Gay Dad Life

Trailblazers: The First Canadian Gay Couple to Co-Adopt

In May 1995, Ontario became Canada’s first province to allow gay and lesbian couples to jointly adopt. Other provinces followed suit, and, today, gay and lesbian adoption is the new societal norm in communities across the country.


But the journey has not been easy, as David McKinstry knows first hand. For 21 years, he navigated discriminatory agencies and an ever-evolving legal landscape, first to adopt a child and then to secure co-parenthood with his husband, Michael Rattenbury.

David and Michael started a new chapter in the expansion of gay and lesbian rights in Canada, overcoming cultural barriers and numerous court battles to become first gay couple to successfully co-adopt.

Adopting as an openly gay man

David began pursuing parenthood in the 1980s, when Canada’s legal system was just beginning to recognize the need to extend protections and equal rights to gay and lesbian citizens. No gay or lesbian Canadian couple had ever adopted a child.

Same-sex marriage was not yet legal, so although David was in a relationship with a man named Nick, he applied to adopt on his own – and found he was pushing the envelope by doing so. “I was told unequivocally by many agencies in B.C. that I didn’t have a hope in hell as a single man,” says David. Eventually David and Nick hired an attorney to help navigate the process.

With her help, they moved to the home study phase. Social workers asked questions David believes no heterosexual couple would ever be asked – and even implied the couple wanted young boys for sexual grooming. One social worker asked, “At what point in the sex act do you put a condom on, before or after precum?” Then, “Who’s top and who’s bottom?”

Nick and David came close to adopting in 1995, finding a pregnant mother who chose the couple as her unborn child’s adoptive parents. But Nick succumbed to AIDS shortly thereafter. Just a few weeks later, the mother suffered a car accident and lost the baby.  Despite the loss and disappointment, David continued to pursue parenthood.

When David met Michael, the couple pursued international adoption. The Canadian government approached David to serve as a test case for international adoption to openly gay men. The test failed. Although Canada had approved him to adopt, thirteen countries rejected David’s application because of his sexual orientation.

“I got 13 letters back saying: We don’t give to [gay men].”

It wasn’t until a second round of applications went out – with no mention of his sexual orientation – that David was approved to adopt a child from India. So now he just needed to find an orphanage in India that was willing to let him adopt. In January 1998, he boarded a plane to India and visited more than 20 orphanages until he found one that was willing to help find him a child. He returned to Canada and, after three long months of waiting, received a phone call from the orphanage: they had a boy for him to adopt.

Now it was up to the Canadian government to process his paperwork. Finally, in March of 1999, David returned to India to meet the son he’d been searching for since the early 1980s. He named the boy Nicholas, after his first husband.

Meanwhile, David and Michael were in for another surprise. While they were waiting for Nicholas’s adoption to be finalized, a woman named Susan and her son visited Woodhaven, the country lodge David owns and operates. The pair had been stopped at the airport en route to Disneyland for what would have been their last vacation together – she was dying of AIDS. The airline prohibited her from boarding.

Early one morning during their stay, Susan told David, “I know why God didn’t let me go to Disneyland,” she continued. “I need you to adopt my son so I can go in peace.” Two weeks later, 4-year-old Kolwyn moved in with David and Michael at Woodhaven. David became co-guardian to Kolwyn and adopted him after Susan’s death.

Co-adopting as an openly gay couple

By 1999, David and Michael had achieved their dream of becoming parents. There was only one problem: on paper, only David was a parent. David's had been the name on every document throughout the adoption process. He appeared alone for interviews; Michael remained on the sidelines during home studies. When the boys’ adoptions were finalized, David alone was listed as parent.

But David and Michael felt the winds of change had come their way. For example, in May 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada equalized benefits for same-sex couples. The couple decided it was time to pursue parental rights for Michael as well. “I wanted us to co-adopt, in a way legitimizing our couplehood and our future parenting our sons together,” says David. They took their case to court, and, after several challenges, won legal recognition of Michael as father to Nicholas in 2001. Michael formally co-adopted Kolwyn shortly thereafter.

