Posts tagged “family

Happy 16th Anniversary, My Love!


16 years. I’d call that a success story! Who would’ve thunk, two such very different people would end up complementing each other so well? Despite the images we choose to share online, please know that our lives are not perfect. Russ and I have to do the hard work to keep ourselves and our family on track, and none of that is easy. Still, by focusing on communication, compromise, and lots of laughs, we all continue to move forward together, with love abounding. 16 years is nothing. Check back with me in another 16… Happy Anniversary, my love!

9/11: Never Forget

Dan, David and RonOn this somber anniversary, I invite you to celebrate with me the lives of Ron Gamboa, Dan Brandhorst, and their young son, David, lost far too soon. Please click here to read my tribute to them, written just after Bin Laden’s death. It was a difficult piece to write, and I hope you find some value within it.




Interview with Award-Winning Novelist David Pratt

Looking After JoeyDavid Pratt, Lambda Award-winning novelist for Bob the Book, is back with a funny and touching new novel, Looking After Joey (Wilde City Press). In it, Calvin, a single accountant, must look after Joey, a porn character who unexpectedly steps through the TV into Calvin’s life–and can’t go back. Calvin’s friend Peachy comes to the rescue, declaring that he and Calvin will teach Joey what he needs to know to be a gay man in this world—from Cher and Liza to how to cross the street without getting hit. But on a deeper level Joey’s presence causes Calvin to reevaluate what he desires, and his yearning for connection propels everyone through the story, as they find themselves forming a family of choice.

As our work shares many themes, primarily those of love and family, I appreciated the time Pratt took to connect to discuss our definitions of family, particularly their meaning for us as gay men.

Kergan Edwards-Stout: David, thank you so much for taking the time to chat! As you know, I was a big fan of Bob the Book, and was so pleased to hear of your new novel. One of your gifts as a writer is in bringing objects to life. In Bob the Book, you animate a book, and in Looking After Joey, you create depths and layers in a porn character.

David Pratt: In Bob, I actually created humans in the guise of books, who live as books might if books were sentient. In Looking After Joey, it’s Joey’s vulnerability and curiosity that bring him alive. He’s a porn character who crosses into our world, like a baby bird fallen from the nest. His reactions to what we call “real life” are hilarious and touching. Or both at once, as when he sees his first handicapped person. There is humor to it, but the scene is also gripping.

Edwards-Stout: Key to my enjoyment of the book was the role that family plays in it. Your lead character, Calvin, is on a quest to find a relationship, but ends up finding much more than that. It occurred to me, though, that while I know much about you as a writer, I don’t know much about your personal life, aside from your relationship with your partner, Rogério. How did you meet him? (more…)

My Wedding Vows to Russ

Last night I was fortunate in finally being able to legally marry my wonderful Russ, after almost 12 years together. Our wedding had a French theme and was a joyous celebration of our love, commitment, and family. Thank you to all who attended, and for the support and well-wishes of our friends and family. Here are the vows I wrote and read, and the boys played a part in as well…

June 7, 2014

My beloved Russ,

We stand here today, before family and our dearest friends, entirely mindful that we are a product of our pasts. At the same time, we are fully invested in this sacred moment, publicly proclaiming our commitment to one another and detailing our vision for our collective future.  We can’t change where we’ve been, even if we wanted to, but together we can move forward with grace and consideration, charting together a map for the road we envision our lives to follow.

We both came into this relationship with a sense of purpose. As many people here know, we first met on (I was attracted to his hair.)  Meeting with common intention, it took us a while to realize that the goals we’d each initially had had already been fulfilled. But the friendship that first formed between us during that on-again/off-again time provided the foundation for this life we now share.

As my profile back then stated, I lead an ordinary/extraordinary life. I was looking for someone to enhance the extraordinary factor, which you have in spades.

French writer Andre Breton noted that “Love is when you meet someone who tells you something new about yourself,” and you’ve done just that for me.  When we met, I was a struggling single dad, with an amazing two-year-old son and a dead-end job. While I’d had creative aspirations, I’d decided to focus on raising Mason, and my identity quickly narrowed. But in me, you saw a writer, and encouraged me to follow my passion.  You saw a person of spirit, and now our church family has become one of our strongest sources of support.  You saw more than my surface, and opened my eyes to the possibility of a new way of living.

