Change the World

Finding Life: A Documentary About Building Families Through Foster Care

Sometimes, the right story finds the right people, at the right time. “Finding Life,” an upcoming documentary about same-sex foster parents, is just such a project.


Filmmaker Carlton Smith (in photo above), an industry veteran who created commercials, music videos, and TV news, met John Duffy and Frank Sweeney’s family years ago while working at his day job on the Lifetime show "Designing Spaces."

He was especially taken with the juxtaposition of Zachary, a mixed-race child, and a white same-sex couple.

“I want to do a documentary about your story,” he says he told them. “Seeing this child with these two great dads, it just clicked.”

But it didn’t happen right away. Professional commitments and other projects kept Smith busy for several years. He completed a documentary called “The Black Miami.”

“For me, a documentary is taking my love of news and my love of film and combining them into one,” says Smith, who lives in the Fort Lauderdale area.

Looking to create another, he came back to Duffy and his family.

As Smith and Duffy talked through ideas, the two realized they had a compelling premise for a film: There are around 400,000 children in foster care who desperately need homes. And there is a large population of same-sex couples, many newly married, who are interested in starting families of their own.

“We have the option to solve two problems at once,” Duffy says.

He came on board as a producer of the project, at Smith’s invitation. He helped find the featured couples and handled logistical issues.

The two, along with a professional crew, have been working on the film for the last year, and a few months of work remain. They’ve started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for the project.

“Somebody has to tell this story,” Smith says. “We can help fix this.”

The Duffy-Sweeny Family

Following John and Frank

Duffy and Sweeney met while playing softball 8½ years ago. On their first or second date, Duffy says, the two talked about having kids.

But the Fort Lauderdale couple didn’t act right away. Their journey toward parenthood was ultimately prompted by a visit to the coffee shop.  They saw a foster care group’s pamphlet at a Starbucks and decided to volunteer.

But once they visited, they were told: “We don’t really need volunteers. We need foster parents,” Duffy said.

Taking a collective deep breath, the two started taking the state course to become licensed foster parents shortly afterward. They weren’t sure they could go through with it, Duffy said. “Each step of the way was pretty scary.”

But they kept pushing ahead, putting one foot ahead of another.

Soon after completing the course, they were taking care of the newborn baby Zachary. Eighteen months later, he was legally adopted by Frank. (The two married at the beginning of this year, as soon as same-sex marriage came to Florida.)

But they weren’t the only ones to experience rapid change. Florida itself went through huge legal shifts at the same time. When Zachary entered their care, they had to pretend to be just roommates, as state law still barred gay couples from adopting kids.

The law was overturned by an appeals court in October 2010, when their son was 5 months old.

“We got lucky,” Duffy says. “We could get everything squared away on paper.”

And they saw attitudes among their friends in the Florida gay community quickly change. A shift that, it must be said, is one of the inspirations for the documentary.

At first, Duffy says, “It was very shocking to the community.” He and Sweeney would be asked, “What in the world are you doing?”

But as the laws and culture changed, they began to field questions. How exactly did they do it? How much did it cost? Could their friends become parents too?

They ended up shepherding at least 10 of their couple friends through the same process.

“There was the latent need in the gay community -- this latent desire and dream -- to start a family,” Duffy says. “I feel like it turned a light on for a lot of people.”

The Pfeffer-Stifter Family

Blazing Trails in Broward County

David Z. Pfeffer and Ryan P. Stifter are a boisterous couple, full of energy and humor. They ending up being a natural fit for the project.

When he heard about a casting call for the documentary, Pfeffer was immediately interested. “Let’s go, let’s try it,” he told Stifter. Their chemistry on-screen was apparent, and they were picked to be one of the seven couples featured.

“My thought was this would be a great way to tell our story,” Stifter says.

The couple are parents of Nikki, whom they adopted last year after fostering. The adoption was sequential, meaning that first Pfeffer adopted her as a single parent, then Stifter was added as a second parent, within the same legal proceeding.

This was a unique process for Broward County and the foster care system. Initially, the Department of Children and Families wanted to have a conference about the issue. But astute lawyering and a receptive judge won out. If they hadn’t been able to adopt sequentially, Stifter would have had to go through the entire adoption process again, on his own. That would have meant a three-month to six-month delay, more paperwork and more court fees.

