Gay Dad Life

Two Real-Life Heroes: Gay Dads James and Chip

After a two-year legal struggle, James and Chip, a gay couple living in a rural community in North Carolina, adopted Ken, a young boy who had suffered brutal abuse at the hands of his biological father. How two men saved a boy left for dead and never gave up on their dream of creating a happy family.


Pediatric respiratory therapist James Langley walked into the intensive-care unit like he had done for dozens of young patients. But the moment he saw 2-year-old Ken in 2004, he knew he had found his son.

"When I walked in, Ken turned his head and our eyes met," James says. "I walked over, and as I walked over, he raised his arms. He grabbed my cheeks. He pulled my head to his and our foreheads touched. And we just stayed there like that — it felt like forever, but it must have only been a few seconds — and I knew right then and there.”

The day James met Ken. "Our bond was immediate and sensed by those around us." - James

He carried the boy to a nearby chair and sat with him. As soon as he left the room, he found the physicians, the social workers. And he told them he wanted to adopt Ken, “that very day, that very second.”

James and his partner — now husband — Chip Fleming knew adopting Ken wouldn’t be easy. The two health care professionals, a committed gay couple, were living in rural North Carolina. And living in the South wasn’t the only obstacle.

Ken had been abused by his biological parents. He was a not much more than a skeleton, barely alive, weighing only 17 pounds. His body was covered in bruises, and until his first encounter with James, he had not responded to anyone in the hospital.

“Ken would not respond unless I was there,” James says. “He wouldn’t respond to anyone unless I came into the room.”

Ken required emergency surgery due to the most recent abuse. Doctors warned the couple that young Ken might not survive his hospitalization.

James and Chip in May 1993

“I remember thinking, all this kid needs is a chance,” James says. “He needs somebody to love him, somebody to nurture him. This kid is going to live, and he’s going to be mine. And I’ve never turned loose of that.”

Ken got his chance. He recovered from his surgery, and in 2004 James and Chip began a two-year journey to adopt him. The two men, who have been together for 24 years and legally married for one and a half, had built a life for themselves despite the challenges of living in the rural South.

“Chip and I have been together a long time, and a lot of people will come into contact with us and, ‘You’re the first gay people we’ve ever met.’ We’re their first exposure. And we’re just like everybody else,” James says. “They knew us as Chip and James. The rest of our life is just as important as being gay. That’s just one part of who we are.”

Family Picture December 2011

Chip agrees that once most of their neighbors or patients get over the surprise, everyone sees them as any other couple. “Most of the people who get to know us are intrigued by us, our relationship. But once they find out that we go through the same challenges as everybody else, it’s really not that big of a deal.”

They had been together 12 years before Ken came into their lives. James had always wanted to have children, but by the time he started his relationship with Chip, he had started to believe he would have to be a father in other ways.

“I’ve always had the paternal instinct,” James says. “I always thought my career in pediatrics would be my only outlet to be a father figure or caretaker, knowing where we lived and the limitations of the law. Ten years ago, it was a much different climate than what it is now.”

Despite the acceptance they had found and recent advances in LGBT rights, James and Chip still lived in the conservative South. Even though James pursued the adoption as a single parent — the only legal option at the time — he and Chip never hid their relationship during the adoption process. They took on the challenge of adopting a child in the South and staying open about their sexuality at the same time.

“We hit a brick wall, it seemed, every time we told a lawyer, a social worker, that we were a same-sex couple,” James says. “But we were truthful with everyone from Day One — including Ken.”

Summer 2013

Chip felt just as strongly about approaching the adoption openly. “We didn’t want to leave our home,” he says. “We loved North Carolina. We wanted to someday be married here, and we wanted to raise our son here. We were embedded in our community ever since we built our home here in ’97.”

The pair quickly learned that two openly gay men adopting a child was not going to be easy. Family and friends warned them of the negative stereotypes facing gay fathers, still pervasive in the South—that they were going to turn Ken gay, that they were pedophiles. They spent two years preparing for and fighting this discrimination.

