Change the World

Don't Call My African American Son 'Aggressive'

When another parent referred to his son as "aggressive" in school, Will armed himself with facts and data to make sure that term appeared no where on his school's record.

There are a ton of words people have used to describe my son: handsome, funny, polite, and even a handful at times. To say that I was unprepared when I arrived at his daycare one Friday last year and was told that another parent had used the word "aggressive" to describe my son would be an understatement.


We first met Deacon when he was 4 weeks old and an unnamed foster baby in the NICU. Born at 28 weeks, we spent the first 97 days in the hospital where he underwent two surgeries before coming home as a healthy, happy 7 pound, 4 ounce baby right after Christmas.

As I stood in the office that day while one of the professionals told me that a parent had used this term to describe my child, thoughts of our little boy fighting for his life in that tiny incubator at the hospital ran through my mind. I thanked the professional for the information, signed a form saying I acknowledged the conversation, and picked up my happy, smiling 2-year-old and headed to my car. On my drive home, Deacon sang songs, asked questioned, and shrilled with glee when he saw a bus pull up next to us at a red-light.

That evening was just like any other. We got home, he played until it was time for dinner and a bath, and then I tucked him into his new toddler bed and kissed him good night. By this time, my shock had turned to concern and frustration. Concern because we know very little about Deacon's birth family medical history and are hypersensitive to his actions and emotions. Frustration because I didn't know exactly what had happened and knew I wouldn't get answers until Monday morning at the earliest. Had I failed as a father? Did I miss a chance to discuss emotions with him which lead him to the alleged "aggressive" description?

In my professional and academic career, I have completed and authored research so my mind naturally went to evidence-based facts. What I found armed me with information that helped me better understand the struggles that my son would face as an African-American. Throughout the weekend, I feverishly created talking points, gathered data, memorized cited sources, and did everything short of creating a PowerPoint presentation to prepare for the discussion I would be having with the Director of my son's school on Monday.

On Monday morning, I walked Deacon to his class and kissed him goodbye before heading up to the Director's office. I started the conversation by stating that the word "aggressive" should not be used to describe my son going forward and I wanted to be sure that it wasn't marked on any records for him.

Will with his son Deacon

I then went into the facts regarding the situation as I saw it:

"As the white father of an African-American child, I must be vigilant in protecting my son from bias that I've never had to personally face. I also have to balance bias from situations where Deacon does need to be corrected and held accountable. As my son's father, I know that he will be 3 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than I was, based solely on the color of our skin (U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, 2012).

I'm also aware that Black elementary, middle, and high school students receive disproportionate punishment for the same offense as White students (Okonofua & Eberhardt, 2015). Finally, research has proven that White students are more likely to be referred to the office for objective offenses like smoking or vandalism, compared to Black children who are more likely to be referred for subjective offenses like the expression of disrespect or threat (Skiba et al., 2011).

This directly correlates with the perception of racial stereotypes about Black people and that Black boys, in particular, are aggressive and dangerous. I tell you this to explain why the term "aggressive" concerns me. In the past, any report about Deacon's behavior has been objective and transparent, but suddenly we get a report that only stereotypes my son and doesn't offer evidence or reason."

Once I had finished my speech and provided solid evidence to support my concerns, I waited for the Director to respond. Ready to overcome any objection she may have, I allowed the awkward silence to continue while she gathered her thoughts. Instead of defense, the head of my son's school said, "Thank you."

She completely understood my concern for him and stated that we should always stand up for him if we feel that he is being treated different. She went on to tell me that she wasn't aware of all of the information I provided and guaranteed that she had personally witnessed Deacon in class and he was no different than any other 2-year-old at the school. Sometimes he got pushed down, and sometimes he pushed someone down. She guaranteed that Deacon was not seen as "aggressive" to his teachers or any other professionals at the school. She then explained that, as his parents, we had a right to know about any concerns another parent mentioned but that it was only an opinion.

Finally, she let me know that none of her staff members could label any student and that if there were any concerns, it would be a process that I, as his dad, would be a part of. I left his school that morning feeling better. Not because I had "won" or "proven my point," but because the process had helped prepare me for the reality of issues my son may face as an African-American male. With this knowledge, I will be able to identify bias toward my son and have conversations with him about how, just because of what he looks like, he may be considered "aggressive" when the reality is that he is like every other student in his class, only a different skin tone.

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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.

Entertainment

Amazon's New "Modern Love" Series Includes Episode on Open Adoption

The episode is loosely based on the New York Times "Modern Love" essay written by sex columnist and activist Dan Savage.

In 2005, Dan Savage, the gay sex columnist, contributed one of the most talked about essays for the Modern Love column in The New York Times. Better known for his acerbic wit and cutting political commentary, Savage exposed a more vulnerable side in this piece, sharing the highs, lows and everything in between that comes from the experience of pursuing an open adoption.

His son DJ's birth mother was experiencing what Savage called a "slo-mo suicide": homeless by choice, in and out of prison, and surrounded by drugs. Though Savage has chosen an open adoption so that DJ's birth mother would be a presence in his son's life, she often disappeared for months and sometimes years at a time without contacting the family, leaving their young son with lots of questions and no satisfying answers.

