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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Terrell and Jarius need your help. Earlier this week they were made aware of an act of discrimination against a male transgender student at Johnson High School in Gainesville, Georgia

"Dex Frier was elected by the student body to run for prom king but is now facing backlash from the school's administration," shared the dads via their Instagram. "The school's Superintendent is forcing Dex to either run as prom queen or not run at all. This is very unjust and does NOT reflect the opinion of the parents nor the students."

Watch their video below:

Dex, 17, who came out identifying as male in his sophomore year, spoke with Gainsville Times about being nominated by the student body. "Frier said he kept his emotions in check while at school, but 'the moment I got home, I immediately started crying. I've never been shown so much support before,' Frier added."

He was later informed by school officials that his name had been withdrawn and he could only run in the prom queen ballot.

Sadly, there have been rival petitions started in support of Dex's nomination being withdrawn, and he's received backlash from those who believe he shouldn't be able to run.

Although Terrell and Jarius do not know Dex personally, they were made aware of what was happening through Jarius co-worker who is a parent at the school. "He's such a brave kid and is standing firm in his beliefs, and we should support him," said Jarius.

These dads are asking all of us to take a minute and sign this petition and share with friends and family, or anyone you think could help.

Change the World

Meet the Gay Dad Running For Common Council in South Bend, Indiana

Move over Mayor Pete Buttigieg! South Bend, Indiana may soon have another gay politico in the form of Alex Giorgio-Rubin, a dad of a 12-year-old adopted son.

You've probably heard of Pete Buttigieg, the young gay mayor running to be the Democratic nominee to challenge President Trump in 2020. But the town of South Bend, Indiana, may soon have another gay politico rising star in the form of Alex Giorgio-Rubin, a dad to a 12-year-old son.

Alex is running for a seat on South Bend's Common Council, in part, he says, to help make all families – including ones like his own – feel welcome.

As an out, married, gay dad, living in a Jewish household, raising a son who is on the Autism spectrum, Alex feels he can offer a unique perspective. "We come from the state that produced Mike Pence," said Alex. "We come from the state that made national headlines because of a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation; it's fair to say that the cards are stacked against my family, and many, many other families like mine."

Alex, who is currently a stay-at-home dad raising his adopted son, 12-year-old Joseph, is married to Joshua Giorgio-Rubin, a Senior English Lecturer at the Indiana University of South Bend. The two have been together for six years.

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Change the World

This British Olympian Is Retiring to Fight for the Rights of His Gay Dad

British gold medalist Callum Skinner says his "heart sunk" when his father offered to hide his sexuality from the media during the 2016 Rio Olympics

In a recent article, OutSports reported that British cyclist Callum Skinner is retiring from the sport in order to focus on fighting for the rights of his gay dad and the broader LGBTQ community.

Skinner, who is an Olympic gold medalist, had already been taking a break from racing due to some health complications, but said in a recent post on his website that he's excited to use this time to to be an ally to the LGBTQ community.

He wrote in part: "As some of you will know, I'm particularly passionate about giving back to sport, using my profile for good, whether that's in supporting the long overdue reform of sports governance, LGBT rights and encouraging people to get on their bikes. My focus and effort now lies in working in partnership with British Cycling to continue to make the athlete experience more human whilst still maintaining that performance mindset."

As OutSports reported, Skinner began talking more openly about his gay father in the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, when his father offered to hide his sexuality to avoid any potential negative media attention.

"It was only around about the Games when my dad was signing up to the scheme with the [British Olympic Association], that he said to me, 'you know, I don't mind hiding the gay thing'" Skinner said. "It was at that point that my heart sunk. And then I thought, 'I've truly been hiding this'. So I decided that win, lose or draw, after the Games, this is something that I'm going to be more open about, because my dad shouldn't have to hide who he is."

Read the full article here.

Gay Dad Family Stories

Demolition Daddies: These Gay Dads Recently Appeared on House Hunters Renovation

The dads say their star turn on the popular HGTV show is all thanks to their two-year-old son, Theo, who charmed the producers

"I'm really not sure what our lives were like before having our son," pondered Matt. "I remember always doing stuff, but I have no idea how I wasted all that personal time that I find so precious now. I took so many showers without someone trying to pull all the towels down to make a bed on the bathroom floor. It must have been nice, but also wasn't as memorable."