“We went through two years of ups and downs,” James says. “Our lawyers told us this is not going to go down without a fight. If there’s one red flag throughout the process, it’s going to be denied. The papers were a knee-high stack that had to be signed and notarized.”

Ken’s biological father had his parental rights terminated during the course of a child abuse investigation, and his biological mother relinquished her rights. The abuse investigation dragged on as James and Chip waited for Ken to become adoptable. The boy lived in a foster home in the meantime.

James and Chip had allies in Ken’s guardian ad litem and his foster mother, who supported the couple during the adoption process and helped them spend as much time with Ken as possible. Finally, the adoption was cleared. But the couple’s fight for custody wasn’t over.

October 24, 2014: James and Chip's wedding day

“Our lawyer was going to take our paperwork to the courthouse when we got a call from the guardian ad litem,” James says. “Apparently, they had learned if I put in my petition, the Department of Social Services would take him out of the foster home, put him in the system and try to get him back with the biological family—an aunt. We were worried his father could potentially have access to him if that happened.”

For once, bureaucracy worked in the family’s favor. “In North Carolina, DSS procedures are different in each county,” James says. “We had three different counties we were dealing with in the adoption. But because one doesn’t talk to the other one, we were able to get our adoption paperwork filed and approved by the judge before anybody could stop us. It was nail-biting down to the end. When I came home to Ken’s birth certificate on our table, I could finally breathe.”

The fear of those two years is still hard to shake, even to this day. “We were so worried, so paranoid that someone would come take him from us for so many years,” James says. “It’s hard to let go of all the paranoia.”

November 2015: Grand Turk Island, Turks and Caicos

The adoption was complete. Ken was their son. Still, even as he started school, the two men stayed vigilant. This was still the South, and they knew the challenges Ken could face as the son of two gay dads.

“In elementary school, I tried to handle everything up front,” James says. “It was my way of protecting him. I went up to administrators, to teachers, to his coaches. We were very open about our family and maintained a close relationship with the adults in Ken's life. They were our eyes and ears when we were not around.”

As Ken grew older, James and Chip realized that to be better fathers to Ken, they would need to step back and let him learn to fight his own battles.

“One of the hardest things you can ever give a child is their independence,” James says. “That’s been very difficult for me. But when Ken hit middle school, we had a family meeting and empowered Ken to assert himself — which he enthusiastically did. We gave him the words to say, we talked about the things he might hear, and if it gets to be too much, we will back him up. We told him that this was his truth, to own it, and it’s his decision how to handle it.”

November 2015: Grand Turk Island, Turks and Caicos

Growing up wasn’t perfect. Ken faced the teasing that his dads expected. Other kids told him that he would be gay because of his dads; that he had to use the bathroom for “queers.” He was even taunted for the abuse he suffered as a toddler.

But Ken, now 14, always owned his truth — just as his dads had taught him.

“I did feel angry and frustrated. I wanted to know why the other kids would turn these things against me,” Ken says. “But it’s the truth. It’s my truth. I feel relieved that I have my parents to talk to about it. Most of the time, it’s just other kids not getting it. That’s all.”

James and Chip both speak with pride about Ken’s life, his interests, his accomplishments. The two fathers have followed his health closely since he was a toddler. There’s little trace of the “skeleton” James first encountered in that ICU. Ken recovered from the initial surgery to repair a hole in his stomach caused by his abuse, and he recently had another to aid further his recovery as he develops into an adolescent.

James and Chip love to listen to him play the saxophone and the piano. They watch him play soccer and practice for the cross-country team. They celebrate his studies — he consistently makes the honor roll.

All three lead a full life on the family farm, with chickens, bees and horses that James and Chip often ride. Of course, country life isn’t perfect for young Ken.

“The Internet sucks!” he says while his two dads laugh.

Bandwidth isn’t the only downside to the rural isolation. While James and Chip love their life and community, they admit that finding families like theirs was a challenge after adopting Ken.