One of the things I mentioned in my profile was that I was looking for someone to lovingly challenge me, and you’ve done that as well. While we initially saw our differences as obstacles—something to get over—we finally realized that these aspects of us were actually complementary. Your drive at work inspired my career determination. Your zeal for fitness inspired my love for boot camp.  And your creativity and unique take on the world helps inform everything from our home, to the trips we take, to our spirited family dinners. We continually bring out the best in each other, encouraging personal growth.

When it comes to our boys, you tend to not get the credit you deserve. Not only do you work tirelessly to create the best possible life for us, but your love, guidance, and support—even telling the kids five million times to pick up their clothes—all of that plays an instrumental role in shaping Mason and Marcus into becoming the best people they can be.

French dramatist Victor Hugo wrote, “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved — loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”  Neither of us is perfect, and never will be. But despite that knowledge, we continue to love, and our love grows only stronger as the years progress.

It seems only fitting that we are now taking this step into matrimony. We could have done this before, but today the time, place, and the people feel “right.” We are both committed to each other, to our children, and to completing our journeys together. And so this I vow to you…

Trust. I was a bit bruised, lacking in the trust department, when we first met, but you quickly cured me of that with your forthrightness. I vow to you my trust.

Faith. I believe in you, Robert Russell Noe. You have such gifts and creativity, and I fully support who you are. I believe you can do anything you attempt, and I place in you my faith.

Commitment. You’re it. There will be no other. This I vow to you.

And, most importantly, but not lastly, love. I love you. I believe that somewhere along the line, you never received the vital message that you are worthy of love, and lovable. But you are. And I want you to feel love—to experience love—and vow to show you every day that you’re worthy of love.  

Mason: I vow to show you my love.

Marcus: I vow to show you how much I love you, Pappy.

And, finally, if there is anything lacking in our relationship, I think it is spontaneity and surprise. While we came together born of purpose, we didn’t have those fireworks and ringing bells—the romantic notion of love—that many have. You and I made the decision to be committed to each other and the kids, and in our day-to-day attempts to ensure we do everything necessary to keep our lives afloat, sometimes romance and surprise take a back seat to practicality. But that ends today. I vow to you, Russ, romance, spontaneity, and surprises…

And that starts right now. (I then launched into singing “La Vie en Rose” with guitar and accordion accompaniment–with the intro sung in French, which I don’t speak!)

Sh*t My Kids Say, Part II

Mason Marcus 2012One of the great things about Facebook is the ability to reread posts made in the spur of the moment and quickly forgotten. I tend to forget some of the funny things our kids say, and it’s great to have the ability to look back and remember.  As two white gay dads raising two amazing African American boys, our house is always hopping.  Here are quotes from our 13-year-old, Mason, and our 10-year-old , Marcus, in another edition of Sh*t My Kids Say.

Me: “Marcus, it is 6AM. What are you doing up, trying to get in to that ice cream?!?”
Marcus: “I need energy.”

Marcus: “Do babies have balls when they’re born?”
Me: “Well, boy babies do.”
Marcus: “Yeah, I know… Girls have cracks.”

Me: “I sure hope I’m there to see you when you find someone you love and maybe have kids.”
Marcus: “But if you’re not, I’ll do the funeral and dig and put you in there.” (more…)

Fired for Facebook Photos, a Gay High School Coach Speaks Out

Hugo, Tuolumne, Devynn, and Mitch

While many of us have posted fun or silly photos of ourselves on Facebook, few would ever think that one of those photos could actually get themselves fired, but such is the case of Mitch Stein.  An assistant water polo coach at Charter Oak High School in Covina, CA, Stein had just led the boys’ junior varsity team through an undefeated summer season when he was called into the Principal’s office and confronted with a letter from a parent and photographs pulled from his Facebook page.  One picture featured him hanging out with some drag queens, while another showed him getting ready to take a big bite from a corndog.  While Stein saw the pictures as harmless, to the school administrators, they were deemed inappropriate due to their “sexual content,” and he was let go from his position.

In the months following, Stein filed a wrongful termination suit, seeking both monetary damages and his old job back.  While the incident raised questions for Stein around diversity issues within the Charter Oak Unified school system, Stein also experienced a groundswell of support from students and parents.  In the wake of his firing, he was even selected by parents as President of the aquatics booster board, in a unanimous vote.

What many do not know is that, in addition to his daughter Devynn, who attends Charter Oaks and is a swimmer and water polo player, Stein and his partner Hugo Horta have been in the process of adopting an infant girl, Tuolumne, born addicted to crystal meth.

