Change the World

Talking With the Gay Dads of the World-Famous Birth Pics

Talking with the Toronto dads from the birth photos seen around the world


It was the baby photo seen round the world.

On June 27, dads BJ Barone and Frank Nelson welcomed their baby son Milo into the world. It was a magical moment they shared with an intimate few in a Kingston, Ontario hospital room: with surrogate mom Kathy, of course, with caregivers, and with birth photographer Lindsay Foster.

But it was a few days later, when Foster received permission from the dads to upload some of the photos to her Facebook account, when the real sharing began. Foster’s post spread like wildfire across the social media website: nearly 10K shares of her original update alone, plus countless reposts branching off from that. It was picked up by web behemoth BuzzFeed, which offered the headline “These Photos of Two Dads Meeting Their New Baby Will Make You Cry Happy Tears.” (About 1.9 million views so far.) Twitter was flooded with the images of Frank and BJ, their faces overcome with emotion as they embraced each other and Milo. Local news stations came calling to interview the dads. Their story had gone viral, giving millions of viewers a glimpse of raw, honest emotion that is not often show by mass media: two dads in love, and in love with their son.

The photo that went viral. Pure fatherly love The photo that went viral capturing a moment of pure fatherly love.

Many millions, it seems, wanted to share in the joy of that moment. Which was, in a way, revolutionary.

“It’s incredible that just sharing who we are as a family has resonated with so many people,” says BJ. It’s not lost on the couple that Milo’s birth – and the resultant social media splash – coincided with World Pride 2014 in Toronto, where they both work as teachers. Pride’s theme, poignantly enough, was “Rise Up”: a call for LGBT visibility.

“That it coincided with World Pride is a special factor,” says BJ. “We’re standing up for ourselves and saying, ‘This is normal.’” He recalls a special note that he and Frank shared with viewers on Foster’s Facebook: “This picture represents everything Pride is about. Love has no colour nor gender nor sexual preference. Love is unconditional.”

And they’ve certainly been feeling the love from strangers in cyber-space who have taken it upon themselves to comment on the photos or reach out directly. For the most part, the response has been hugely positive, says the couple – especially from younger generations, where same-sex headed families are increasingly seen as simply part of the cultural fabric. “I’ve received private messages from some of my students, and those have been the most special to me,” says Frank. It is heartening, he says, to feel that tides of love and acceptance have turned so dramatically. “It makes me so hopeful that one day our son and others his age will look at this photo and wonder what all the hoopla was.”

“I got one message from this guy in the States, saying, ‘I’m a redneck opposed to same-sex marriage, but this really opened and changed my heart.’ That one made me cry,” adds BJ.

It’s not only strangers who have reached out with more open arms. The photos have also opened doors to dialogue with some members of BJ’s family in Italy, with whom his sexuality has been an issue. (Oh yeah, their story made the Italian newspapers too.) “My Italian family comes from a small town, and I’ve received messages from them before that what I do is wrong, that I should be ashamed of myself. Asking me how I could do this to my parents. But I just got a message from my cousin the other day; he wrote saying, ‘Congratulations, the baby’s beautiful. Hopefully you can come together to Italy.’”

“Sometimes people are just afraid of the unknown. They’re afraid of how people will react,” continues BJ. “Having this opportunity has allowed my family to see that we’re in stable relationship and receiving love and support from around the world. It’s opened their eyes: if so many strangers can accept this, why wouldn’t they?”

The couple admits that there has been some backlash. There are still the few who choose to leave hurtful and ignorant comments on even the most joy-filled photos. But those have been in the minority, they say, and much of the negative reaction has focused on a specific element: that the dads are shirtless in the photos. “When the midwife told us we were going to be shirtless, I was like, ‘What?’” laughs Frank. They were encouraged to doff their shirts to establish skin-to-skin contact with Milo; many baby experts recommend it to release oxytocin, often referred to as the “attachment chemical.” Of course, if a mother had brought the child to her breast, it’s hard to imagine there would be much outcry. That so many were fixated on the shirtless element shows that there’s a long way to go to educating people about the experiences of dads, gay and straight, in the delivery room. “Once you explain it,” says Frank, “it seems completely natural.”

And now the dads are adjusting to the other natural new aspects of life: from feeding times to sleeping schedules. The media hubbub will soon die down, though they’re considering starting a baby blog to update Milo’s new worldwide fans. And maybe one day, they’ll grow their family again; they have embryos frozen for five more years, and haven’t ruled out returning to the delivery room.

But right now they’re enjoying the bliss of life with baby. One they didn’t always know they would have.

“When I came out to my dad, he said what upset him the most was that I would never get to enjoy being a father,” recalls Frank. “Now, my parents have been so touched seeing the journey that we went through to get here.”

“I knew I was gay ever since I was a little kid, and I never thought I would find love, be married, or have kids. I thought I’d be alone or unhappy for the rest of my life,” remembers BJ. His voice breaks. “And now here I am. I have Frank. I’m a father.”

And the whole world is watching, loving them, hitting the share button.

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Change the World

"16 Hudson," a New Animated Show for Preschoolers, Features Two Gay Dads

16 Hudson, a new animated kids show, is the first show for preschoolers that features a main character with two gay dads.

16 Hudson is a new animated show for kids of pre-school age. It focuses on four kids who live in the apartment building at that address who range from ages four to seven: Lili (Iranian), Amala (half-Irish, half-East Indian), Sam (Chinese) and Luc (Haitian). Luc is also adopted by Paul and Bayani, making 16 Hudson the first preschool show to feature a main character with two dads.

