Change the World

Forget the Tie: This Father's Day, Give Dad the Gift of Paid Family Leave

It's time for a nationwide paid family leave policy that includes everyone, including dads and adoptive parents

In the months before their son was born this past November, Mauricio and Stephen should have been busy luxuriating in the anxieties familiar to every new dad: worrying if you've misassembled the baby furniture; stressing about baby names; and debating whether to re-gift the extra copies of "Goodnight Moon" every new parent is inevitably given.

Instead the husbands, whose daughter was still many years from her first algebra class, were preoccupied with solving a math question: how the hell were they going to add up enough days off of work to care for their adopted newborn?


"Ultimately, we were fortunate," Mauricio said. "We negotiated ahead of time for vacation days that allowed us both to stay at home for three weeks after our daughter was born."

Unlike the vast majority of American employers, Mauricio and Stephen's jobs do, in fact, offer some form of paid leave to some new parents—but only to moms who have given birth. But new dads and adoptive parents? You're out of luck. So after spending three weeks of their "vacation" time caring for their newborn daughter in the days after her birth, the couple dutifully returned to work, entrusting the care of their daughter to a stranger.

"Financially speaking, the early return to work forced us to get help at home to take care of our newborn, which is not affordable," Mauricio said. "Emotionally, it is hard to leave a three-week-old newborn at home to the care of someone you just hired."

***

Unfortunately, Mauricio and Stephens's predicament is part of a much larger national embarrassment: the United States is the only country, besides Papua New Guinea, without some form of a national paid family leave policy. Only 14% of workers in the United States have access to such a benefit.

In Europe, meanwhile, policymakers—already content with the coverage they provide new moms—have moved on to improving leave policies aimed just at fathers. If Mauricio and Stephen lived in Sweden, for instance, they would each be eligible for 90 pays of paid leave. In Iceland, meanwhile, the new dads would have been guaranteed 90 days, in addition to another 90 days split between them, however they saw fit.

Just in case you're not yet packing your bags for Europe, this last example should do the trick: a company in Italy recently granted an employee paid time off to care for a sick dog.

"It's illegal to separate kittens and puppies from their parents at a much later date than what we expect from parents in the United States," said Brianna Cayo Cotte, Chief of Staff for PL+US, a nonprofit working to expand paid leave policies across the country. "Yet we expect people to be back to work less than two weeks after they become new parents. That's just crazy."

Fortunately, Brianna says PL+US has seen something of a sea change in recent years regarding the ways American workers and businesses are viewing parental leave policies.

"A growing change is happening where millennial men expect to be equal parenting partners," she explained. But, she explained, unequal workplace policies can make it difficult for men to fill that role. As a result, "we're seeing paid leave become more of an expectation."

This cultural shift, prompted by tireless organizing efforts, is clearly having an impact. According to a yearly survey conducted by PL+US, over one-third of top U.S. employers have improved upon their paid family leave policies in the past two years.

On the federal level, advocates are still pushing for the enactment of Senator Kristin Gillibrand's FAMILY Act, which would guarantee 12 weeks of partial income to every new parent, regardless of gender or birth status. But paid leave advocates are not merely waiting for Congressional winds to blow in their favor—paid leave bills have been introduced in 17 states this year, hopefully adding to the five that currently have policies in place.

Private companies are also doing their part. Beginning this Father's Day, Dove Men+Care has teamed up with Gays With Kids and others to champion paternity leave for all dads, and challenge the stereotypes around men as caregivers. The recently launched campaign, #DearFutureDads, seeks to spark a cultural movement that not only increases access but also utilization to paid paternity leave policies. According to recent research by Promundo-US and Dove Men+Care, 73% of dads agree there is little workplace support for fathers, and one in five men stated they were afraid of losing their job if they took the full amount of paternity leave offered.

"By supporting this important initiative, our goal is to increase utilization rates of paid paternity leave for those men who have access to it and encourage other companies to come together," said Nick Soukas, VP of Skin Cleansing & Baby Care for Unilever. "We also hope to encourage other companies to come together and offer men paid paternity leave so they can take the time to care for their families.

***

Though change in corporate America is on the horizon, far too many corporate policies, Brianna says, remain unresponsive to the specific needs of LGBTQ people, who often come to parenthood in unique ways. Overwhelming, companies still give little to no leave for men and adoptive parents.

"We have usual families," said Brianna. "The caregiving LGBT families need to provide might not fit into traditional structure, and a really progressive policy will recognize that."

Matt and Richard, new fathers to twin boys as of this past March, have recently confronted an inflexible work policy. Matt's employer, an insurance company based in California, offers no paid leave to new dads. They do, however, offer benefits to new adoptive parents—two weeks paid leave and a $4,000 stipend to offset legal fees.

Though Matt and Richard's sons were born via surrogacy, they figured they were still eligible for the adoption benefits. Matt and Richard are each biologically related to just one of the twins, meaning the men had to undergo adoption proceedings—with all the associated stressors and costs—to become the legal guardian of their non-biological son.