Matt DeLeva and fiancé Joseph Littlefield met in 2014 at a Pride event at the San Diego Zoo, and have a 2-year-old son Theo through adoption. For this Los Angeles-based couple, and like many others, becoming dads was an emotional rollercoaster. Before being matched with Theo's birth family, they had two other connections with birth moms that didn't work out. "Each was upsetting," said Matt. "When you talk to birth mothers, you start to get excited and mentally plan your future. When it doesn't work out, it feels like a loss."

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Foster/Foster-Adopt

This Gay Couple Was Inspired to Become Foster Dads Thanks to the Show "The Fosters"

Matthew and Brian say they used to feel like "unicorns" as gay foster dads. They're happy to see more LGBTQ couples take the plunge into the foster system.

Matthew Hamparian and his husband Brian Lawrence have been together for over 18 years and live in Columbus, Ohio. "We had talked about children for a long time," shared Matthew. They were inspired by the show "The Fosters," and watched it regularly as one of the staffers of the show was a friend of Brian's. In one of the episodes, Matthew remembers a conversation between a foster child and the biological child of his foster parents. The foster child asks if he was okay with the fact that he had to share his home with foster siblings. He responds that he is okay with it, because he and his family have enough of everything.

"It was very meaningful to us as we were both raised that when you got up the ladder, you threw the ladder back," explained Matthew.

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Surrogacy for Gay Men

Learn How These Dads Used Social Media to Find Their Surrogate

In the latest "Broadway Husbands" vlog, Bret and Stephen discuss the rather unconventional way in which they found their surrogate: through a Facebook group.

In this, the Broadway Husbands' sixth video, Bret Shuford and Stephen Hanna discuss the rather unprecedented process they went through to find their surrogate. The lucky couple also chat about winning an "Intended Parents" competition, which granted them the free services of a surrogacy agency who is now helping guide them (and their new surrogate!) on their journey.

In the first video below, get caught up to speed with the dads-to-be. Plus: there's bonus footage! Ever wondered about the financial side of their journey? In the second video, Bret and Stephen talk candidly about how they're managing to afford their dream of fatherhood.

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Gay Dad Life

Gay Single Dads Defend Andy Cohen's Right to Be on Grindr

After the Internet rushed to judge Andy Cohen for signing onto Grindr a couple of weeks after welcoming his newborn son home, fellow single gay dads rushed to his defense.

Last week, we wrote a post about reports that "What What Happens Live" host Andy Cohen had been "spotted" on gay dating app Grindr several weeks after welcoming a newborn into his home. This has some of his followers on social media all worked up"

"Get off Grindr and start being a dad," said one follower who appeared to think single parents must take a vow of celibacy the minute they start changing diapers. "You're sad, that kid has no chance," said another.

Well, suffice it to say that this judgment from people who are presumably not single gay dads of Andy Cohen certainly struck a nerve with our gay dad audience! We received well over 100 comments on this post on Facebook, the vast majority of them coming to Cohen's defense. We caught up with two fellow single gay dads to find out why the story struck a nerve.

"We don't have to live like monks!"

One of the most liked comments on our piece came from Owen Lonzar, who wrote the following:

"I have always been a good single father to my biological son who came to live with me when he was 7 years old. He is now 25 years old and we are very close. I used Grindr and dated while he lived with me. I never had anyone sleep over and he certainly never saw some man he didn't know hanging around my home. Single parents have to date responsibly and with sensitivity to their child but that doesn't mean they have to live like monks!"

We asked Cohen to elaborate a bit more on why the backlash against Cohen bothered him. He had the sense, he said, that much of the criticism against LGBTQ parents comes from gay men without children. "Gay men without kids have a lot to say," he said. "And all of it is ignorant, because they have no idea what it means to actually be a father." He said he was particularly disappointed in gay critics, given our shared history of discrimination. "You would think with all the prejudice we have faced that gay men would be less judgmental themselves," he said.

"Are we supposed to be celibate?"

Another commenter, Josue Sebastian Dones-Figueroa, who is a divorced father of five, questioned what Cohen's critics would prefer him do. "So what, parents are supposed to become celibate because they have kids?" he asked.

We followed up with Josue to ask him to elaborate a bit more: "The idea that just because he is a dad that he would need to stop being a man," he said, questioning why Cohen should have to put his life hold and stop dating, or having sex, just because he's now a father. "If the child is cared for loved and not neglected what is the problem? Life goes on right?"


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