The positive outcome of these cases was not only a win for David and Michael’s family but for same-sex couples across Canada. David and Michael’s success attracted attention, catapulting them into the spotlight. Papers across the country covered their story. VisionTV filmed a documentary about their battle for adoption equality.

“Our boys loved having all the attention of newspapers calling, their photos in the paper,” says David. He and Michael also had opportunities to share what they had learned, receiving calls from gay couples across the country. David says, “It was almost as if we had an encyclopedia of information for these people that we had to garner on our own.” They shared the names of lawyers, social workers, and others who could be trusted to advocate for gay couples seeking to adopt. David chronicled his 21-year journey in a book he titled “Swimming Against the Tide.”

Kolwyn and Nicholas are now in college, and David and Michael continue to mentor parents wishing to adopt. They are currently hoping to connect a couple with the orphanage where David met Nicholas.

Though their journey often seemed impossibly difficult, David says he’d do it all over again just the same. “I knew there were children out there waiting for me,” he says. “I know I was destined to be Kolwyn's and Nicholas’ father.”

 

Show Comments ()
Gay Dad Life

The Suburban Gay Dad

Are you intimidated by the suburbs? This gay dad was — but then he moved there.

In a recent article for Yahoo! Lifestyle, Steve Jacobs says the thought of living in the suburbs as a gay dad "intimidated" him. But when he started fantasizing about garages, he began to question that notion. Any apprehension he had soon evaporated, he said, one winter morning while trying to navigate the snowy streets of New York City with a stroller.

While "pushing the stroller through snow banks and pools of slush with snowflakes stinging our faces," he wrote, "a vision came to me: I pictured us walking into a garage, hopping into a car, and arriving at a diner with 10 times less drama. This image planted the seed of moving to the 'burbs that I couldn't shake."

Soon, the family of four found a house in a town a half hour outside the city. "It had grass and a beautiful yard for our spirited kiddos. The schools were good. There were even good restaurants. The only red flag: Census data estimated only 0.1 percent of the population was gay male."

There were some "growing pains" while trying to make friends in this environment. "When we attended our first dinner party, within minutes the hostess went to the kitchen and the other wives followed her, while the husbands settled into the living room. Ira and I froze, looking at each other. In the city, our straight friends hadn't separated out like this for the evening. Should we stay with the dudes, exert our masculinity, and blow off the mom we liked? Or does one of us go with the wives and accept the personal branding that comes with that? We did a quick rock paper scissors in the foyer. Ira went with the wives."

But ultimately, "being a parent defined me more than I ever imagined it would," he wrote, and he settled in nicely to his new suburban life.

Have you had a similar adjustment, from city life to the suburbs? Tell us about it at dads@gayswithkids.com for an upcoming piece!

Gay Dad Life

"Fridays with Fitz": A New Kid's Book Based Upon the Son of These Two Dads

Tracey Wimperly, author of the new children's book, said she hopes to give a more honest portrayal of the role grandparents play in the lives of children.

Guest post Tracey Wimperly

I've recently written a children's picture book (aimed at 2-4 year olds) called "Fridays with Fitz: Fitz Goes to the Pool." Every Friday - when his two dads go to work - Fitz and his grandparents (my husband, Steve and I) head off on an adventure. Through the eyes of a curious and energetic 3 year old, even ordinary adventures, like riding the bus or foraging for fungus in the forest can be fun and magical.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

8 Ways for Dads to Find Work/Life Balance

Finding work/life balance is hard enough... but can be even harder for gay dads.

Having kids is an amazing part of life, and it should be fun. Life does tend to get in the way sometimes, and one huge aspect of that is work. Striking that balance between work and home life is tough. If you both work it's even harder.

And if you're a gay couple, it can have it's own set of problems above and beyond the standard work-life issues that people face. Recently, the Harvard Business Review conducted a study that focused specifically on the experiences of same-sex couples who wanted to make moves towards a work/life balance.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Family Stories

David and Ben Met on the Dance Floor — and Are Now Grooving Their Way Through Fatherhood

David and Ben, who became fathers with the help of Northwest Surrogacy Center, live in Melbourne with their daughter, Maia.