Once the process was in place, six more same-sex couples quickly followed, and the couple are proud of their roles as trailblazers. Now that Florida has legally recognized same-sex marriages, though, couples likely won’t require the process.

Nikki was able to be part of the adoption proceedings, too. She came to the hearing, where, Pfeffer told her, “we were getting married as a family.”

“We were making promises to each other that we were going to be a family forever,” he says.

Pfeffer’s advocacy has including keeping a blog about the family’s experiences (at followourfamily.wordpress.com). Additionally, both are forceful advocates for greater participation in the foster care system.

“There are just not enough foster homes for all the children who are in care,” Stifter says. “They have nowhere to go.”

Finding Life

Making  a mission

Ultimately, Smith and Duffy say, they want the documentary to make a positive change.

“The goal is not to attack something or someone,” Duffy says. It’s not about blame. “There are kids there in a system that needs work.”

Too often, according to Duffy, the foster care system isn’t considered by same-sex couples who want to be parents. It can seem too risky and uncertain. Ultimately, he says, such fears shouldn’t drive parents-to-be.

“You’re going to love the kid no matter what,” Duffy says. “Each route has its own pitfalls and advantages.”

For Smith, working on the documentary gave him some clarity about his life, too. He was planning to become a foster parent, along with his partner, Josh, and be part of the documentary. While that’s still the ultimate plan, they’re sitting tight for now.

“After spending the last year with these families, I learned I’m not ready,” Smith says. “You have to be so selfless to take this on.”

He plans on finishing the documentary this year. Some interviews remain, then editing and adding a score. Your help is desperately needed. Once “Finding Life” finds audiences, whether at film festivals or on television, he's hoping to change minds and hearts.

“I want people to watch this and volunteer for a foster agency in their community,” Smith says. “Look at this option first instead of last.”

Finding Life

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Change the World

A Gay Fertility Doctor Opens Up About His Own Path to Parenthood

Parenthood is the "one and only job" held by the majority of the population, wrote gay fertility doctor Mark Leondires in a recent op-ed for The Advocate

Dr. Mark Leondires, founder of the fertility clinic RMA of Connecticut, has helped thousands of LGBTQ people become parents over the years. But in a recent op-ed for The Advocate, he discussed his own path to parenthood as a gay man, and some of the lessons he's learned along the way.

"Similar to most gay men I struggled with the coming out process," Dr. Leondires wrote. "I strongly desired to be a parent. And as a fertility doctor I knew this was possible. What was enlightening was after we had our first child is that in the eyes of my community, I went from being a gay man or gay professional to being a parent just like most of my straight friends."

Dr. Leondires goes on to say his reasons for opening up about his parenting journey is to offer some perspective LGBTQ people who are considering parenthood. "Once you have a family you will have this common bond with the vast majority of our population and something they can relate to — having children," he wrote. "You are no longer someone living this "special" lifestyle, you are a parent on a shared journey."

Being a parent is the "one and only job" held by the majority of the population, he continued. "It is also the only job you can't be fired from."

Understanding this commonality helped Dr. Leondires in his coming out process, he said. "I had to be proud of my family because I want them to be proud of our family," he wrote. "It wasn't about me anymore. The reality is that 5-7% of patients identify as LGBTQ+, and there may be a greater likelihood that your child might be LGBTQ+ because you are. Therefore, you need to be proud of who you are and who your family is, establish and maintain this foundation unconditionally."

Read Dr. Leondires entire essay here.

Change the World

Is This the First Photo to Show a Positive Image of Gay Dads in the Media?

This photo from 1983 originally ran in a Life Magazine piece called "the Double Closet"

Last month was LGBTQ History Month! And to celebrate, the online magazine LGBTQ Nation ran tidbits of history all month long. For one post, they dug up the above image — which they claim is the first, published in a mainstream media outlet, to show gay parents depicted in a positive light.

The image was part of a Life Magazine article called "the Double Closet." The photograph was taken by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, J. Ross Baughman. Whether this was truly the first image of its kind or not, it's a heartwarming photo nonetheless that helps show gay dads have been forming loving families for decades. And we couldn't be more thrilled that in recent years, his images is standing in some pretty good company! Each and every day, we help add to the archives of images showing positive depictions of gay dads — 2,824 images, and counting — on our Instagram page.

Check out the rest of the History Month series on LGBTQ Nation!

