Change the World

Gay Dads and Their Kids Speak Out for National Adoption Day

This National Adoption Day, we interviewed several gay dads — and their kids — about what adoption means to them

National Adoption Month is celebrated throughout November, and National Adoption Day is today, Saturday November 23. It began in 2000 and is held the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Across the United States, D.C. and Puerto Rico, events are held to finalize the adoption of thousands of children in foster care.

In this feature post, we talked to families who came together through adoption. We also were able to ask the kids a few questions - from what they call their dads, to what adoption means to them, and what makes their families special.

Happy National Adoption Day!


Dads Steve and Lorevic with Kaitlyn and Matthew, San Bruno, California

Steve Disselhorst and Lorevic Rivera became dads when Kaitlyn joined their family through private adoption in 2012, and Matthew through the foster-adopt program with the San Francisco County in 2016. Their adoptions were finalized on April 17, 2012, and September 11, 2017, respectively.

Dads Steve and Lorevic

"Neither adoption was easy," shared Steve. "Matthew's was very difficult with lots of twists and turns."

The dads believe celebrating National Adoption Month is incredibly important to bring awareness to adoption across the United States. "It's critical that we share the stories of how families are created and honor both adoptive and birth parents in a unique relationship that places children at the center." With LGBTQ folks 7 times more likely to foster and adopt children than non-LGBTQ folks, and two thirds of the US oppose anti-LGTQ discrimination in adoption services (including a majority of Republicans and Evangelicals), threats of a nationwide license to discriminate are growing. "But by turning away LGBTQ, religious minority, and single parents denies homes to the 123,000 kids in foster care waiting to be adopted," added Steve. "Not to mention, there's an over-representation of LGBTQ youth in foster care. While in care, these young folks report 2Xs the rate of poor treatment 1."

Kaitlyn (7) and Matthew (4)

What do you call your dads:

Papa (Steve) and Daddy (Lorevic)

What is something your dad/s do that makes you laugh:

Kailyn: "When they tickle me. Their jokes. When papa plays the abuela from the movie Coco and says, 'Miquel no music.' Then he grabs the kids and kisses them like the grandma in the movie."

Matthew: "When daddy turns me upside down. When papa gives me a foot massage.

If you could go anywhere with your dads, where would it be?

Kaitlyn: "The art museum and the zoo. To Los Angeles to see my birth family."
Matthew: "Pizza place. Go to NYC to see the Secret Life of Pets in the sewer. India or Paris."

What does the word adopted mean to you?

Kaitlyn; "It means that I am different than other kids. Other kids have a mom and dad. When you are adopted, you have two dads, two moms, or a mom and a dad."

Matthew: "I don't even know what that means"

How does being adopted make you feel?

Kaitlyn: "It kind of makes me sad because I can't see my birth mom every day." (Steve: She also misses her birth father who died. We encourage our kids to be open about their feelings about their adoption.)

What makes your family special?

Kaitlyn: "I am adopted."
Matthew: "When you adopted me."

Dad Erik with sons Edward and Sincere, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Eric Johnson became a dad when he first became a foster parent and welcomed Edward and Sincere into his home December 8, 2016. Their adoption was later finalized February 27, 2019.

Dad Eric

"I have always wanted to be a parent. I decided that I would foster first to determine if I would be able to handle being a parent. When the boys came into my home, it was love at first at sight. We had some challenges but we found ways to overcome those challenges." (Read his story here.)

Erik describes his journey as a wonderful process. "The agency was very supportive and understanding when it comes to supporting the foster family. Each one of the staff made sure that I was supported all they way up until the day of adoption."

Edward (6) and Sincere (4)

What do you call your dad:

Edward and Sincere: "Daddy"

What is something your dad does that makes you laugh?

Edward and Sincere: "When he plays cars and superheroes with us."

How does being adopted make you feel?

Edward: "It makes me feel special that I have a dad who loves me."

If being adopted made you a superhero, what superpowers would you have?

Edward: "To run fast."

Sincere: "To fly."

What makes your family special?

Edward and Sincere: "Having our Daddy"

What's your favorite dinner that dad makes?

Edward and Sincere: "Pizza, burgers and fries!"

Jeff and Michael with Annika, Naples, Florida

Michael Anderson and Jeff Binder became dads when Annika joined their family on May 9, 2012, two days after she was born. Her adoption was finalized on December 12, 2012, coincidentally also her dads' wedding anniversary. "Jeff and I now celebrate the day we met of October 17 as our anniversary and we celebrate December 12 as family day."

Dads Michael and Jeff

"As I tell anyone who is embarking on the adoption journey, it is the most humbling, emotional roller coaster of an experience you can imagine, but in the end, all of it is so incredibly worth it," said Michael.

Jeff and Michael believe celebrating National Adoption Month helps provide visibility. "So that others can see that creating or growing a family through adoption is a viable option that will change the lives of kids who are need of a loving family, plus it's a good opportunity for kids like my daughter to see other families like her own."

Annika (7)

What do you call your dads?

"Papa and Daddy"

If you could go anywhere with your dads, where would it be?

"To Santa's house at the North Pole, or Disneyworld"

What does the word adopted mean to you?

"Adopted means when a mom isn't able to take care of her baby so she finds a family who wants a baby and then they live happily ever after."

What makes your family special?

"I have two dads and I have a lot more family than other people do." (Dad's note: She means like her aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents).

What's your favorite school subjects?

"Science and Reading."

What is the coolest thing about having two dads as parents?

"I don't really think about it. I just like to watch movies with them and eat dessert."