“One of the biggest issues we’ve had is we’ve never fit in anywhere,” James says. “When we adopted Ken, we had our gay friends, but they didn’t have children. The people we knew and worked with who had kids were straight couples and much younger than we were. We went to the bigger cities — Raleigh, Durham — and met some lesbian parents, but we didn’t fit into that category either. So two guys raising a 2-year-old together, we had to make our own niche.”

The couple worried most about Ken finding other kids who had families like his.

“Ken had it the toughest of all because Chip and I have each other,” James says. “He has his friends, but he doesn’t really have someone his age who can relate to his family. What we wanted to find was a family like ours that Ken can relate to.”

The two men have searched online and begun to connect with families like their own. But James admits that the great lesson of his son’s story is the strength Ken possesses despite his personal history and where they live.

“We’ve always been amazed at how resilient he is,” James says. “He has never hid, never not wanted to go to school, has the best attitude. He finds the absolute good even in the worst kids. It is a challenge, especially in the South, because you got kids coming to school saying what they hear from their parents and their pastors. But having two dads is just one little piece of who Ken is. It’s not the total sum of who he is. He’s so much more.”

That doesn’t mean Ken steps down from challenging his peers on how they see his family. In seventh grade, Ken’s school held an anti-bullying program. James and Chip learned only weeks later what their son had said.

“A teacher told us weeks later that Ken had stood and asked his classmates how they could hate his dads when they didn’t even know us? That until he came to middle school everyone loved us and knew us by name. He told everyone that we were great and that nobody had given us a chance.”

After hearing that, James felt incredible pride in his son. “That made my eyes water and my heart swell,” he says. “He is one amazing kid.”

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Gay Uncles

Gay Uncles are an Essential Part of This Gay Dad Family's Village

It takes a village to raise a child, and this village includes many gay uncles

In November last year, Ottawa-based husbands Matt Ottaviani and Rej Gareau (whose story we shared in July) became first-time dads through surrogacy. They were overjoyed to welcome their daughter Andy and become a family of three.

But as many of us know, raising a child isn't always just about the nuclear family. The African proverb "it takes a village to raise a child" is a commonly repeated phrase, and rings very true for many families. Matt and Rej are no different, and when they shared their story last month, one thing jumped out to us: the important role Andy's guncles play in her and her dads' lives.

In honor of Gay Uncles Day today, we reached out to Andy's many guncles to learn first-hand how their relationship with the family affects their lives. Here's what they had to say.

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Gay Dad Life

Need a Sitter for Your Kids? Gays With Kids Reviews UrbanSitter

Back-to-school is already here for some of us, and if you're looking for a sitter to help out with school runs, after-school pick-ups, and the occasional date night, check out our review of UrbanSitter.

Instagram @davidcblacker

We moved from New York to Boston the summer of 2017. Along with the Manhattan skyline, our beloved Broadway, and late-night cookie deliveries, we also left behind our sitters — two sisters who had become more like family.

After settling for several months into our new home and neighborhood, we realized we hadn't had a dads' night out since our move. Our kids were still too young to leave alone at night, so I began what I presumed would be the tedious task of finding a sitter.

The first thing I did was to leave a post on our local parents' Facebook group. The dad of one of our daughters' classmates told me about UrbanSitter, a website and mobile app that he'd had success using to find last-minute sitters a few times. He also mentioned that within the app, I could see see babysitters and nannies recommended by parents at our kids' school in addition to local parenting groups.

While I appreciated the tip, I let him know that I was really hoping for a direct referral. But when none others came from the — other than a couple of middle schoolers looking for their first sitting jobs — I decided to give it a try.

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Move over Modern Family, there are some new gay dads taking over the small screen! Big Bad Boo Studios is bringing their animated series The Bravest Knight to Hulu. The series is based upon a children's book called "The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived" by Daniel Errico, and it follows the life of Sir Cedric - now grown and married to Prince Andrew - as he regales their adopted daughter Nia with tales of his knighthood journey as she trains to become a knight herself.

"We are so excited about The Bravest Knight, its values and our partnership with Hulu," said Shabnam Rezaei, the director of the series and co-founder of Big Bad Boo Studios. "They understand how to push the envelope with authentic storytelling."

