Travel

Gay Dads, Mark Your Calendars! CampOut Family Camp 2017 is Approaching!

In August of this year, the Midwest's premier camp CampOut hosted a three-day fun-filled camping adventure for gay and lesbian families. We spoke to two gay dad families to hear about their experience and to get our community excited for next year’s CampOut Family Camp.


Brandon, 34, and David, 29, from Troy, Michigan, attended the camp with their 2-year-old daughter. Kent, 46, and Diego, 37, have two boys aged 5 and 1, and they live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Gays With Kids: Where did you hear about CampOut?

Brandon and David: We heard about CampOut from friends of ours, Jeff Foust and Jake Zinke. They had told us about another two couples that they knew would also be attending. We went to meet new families like ours. We were curious about what a weekend like this would be like. We knew our daughter would have a blast with all of the activities.

Kent and Diego: We heard about CampOut through Family Equality Council (FEC). FEC partnered with CampOut for the inaugural family camp and will again for the 2017 camp. We were involved early on as an FEC representative and helped promote CampOut to other families. We also co-facilitated pre-camp training to provide some guidance to CampOut staff and counselors as they prepared to welcome us and other LGBTQ parents and their kids.

Diego and Kent with their two boys

Gays With Kids: What were some of the major reasons for your family's attendance?

Brandon and David: CampOut offered amazing food (not your typical camp fare); swimming (lake AND pool), horse back riding (for ages 5 and up I believe), archery, rock climbing, tennis, various exercise activities, recording studio, games, crafts, group activities including fun and light-hearted competitions, babysitting services, parents evening events (including wine and beer). Camp fires and sing-alongs. Boating. Tubing. GREAT staff. And much much more. I’m sure I'm missing some!

Kent and Diego: We find tremendous value in events where LGBTQ parents and their kids gather for camaraderie and community building. Families like ours are exposed to a steady stream of images and messages on a daily basis that remind us we are “different.” It’s deeply meaningful for us and for our kids to be around other families with LGBTQ-identified parents in a safe, supportive space. Plus, we are a very active, adventurous family that likes to try new things and have fun. CampOut certainly presented an array of opportunities for family fun.

Brandon and David with their daughter

Gays With Kids: What kind of activities did CampOut offer families?

Kent and Diego: Staff specialists supervised over 20 different activities including water sports (swimming, water trampolines, canoeing, windsurfing, paddle boarding, sailing, waterskiing and tubing), archery and riflery, horseback riding, rock climbing (including a giant swing), golf, tennis, and basketball, arts and crafts, and more. They even have a professional recording studio where campers can try out different instruments. Everything was included with our camp registration so it was a great opportunity to try something new, yet we also didn’t hesitate moving on to a new activity when something else drew our attention.

The staff also coordinated group activities each evening including a community campfire, Top Chef-style “cooking” competition (this year was a cake decorating contest, which our family won!), and a camp obstacle course.

Top Chef-style cake decorating competition

There was a structure to the day with group meal times, and open activity time, but there also was plenty of opportunity for campers to do their own thing and just relax, if that’s what they chose. Our family kept plenty busy moving from activity to activity, but some campers enjoyed a slower pace with time at the beach, arts and crafts, or simply getting to know other families.

The Lewandowski-Scott family Camp Out photo

Gays With Kids: How did they accommodate kids of different ages?

Kent and Diego: A few of the activities like horseback riding had a minimum age requirement, but for the most part, campers of all ages and abilities were accommodated. It sounds a bit cliché, but there truly was something for everyone.

Brandon and David: Babysitting was also available for a nominal charge for kids younger than 5. Kids 5 and over were able to play together in the lodge for free. There were activities and events for kids of all ages.

Gays With Kids: Did they offer any activities just for parents, and if so, what were they and did you join in? 

Brandon and David: There were evening events for parents, including wine, beer and appetizers. We did partake in these. It was nice to be able to just sit and socialize, knowing our kids were being taken care of for us.