In 2003, while both studying at Reading University in the UK, Ben Suter and David Cocks met after locking eyes on the dance floor and then being introduced by a mutual friend. Ben, a meteorologist and Operations Manager, and David, an Assistant Principal, have been together ever since. They moved to Australia together in 2010, seeking a different life, and an overall better work-life balance. The chose Cairns in Queensland as their new home, between the Great Barrier Reef and the tropical rainforest, "taking life a bit easier," said David. The couple were also married in June 2016, back home in England.

While David always wanted kids, Ben took a little convincing. So they started their parenting journey with a dog, Titan, who quickly became like their first born. From there, Ben came around rather quickly.

Keep reading... Show less
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Single Gay Dad and the City

When Kyle decided to take his four kids, ages 6-11, to New York City on vacation, his friends thought he was crazy.

"You're crazy, Kyle."

"You can't be serious? A single dad taking four kids to the Big Apple? Think again."

"That's bold. There's no way I'd do that."

Those were a few of the responses I heard from my friends as I told them I was thinking of booking a trip to New York City with four kids, ages 11-6. My children's fall vacation from school was approaching and I wanted to get out of the house and explore. Was the Big Apple too much of an adventure?

Keep reading... Show less
News

National's Pitcher Cites Wife's Two Moms as Reason for Declining White House Invite

"I think that's an important part of allyship," Doolittle said of his wife's two moms.

Sean Doolittle, pitcher for the Washington Nationals, declined an invitation to the White House after his team won the World Series this year. In an interview with the Washington Post, he listed his numerous reasons for staying home — and a main consideration, he revealed, was his wife's two moms.

"I want to show support for them. I think that's an important part of allyship, and I don't want to turn my back on them," Doolittle said during the interview.

Trump's treatment of a minority groups, generally, factored into his decision as well. "I have a brother-in-law who has autism, and [Trump] is a guy that mocked a disabled reporter. How would I explain that to him that I hung out with somebody who mocked the way that he talked or the way that he moves his hands? I can't get past that stuff."

Doolitttle clarified that his decision had little to do with policy disagreements with the White House. "There's a lot of things, policies that I disagree with, but at the end of the day, it has more to do with the divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories and widening the divide in this country. My wife and I stand for inclusion and acceptance, and we've done work with refugees, people that come from, you know, the 'shithole countries.'"

He concluded by saying he respected his teammates decision to attend the White house ceremony. "I want people to know that I put thought into this, and at the end of the day, I just can't go."

Read more of the Washington Post interview here.

News

New York Will Fight 'Repugnant' Trump Rule on Adoption, Says Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York promises legal action of the Trump administration moves ahead with plans to allow discrimination against LGBTQ adoptive and foster parents

Last week, the Trump administration announced plans to allow adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against prospective LGBTQ parents — but he may face a legal fight from (former) hometown. In a tweet, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York said the proposed move "isn't just discriminatory and repugnant to our values,— it's also heartless and dumb as it would deny countless children a loving family and a safe place to call home." If the proposal moves forward, he continued. "we'll take legal action to stop it.

Governor Cuomo's office followed up the tweet with a lengthier statement posted to their website:

Once again the Trump administration is attacking the hard-earned rights and protections of the LGBTQ community, this time proposing a new measure that would give foster care and adoption agencies license to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Trump's proposal isn't just discriminatory and repugnant to our values — it's also heartless and dumb as it would deny countless children a loving family and a safe place to call home. If he moves forward with this rule, we'll take legal action to stop it.

No matter what happens in Washington, New York State is and will continue to be a beacon of equality in this country. Our Human Rights Law and adoption regulations expressly prohibit discrimination against the LGBTQ community, including when it comes to adoption. I encourage any LGBTQ New Yorker who feels they are a victim of this discrimination to contact the State Division of Human Rights for assistance.

Our message to the Trump administration is simple: there is no place for hate in New York or in our nation, and we will not allow this noxious proposal to stop LGBTQ New Yorkers from becoming parents or providing care to children in need.

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse