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.

Diary of a Newly Out Gay Dad

A Gay Chiropractor Explains Why He Came Out to His Patients

After Cameron Call, a chiropractor, came out to his family this past year, he knew he had one more step to take — he had to come out to his patients

Fear is an interesting thing. It motivates when it shouldn't, shows at inconvenient times, and is the author of stories that do nothing but hold us back. I would argue though, too, that fear has some good qualities. I believe it helps us to feel. And I think it can be a great teacher as we learn to recognize and face it.

For years fear prevented me from embracing my truth and accepting a large part of who I am. I know I am not alone in that regard. But for so long my fear convinced me that I was. Fear is what kept me from ever telling my parents or anyone growing up that I am gay. Fear mingled with strong religious teachings, embraced at a young age, which led me to believe that I could cure myself of my attractions to the same gender. And fear is a part of what kept me in my marriage to a woman for over ten years.

Only so much growth and learning can occur when we limit ourselves to our fears. If people never did anything they were afraid to do, life would be incredibly boring and far too predictable. At some point we must face the things we fear and just go for it not knowing what will happen next.

After finally coming out to my ex-wife after ten years of marriage (see previous articles for that story), and eventually telling my family I knew there was one more step I needed to make.

I am a business owner. I am a structural chiropractor and am highly specialized in my field. Nearly four years ago I opened my own clinic, Horizon Chiropractic Center, in Phoenix, Arizona. I poured my whole heart, body, and soul into the creation of my practice and its growth. Opening a business fresh out of school is no simple task and I worked hard to build my practice with close relationships and word of mouth referrals. I established myself as an expert and built a strong reputation as a family man, and my ex-wife and kids were the face of my practice.

I loved and do love every person who has ever come into my office and treat them like family. We laugh together during visits, celebrate wins, cry together, often hug, and cheer each other on regarding various things in our life. That's also a large part of who I am: a people person. I enjoy spending quality time with those I am privileged to help. No one comes in my office and only sees me for 2-5 minutes.

Even though there was so much good that I had built into my brand and reputation fear eventually found its way into my business too. I was afraid of what would happen if people found out the truth. Would they be okay with having a gay chiropractor? Would they still trust me to be able to help them? Of course, the story in my head I was telling myself was much bigger and badder than it needed to be.

When we decided to get a divorce, I felt strongly that I needed to face these fears and begin telling a number of patients the truth of what was happening in my life. I know in reality it is no one's business but my own. However, I felt like I needed to let my patients who had become like family to me truly see me for who I am, and who I always was. And so slowly, case by case, I began to tell a select number of people.

I'll never forget the first patient I told. She had been coming in for years and was bringing her son in to see me who is on the autism spectrum. It was the day after my ex-wife and I decided to get a divorce and she could tell something heavy was on my mind. I eventually came out to her. The first words out of her mouth were "I am so proud of you!" We cried and hugged and it was the complete opposite of what I ever expected. And it was perfect. I felt loved. I felt accepted. I felt seen.

As time went on it got easier. And overall the responses were all completely positive and supportive. Out of all the patients I told and those who found out from other circles, only three stopped coming in to see me. Since coming out, my office has grown tremendously. My reputation hasn't changed. If anything, it's solidified. I can't help but think that part of that is due to finally embracing all of me and allowing others the same opportunity.

I read somewhere once that you never really stop coming out of the closet. And I've noticed that too. Sure, not everyone needs to know; it isn't everyone's business. And I hope that one day we live in a time period where fear doesn't prevent anyone from being seen. I want to contribute to the upward trajectory I think our society is headed of understanding, acceptance, support, and equality.

I would love to be able to say that after coming out publicly I no longer feel fear; but I do. And I think in some ways I always will no matter what. But that's part of life, right? Recognizing fear when we have it but then choosing to move forward out of love – love for others, but maybe more importantly love for ourselves.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

A Gay Dad Gains Clarity After a Health Scare

A recent health scare helped give Erik Alexander clarity.

Sometimes fear can cripple the mind and hinder ones judgement. Having children of my own, I have come to grips with accepting the things I cannot change and learned to take action when there is no other choice. When it comes to my own personal health, the future and well being of my family gives me all the clarity I need to make the right decision about any kind of health scare.

This episode is dedicated to all the parents out there that are going through or have gone through similar situations.

Keep reading...
Gay Dad Family Stories

This European Couple Became Dads Through a U.K.-Based Surrogacy Program

Janno, from Estonia, and Matthias, from Belgium, were accepted into the "Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy" Program.

Janno Talu, an accountant, and Matthias Nijs, an art gallery director, were born in different parts of Europe. Janno, 39, is from Estonia, and Matthias, 28, is from Belgium. Their paths crossed when the two moved to London, each from their different corners of the European Union.

Janno relocated to London earlier than Matthias, when he was 24, and his main reason for the move was his sexuality. "Although Estonia is considered one of the more progressive countries in Eastern Europe, when it comes to gay rights, it is still decades behind Western society in terms of tolerance," said Janno. "And things are not moving in the right direction." In 2016, same-sex civil union became legal, but the junior party in the current coalition government is seeking to repeal the same-sex partnership bill. "In addition," Janno continued, "they wish to include the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the country's constitution. Even today, there are people in Estonia who liken homosexuality to pedophilia, which is why I decided to start a new life in the UK, where I could finally be myself."

Keep reading...
Surrogacy for Gay Men

Interested in Surrogacy? Check Out These Bay Area Events This Weekend

If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, two major events are happening that will be of interest for dads-to-be and surrogacy advocates: the Men Having Babies San Francisco Conference, and the SF Advocacy and Research Forum for Surrogacy and LGBT Parenting (ARF)

If you're in San Francisco or the surrounding area, clear your calendar this weekend. Two events are happening simultaneously that are significant for dads-to-be AND surrogacy advocates: the Men Having Babies San Francisco Conference, and the SF Advocacy and Research Forum for Surrogacy and LGBT Parenting (ARF). For an outlines of both events, check out below.

Keep reading...

Fatherhood, the gay way

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