Diego with his son Lucas enjoying archery

 

Kent and Diego: The staff and counselors hosted a parents’ night out each night with complimentary refreshments and beverages. It was a wonderful opportunity to unwind and connect with other LGBTQ parents. Supervised evening activities were offered for campers age 5 and up, and affordable in-cabin childcare was available for younger campers.

We requested in-cabin childcare for a few hours on two of the nights, and felt perfectly comfortable leaving our 5-year-old and 1-year-old in the care of one of the camp counselors, many of who were international college-age students hailing from various parts of the world. We opted to make our own campfire at our cabin the other night.

A few families also planned their own in-cabin activities to hang out as a group with their kids.

Family Equality Council also facilitated two gatherings called Parent Cafés, which gave parents another opportunity to connect for community building.

Gays With Kids: What was your family's favorite thing about Camp Out?

Brandon and David: Our daughter loved the swimming the most. She swam every day and never wanted to get out of the lake.

Kent and Diego: It’s difficult to choose just one favorite thing about our CampOut experience. We truly enjoyed having time as a family and exposing our kids to new activities, but I think the most rewarding aspect for us was the palpable sense of community and unconditional acceptance. There’s something so special about being around other families with LGBTQ-identified parents, especially for kids who are often the only one in their classroom or peer group with LGBTQ parents. I can’t think of a single moment when we didn’t feel welcomed, respected, and surrounded by support.

Brandon and David enjoying the lake activities with their daughter

Gays With Kids: Why would you recommend Camp Out to other gay dad families and why/why not?

Brandon and David: We are SO excited about CampOut. I am trying to be the best advocate I can be for the camp. It really was wonderful for both of us dads, but we really all had a great time together, as a family. Our daughter was so happy and just loved it.

Kent and Diego: CampOut exceeded our expectations from the moment we arrived until we said our final goodbyes. Our family didn’t have any experience with youth sleepover camps so we didn’t quite know what to expect. Everything was top-notch from the facilities and food to the outstanding staff and variety of activities for all ages. We made a lot of great memories and new friends with whom we’ve stayed in touch via social media and plan to get to know better throughout the coming year and see each other at next year’s CampOut.

Gays With Kids: Will you be attending next year's Camp Out?

Brandon and David: We are already registered for next year and cannot wait. We have since socialized with some of the dads we met, but look forward to seeing some of the other families next year, who are not in the state.

Kent and Diego: Yes, we are definitely planning to attend next year. In fact, we have already registered. CampOut likely will become an annual getaway for our family.

Love-Ramirez family CampOut photo

Next year’s CampOut Family Camp takes place from Saturday, August 19 to Monday, August 21, 2017. Register for your spot today, or email for more details. They can't wait to see you there!

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Travel

5 Fabulous Tips From Gay Dads for Vacationing with Kids

A family vacation with young kids is harder a vacation at all... unless you head this advice from our seasoned gay dads travelers!

It's the summer holidays, and that means family vacation! Now, vacations with kids under 8 might make you break out in a cold sweat, but we've got some tips for you from fellow gay dads to help make family trips easier. From road travel to flying, to helpful planning hints while away, these dads have got you covered.

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Travel

The Golden Age of Vacationing With Kids

WARNING: BUCKLE UP, YOU'RE ABOUT TO READ WAY TOO MANY GOLDEN GIRLS REFERENCES.

Ever feel like you need a vacation from your family vacation? For years, we did too. But I'm happy to report that we don't anymore. So what caused the big shift? I'll get to that. First, a little background.

For years, taking our son Max on road trips had its fair share of, shall I say, challenges. From New York City to London to San Francisco to Vegas… we traveled down the road and back again. And while we made wonderful memories along the way… these trips weren't entirely wonderful. Whether it was Max's inflexible sleep schedule, his limited food palate, potty training, his disinterest in walking or his inability to fully express himself, it never quite felt like a real vacation because we never got to actually relax. But now that Max is almost nine years old, we decided to give it another go… and so we booked a much-needed respite in Florida with one goal in mind — cheesecake — okay, two goals: we wanted to catch our breath!