As a fellow gay dad, I was curious to learn more about how Stein’s termination had affected both he and his family.  We connected through our shared parenting group, Los Angeles-based Pop Luck Club, and Stein graciously agreed to take time from his family, particularly his 7-week-old daughter, to share his story.

Thank you so much for meeting with me, especially as you recently returned home from the hospital with your daughter.

It’s my pleasure.

Let’s start first with your termination.What was your reaction when you’d learned you’d been let go?

I’m the typical mother hen, and my initial thoughts were all about my daughter, Devynn, as she currently attends the school.  I wanted to make sure that I got to her with this news before she heard it from anyone else.  And my second thought was, how will this affect her?  I mean, thinking back to how hard high school can be, imagine how it would be if one of your parents taught at your school and was fired for being gay.  All that gossip and chatter–

You thought that might be difficult for her to deal with?

When I talked with Devynn, I first suggested she consider changing schools, because of the things people might say.  But she said, “Dad, I don’t want to change schools.  And besides, if we change schools, they win.”  That’s when it clicked in my head that we needed to fight this.

What were you feeling emotionally?

After the initial shock, we had a meeting with the Assistant Superintendent and the Principal, and I asked a lot of questions: “Did I do something wrong?” “Did I break a rule?” “Did someone complain about my coaching?”  When the answer to each was “no,” I got very angry. I was being fired, simply for some old photos, taken in fun.  I was a good coach, a great parent volunteer, and, I think, a pretty good dad.  I just kept thinking, “Why is this happening to me?”

How did your partner react?

Hugo was very angry as well, wanting me to fight, but much of his anger was directed at the parent who had the issue with me.  As a kid, Hugo had been bullied, and this experience of being made to feel “less than” really took him back to that same emotional place.  At the same time, though, we also thought this would be resolved fairly quickly.  Yet here we are, all these months later, still unresolved.

And now with a newborn baby!

Understandably, Hugo wants us to focus on our family, and I have to remind him that, for others out there, it will be easier for them if we see this thing through. If we don’t fight this battle, we’re just postponing it for someone else.

Prior to your termination, had others at the school known you were gay?

I don’t hide that I’m gay, but I don’t advertize it either.  People have seen my partner at events, and we sit together, but if I’m coaching, it is all about the kids, and Hugo is up in the stands.

Had you experienced any other discriminatory incidents at the school?

Well, when Hugo and I went to Canada to celebrate our anniversary, we got engaged.  When we returned home, some of the kids asked how the trip was and what we’d done, and I told them I’d gotten engaged.  While no other specifics were given, another teacher came up to me and told me that my comment was out of line, as personal lives were to be kept completely separate from school.  But just recently, the school’s big outdoor sign announced the birth of a child to two of the teachers at the school, a heterosexual married couple…

So different rules do apply, depending on who you are… 

Imagine, having such joy and all the emotions that come from pledging your life to another, as well as the possibility of having a baby with that person, and not being able to discuss it, when others clearly are allowed to.

I understand you’ve been contacted by others, including current and past teachers and students, who have also had issues at Charter Oaks. 

One teacher contacted me who had a very similar experience, where it was made clear to him by the district that because he was gay, he wasn’t wanted.  Instead of fighting, he chose to go somewhere else.  And he reached out to me to apologize, because if he had fought, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened.

This whole thing is so odd to me, that you’d be fired for some photos of you with drag queens, or suggestively biting a corndog…  I’m wondering, was there any unspoken fear that you were molesting kids or something?  You know, the old belief that being gay meant you were automatically a pedophile?

You have to wonder… In my second meeting with the Principal and Superintendent , when we were discussing the photo of me with the drag queens, I asked the superintendent, “If this were a photo of me with some sexy cheerleaders, in their cute little sweaters, would we be having this conversation?” and he said, “No, because that is their uniform.” When I pointed out that was discriminatory, the principal said, “Well, what if that picture was of a male teacher, posing with your daughter and her friends, all wearing wet swimsuits?” The fact that she brought up the link between kids and sexuality was really disturbing.

And these photos were taken several years ago–

Yes! And posted on Facebook and Myspace, then forgotten.  But the larger point is, every single teacher at that school has gone to college.  Every one of them has old photos, taken in fun, they’d rather forget.  But I’m being singled out.

Aside from the parent who wrote the letter, do you have a sense if others don’t want you there as well?