"I immediately fell in love with the idea of a girl wanting to work hard and make something of herself," Rezaei continued. "I also have a nephew who has two dads, so it's a very personal issue for me. I want him to have role models when he's watching TV. I want him to feel like having two dads is completely normal. That's what this show is going to do for him."

Errico's book was first realized as an animation when Hulu created a short film based upon his writing and were interested in exploring the concept of a full series. "I watched the eight minutes on Hulu and at the end the prince and the knight get married and I was in tears," says Rezaei. Rezaei then stepped in to create all new art work including new character design by Tim Linklater and backgrounds by Sarita Kolhatra. Together, they created a kickass bible and pitched the series to Hulu and were successful.

Diversity and inclusivity is celebrated throughout The Bravest Knight, reflected by its casting choices. Nia is played by Storm Reid, from "A Wrinkle in Time," and her dads Sir Cedric and Prince Andrew are voiced by T.R. Knight and Wilson Cruz respectively. The star studded cast also includes Wanda Sykes, Bobby Moynihan, RuPaul, Steven Weber, Teri Polo, AJ McLean, Jazz Jennings, Maz Jobrani and Christine Baranski as the formidable Red Dragon.

"With so many wonderful stories yet to be told, we hope that The Bravest Knight stands as an example of the undeniable strength in inclusivity, and the inherent joy in all forms of love and identity," said Errico, the author of the original book.

The first 5 episodes were released on June 21, and there are 8 more planned for release before the end of the year. Be sure to tune in!

This is the Main Title Song for Big Bad Boo's Hulu Original Series "The Bravest Knight". The song is performed by Justin Tranter and composed by Michael Plow...

Popular

'Our Family is Complete': Congrats to Gay Dads on Their Recent Births and Adoptions!

Join us in congratulating all of the gay men in our community whose families grew recently!

Wishing all of these gay dads congratulations on their exciting news this month. From becoming first-time dads to finalizing adoptions, congrats to everyone in our community on their wonderful news!

Circle Surrogacy is the proud sponsor of this month's congrats post. They were founded in 1995 on the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to be a parent. "For over 20 years we've helped LGBTQ+ couples and singles around the world fulfill their dreams of parenthood. We've helped bring more than 1,900 babies into this world... and counting!"

Congratulations to Andrew and Edward on finalizing the adoptions of their twins!

For Andrew and Edward, their foster parent training plus home study took about a year. "We had a brief placement of twin girls that were four years old two months after we had been approved," said Andrew. "Then we took a break as it was a difficult process, the 'loss' aspect, when that placement ended."

Then on March 15, 2017, their case worker sent them information about two little babies - a boy and a girl - that were still in the NICU and only nine days old. "It was a foster case with an uncertain future, but we decided those little babies needed us!" They dads took a leap of faith and on July 10 this year, their twins' adoptions were finalized. Andrew and Edward have a wonderful bond with the paternal grandmother as well as a special relationship with the twins' father. "We all love these twins, and the more love they have the better their lives will be."

"Adoption is one of those experiences where one side experiences incredible joy while the other side experiences incredible loss," continued Andrew. "We are grateful to experience this joy knowing that biological family members are happy for us to experience that joy."

Congratulations to this Mt Airy, Philadelphia, forever family of four!

Congratulations to Sean and Thomas on finalizing the adoptions of their twins!

Together 15 years, London couple Sean and Thomas recently finalized the adoption of their twins.

"About 3 years ago we started meeting adoption agencies and were approved as prospective adopters the following spring," shared Thomas. "We were anticipating a long wait, but quite quickly were matched with our twins. At the time they were nearly five."

After a fairly long transition period for everyone to get settled in, the adoption was formalized the day after Father's Day. "Two years after matching, at times it seems like the kids have been with us forever and other times a blink of an eye. But it is certainly the most life-changing, transformative experience and we cannot imagine life without them. It's wonderful that our family is now official!"

Congratulations to Phillip and Clinton on the birth of their daughter Madison!