Each of the 39 episodes is about 7 minutes long, featuring the adventures of the kids. The show balances the multicultural lives of the children and their families, highlighting specific holidays, festivals or traditions of the families, and the everyday adventures and antics of the pre-schoolers. Each of the short stories has a little lesson nestled within the plot, the colorful animation and the humor.

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Change the World

Curt Miller, Gay Dad and WNBA Coach, Is Making a Difference On and Off the Court

Gay dad Curt Miller talks about coming out, his son's incarceration, and more in his moving interview with the New York Times.

Curt Miller, the coach of the Connecticut Sun WNBA team, publicly identified himself as a gay man for the first time in an article for Outsports in 2015. Even before becoming the first known openly gay coach of a professional sports team in the United States, he's been making a difference both on and off the court.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Miller opened up about his personal life, how he balances his work with his responsibilities being a dad, and the difficulty he faces knowing one of his twin boys is serving time in a correctional facility.

His twins Brian and Shawn Seymour were born in 1994 to the sister of Miller's ex-partner, who was ultimately unable to care for the boys due to an ongoing battle with a drug addiction. According to the Times, when the family approached Miller and his ex-partner to care for the boys, they agreed.

In the 18 years that followed, Miller has also turned into a star coach for women's basketball. In Ohio, he coached the women's basketball team at Bowling Green State. There, he was a five-time finalist for Division I coach of the year. His successes ultimately led him to his current job with the Connecticut Sun, which earned him the distinction of WNBA coach of the year last year. This year, he led the Sun to a third place finish in the Eastern conference.

It has not, however, been a straight forward trajectory. Miller abruptly quit coaching in 2014, citing health concerns as the reason. While still in his early 40s, Miller suffered a small stroke, a health scare he told the Times he attributes to two problems: the pressures of his high profile job, combined with the troubling path of his son, Shawn.

As a child, Miller says Shawn "couldn't have been more of an angel." But as he got older, Shawn began to spiral, which ultimately resulted in his arrest and conviction for armed robbery in 2014. Shawn is currently serving a 13-year sentence at an Indiana correctional facility.

Today, Miller is trying to be an inspiration and role model for his son but serving out and proud as a gay man in the world of sports, something still far too people have found the strength to do.

"I missed out for decades on taking advantage to be a role model or inspiration, especially to a young male coach who might be struggling as I did, wondering if I could chase my dreams," Miller said.

Read more about Miller's fascinating story in this feature article on the New York Times.

News

Far-Right Politicians Are Slowing Progress for LGBTQ Families in Italy

Conservative politicians in Italy have recently called same-sex parents "unnatural," and claimed that LGBTQ families "don't exist."

For several years, LGBTQ rights in Italy seemed to be on the upswing. The country legalized civil unions in 2016, for instance. But conservative politicians, who have ridden a populist, anti-immigrant wave to power in Italy, as well as in much of Europe, and the world, in recent years, have slowed down or stopped much of that progress.

In an interview with a Catholic media outlet, La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, Matteo Salvini, the far-right Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Minster of the Interior called same-sex parents "unnatural."

Soon after assuming his role as Deputy Prime Minister this past June, for instance, Pink News reports he reversed use gender-neutral terms throughout government resources and documents, in part to accommodate LGBTQ parents.

"Last week I was told that on the website of the Ministry of the Interior, on the forms for the electronic identity card there were 'parent 1' and 'parent 2,'" Salvini said in his interivew. "I immediately changed the site by restoring the definition 'mother' and 'father.'

He also took a swipe at LGBTQ and other parents who use surrogacy to form their families: "Utero for rent and similar horrors?" he said. "Absolutely no."

Salvini joins the ranks of other rightwing Italian politicians who have recently come to power, most notably Lorezno Fontana, the new Family Minister, who also spoke out against surrogacy this past June, and claimed that LGBTQ families "don't exist," in a legal sense, in the country.

This, in turn, led to a backlash from LGTBQ advocates. The hashtag #NoiEsistiamo (We Exist) began trending, with LGBTQ families sharing photos of themselves with the minister on social media.



Surrogacy for Gay Men

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"We're from Texas which is very conservative," Greg told Gays With Kids during Family Week at P-town this year.

"So we do a lot of activities in Houston with other gay dads and gay families," added Phillip.

"We have a pool party at least one a year where we try to invite other gay dads and some lesbians too and try to get to know everybody."

Gay Adoption

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"At first our decision was practical," said Rich Buley-Neumar about his decision to adopt older children. Neither he nor his husband Ken could afford to stay home with a baby, so they began investigating other options. "We came to the understanding that the age of the of the child didn't matter," said Rich, "it was their need for parents that mattered." So the dads set their sights on older children whose chances were running out and became fathers to four teenage boys.

With over 400,000 children in the United States foster care system, almost a third cannot be returned to their families and are waiting to be adopted. There are more males than females, and African American children are disproportionately represented.* Of the children waiting to be adopted on the AdoptUSKids website, 65% are between 13 and 19 years of age. Many will never be adopted and will age out of the system.

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"It has changed drastically in the most inspiring and positive way," replied Taylor McGregor, when asked how life had changed since fatherhood. "We have learned to stop and take moments … we find ourselves spending more time as a family and less time on our phones and iPads!" Since 2016, Taylor and his husband, Michael Crocker have been proud dads to Jack through the California foster care system. Here's how they became a forever family.

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"It's definitely something I always saw myself being, was a dad," Mike told us during Family Week in P-town this year. "Coming out as gay, that was one of my biggest struggles at the time was that I thought way back then that I could not be a dad if I was gay."

Four kids later? "Clearly I'm very gay and very much a dad."

Steve's advice for dads-to-be? "Three is enough!" he said, before quickly adding, "I'm kidding! I'm kidding!"

Fatherhood, the gay way

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