Posts tagged “same sex marriage

Put a Ring on It: Why Marriage Equality Matters

02-Kergan-Russ-Wedding-Ceremony-331-colorWhile the LGBT community continues to battle discriminatory legislation in Indiana and states contemplating similar such laws, it gives me some measure of comfort to know that this month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the long-raging debate over same gender marriage. For some, the court’s eventual decision will be solely intellectual, but for me, that verdict will be extremely personal, and it is my every hope that marriage equality will be the resulting law of the land in all 50 states. After almost 12 years together and raising two children, my partner Russ Noe and I were legally wed in California on June 7, 2014. That moment was a lifetime in the making and as the gold wedding band slid onto my finger, I was fully cognizant of all that it meant, both legally and emotionally… For as it happens, in my recent history, I’ve experienced inequity more fully than most.

One fall day in September 2001, I lost almost everything I held dear when I stumbled upon an email not intended for me. In it, I learned that my then-partner of six years, “Rob,” had broken the commitments we’d made and that, in fact, I’d been lied to from the start of our relationship. As that email glowed onscreen, I remember looking over to where our infant son lay sleeping, wondering what our collective future held. Rob and I had created a life together, had a commitment ceremony, bought a house, and adopted a child… I’d given up my career to be a stay-at-home dad, only to soon discover that while I was the primary caregiver, with a stronger emotional bond to our son than Rob, I had no legal parental rights whatsoever. Should Rob so choose, he could lawfully banish me from my child’s life.

I couldn’t imagine losing my son, nor how devastating that might be for him emotionally. He was my touchstone, and I vowed that somehow I would find a way for us to remain together.

I was urged by my attorney not to confront Rob about all I’d discovered and instead wait until my rights were settled, as I was then undergoing a process known as a second parent adoption. And so I returned home, plastered a smile on my face, and attempted to act as if everything were fine. I went about my daily life, taking care of our house and son, though I was tormented and wracked with fear inside.  During this period, I even went with Rob to one of his therapy sessions, only to hear the therapist say that the only issues in our relationship were my doubts about Rob’s faithfulness, and that Rob was a moral and ethical human being. For one hour I sat, boiling inside, unable to stand up for myself and all that I’d discovered to be true.

Rob and I had stood in front of our family and friends, declaring our love and commitment toward one another. We called each other “husbands” and combined our finances, which were intended to be shared 50/50. We acted like a married couple and built our life like other married couples, but we didn’t have the same legal protections and benefits as our peers. This discrepancy became even more pronounced as time passed.

After two months of silence, unable to confront Rob, a court case in California placed all second parent adoptions–including mine–on hold, determining them to be incompatible with state law. To clarify this confusion, the California State Supreme Court would have to eventually rule on the legality of second parent adoptions, which could take months. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to remain silent indefinitely, I finally confronted Rob about all I’d discovered. In the process though, in order to ensure my rights were established, I pretended to give him hope that our relationship could be salvaged. I told him that we should take time apart and live separately, to see if we could mend the rift and find a way forward together as we had intended, as a family. In other words, in my attempt to hold onto my son, I became a liar, just like Rob.

We sold our house, and on the day it closed escrow, Rob went to the bank and took out the proceeds, leaving me what he alone determined to be “fair.” I had no choice but to live with that, and any other crumbs he offered, as I had no legal recourse. In the eyes of the court, we were no more than roommates, and I couldn’t afford to rock the boat until my parental rights were firmly established.

Eventually, a court date for my adoption was established. Even as Rob stood next to me in the court room, I waited, breathlessly, afraid he would halt the proceedings and take away this child whom I loved so dearly. At last, the judge signed the paperwork and the adoption was complete. After walking to my car, I sat in the front seat, holding my son and crying uncontrollably, grateful to no longer be afraid and for the ordeal to finally be over.

I had been in a similar emotional state before, in 1995, when my partner Shane Sawick died of complications from AIDS. In that situation, I endured months of anxiety, not to mention the physical and emotional toll of being a daily caregiver, but I did so all with the knowledge of how his story would play out. I knew that the end would come and I knew what it entailed. Still, when it did, it was agonizing.

