Single Gay Dad Martin Gill: A Powerful Voice for Adoption Reform
Martin Gill wants prospective parents to know about the sheer volume of dishes.
“You don’t realize how much of parenting is just cooking, washing dishes and doing laundry,” he says. And, as the single father of two kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he’s often helping with homework for several hours in the evening. “I spend a lot of time just trying to keep them up at grade level.”
When Martin met the biological brothers who would become his sons, Xavier was 4 and Nathaniel was just an infant. He and his then-partner took them in as foster children just before Christmas.
“They came pretty sick. Their heads were covered in ringworm. They came with just the clothes on their back,” he says. Xavier’s flip-flops were so small on him that his heels touched the floor.
The two had come from a chaotic home where Xavier learned to look after his brother all on his own. At 4, he was feeding, burping and changing Nathaniel.
A year later, the kids were finally released for adoption. But Martin learned that they would be split up.
“You have to understand: When they arrived at our house, that baby was the only thing that [Xavier] had left,” he says. Martin couldn’t stand the thought that the boys would not be placed together.
“We knew at that moment that we were willing to keep these two, in whatever way the state [of Florida] decided, whether permanent guardianship or whatever else," he says. At the time, Florida barred adoption by LGBT parents.
So Martin asked the ACLU of Florida to take his case. The organization interviewed Martin and his family at length before deciding to file a lawsuit. Martin and his sons each became plaintiffs in the case.
“My sons were represented separately by Hillary Bass and Rick Gonzalez of [the law firm of] Greenberg Traurig on a pro bono basis,” Martin says. "The Guardian Ad Litem's office in Miami also helped." A total of 13 lawyers worked on the case.
After a long, slow process, the hard work paid off: Florida's Third District Court of Appeal ruled the ban unconstitutional, making it unenforceable throughout the state. The family’s adoptions finalized five years later, in 2011. In their quest to create their own forever family, they had paved the way for other gay families in the state to adopt as well.
The story went viral. Martin was interviewed on CNN; the Colbert Report and the Daily Show covered it. They were invited to the White House Christmas party.
Martin even got a call from Oprah’s producer asking the whole family to appear on the show.
“I would have been less surprised if God called,” he says. Aside from the White House party, Martin made all his public appearances alone. His partner feared losing his biological son (of whom he had informal custody), from a previous relationship with a woman, to the state’s anti-gay policies if he outed himself publicly.
“Oprah’s producer had called, like, three times. And my partner’s sitting on the couch watching TV — and the phone rings and he says, ‘If Oprah calls, I’m not here,’” Martin recalls.
“That was sort of the beginning to the end of the relationship,” he says. The conflict over appearing on Oprah brought to light some deeper issues in their relationship, and they ultimately split.
But, for Martin, the fight wasn’t over. His passion for LGBT adoption rights was calling him to push for legislative reform. Though the gay adoption ban had been ruled unconstitutional in the courts, the legal language that existed from the old laws needed changing to ensure gay families did not become subjected to loopholes.
Martin’s relationship with his partner having dissolved (though they still talk often), it was just he and the boys who eventually moved to the state capital, Tallahassee, so Martin could push for legal change.
Martin retired from his career as a flight attendant — he now restores homes — to accommodate the demands of single fatherhood. He has full custody of the boys, and cares for a 6-year-old autistic foster son (whose name he asked not to be included).
To manage his sons’ ADHD better, Martin has found it helps to keep them very busy. When they were small, they could play in the yard for hours. Now, they're involved in cross country, football and gymnastics.
When Martin spoke with Gays With Kids on a Saturday, the whole family was on its way out the door. Nathaniel came on the line to explain they were headed to a carnival for autistic kids like his younger foster brother.
Despite his full plate, Martin achieved a huge political milestone last year: He successfully pushed legislators to change Florida's adoption laws.
“I did a lot of unpaid lobbying with the state and we were successful last June in getting the adoption ban off the books through the legislature — which I thought would never happen,” he says.
Despite his incredible success in Florida, he won't stop there. Martin now lobbies for adoption reform at the federal level — and 11-year-old Nathaniel does, too. Of his own accord, Nathaniel took an interest in his father's work, especially the speeches he was writing to deliver on the floor or in committees.
With his dad Martin Gill standing next to him, Nathaniel Gill spoke to the United States Senate in May 2013 on behalf of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. Behind him Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the lead sponsor of the bill.
“A little over two years ago, he sat down and he wrote down his own speech," Martin says.
He gave his first speech in the Senate at 9 years old. The pair has since gone to Washington together twice so Nathaniel could deliver speeches, and Martin has gone on his own several more times.
One of Nathaniel’s speeches became a YouTube hit. In April, Nathaniel, then 10 years old, had reached the midpoint of his testimony against HB 7111 (Conscience Protection for Actions of Private Child-Placing Agencies) in the Florida House Judiciary Committee meeting, when he was abruptly cut off by Charles McBurney, the Republican chair of the committee, who informed him his time was up. (As chair, McBurney had the authority to grant Gill an extra minute or two, especially since the visibly nervous Gill stumbled and stammered a bit.) The video recording (see directly below) of the incident has been viewed almost 130,000 times. The bill was dropped.
"I think they realized how unpopular that bill would be just based on the reaction my son got," Martin says.
In addition to his continued advocacy, Martin is working on a different kind of change for gay dads: creating and nurturing an honest community for single gay dads.
After years living in Tallahassee, he hasn’t met any other single gay dads in his area. “I started feeling a real sense of isolation,” he says. He also hasn’t found much of a community among gay dad groups online, which he says are often focused on couples and picture-perfect families.
“People don’t want to talk about us that much. They don’t want to hear about the single dad whose partner left him because of Oprah,” he says.
So, he created a closed Facebook group called Single Gay Fathers, which now boasts more than 200 members. (To join, simply send a request to the administrators.) As far as Martin knows, the Single Gay Fathers group is the largest community out there focusing exclusively on single gay dads. About 40 of those members hail from Martin’s home state of Florida, but the group includes single gay dads from all over the world.
Though the focus doesn’t tend to be on finding a match within the group — to be clear, he’s not against people using it for that purpose — a few of the guys have met up for family holidays and other activities.
The dads talk about everything from parenting to the perils of dating while raising kids. But what’s important to Martin is that it’s about the real stuff, not just Kodak moments and baby pictures.
“We are not poster children for gay parenting," he says. Since many gay dads adopt, they discuss how to deal with the tough stuff: developmental disorders, IEPs (individualized educational plans or programs) and behavioral problems.
“The tone of our group is a little more jaded, a little more cynical, much more realistic. Honestly, on our forum, it’s more support than anything.”