But when Matt applied for the adoption benefits at his job, he was denied on the grounds that his situation was not a "typical" adoption process.

Matt (left) with husband Richard (right) and newborn twins

"It's surprising because I work for a very inclusive company," Matt said, who lives with his family outside of Seattle, Washington. "They know I'm gay and that I was having kids. No one ever had a problem with it."

Matt was lucky to have about two weeks worth of vacation days left in the year. In order to cobble together a full month of leave, he also took an additional two weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed to him under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), currently the country's only guaranteed form of family leave.

"Two weeks unpaid was not insignificant," Matt said. "That's half a month's salary not going to support my family."

After only a month, Matt returned to work, leaving his husband, Richard, alone to care for their newborn twins during the day.

"They were still eating every three hours when I went back to work," Matt said. "If I had been able to stay at home for longer, to get down to the point when it was just once a night, it would have made a huge difference in all of our lives."

***

As more generous family leave policies are beginning to take hold in the United States, ones that are truly inclusive continue to be a blind spot for companies—even for companies that are otherwise regarded as LGBTQ friendly.

So, what can be done about it?

"A growing mantra in our office is 'ask and advocate,'" said Brianna. "You won't change anything without trying."

In January 2017, Starbucks announced it would begin offering six weeks of fully paid parental leave to its hourly workers. But like so many other company policies, the expansion would only benefit birth mothers, leaving fathers and adoptive parents out of the mix.

Over the last year, however, a group of employees, led by several LGBTQ workers, began organizing and pushing the company to adopt a more equitable policy. Their efforts quickly paid off; in less than a year, Starbucks announced it was once again amending its policy to include fathers and adoptive parents.

"LGBTQ parents are among the most likely to be left out of these policies, so they can also be some of the strongest and most persuasive voices for change," Brianna said. "LGBTQ people are organized. They know how to ask for things when they're not getting it; they know how to escalate."

PL+US has even recently launched an online workshop to help new parents interested in changing company policies do so with some tried and proven tools.

Matt, for his part, seemed unsure when I asked whether he planned to push for a policy change at his own work. And who could blame him for simply wanting to move on with his life? He and his family suffered an injustice. But he still has twin newborns to raise, a job to do and a husband to love. How was he supposed to fit in time for what could turn into a protracted battle at work?

"Doing all that while also taking care of newborn twins wouldn't be easy in any way," he said. "But doing nothing doesn't seem right, either. This is discrimination, and something needs to change."

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Gay Dad Life

Gay Muslim Single Dad Writes Op Ed on His Path to Self Acceptance

Maivon Wahid writes about the challenges of reconciling three separate, but equally important, identities in an opinion piece for Gay Star News

Maivon Wahid, a gay Muslim single dad living in Fiji, wrote an opinion piece for Gay Star News about the challenges he's faced on his road to self acceptance.

"I feel pressure on how I am supposed to behave and how I am perceived," he wrote oh how these competing identities play out for him, day to day.

Maivon described himself as an "odd" kid, who never quite fit in--something he still relates to today as an adult. "When I enter the masjid (mosque), I am always judged and questioned," he wrote. "Sometimes it's curiosity, but sometimes it's borderline bullying." He said he found a way to be both gay and Muslim, three years ago, when he met an openly gay Imam at a conference in Australia. "It was through him I was able to first appreciate who I was, then love who I had become and celebrate it."

Being gay in Fiji, he says also makes him feel the need to hide certain parts of himself. "In Fiji, I find the need to hide so many aspects of my authentic being," he wrote.

He also wrote of complications familiar to many single gay men who became dads from previous straight relationships. He writes: "As a single parent to the most beautiful son – I was married to my ex-wife for nine years – learning to become and celebrate the person you want to be is about more than just me; it's a legacy I want to leave for him and the next generation. Although it's hard to meet like-minded people (my dating life is non-existent!), in being myself, I believe I can show others it's OK to be you, and to love whoever you want to love."

Ultimately, despite the challenges he's faced, Maivon says he has found a way to reconcile these three identities into one. "Whether you're gay, Muslim or a single parent – or all three – there is a place and space for everyone," he wrote. "I have found my place in Islam, and am comfortable being the best version of gay I can be. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

Read the whole article here.


Change the World

Gay Dad and Christian Mom Have a Come to Jesus Moment on 'Wife Swap'

A Christian mom learns a thing or two about "judge not lest ye be judged" on the latest episode of "Wife Swap"

Two men, Terrell and Jarius Joseph, were recently the first gay dads to be featured on the show "Wife Swap," where they swapped spouses with Nina and Matt, a religious, Christian couple. But the drama doesn't unfold in the same way as some previous episodes featuring religious mothers (see everyone's favorite "Crazy Christian Lady") because (plot twist!) the gay dads are religious, too.

At one point, Nina asks Jarius to lead the family in a prayer before dinner, because she felt it was important to show him "what the true love of God is." She is surprised, then, when Jarius quite naturally launches into a prayer.