At the time, I thought that never again would I experience anything as painful, but the prospect of losing my son and the months of uncertainty and turmoil that provoked proved far worse to my psyche.

It took me a long time to fully work through my anger and learn to trust again. Moving forward wasn’t easy, but I did it, with the support of my son and those I loved. That journey led me to Russ and the subsequent adoption of a second son.

Almost one year ago, as the sun shone brightly on a beautiful June day, Russ and I stepped out into our garden wedding ceremony, walking behind our sons, who served as best men. They each had written notes about the importance of family which they read to our assembled guests. Russ and I shared our vows, which we’d also written, publicly proclaiming our promises and commitment to the life we had crafted. At the end of the ceremony, as Russ slipped the gold wedding ring onto my finger, all the emotions and moments of my life seared through me, reminding me of the road I’ve traveled, the battles fought, and the promise of things to come.

Our rings are just simple bands, nothing fancy. But they are durable and signify the legality of our union. They are gold wedding rings, meant to last a lifetime.

This originally appeared on KerganEdwards-Stout.com. Kergan Edwards-Stout’s debut novel, Songs for the New Depression, was the recipient of a Next Generation Indie Book Award. His collection of short stories, Gifts Not Yet Given, was named on multiple “Best Books of the Year” lists. He is currently at work on a memoir, Never Turn Your Back on the Tide.

Photography by Sara + Ryan, flowers by Untamed Designs, and event coordination by Bridal and Event Lounge.


A U.S. President’s Great-Great-Grandson’s Big Gay Vampire Novel

While it may come as a surprise to learn that Ulysses S. Grant’s great-great-grandson, Ulysses Grant Dietz, serves as Chief Curator for New Jersey’s Newark Museum, it might come as a bigger surprise that he is also an author, with two gay vampire titles under his belt.  Dietz is one of the few people I know who has managed to incorporate his many disparate passions into unified whole: he is a father, with two teenage children; he has a job he loves, overseeing the museum’s impressive decorative arts collection; he reads voraciously, reviewing most everything he reads; he is the author of two novels and five non-fiction titles; and he is an out gay man, proudly advocating on behalf of the LGBT community.

In 1998, Alyson Books released his first book, Desmond: A Novel About Love and the Modern Vampire, which went on to be nominated for a Lambda Literary award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category. Now, after a 14-year wait, his fans finally have their hands on his much-anticipated sequel, Vampire in Suburbia, which has finally hit the stores.

Thank you so much for sharing some of your time, Ulysses.  The obvious first question is, why so long between novels?

In a word: children.  I was polishing up Desmond during the kids’ naps while on parental leave back in 1997, and once it was published, the rest of my life distracted me from writing fiction. I’ve been thinking about it for a long, long time.

What inspired your first novel, Desmond?

In part, every vampire novel I’d read, from Dracula (which I read in middle school, the first time) to Anne Rice’s novels. Specifically, when I wrote the first draft of Desmond back in 1988, Rice’s Queen of the Damned had just appeared. Desmond as a character is my direct response to Rice’s Louis, as well as Lestat.  In fact, as my book opens, Desmond has just finished reading Queen of the Damned.

What was it about this character, Desmond Beckwith, that compelled you to continue his story?

In the first book, Desmond is surprised by love. He has resigned himself to a life alone over the course of two centuries. Yet he lives in the world. He has secrets he has to keep from the world. It’s a delicate balance he maintains; and then the carefully constructed life he’s made for himself is shattered by the appearance of Tony Chapman.  Desmond is a romantic; although he’s a vampire, he loves life. In the second book, Desmond gradually realizes that he doesn’t really like living in isolation, without friends.  It’s this quest for connection that drives him. At the end of the first book his story was, in a sense, only beginning. I had to write the second book to bring Desmond’s personal search to some sort of closure.

In the blurb for Vampire in Suburbia, it notes that Desmond is handsome, rich, gay, a vampire, and he’s looking for a house in Jersey.  So, I gotta ask, is he related to Snooki? 

Actually, I confess that, after a martini with a friend, I’ve joked about a third book called Vampire Down the Shore; but I haven’t figured out how I might work Snooki into the plot.

But seriously, the setting for the second book is something I’d thought about for years. It literally takes place where I live, in suburban Essex County, including within the museum where I have been a curator for thirty-two years.  Desmond ends up in New Jersey in the wake of 9/11. His New York office is near Ground Zero, and Desmond, quite simply, is afraid. So he moves his company to Newark, to one of the many office towers near Newark’s great art deco Penn Station – just ten miles from Manhattan.  I’ve set the book in 2009, just after he regenerates (as my vampires do) back to the age he was created: twenty one. He realizes that, this time around, he doesn’t want to start all over again and simply leave behind the people who became his friends over the past 44 years.  He also finds himself yearning for two things he gave up in the eighteenth century: land, and a family. It’s not your usual vampire story, but I’m as much a romantic as Desmond is.

Given your lineage, did you ever have any pushback?  You know, a descendant of one of our nation’s presidents, publishing a novel about gay vampires?

Not yet. I’m on the board of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, but I don’t think any other board members have read it, or are likely to.  I’m a little more anxious about my professional world, because the book has a whole curator theme going and my colleagues in the field are buying it to be supportive.  I’ve talked it up on my Facebook page and people are intrigued. I keep telling them that it’s not really for them – but what can I do?  They’ll figure it out.  I’m imaging lots of embarrassed silence.  I don’t think the Civil War buffs are going to even notice it exists.

Do you ever feel any added pressure that comes from your heritage?  A responsibility to be a role model?

Oh, sure.  But being a role model, living up to my name, is the whole reason behind my determination to live my life out and proud. It’s the reason I’ve refused to use a pseudonym on these books, as if I have something to hide in writing them. I’ve had to instill that pride in my kids, and that pride includes being gay as much as it includes being a great-great-grandson of a president.  Living my life with integrity – as Ulysses S. Grant did  – without regard to what people say, is my way of being a role model.

How did your decision to speak out on marriage equality come about?  You wrote a piece for one of the New Jersey papers about same gender marriage…

I’d forgotten I actually wrote that! I’m remembering it as an interview. It was for the Newark Star-Ledger back in 2009, and I was actually photographed in the Ballantine House – my main gallery space in the Museum, which is featured in Vampire in Suburbia. I can’t remember who contacted me or why – but marriage equality was and is a big issue here, and the fight for marriage, not just civil union, is something I’ve been interested in for years.  My partner Gary and I have been involved in gay politics in New Jersey for thirty years. We know a lot of people.

You and Gary have been together for 37 years now.  How did you first meet?

We met at Yale, specifically at the Gay Alliance at Yale.  I remember the day vividly.  I was a junior, and Gary had just graduated and was working for the Yale Computer Center.  He’s a software engineer. It was October 1975 and I had just turned twenty.  He was my first date ever.

That is amazing!  Long before my partner and I adopted, you and Gary became parents.  That must have been trailblazing…  What was that experience like?

I guess we were pioneers. We had lesbian friends who had started families; and our brothers each had children who were very much in our lives; so we were primed for a while before it dawned on us that we could have our own children.  Surrogacy was not legally possible in New Jersey then, so we decided to go with adoption. We tried domestic adoptions, but after one particularly heartbreaking failure, we decided to look into international adoptions. At that time international adoptions were possible for gay couples – but one of the two partners had to essentially disappear, and the other one had to adopt as a single person.

That must have been challenging…

I kept a detailed journal for four years once this process started. It reads like a Tolstoy tragedy. It was a very rough four years.  Several failures, including a disastrous venture in Russia where Gary spent a month in Siberia with our baby – only to have the child taken away from him and the adoption canceled by someone somewhere in the bureaucracy who felt that no man could have a good reason to want to raise a child alone.

