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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As an out, married, gay dad, living in a Jewish household, raising a son who is on the Autism spectrum, Alex feels he can offer a unique perspective. "We come from the state that produced Mike Pence," said Alex. "We come from the state that made national headlines because of a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation; it's fair to say that the cards are stacked against my family, and many, many other families like mine."

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Terrell and Jarius need your help. Earlier this week they were made aware of an act of discrimination against a male transgender student at Johnson High School in Gainesville, Georgia

"Dex Frier was elected by the student body to run for prom king but is now facing backlash from the school's administration," shared the dads via their Instagram. "The school's Superintendent is forcing Dex to either run as prom queen or not run at all. This is very unjust and does NOT reflect the opinion of the parents nor the students."

Watch their video below:

Dex, 17, who came out identifying as male in his sophomore year, spoke with Gainsville Times about being nominated by the student body. "Frier said he kept his emotions in check while at school, but 'the moment I got home, I immediately started crying. I've never been shown so much support before,' Frier added."

He was later informed by school officials that his name had been withdrawn and he could only run in the prom queen ballot.

Sadly, there have been rival petitions started in support of Dex's nomination being withdrawn, and he's received backlash from those who believe he shouldn't be able to run.

Although Terrell and Jarius do not know Dex personally, they were made aware of what was happening through Jarius co-worker who is a parent at the school. "He's such a brave kid and is standing firm in his beliefs, and we should support him," said Jarius.

These dads are asking all of us to take a minute and sign this petition and share with friends and family, or anyone you think could help.

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Gay Single Dads Defend Andy Cohen's Right to Be on Grindr

After the Internet rushed to judge Andy Cohen for signing onto Grindr a couple of weeks after welcoming his newborn son home, fellow single gay dads rushed to his defense.

Last week, we wrote a post about reports that "What What Happens Live" host Andy Cohen had been "spotted" on gay dating app Grindr several weeks after welcoming a newborn into his home. This has some of his followers on social media all worked up"

"Get off Grindr and start being a dad," said one follower who appeared to think single parents must take a vow of celibacy the minute they start changing diapers. "You're sad, that kid has no chance," said another.

Well, suffice it to say that this judgment from people who are presumably not single gay dads of Andy Cohen certainly struck a nerve with our gay dad audience! We received well over 100 comments on this post on Facebook, the vast majority of them coming to Cohen's defense. We caught up with two fellow single gay dads to find out why the story struck a nerve.

"We don't have to live like monks!"

One of the most liked comments on our piece came from Owen Lonzar, who wrote the following:

"I have always been a good single father to my biological son who came to live with me when he was 7 years old. He is now 25 years old and we are very close. I used Grindr and dated while he lived with me. I never had anyone sleep over and he certainly never saw some man he didn't know hanging around my home. Single parents have to date responsibly and with sensitivity to their child but that doesn't mean they have to live like monks!"

We asked Cohen to elaborate a bit more on why the backlash against Cohen bothered him. He had the sense, he said, that much of the criticism against LGBTQ parents comes from gay men without children. "Gay men without kids have a lot to say," he said. "And all of it is ignorant, because they have no idea what it means to actually be a father." He said he was particularly disappointed in gay critics, given our shared history of discrimination. "You would think with all the prejudice we have faced that gay men would be less judgmental themselves," he said.

"Are we supposed to be celibate?"

Another commenter, Josue Sebastian Dones-Figueroa, who is a divorced father of five, questioned what Cohen's critics would prefer him do. "So what, parents are supposed to become celibate because they have kids?" he asked.

We followed up with Josue to ask him to elaborate a bit more: "The idea that just because he is a dad that he would need to stop being a man," he said, questioning why Cohen should have to put his life hold and stop dating, or having sex, just because he's now a father. "If the child is cared for loved and not neglected what is the problem? Life goes on right?"


Gay Dad Life

Internet Conflicted About Advice Given to Closeted Gay Dad in the Guardian

Ok fellow gay dads: if you were the advice columnist at the Guardian, what would you have said?

Recently, in a post titled "I met my girlfriend's parents – and realized I once slept with her father," a man wrote into the advice column at the Guardian with the following predicament:

"Five years ago, I went through a bi phase and used to sleep around with pretty much everyone that came along, including other men. This changed when I fell in love with my new partner, who is everything to me. I recently met her parents and halfway through lunch realised that I had slept with her father. I was going to propose, but when my partner and her mother were away, he told me to end it with his daughter. I'm obviously in love – shall I just ignore him, or tell my partner?"

Pamela Stephenson, the Guardian's columnist, responded as follows:

"I am not sure you could ever have a comfortable future with your new partner. To tell the truth would be to court disaster: a probable break-up, plus the risk of a permanent rift between father and daughter and father and wife. Hiding the truth would lead to toxic secret-keeping that could be equally destructive in the long run. If this whole family was as open-minded and sexually open as you, it might be possible for you to become part of it. However, the father – your former lover – has made it clear that you will not be welcome. Walk away now, and avoid the massive pain that would otherwise be inflicted on your partner, her family and yourself."

Not all commenters agreed with Stephenson's advice.

"Assuming your girlfriend knows that you were bi until falling in love with her and that you slept with everybody in your path [which she deserved to know up front anyway] then you can give HER the option what to do with this bond, rather than leaving the choice to her dad," said one commenter.

Another said, "Walking away without explaining why would be callous and also allow the father to escape the possible consequences of his actions."

It's worth noting that none of these commenters, nor the columnist, are or will ever be gay dads, whose perspective on this bizarre situation may be uniquely valuable. Many gay dads have become fathers while still in the closet. And even those who became dads after coming out can still sympathize with the detrimental impacts of the closet on our lives and those of our families.

So what say you, gay dads, about this man's predicament?

Fatherhood, the gay way

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