The piece ends on a heartbreaking note, with Savage simply seeking some sort of resolution. "I'm starting to get anxious for this slo-mo suicide to end, whatever that end looks like," he wrote. "I'd prefer that it end with DJ's mother off the streets in an apartment somewhere, pulling her life together. But as she gets older that resolution is getting harder to picture."

At the time, many interpreted Savage's story as a cautionary tale for those considering open adoptions. But in 2016, on the Modern Love Podcast, he asserted that was not his intention: "DJ's mom is alive and well," Savage said. "She's on her feet. She's housed. We talk on the phone occasionally. She and DJ speak on Mother's Day and on DJ's birthday." He added that he "would hate to have anyone listen to that essay or to read it — which was written at a moment of such kind of confusion and despair — and conclude that they shouldn't do the kind of adoption that we did," Savage said. "I think that open adoption is really in the best interest of the child, even if … it presents more challenges for the parents. So I encourage everyone who's thinking about adoption to seriously consider open adoption and not to be dissuaded by my essay."

Now, Savage's piece is getting the small screen treatment as one of 9 episodes included in Amazon Prime's adaption of the column. The episode inspired by Savage's essay, "Hers Was a World of One," contains some departures from Savage's original story — Savage's character, played by Fleabag's Andrew Scott, adopts a daughter rather than a son, for example, and the episode concludes closer to the upbeat note struck in the Podcast version of hist story than in the column.

Either way, we welcome any and all attention to the complexities of open adoption. Check out the episode (which also randomly includes Ed Sheeran in a couple scenes) and tell us what you think!

News

Adopting Dogs Improves Gay Couples' Relationships, Says Adorable Study

In what may be a "pre-curser to parenthood," 56% of gay and bi couples reported spending more time with their partners after adopting a dog.

As part of what may be the most adorable study you never knew you needed, pet-sitting website Rover.com found that gay and bi couples who adopt dogs reportedly boast stronger relationships as a result — 56% of gay and bi couples said they spent more time with their partners after adopting a dog. More than half of participants also said that owning a dog can help prepare couples for children.

Interestingly, gay and bi couples were also more likely to prepare for potential difficulties in their arrangements — 21% of gay and bi couples reported setting up a "pet-nup" agreement to determine custody of their new pup in case their relationship didn't last. Only 12% of straight couples, in contrast, did the same.

"You can outline the practicalities of what would happen in the event you split from your partner whether you have joint or sole custody," Rover.com dog behaviorist Louise Glazebrook told Australia's QN News. "It's a real tragedy to see breakups results in dogs needing to be re-homed.

There was, however, one clear downside to pet ownership mentioned in the study — 17% of respondents said they have less sex now that they're sharing a bed with their pup.

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.

Gay Dad Life

Top 10 Reasons You Should Date a Gay Dad

Jay Turner lays out the top 10 reasons you should consider dating a single gay dad

We're gay dads. Many of us were married to women, and for various reasons we eventually found ourselves single and looking for companionship from another man. Life is a little more complicated for us because we have kids. But that shouldn't deter you from seeking a relationship with a gay dad. In fact, there are many reasons why we make better partners than men without children. We are generally more mature, responsible, and emotionally available. We are also better communicators.

Here are the top ten reasons why you should date a gay dad:

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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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Entertainment

First Gay Dads Via Surrogacy in the U.K. Separate as One Plans New Family with Daughter's Ex-Boyfriend

Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow first became known in the UK for being the first gay couple to become dads via surrogacy.

Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow first made headlines in 1999 when they became the first gay couple to become dads via surrogacy in the U.K. They did so again after they announced their separation — and when Barrie revealed he's dating his daughter's bisexual ex-boyfriend, the 25-year-old Scott Hutchinson.

And now the new couple are sending shockwaves through queer media by announcing the two hope to have twins via surrogacy in the near future.

According to Out Magazine, Scott not only dated Barrie's daughter, Saffron, but also worked as his assistant. Despite the age difference and potential for family drama, the pair fell in love. The couple still share a home with Barrie's ex, Tony — and their daughter Saffron.

Barrie told The Sun that the couple also hope to have twin daughters via surrogacy in the near future — and is revealing it now because he doesn't "want there to be any secrets and I want to get any negativity out of the way before our babies arrive." Barrie's ex, Tony, is reportedly onboard with this arrangement — he's even agreed to serve as the future twins' godfather.

Out Magazine further reported that Barrie and Scott each hope to fertilize an egg, and hope to conduct the insemination with their surrogate within the next three weeks. Of course, who are we to judge, assuming all adults involved are consenting and on board with this unconventional turn of events (though comment from the daughter Saffron is notably absent in the interviews). But that didn't stop Out Magazine from ending their reporting with just a wee touch of gay shade... If one of their future daughters "has a cute boyfriend one day," they write. "Who knows!"

Fatherhood, the gay way

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