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A Disney vacation is, for many, a once or twice in a lifetime experience. There's a gazillion articles full of Disneyland tips out there but our fresh take comes off of our first trip to Disneyland as a family of four. And gosh did we learn a lot.

Where to stay at Disneyland

The biggest cost for a family when visiting Disneyland what is of course either the transportation to Southern California or the actual Park tickets depending on how many days you are going. Lodging at Disneyland is also expensive, but there are ways to make sure that you are spending your money wisely.

I'm sure this is obvious to most people booking a Disneyland trip but staying in one of the three Disney properties is going to run you the highest hotel bill. There are lots of Good Neighbor Hotels very close to the park from which you can either walk or take the Anaheim Resort Transit. Book a good neighbor hotel and it doesn't even have to be one of the nicest ones, because seriously, how much time are you actually going to spend in your hotel? You are there to be either in Disneyland or California Adventure so just be sure that you pick a property that has great ratings for cleanliness and is close enough for how your family will spend their days.

When to go to Disneyland

One of the most common Disneyland tips we see is when to go to Anaheim with your family. There are a few different ways to determine what is going to be the right time when the parks aren't too crowded. Here are three tips to help you pick your dates for a Disneyland family trip.

Here in the United States we don't have a lot of holiday weeks. But we do have common periods when schools let out for mid-year breaks. This is the prime time for many families to make the journey to Disneyland. This is also when you will find the largest crowds and longest wait times for your favorite rides. If you're cool with pulling your kids out of school, pick a time when most schools, particularly in Southern California, hour in session. This might not coincide with your own kids' spring or winter break, but it'll be a great opportunity to have smaller crowds and win loads of awesome parent points for pulling your kids out of school.

Annual pass blackout days

If you are not familiar with Disneyland and its annual pass situations this might sound strange. There are different types of passes that Southern California residents and Beyond can purchase. Each pass has a different set of blackout dates during which they cannot use their passes for the parks. If you research the dates when the most number of passes are blacked out you may hit the jackpot for being at the park with a smaller crowd than usual.

True, blackout dates exist because that's when more people want to be at Disneyland or Disney's California Adventure, but keeping in mind vacationers philosophies about missing crowds and knowing it's busy paired with restrictions on passes and you will find the perfect balance of small crowds and swift lines.

Seasonal transitions

One of our favorite times to be in Disneyland is during holiday time. This is that special moment between Halloween and New Year's (or slightly after) that the park is decked out in lights, wreaths, and trees. Not only is it more festive than you can imagine but also plays off of the first tip we gave: a lot of kids are in school so not a lot of families traveling to Disneyland.

Saving money in the parks

You'd be surprised at all the different ways you'll spend money when you visit Disneyland. It's a lot more than just Park admission and accommodations. From dining in the Parks and random souvenirs, to necessities you didn't plan on that you have to purchase once inside, you can save.

Saving on dining

If you read a lot of family travel articles you'll find people praising and criticizing the families who always have their own snacks with them. Well, this is a necessary step to take both for saving money in Disneyland and for making sure the kids are happy. I don't know about you but our kids get hangry in a heartbeat. There's nothing quite like a hungry, angry child to ruin your magical memories. Be prepared with snacks in your pack at all times. It saves money and heartache.

For mealtime Disneyland tips, we'll tell you that the best options are the ones that are easy and a little out of the way. Does that not make sense? Basically, where the menus have simple options and ample seating you will find the swiftest and most cost-effective dining options. Example: The Hungry Bear Cafe in critter country keeps it simple with burgers or wraps. The menu is small and the cast members are efficient. There is a ton of seating and you can be in and out in a heartbeat for less than dining in one of the full service restaurants. Our favorite quick service dining option is Flo's V8 Cafe in Cars Land (Disney's California Adventure).