Dads Corey and Brian with Zoey and Brandon, Houston, Texas

Corey and Brian Chartan welcomed their son Brandon on May 23, 2014 through adoption, and again when Brandon's biological sister Zoey joined them on September 8, 2015.

Dads Corey and Brian

"We just really wanted to help out a child or children," said Brian when asked about why they chose adoption. Their journey was "a roller coster of emotions" and they found the unknown element to be rather scary. But they wouldn't change it for a thing! "Without adoption we might not have been able to have children. It has changed our lives tremendously!"

Brandon (6) and Zoey (5)

What do you call your dads?

"Dad and Daddy"

What is something your dads do that makes you laugh?

Brandon and Zoey: "They tickle us!"

What does the word adopted mean to you and how does it make you feel?

Brandon and Zoey: "Being a family, and soooo HAPPY!!!"

If being adopted made you a superhero, what superpowers would you have?

Zoey: "Elsa from frozen."

Brandon: "Thomas the train."

What makes your family special?

Brandon and Zoey: "My dads"

Thomas and Brandon with Benjamin and Giovanni, Orlando, Florida

Thomas and Brandon Feinsod welcomed their sons (biological siblings) on May 27, 2016, and finalized their adoption on August 29, 2016.

Thomas and Brandon

Brandon exposed to the state foster care system through his job and convinced his husband Thomas that they had to provide a family for a child without one, rather than bring another child into this world, and they describe their adoption journey as "bumpy."

"The process of getting licensed to adopt took about three times as long as the social workers originally described to us," said Brandon. "A lot of it had to do with the general struggles of relying on overloaded and underpaid social workers for everything. But it was heartbreaking when holidays went by that we had imagined spending with a child, while we waited for other people to get back to us."

The dads want to raise awareness around adopting through the state foster care system, especially through National Adoption Month. "We need to use any opportunities we have to help show adopted kids that there are plenty of other kids just like them," said Brandon. "Additionally, the majority of people out there aren't even aware that adopting through your state is free, and brings with it state-specific benefits like a monthly subsidy, Medicaid and WIC for the child, and free college tuition." (If anyone has questions for Brandon and Thomas, they're more than happy for folks to reach out.)

Giovanni (9) and Benjamin (8)

What do you call your dads?

"Daddy and Dad"

If you could go anywhere with your dads, where would it be?

Benjamin: "Medieval Times!"

Giovanni: "I would want to go to NASA and see a rocket ship go into space."

What does the word adopted mean to you?"

Benjamin: "Adopted means that you have a family."

Giovanni: "In my opinion, adopted means to give someone love."

How does being adopted make you feel?

Benjamin: "Happy, and excited."

Giovanni: "Special."

If being adopted made you a superhero, what superpowers would you have?

Benjamin: "Turn invisible and run really fast."

Giovanni: "Making people feel special. Making them want to be kind and sweet to people."

What makes your family special?

Benjamin: "That our dads love us. That makes us special."

Giovanni: "Because we go to special places, like Typhoon Lagoon."

What is the coolest thing about having two dads as parents?

Benjamin: "That they're both silly!"

Giovanni: "That they always tuck me into bed."

***

1"Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign is a project of Family Equality https://everychilddeservesafamily.com/"

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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.

Gay Dad Family Stories

These Gay Dads Lost Everything After Hurricane Dorian — Except Hope

The couple, who live in "Hope Town" in the Bahamas, lost everything after suffering a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian this past summer.

Max Bethel-Jones, 52, had traveled to more than 120 countries over the last 30 years working with the United Nations, but had never been to the Bahamas — in 2015, he decided to apply for a private teaching job as a special needs teacher in Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama.

Just weeks after his arrival, he'd get a whole lot more than another pin in his map of visited countries when he attended a social event at Freeport Rugby. "My object was to ogle the local male talent but several women had other ideas," he said. One woman was particularly insistent, he said, but after a couple of drinks she got the hint that he batted for the other rugby team. "She promptly told me there was someone I should meet."

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News

Gay Dads Told One Must Identify as 'Mother' to Enroll in Daycare

The Israeli gay dads told one must identify as mother — like a "normal couple" — in order to receive financial assistance for daycare.

Israeli dads Guy Sadak Shoham and Chai Aviv Shoham were trying to enroll their two-year-old twins in daycare when they were told by a government official that one would need to identify as the "mother" in order to be cleared.

According to Out Magazine, the couple was attempting to apply for financial aid to help pay for the costs of preschool when a government bureaucrat called them to discuss their eligibility.

"I understand that you are both fathers and understand that you both run a shared household, but there is always the one who is more dominant, who is more the mother," the government said, according to an interview on the Israel site Ynet (translated by Out Magazine). "I am just asking for a written statement in your hand which of you is the mother. From the point of view of the work, which works less than the father. Like a normal couple."

The official, apparently, said she was beholden to rules set for in the Ministry of Economy.

"It is mostly sad and a little disturbing," one of the dads told Ynet. "These are concepts that we consider the past. We do not necessarily come up with allegations against this representative, she is ultimately subject to the guidelines and as she said, they are the state. It is also sad that the state's definition of a mother is someone who works less and is at home with the children, and that we must choose which of us meets that definition."

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, fortunately, issued an apology following the incident, and promised to update its protocols. "We will emphasize that the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs practices explicitly treat all types of families and grant equal rights to all," the ministry wrote in a statement, an apology that was called "insufficient" by Ohad Hizki, the director-general of the National LGBT Task Force.

"The Ministry of Labor and Welfare must sharpen its procedures immediately to prevent recurrence of cases of this kind, as other public organizations have been able to do," he said.

Read more about this story on Out Magazine.

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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