One marriage, two sons and more than three decades passed before Ken Brewer came out as gay. When he did, his entire family responded with love and support.
Ken Brewer feels complete when he’s with his family. “We are all whole,” he says. “We are all very well supported and very close together.”
Ken lives with husband, David, and his two sons — Ryan, 23, and Dylan, 19 — in Washington, D.C. While they married in 2013, the couple had been together for 11 years before their nuptials. “My sons just love my husband, especially his cooking.” Ken says, “David has become a wonderful father to them, too.”
When Ken talks about his family, it’s always with a slight tone of surprise. After all, the maritime analyst spent most of his life in the closet — until 1998, the year he divorced his wife.
“I already knew that I was gay when I was 14 years old,” Ken says, “but I decided to keep it a secret for a long time.”
Ken discovered his sexuality during his time with the Boy Scouts. “When I was very young, I was much more open toward my friends in the Boy Scouts,” he says. “We supported each other — that’s what being a Boy Scot was about. I learned what it really meant to love someone else with my friends in the Boy Scouts.”
Despite his realization, Ken knew the risks of coming out. “I couldn’t forget it, but I kept what I felt a secret. The lifestyle was much different in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I really tried to avoid being bullied by other students.”
Only later did Ken learn that many of his friends felt similarly about their time in the scouts — including his husband David.
The pressure of coming out as a teenager wasn't his only obstacle. Ken is deaf, and he struggled at an early age to reconcile his sexuality with the deaf community.
“It’s a very small world in deaf culture,” he says. “So many deaf people know each other very well — it’s just not the same with hearing people. I was worried that my sexuality would come off in the wrong way because they might not understand about being gay. Today it's much better.”
He led a double life in the gay and deaf communities, staying in the closet for those friends and organizations who weren’t tied to that part of his life.
“I was a leader in several organizations at the Maryland School for the Deaf, Gallaudet University and Rochester Institute of Technology,” Ken says. “I was really passionate about being a leader, and I thought they could remove me from the groups if I came out. Looking back, I think I was mistaken. I needed to be stronger to show them who I really was.”
After school, Ken realized his dream of having a family by marrying Paula in 1991. Together, they had two sons, Ryan and Dylan. However, the pair divorced after seven years of marriage when Ken came out. Expecting to be excluded like he always feared, Ken actually found more support than he planned for.
“Paula is a very open-minded woman,” he says. “When I told my family I was gay, my parents — my whole family — was happy. I was so surprised to get my family’s full support. Paula and I agreed to keep a low profile for a while so the boys could focus on school. We simply agreed to get divorced, and I took care of the boys.”
Ken had taken the next step in his life as both a father and, now, an openly gay man. But there were still a few surprises waiting for the Brewer family.
“My oldest son, Ryan, admitted that he was gay when he was 14 years old,” Ken says. “I was surprised. My ex-wife, Paula, she told me that she knew Ryan was gay when she gave birth to him—but I didn’t believe her. I was surprised at first because I saw him going out with one of his very close girlfriends who ‘covered’ for him as his girlfriend. He was very careful about telling people.”
However, Ken could tell times had really changed seeing his son, Ryan, come out as a gay teenager.
“After Ryan came out, I could see how different our experiences were. He’s so much more open. He could see that he had a lot of support from family and friends from school. Society is so much different between my time and his.”
Ken and David share a kiss in front of the White House on the day of their wedding in 2013
His eldest son coming out wasn’t the only surprise that year — it was also when Ken met David.
“I tried to date guys, some hearing and some deaf. But no matter what, my real love was with my family,” Ken says. “I wanted to find the right man who could be a good other father to my children. I fell in love with David because of how respectful he was and responsible towards my two sons — no matter that he has never had his own children.”
In 2013 the two men took the next step in their relationship and got married. Paula, who had still lived with Ken to help raise their boys, decided the time had finally come to move out on her own, bringing her closer to her work in Virginia. Their eldest son Ryan stayed in D.C. to finish high school while Dylan accompanied his mother to Virginia. The younger brother would return to D.C. in 2015 four months after graduating from high school as he accepted a job offer near Ken and David’s home.
“David and I had been together for several years when I asked my parents how they felt about us getting married,” Ken says. “They were excited. But my dad had a stroke, so we decided to postpone.”
However, Ken once again witnessed how far his family was willing to go to support him. “Dad told me not to wait,” he says. “He loved David. He wanted us to go ahead with planning the wedding. He wanted to be there.”
Sadly, Ken’s father passed away before the ceremony. Despite the loss, the family has grown stronger. Ryan postponed plans for college to take care of his deaf grandmother after his grandfather passed. Straight brother Dylan works for GameStop. The two young men are both exploring college, but whatever the future holds for them, they know they can count on the love and support of two proud dads and a mom.
“Through whatever changes we’ve experienced, one thing remains constant. The boys continue to be part of a close, happy and loving family,” Ken says.