Change the World

Enter the First EVER 'Gays With Kids' Family Halloween Costume Contest!

Share your terror-ific family costume photos with us and you could win $500!

This year, we're DEAD EXCITED to be hosting our very first Halloween Family Costume competition! Every year we see the amazing costumes that our gay, bi and trans families come up with, and this year we really wanted to celebrate y'all with a fun and friendly family competition. Our amazing panel of judges (which includes comedian and fellow gay dad Alec Mapa, gay dad influencer Devon Gibby, and our co-founders Brian and Ferd!) will select the prize winners based on the following criteria: creativity, uniqueness, nerve... and overall fabulousness.

The prizes are...*drum roll please*

For first place: $500 cash prize

Two runners-up families: $250 Amazon voucher*

Competition information

Submissions must be sent to halloween@gayswithkids.com by October 31 midnight PST, along with dads' first names, Instagram handle (if you're on Instagram), and the city / state or country where they live.

Competition to be judged on November 1st, and the winners will be announced on Saturday November 2nd via Instagram and Facebook. Winners will also be notified via email and must respond within 48 hours to claim their prize.

All submitted photos will be included in our Halloween Gay Dad Family 2019 roundup

One of the runner-up families will be selected via a voting page (featuring 21 families) that we will set up on the website. When it's live on November 1st, 9am EST, we'll encourage folks to vote for their favorite family costumes! You'll have till midnight Friday PST - we know this isn't long so you'll have to act fast! - and we'll be sharing plenty of reminders via our Instagram to encourage folks to vote!

Rules for entry

Gay, bi and trans dads: Send us your favorite family photo(s) of Halloween 2019 showing each and every member of the family in costume: Dad(s) and child(ren). All those featured in the photo must be in costume, and must include at least one dad.

One entry per family, although you may submit up to 5 different photos of your family in the same costumes.

*For our overseas families: if selected as a winner, your runner-up prizes will be an alternative to the American Amazon gift voucher, but also worth US$250.

Meet the fabulous judges...

Alec Mapa

Actor, writer, comedian, and dad, Alec Mapa is America's Gaysian Sweetheart. We know him from his roles on Half & Half, Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives. He's also husband to Jamie Hebert and proud dad to son Zion, whom they adopted through foster care when he was 5 years old. Watch Alec on his hilarious comedy special "Baby Daddy" on YouTube.

Devon Gibby

Dad of two through a previous straight relationship, and Instagram Influencer @dadndaddies joins our panel of judges. We've witnessed some amazing costumes from Devon in the past so we believe he'll be bringing his A-game to selecting the best, most creative, most faaaaabulous family costumes around!

Brian Rosenberg

Co-founder of Gays With Kids, Brian is dad of three kids through adoption and surrogacy. He lives in Boston with his husband Ferd, and together they started Gays With Kids almost six years at their kitchen table. Brian is proud of and humbled by the Gays With Kids community, and is excited to throw his hat into the judging pool.

A big thank you to our amazing sponsored and supporters!

All prizes were generously donated by some incredible dads in our community, for which we are super grateful!

Gold:

Thomas and Brandon are proud dads to their two sons through adoption. They're also the co-founders of Feinsod Consulting, a Medical IT Consulting firm, located in Orlando, Florida. Their firm offers a comprehensive range of services to ensure their client's medical and healthcare practices deliver technical excellence with every patient.

Silver:

Chad Henson is a doting dad to his daughter and husband to Ray. He's also a gay father who is grateful for this community.

Brian Martinez is the proud husband to Adriian, stepdad to their daughter, and also a food and lifestyle entrepreneur based in the Bronx. His five current businesses include Fresco's Cantina, The Coffee Break Company, The Bronx Barber Shop, La Parada Pit Stop, and Travesias, all located in the Bronx, NY.

Bronze:

Rick Clemons is a dad and husband, as well as a life coach, motivational speaker, author and podcaster. His superpower is guiding men out of the closets of their life - to break free of fear, make bold moves, and live life without apology. Check out his website: Gay Mans Life Coach,

Brandon Adkins and Jamie Wince are fiancés, set to marry in 2020, and also dads to their two kids whom they had through previous relationships. They are owners of Adkins Raceway, a karting experience for everyone at every age and every skill level based in Port Washington, Ohio. Even if you're new to the sport, they offer introductory karting classes, so if you're in Ohio, go check them out!