But eventually we succeeded – and succeeded on two separate adoptions within a month of each other.  So our son, Alex, and our daughter, Grace, arrived and changed our lives in 1996.  I adopted them through a second-parent adoption a year or so later.  We didn’t even have a domestic partnership, but we were legally bound together by our children – our names are on their US birth certificates. It was amazing.  And once you have your children, all the bad memories fade away.

I know reading is one of your main passions.  Have you read anything recently that you couldn’t put down?

Reading is an addiction with me. I always have my Kindle with me. I love young adult novels, written for teenagers, that have gay themes.  I just finished Benjamin Alire Saenz’s beautiful book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It’s about a Mexican-American teenager in El Paso who finds a best friend one summer. The friendship between the boys is beautiful; but what I loved most was the importance of the parents.  Many young adult novels marginalize the parental figures – as teenagers themselves try to do.  But Saenz makes the parents important, and makes their love for their sons crucial in the narrative.  It’s a wonderful book.

With your unique worldview, as an out gay dad, partner, author, reader, curator, etc., what do you see as the biggest issues facing the LGBT community?

What I see as the biggest issue facing our community is our complacence in the face of the upwelling of right-wing religiosity in this country, in the secular world and especially in politics.  I came out in the 1970s, before AIDS, and things have improved so much since then it’s hard to believe.  But, for all the acceptance my family and I have experienced in our little bubble of diversity in Maplewood, New Jersey, there is a significant anti-gay world out there trying to figure out how to undo all the progress we’ve made. I’m a devout Episcopalian, by the way, and church is important to me; but I feel somewhat like an assimilated Jew in Germany in the early 1930s, who felt that they were safe and beyond harm.  There are young gay folk who talk about the world being “post-gay,” and it’s just not true. Not yet.

Hopefully, that day will come soon.  Lastly, you are so entrenched in arts and culture.  What impact do you think those have on us as people, and as a society?

That’s a loaded question.  Look, I’ve given my life to the Newark Museum. I believe in art and the power of art to transform lives.  My entire career has been dedicated to connecting people with objects; to telling stories that help people see the world in a slightly different way. I help people fall in love with the things I love. My non-fiction books have been part of my curatorial life; my novels are just another aspect of that story-telling instinct.

The books of Ulysses Grant Dietz can be found on Amazon, with more information on his publisher’s website.

Author photo courtesy of the Newark Museum. 

Cross-posted on Huffington Post and LGBTQ Nation.


ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Glenn Gaylord – Director of “I Do,” “Eating Out 3,” & Screenwriter of “Leave It On the Floor”

Throughout my life, I’ve met a great many people. Some stay, some go, some are remarkable, some not…  But one of the constants has been the unforgettable Glenn Gaylord, who I first met over 20 years ago when we both volunteered at AIDS Project Los Angeles.  He has charisma and wit to spare, and takes on each task, whether educating people about HIV or directing an actor in a laborious sex scene, with unbridled enthusiasm.

Glenn is a noted director, having helmed the new indie hit I Do, which is receiving accolades and awards at gay film festivals around the world, as well as the gay cult fave Eating Out 3: All You Can Eat.  Prior to I Do, Glenn wrote the screenplay and lyrics for the musical film Leave It On the Floor, which also received great acclaim, and is newly out on DVD.

Recently, Glenn took a break from his busy schedule to share with me more about his films, his life, and his views on the gay community.

Glenn, thanks for taking the time to chat!  First of all, congratulations on your new film, I Do, which I’m hearing great things about.  What can you tell us about it?

I Do is an intense romantic drama about a gay English man in New York who, despite wanting to stay to help raise his niece, faces an expired visa.  He marries his lesbian best friend, Ali, played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler of The Sopranos fame, but things get complicated fast when he meets and falls for a sexy Spaniard.  The film touches upon some very profound issues of our time, the Defense of Marriage Act, and how even though gay people can get married in certain states in this country, immigration is a federal right.  So even if a gay person legally marries someone, it doesn’t grant citizenship because of DOMA.  All told, despite its hot button topicality, this is the very human story about a man who has to decide who’s life he’s living. (more…)