What Makes a Family?

With LGBT families increasingly in the spotlight, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when we take our share of the hits, both from expected foes, such as the religious right, to the unexpected, such as gay actor Rupert Everett and gay fashion designers Dolce and Gabbana. Everyone, it seems, wants to do what’s right and in the best interest of children. While determining exactly what is in the best interest of children might be an interesting discussion, until every child has a loving and nurturing home, we are neglecting our duty as global citizens by not taking care of those in need.

Just as there is no one unified answer as to what is best for children, there is no one kind of LGBT family. We are each distinctive and lumping us all together depreciates who we are and what we do. We come in all colors of the rainbow, in skin tone, age, marital status, income, religion, parenting styles and in our very paths to parenthood. No two LGBT families are exactly alike and it is exactly that uniqueness that is to be celebrated.

I began my route to parenthood rather circuitously. In kindergarten I recall staring into the dazzling eyes of Jeff Haywood and picturing us together in a home. I always wanted to be a parent; my paternal instincts run deep. As an elementary schooler, I would organize my own summer school, where I set up tables in the front yard and help younger neighbor kids with art projects. At parties, I enjoyed chatting up the kids, and found they responded to me; in fact, I often enjoyed them more than I did the adults.

Despite all this, knowing that the laws at the time were not on my side, I put such thoughts of parenting away, figuring it was never to be. I focused instead on career and love, though not in that order. I tried to piece together the life I had always envisioned, but it wasn’t until I again considered being a father did the picture begin to feel more complete.

Kergan holding his son Mason (2002)

In an era of dawning new possibilities in the mid 1990s, I began to consider parenthood seriously. I took LGBT parenting classes, workshops, and attended adoptive family playgroups. I talked to other LGBT people considering parenthood, and finally found my tribe.

My eldest son Mason (now 15) was privately adopted at birth. His birth mother entrusted her son to me and my then-partner. We were in the delivery room and witnessed his birth, even cutting the cord. She and I are friends to this day.

When Mason was 1½ years old, however, my world was rocked when I discovered that promises my then-partner and I had made together were not being kept. I made the difficult decision to break off that relationship and move forward as a single parent. This was not part of the pathway I had envisioned, but I knew Mason needed a sibling, and that I needed to complete our family.

And it was thus as a single parent that I began the process of adopting a second child. I realized there was no way I could afford the expenses of private adoption given my limited resources, and I also was certain that as Mason is African-American, I wanted my next child to be African-American as well. As such, foster-adoption seemed to be the most viable option. Not only were there plenty of African-American kids in foster-adopt, but also the costs involved were minimal – important, as my finances were tight – and the adoptive parent receives a stipend from the state until that child turns 18.

Having heard horror stories from friends who had attempted to go through the county foster care system, I instead turned to the nonprofit, California-based Kinship Center to help navigate the foster-adopt process. As intermediaries they not only help people through the foster-adopt paperwork and offer free parenting classes, but they also connect prospective parents with available children, shepherding them through the process until the adoption is complete. They’d been recommended by other LGBT friends, but still, I was nervous as I walked into my first parenting class, only to discover half the class were LGBT prospective parents!

Within weeks of completing the foster-adopt process, I got a call from my Kinship social worker, sharing with me about a new potential adoptive boy, named Marcus. He’d just turned 2, had been born with club feet (which were surgically corrected), and been taken away from his parents due to their continued drug use.

My social worker and I went to visit him, and as we opened the door to the foster home, Marcus ran up to me and gave me a big hug. I took that as a sign. I’d recently met my now-husband Russ, and I remember filling him later that day on all of the details of what would soon become our forever family.

Mason, Kergan, Russ, and Marcus (2014)

Today, as I hear Mason in the other room, chatting with a friend on the phone, and Marcus, down the hall, dancing around to his favorite song, I know what a real family looks like and feels like. Our house has far more warmth, nurturing, and caring that the heterosexual one in which I was raised. Does that make it better? Worse? I can’t answer all the questions thrown at LGBT parents daily and don’t have any interest in doing so.

What does matter to me is my family. It doesn’t matter how we all got here. It doesn’t matter that Russ and I are gay. It doesn’t matter that two black kids have Caucasian parents. What matters is this: We are doing what is in Marcus’ and Mason’s best interest. We’re giving them a home.

Guest contributor Kergan Edwards-Stout is an award-winning director, screenwriter, and author. His collection Gifts Not Yet Given landed on multiple Best Books of the Year lists and was a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. His debut novel Songs for the New Depression won a 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award, was shortlisted for the Independent Literary Awards, and was named one of the Top Books for 2012 by Out in Print and other book review sites. It also received a starred review from Library Journal. He is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and LGBTQ Nation. His greatest honor, however, was to have been named one of the Human Rights Campaign’s 2011 Fathers of the Year, as his partner and children nominated him. He can be reached via his website, Facebook and Twitter. 

Photo credit for the two color images: Sarah+Ryan Photography

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