Little Madison joined her dads on July 1, 2019, after coming into the world via surrogate.

"I caught Madison as she was born," said Phillip. "I have never felt such an exhilarating rush in my entire life! We were genuinely in love at first sight!"

Now that we Phillip and Clinton are dads, they say they feel a "sense of wholeness" in their lives! "We have a new motivation and purpose in life! It's truly the greatest blessing!"

These new dads and the apple of their eye live in Texas.

Congratulations to Michael and Tyler on the birth of their twins, Elliot and Oliver!

Herriman, Utah, couple Michael and Tyler have been together for 9 years, and married for 3. "In the beginning of our relationship we knew how important family was and how much we wanted to be dads," said Micheal. "After we got married we met with a couple surrogacy agencies and were advised to meet with an IVF clinic before proceeding. In doing so, we found that going through a surrogacy journey independently was very possible."

So the dads decided to shift gears and work in that direction, booking a follow up appointment with the clinic. "We met with their 3rd party coordinator over the surrogate process and she did not have any inquiries of any surrogates." Serendipitously, and unbeknownst to the husbands at the time, their future surrogate made an appointment to talk about being a gestational carrier for a same-sex couple. "The next day we got the unexpected call that someone was interested and open to meet. From there the rest was history as we continued with the surrogacy process."

Over a year later, the dads welcomed their two sons. "The first time we got to hold the boys, it felt so natural to us, as if nothing else in the world existed and time stood still as we got lost in the moment."

Congratulations to Adam and Josh on finalizing the adoption of their daughter!

Adam and Josh got engaged on Good Morning America on Valentines Day, and welcomed their Christmas miracle baby into their lives on December 26th. On July 12 this year, they celebrated becoming a forever family of three.

"For an event that always seemed like it would be the end of our adoption journey, Baby K's Finalization Day felt more like the beginning of a greater adventure," shared Adam. "Since day one, Baby K was always loved and 100% part of our family, but we are so filled with joy to see this day come and make it officially official. We cannot wait to spend the rest of our lives not only watching Baby K grow and develop, but also to see the two of us learn and grow in this new role as parents."

Congrats to these Dallas dads!

Congratulations to Dan and Martin on the birth of their son Herman! 

Copenhagen couple Dan and Martin welcomed their second child through surrogacy on July 11 this year in Florida, USA. Herman joins big sister Ellen, born March 1, 2015, in Vermont via surrogacy. Here's a little more.

"Two amazing American women and their families took us in as their own and we're forever bonded," said Dan about their path to fatherhood experience. "It has been an amazing journey with both of them, our family is complete."

Congrats to the Danish family!

This post is sponsored by Circle Surrogacy

Circle was founded in 1995 on the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to be a parent. To this day, that belief is at the core of everything we do. For over 20 years we've helped straight and LGBTQ+ couples and singles around the world fulfill their dreams of parenthood. We've helped bring more than 1,900 babies into this world... and counting!

We're an agency comprised of social workers and lawyers, accountants and outreach associates, and program managers and coordinators; but, more importantly, we're an agency made up of parents, surrogates and egg donors, who are passionate about helping people build their families, and invested in each and every journey.

Circle is proud to have helped so many gay families achieve their dreams of becoming parents. Together, we make parenthood possible.®

News

Ed Smart, Father of Kidnapping Victim Elizabeth Smart, Comes Out as Gay

In coming his coming out letter, Ed Smart, a Mormon, condemned the church for their "ridicule, shunning, rejection and outright humiliation" of LGBTQ individuals.

In a post on Facebook, Ed Smart, father of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart, came out as gay. He also discussed his strained relationship with his Mormon faith, claiming he felt he didn't feel comfortable living as an openly gay man in a church with a difficult history with respect to its LGBTQ members. He and his wife, Lois, have filed for divorce.

"This is one of the hardest letters I have ever written," he began the letter. "Hard because I am finally acknowledging a part of me that I have struggled with most of my life and never wanted to accept, but I must be true and honest with myself." He went on to acknowledged a new set of challenges facing he and his family as they navigate a divorce and his coming out — in the public eye, no less — but concluded, ultimately, that it's a "huge relief" to be "honest and truthful about my orientation."