Everyone who has talked to me has been very supportive.   Some may agree with him, but I’m not aware of it. What is interesting to me is that, when we held a vote for a new President of the aquatic booster board, this same man voted for me.  I’m not sure if he had a change of heart, or it was peer-pressure, or what, but when everyone raised their hands to vote, he did as well, making it unanimous.  People have to understand that when you put your kids into school, there will be kids there with gay parents–that is a fact of life–and we need to find ways to coexist with each other.  We’re not going away.

Given that 9 months have passed since your termination, what affect has this had on your sense of self?

What was weird was that, prior to getting fired, I was feeling really great about myself and my role as coach.  It seemed like the parents who saw me coaching their kids really valued my efforts, and I felt appreciated for who I am and what I contributed.  You can’t go undefeated, with a new group of kids, unless you are really connected with them.  So to have all of that brushed aside, in a matter of minutes, was really devastating.  But the immediate response from supportive parents afterward really helped me rally.  People were calling, texting, emailing, wanting to know how they could help get me back.

Clearly, you’d made an impact with them.

The people who knew me had my back.  But most of the people involved in all of this had never even had a conversation with me.  The Principal, for example, prior to firing me, had never met me!  She made a snap decision, based on some photos taken years before.  The Assistant Superintendent, prior to confirming my termination, had never met me.  The school Athletic Director had never met me, as there had been a change in that position.  All of this happened in a vacuum. Even the parent who wrote the letter and sent the photos to the school had never met me! But the people who knew me, supported me, and that made all the difference.

Given all of the stress you’ve been under and the attention you’re getting from the press, what made you decide this was the time to adopt a baby?

With any adoption, you can’t really control the calendar.  Adoptions fall out all the time, so you just have to hope that it all works out.  But having this baby has also helped me keep perspective.  Yes, this lawsuit is important. Yes, we are going through with it. But I won’t allow it to interfere with our family.  Family comes first.

Tuolumne was born addicted to crystal meth, and had many medical issues as a result.  Were you aware of the meth addiction, prior to the birth?

No.  The birth mother was on probation and received random drug tests, and all the sonograms showed that everything was fine with the baby.  But despite the clean reports, every bone in my body told me that this woman was a drug user.  We had met the birth parents some months prior, but sensed some hesitation on the part of the birth father over putting the child up for adoption, and there were other red flags, which ultimately stopped the adoption.

So how did you reconnect?

The birth mom was then matched with another family, but five weeks before she was due, we got a phone call that the adoption had again fallen through.  We were asked if we still were interested in adopting the baby, but we put some restrictions in place to ensure we were covered if any issues arose.

Such as–?

We insisted she go on MediCal, which ended up covering the hospital costs associated with the birth.  If we hadn’t had that, we couldn’t have afforded the 6 weeks our baby was in the intensive care unit.

Was that all due to the meth addiction?

In addition to that, she experienced meconium aspiration, which caused hypertension in her lungs, which were shutting down.  We think it was triggered by the birth mom, as the day before she delivered, she said that she was nervous and put meth in her coffee to calm down.  We believe that is what put the baby under stress.

And after the birth–?

Tuolumne was sedated for the first three weeks of her life, on a ventilator, and those drugs, combined with whatever she was dealing with from her birth mother, led to serious withdrawal issues over the next few weeks.

How is she now?

The good news is, the adoption has gone through, and the baby is getting healthier each day.

You’ve dealt with a lot over these last several months.  As a gay parent, do you feel any added pressure to succeed?

Most people don’t even think about how they live their lives, but as gay parents, we are aware that people are watching us.  It is almost as if we have to be super parents.  Some of that pressure we put on ourselves, of course, and some comes from others.  With our newborn, for example, in the hospital she had to be fed every three hours.  And I was at that hospital every three hours for two weeks straight to feed her.  The nurses told me, “You are the first parent, ever, who has not missed a feeding.”   The bottom line was, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman–what matters is that you’re a good parent.

And it sounds as if you are!

Well, the hospital liked us so much, they tried to get us to adopt another one!

Given all that you’ve been through, are you sure this battle with the school is one you need to fight?

You know, I look as this little baby and wonder, “What kind of world is she coming into?” We have to fight our battles and make life better for those who come after us.  This is bigger than me.  It’s bigger than my family.  It’s about changing the culture at this school. We have a responsibility to make things better.

Cross-posted on Huffington Post and Bilerico Project.