of their treatment of their son. He refutes their arguments and turns ends by turning their predilection for fire and brimstone on its head: “You will not need to preach to us about hell, however. We will see it in your eyes.” The letter, like the video that inspired it, has gone viral. And it is the latest in a string of open letter-style posts that earned Rob a growing readership through his own site, Huffington Post, Gay Star News, and more. He is even a co-host of a Santa Cruz, California radio show.

“I’ve found that when certain things happen, there’s a reaction from a lot of LGBT people that they wish they could say something directly to the people involved,” explains Rob. “They want to say, “Stop. That’s not okay. We’re not going to stand for it anymore.’ We want that person called out directly to their face.”

As a result, the direct address has become one of the writer’s most predominant structures since he launched evoL = two years ago, alongside a few other gay dads and allies. (Today, Rob is the site’s primary author.) He has written to a Mormon grandmother who thought Disney’s “Frozen” was pimping a “gay agenda.” He has written to real fathers who left notes disowning their gay children. He has written to real bishops. He has written on many other topics, not all of them in this format. But it has become something of a signature, in part because it indulges the readers’ vicarious need to say something pointed and direct in the face of the hatred we hear about too often.

Rob admits that the video of Daniel’s altercation with his family moved him to write, in part, because he understands how painful the coming-out process can be. (Daniel’s video was initially widely reported as a coming-out, though the teen has since clarified that it was a “pray the gay away” intervention that his parents staged.) Rob has written about his own coming-out in a post titled, “The Nine Worst Things to Do When Coming Out of the Closet.”

“I didn’t handle it in the most graceful way,” says Rob, whose then-alcohol dependency became an unhealthy coping mechanism. (Today, he’s 30 years sober.) Drinking made him “sloppy, defensive and belligerent,” he says, which resulted in a coming-out conversation with his mother that was, “very unpleasant,” says Rob. “It didn’t rise to the level of what Daniel faced. There was no violence. But there were some contentious things said, a lot of elements were very similar to what Daniel went through.”

And though it’s easy to assume that today’s youth have it easier, Rob says that Daniel’s video has resonated because it underscores how much work there is left to do. He has seen that even in his own backyard of Santa Cruz, a city known for its social liberalism. He recalls a recent instance when one of his two sons, who had just entered middle school, seemed somber before bed. With a little digging, he discovered that a few kids were teasing his sons. “They were telling the other kids, ‘Stay away from the Watson boys. They’re gay,’” says Rob. It was their first experience with being treated as though their family was less than. A supportive school counselor nipped the issue in the bud, but it reminded Rob of what can exist in even the most progressive places.

Rob knows that the culture is changing, if slowly, just as people do. Today, he has a strong relationship with his parents, who are in their late 80s. Rob is their primary caregiver, and they dote on his sons. Though he hasn’t heard from Daniel or Daniel’s parents about the open letter that he wrote, he imagines the advice he would give if they read it, if it changed them, and if they wrote back asking: How can we make this better?

“I would direct them to PFLAG, and talk to other families who have been through this,” says Rob. “I would tell them to further their education about these issues in a way that is separate from the Bible, and to talk to other denominations that have different understandings and interpretations. I don’t want to disregard that people feel strongly about their religious beliefs. I come from that place myself,” says Rob, who identifies as a Methodist. But, he says, with a bit more thought and a lot more soul searching, reconciling faith and family can become a reality. He’s living proof.

Here’s hoping Daniel’s parents get the message. Sincerely.

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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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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.

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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%).

Fatherhood, the gay way

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