He went on to condemn The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for their "ridicule, shunning, rejection and outright humiliation" of LGBTQ individuals. "I didn't want to face the feelings I fought so hard to suppress, and didn't want to reach out and tell those being ostracized that I too am numbered among them. But I cannot do that any longer."

In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Ed Smart further discussed his reasons for coming out now, as a 64-year-old man.

"I mean, I knew that it would probably come out at some point, just because people can't leave things alone. I did anticipate that it would happen at some time, but my intention in writing it was to try to let my friends and family know, you know my extended family ... know where things were. So, you know, I was really concerned about how the rumor mill starts," he told the paper. "I knew that at some point in time, that would come out," he elaborated. "I didn't know when it would come out, and so I would rather have it come out the way that it did versus having some rumors going around, and you know the crazy way things can get twisted."

In 2002, Ed Smart's daughter Elizabeth was abducted at knife point by a married couple from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. She suffered physical and sexual abuse at the couple's hands, for nine months, until she was finally rescued by police. During the ordeal, papers — including the Salt Lake Tribute — speculated about Ed Smart's sexual orientation based on some fabricated information sold to the paper by tabloids like the National Enquirer. (The Enquirer retracted the story, and the reporters at the Tribute were ultimately fired.)

"I think that in April I started feeling like I needed to prepare something," Smart told the Tribute. "Because during Elizabeth's ordeal, there were things said, and it wasn't what I wanted to say, and I was not going to allow that to happen again."

As to how his family has taken the news, Smart said they've been "very kind" to him. "I think it was very difficult to have this kind of come out of the blue. I don't think any of them knew I was struggling with this, so it was something they were, if you want to call it, blindsided by. I totally get that. They've really been very wonderful."

Congrats to Ed Smart on making the difficult decision to live his truth. Read his full letter here and his interview with the Tribute here.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

"Rollercoaster and Sons," Explores the Journey of One Single Gay Dad Through the Foster-Adopt System

When it comes to the foster-adopt system, "there is no roadmap," said single gay dad Chase Turner

Guest post written by Chase Turner

Many of us thought long and hard about what avenues were best to pursue being a dad. For me, fostering to adoption was the selected road. There is no roadmap here, many things that came my way were learned by doing. Along the way, I started wishing I had a better support group or people who could understand what it's like to be gay and attempting to adopt. Often we (people who are LGBT) feel scrutinized and judged for choices that the majority makes but for us there is pushback. Once my adoption was complete, I felt it was necessary that I put pen to paper and write this story, from a gay male perspective.

My goal was to provide a voice in the space of foster care and adoption where there is a void. Additionally, I wanted to provide an authentic look at all facets of the process, from the kids, to the obstacles and challenges that happened within my personal life. I do hope you enjoy and more importantly can relate or prepare yourself for a similar journey.

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Fun

Gay Dad Penguins Strike Again! This Time in Berlin Zoo

The latest male penguins to care for an egg together are Skipper and Ping in the Berlin Zoo.

First, there was Roy and Silo — the two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo that served as inspiration for the famous children's book And Tango Makes Three. Then Magin Sphen got together in Sydney, where aquarium keepers gave the cocks (Calm down, that's what a male penguin is called!) a foster egg to care for.

And now, please welcome Skipper and Ping in Berlin to the latest list of gay dad penguins! As soon as the two emperor penguins arrived at the city's zoo, they set about trying to start a family, said Berlin Zoo spokesman Maximilian Jaege to DPA news.

"They kept trying to hatch fish and stones," Jaeger said.

So the zookeepers loaned the penguins an egg from a female penguin, who is apparently uninterested in hatching eggs on her own, according to the BBC.

Unsurprisingly, the gay penguins are killing it as parents. "The two male penguins are acting like exemplary parents, taking turns to warm the egg," Jaeger said,

Read the whole article on DPA here.

Fatherhood, the gay way

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