Matthew and Ian Leprino are new dads to a baby boy, and owners of The Ridgewood Company, a Denver-area Real Estate Brokerage.


Gay Dad Photo Essays

Falling for Fall: 33 Photos of Gay Dads and Kids at the Pumpkin Patch

Oh my gourd, it's fall! To celebrate, we rounded up 33 pics (and whole lot of pun-kins) in our annual fall photo essay!

Don your checked shirt, grab them apples, and shine those smiles while perched on pumpkins — it's the annual fall family photo op! A trip to the pumpkin patch and / or apple orchard is a staple family fall outing, and we're here for it. 🎃🍎🍂👨👨👧👦

Thanks to these dads who shared their pics with us! Share your own to dads@gayswithkids.com and we'll add them to this post!

It's pumpkin season!

"So. Many. Pumpkins."

“We had so much fun at @thedallasarboretum today. Preston loves spending time with his cousins. ❤️❤️❤️ these three are the best.”

"Great morning with friends at the pumpkin 🎃patch"

"Can we just keep visiting pumpkin patches every day this week? 🍂🍁"

“Our attempt to get a good family photo at the twins’ first trip to a pumpkin patch was a complete failure. Lesson learned: take photos first thing, and don't wait until the end when they're tired and cranky 😃”

“Pumpkins... Cornstalks... Apples... Hayrides.... Loads of fun for a these 2 DADS & these 3 KIDDOS!!!! 🎃🍁🍎🍂👻”

Gay Dad Family Stories

David and Ben Met on the Dance Floor — and Are Now Grooving Their Way Through Fatherhood

David and Ben, who became fathers with the help of Northwest Surrogacy Center, live in Melbourne with their daughter, Maia.

In 2003, while both studying at Reading University in the UK, Ben Suter and David Cocks met after locking eyes on the dance floor and then being introduced by a mutual friend. Ben, a meteorologist and Operations Manager, and David, an Assistant Principal, have been together ever since. They moved to Australia together in 2010, seeking a different life, and an overall better work-life balance. The chose Cairns in Queensland as their new home, between the Great Barrier Reef and the tropical rainforest, "taking life a bit easier," said David. The couple were also married in June 2016, back home in England.

While David always wanted kids, Ben took a little convincing. So they started their parenting journey with a dog, Titan, who quickly became like their first born. From there, Ben came around rather quickly.

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

Single Gay Dad and the City

When Kyle decided to take his four kids, ages 6-11, to New York City on vacation, his friends thought he was crazy.

"You're crazy, Kyle."

"You can't be serious? A single dad taking four kids to the Big Apple? Think again."

"That's bold. There's no way I'd do that."

Those were a few of the responses I heard from my friends as I told them I was thinking of booking a trip to New York City with four kids, ages 11-6. My children's fall vacation from school was approaching and I wanted to get out of the house and explore. Was the Big Apple too much of an adventure?

Keep reading... Show less
News

National's Pitcher Cites Wife's Two Moms as Reason for Declining White House Invite

"I think that's an important part of allyship," Doolittle said of his wife's two moms.

Sean Doolittle, pitcher for the Washington Nationals, declined an invitation to the White House after his team won the World Series this year. In an interview with the Washington Post, he listed his numerous reasons for staying home — and a main consideration, he revealed, was his wife's two moms.

"I want to show support for them. I think that's an important part of allyship, and I don't want to turn my back on them," Doolittle said during the interview.

Trump's treatment of a minority groups, generally, factored into his decision as well. "I have a brother-in-law who has autism, and [Trump] is a guy that mocked a disabled reporter. How would I explain that to him that I hung out with somebody who mocked the way that he talked or the way that he moves his hands? I can't get past that stuff."

Doolitttle clarified that his decision had little to do with policy disagreements with the White House. "There's a lot of things, policies that I disagree with, but at the end of the day, it has more to do with the divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories and widening the divide in this country. My wife and I stand for inclusion and acceptance, and we've done work with refugees, people that come from, you know, the 'shithole countries.'"

He concluded by saying he respected his teammates decision to attend the White house ceremony. "I want people to know that I put thought into this, and at the end of the day, I just can't go."

Read more of the Washington Post interview here.

Fatherhood, the gay way

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