Saving on unplanned purchases

Does anybody ever plan to be stuck in Disneyland in the rain? No. But after one experience you'll know that you need to have an umbrella or a rain poncho at the ready. As silly as they are ponchos are the greatest invention ever for a rainy day in Disneyland. This is one of the Disneyland tips that we didn't listen to on our first trip there during a February long ago... and we were drenched.

Another way to save is by traveling with a backup battery/power bank to recharge your devices while you're in the Parks. Disneyland does have portable chargers that you can rent for a certain fee over the course of your visit, but do you want to spend $30 at a charging station when you could just bring your own power pack? No.

Souvenirs are their own thing. Of course there are loads of cute nick-nacks and t-shirts you could buy when you travel, to Disneyland or anywhere else, but do you need them? The best way to save money on souvenirs is to not go souvenir shopping. So simple. You could be doing many other fun things instead of browsing shelves of stuff. The exception to the souvenir thing is a good pair of Mickey Mouse ears. They're a must.

How to plan your days

Before we arrived in Disneyland with the kids we decided that there were a few key experiences we wanted them to have. We researched what times certain shows or parades were happening and then weighed that out against how much time we new they could last within the parks. For us the big-ticket experiences were:

Meeting certain characters

Download the Disneyland app to see where characters are in real time within the parks. There is also a paper guide that you can get when you enter either Park, but the app helped us land our two Disneyland unicorns: boom.

Experiencing Disney Entertainment

Again, the Disneyland app lets you know the times for everything as does the schedule. If you are going to be in the parks for several days don't stress about hitting three different parades in one day and also watching the fireworks. Plan on doing rides or dinner nearby a parade route so that when you are done with whatever you're doing you can just park yourself for a few minutes before the show starts.

Other experiences that might be high on your parent list of what you want your family to do in Disneyland could be different attractions or meeting every single character, so do what you have to do to make the experience as magical for everyone as possible. Don't add stress to it, use the tools that Disney has given you to make it easier.

Best way to capture memories

We wrote an article about tips for taking your best family travel photos, and I think the strongest suggestion we have from our list is to just be comfortable taking a family selfie. A family selfie means that everybody is in the photo so there's not one person missing from every single picture. A family selfie means that the kids will probably cooperate with you better than waiting for a stranger to take their picture. Family selfies bring you into the moment or into the action and you usually get some pretty hilarious faces.

Other ways to ensure you're getting great pictures in the Disney parks is to leverage character hosts (cast members who are hanging out with your favorite characters) and PhotoPass staff. The PhotoPass photographers that you find floating around the Disney parks won't just do their own pictures with the Disney cameras but they'll also help you with your own pics.

With a little planning and prep work, you'll no doubt have an awesome Disney vacation with your family. The biggest key to having fun once you're there is to keep a good attitude and don't get stressed. That's where the prep work comes in and believe me, keeping a relaxed state of mind throughout your whole Disney Experience is going to make it more fun and memorable for everybody.

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Politics

Utah Court Rules Gay Couples Can't Be Excluded From Surrogacy Contracts

The Utah Supreme Court found in favor of a gay couple attempting to enter into a surrogacy contract.

DRAKE BUSATH/ UTCOURTS.GOV

Earlier this month, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that a same-sex couples can't be excluded from entering into enforceable surrogacy contracts, and sent a case concerning a gay male couple back to trial court to approve their petition for a surrogacy arrangement.

As reported in Gay City News, the case concerns Utah's 2005 law on surrogacy, which was enacted prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. As a result, the content of the law is gendered, saying that surrogacy contracts should only be enforceable if the "intended mother" is unable to bear a child. When a gay couple approached District Judge Jeffrey C. Wilcox to enter into a surrogacy arrangement, he denied them, arguing that the state's law only concerned opposite sex couples.