Later in the episode, Nina says she wants to lead Jarius in a "devotional" about judgment. "Jesus knew that this would be a battle for us, so he was very stern in warning us in Matthew 7: 1-5," she say. "Do not judge or you too will be judged."

Jarius quickly points out that most Christian churches are unaccepting of LGBTQ members. "You say 'Don't judge people,'" Jarius says. "But you are."

"Now that I've talked with Jarius, I feel like I jumped to conclusions a bit," Nina tells the camera later on in the "I'm not a judgey person but I actually judged the situation and I don't like the way it makes me feel."

Watch the moment play out in full here:

'Do You Feel Like Being Gay is a Sin?' | Wife Swap Official Highlight www.youtube.com

Change the World

Tennessee Drops Anti-LGBTQ Adoption Bill Amid Growing Opposition

Amazon, the Tennessee Titans, and Taylor Swift were among those calling on the state to drop an anti-LGBTQ adoption bill

This past week the sponsor of a so-called "religious freedom" bill in the Republican-dominated Tennessee State Senate, which would have permitted state welfare agencies to discriminate against prospective LGBTQ adoptive parents, requested the piece of legislation be pulled, effectively killing it for at least this year.

The bill, which had already been approved the the House, was widely expected to be passed and signed into law, so the sponsor's request surprised many. No explanation was given for the move, thought the Washington Post hints that increasing corporate pressure may have helped play a role. Both Amazon and the Tennessee Titans joined a growing list of companies speaking out against the discriminatory bill.

Taylor Swift, a native of the state who is increasingly wading into the political realm, also joined the fray by donating $113,000 to the Tennessee Equality Project, an advocacy group fighting the bills. In a handwritten note to the group's Executive Director, Swift wrote: "I'm so inspired by the work you do, specifically in organizing the recent petition of Tennessee faith leaders against the 'slate of hate' in our state legislature. I'm so grateful that they're giving all people a place to worship."

This good news follows Michigan's recent decision to rescind its own "religious freedom" law last month, though eight states currently still permit discrimination against prospective LGBTQ adoptive parents, and a bill is pending in Arkansas that would do the same.

Gay Dad Family Stories

Adopting an Older Child Through Foster Care Was the Best Path for These Dads

After learning more about older-child adoption through You Gotta Believe, Mark and Andrew decided it was the best way for them to form their family.

"Hey! I got adopted today! These are my dads, Mark and Andrew!"

Jeremy was 16 years old when he found out his new dads wanted to adopt him.

In late August 2017, husbands Mark and Andrew Mihopulos, 34 and 36 respectively, remember driving out to the east end of Long Island. They knew at the very same moment they were driving, social workers were letting Jeremy know they wanted to adopt him. "We expected Jeremy to be hesitant or feel mixed emotions," shared Mark. "We didn't know how he would feel about having two dads and about having white parents and family, as he is a black young man."

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Gay Dad Family Stories

Philippe "Swiped Right" on This Handsome Young Dad

At first, Philippe wasn't sure he could date a man who was a dad. But Steve, and his son Gabriel, have helped him realize a "fatherly side" of himself he didn't know he had.

"It's been one hell of a ride since the beginning," said 26-year-old Steve Argyrakis, Canadian dad of one. He was 19 when he found out he was going to be a dad and the mom was already several months along in her pregnancy. Steve, who lives in Montreal, was struggling with his homosexuality but wanted to do the "right thing," so he continued to suppress his authentic self. "I was so scared about the future and about my own happiness, that I had put aside my homosexuality once again."

A couple of months later, little Gabriel was born, and it was love at first sight.

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Entertainment

Ain't No Party Like a Gay Dad Dance Party

Gay dads singing and dancing with their kids is EXACTLY what you need to get your weekend started right.

Who jams to Led Zeppelin with their kids?

Who rocks some sweet moves to Kelly Clarkson?

Who sings along with their kids in the car?

Who breaks it down with a baby strapped to them in a carrier?

We all do! But these guys happened to catch it all on tape for us to enjoy! Thanks dads. 😂

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Personal Essays by Gay Dads

This Dad Went 'Numb' After a Painful Failed Adoption, But Learned to Love Again

After a painful failed adoption that brought these gay dads to the brink of realizing their dream of fatherhood, Paul "went numb" for several months before trying, and succeeding, again

In the fall of 2010, what was suppose to be a non-committal daytime date in Seattle, ended up being 3 days of sharing life experiences, unpacking emotional luggage and the moment I realized I had met my future husband. Just under four years later, we were saying "I Do", and became Paul and Jamie Trudel-Payne.

Jamie, a devilishly handsome All-American freelance writer, came from a tightly woven, kind and virtuous household. While I, Paul, a cute (ish) bi-racial (Mexican/Caucasian) small business owner, came from a somewhat intrusive, rambunctious and very large Hispanic family. The desire and support received from both families was immense and just six months after being married, we began the adoption process.

Wearing rose-colored glasses we quickly learned that our adoption journey was going to be anything but rosy.

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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