"This opinion is an important contribution to the growing body of cases adopting a broad construction of the precedent created by Obergefell v. Hodges and the Supreme Court's subsequent decision in Pavan v. Smith," according to GCN. "It's also worth noting that same-sex couples in Utah now enjoy a right denied them here in New York, where compensated gestational surrogacy contracts remain illegal for all couples."

Read the full article here.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Working:​ One Father's Plea for Gun Reform

One gay dad's plea to our leaders to enact sensible gun control

My articles on GaysWithKids aspire to be lighthearted, helpful and humorous. This one won't be any of those things. Because I'm feeling heavyhearted, helpless and sad. Last week I woke up to news of yet another mass shooting. This time at a family-friendly Garlic Festival in northern California. I don't know if it's because this one hit so close to home, or if it's because the headline included a picture of the innocent 6-year old who was among those killed, but I am overcome with emotion. But mostly I am angry. And I don't know what to do with my anger.

Then, just a few days later came two additional horrific mass shootings that stole the lives of at least 32 more innocent people, many of them children. And then there's the "everyday" gun violence that plagues American cities like Chicago, where guns injured another 46 people this past weekend alone… creating so much turmoil, a hospital had to briefly stop taking patients.

How does one verbalize the collective sadness felt around the world? One can't. And that's why I am asking everyone reading this article to commit to getting involved in some way, to help end this epidemic once and for all. Even though the solution is so obvious, we can't allow ourselves to become numb to mass shootings. Because becoming numb isn't going to save anyone.

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Politics

Gay Russian Dads Forced to Flee Moscow

Fearing the Russian government might take their adopted kids into custody because of their sexual orientation, Andrei Vaganov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev fled Moscow

A married couple in Russia, with two adopted children, were just forced the flee their home in Moscow for fear that the authorities would take their children away, according to German news site Deutsche Welle.

Trouble started last month after investigators in Russia opened a criminal inquiry into the proceedings that had allowed the gay couple, Andrei Vaganov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, to legally adopt the two boys —adoption by LGBTQ people in Russia has typically not been recognized. The government became aware of the adoption proceedings after the gay couple brought their 12-year-old son to the hospital, who was complaining of a stomachache. The boy was fine, but after he mentioned offhand that he was adopted and lived with two fathers, the doctor called the police.

Andrei and Yevgeny granted an interview with Deutsche Welle after escaping Moscow, but on the advice of their lawyers have yet to disclose where they are currently located. Here is a quick recap of that conversation:

"In connection with the 'propaganda of non-traditional values,' the state representatives are accused of having neglected their duty of supervision," Andrei said, when asked to explain on what basis the Russian government might take his children into custody. "This means that lesbian couples could even have their biological children taken away because, through their lifestyle choices, they propagate "certain values."

Yevgeny also explained the events that led to the couple's harrowing escape "I was alone in Moscow at that time. A week after Andrei and the children had left the country, there was a knock on my door, but nobody called 'police, open up.' After half an hour the violent knocking stopped. My parents' home was searched. They were looking for the children and our Danish marriage certificate because we got married in Denmark in 2016. My friends then got me out of the country."

Read the full interview here.

Gay Dad Family Stories

This Couple is Using 'Wheel of Fortune' Winnings to Help Fund Their Adoption

Need to raise money for your adoption fund? Why not try your luck on Wheel of Fortune like these guys!

Doug and Nick Roberts connected three and a half years ago via a dating app, and on their first date, the two immediately felt a connection. Doug, a psychologist, and Nick, a neuroscientist, were married 18 months later. Today the couple live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and they're ready to start their next exciting adventure together: fatherhood.

The husbands would like to have children, and Nick has always wanted to adopt. "We considered surrogacy, and may consider it in the future as we expand our family," said Doug, "but right now, it is cost-prohibitive. Adoption was easily the right choice for us as we begin to grow our family.

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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