It seems only like yesterday when our sons arrived in our home.
Justin was a small, frightened, and confused 11-month old toddler when we brought him home. This was on a Friday, after having met with his foster care mother for only three hours over a three-day period.
Zachary arrived in our home three years later, a shy 21-month-old with a love of McDonald’s French fries. Zack had spent many hours with us before his actual move, so Justin and Zack bonded very quickly—and our family was complete.
In those early days of the 1980s, there were no gay family reference books, thriving LGBT parenting support groups, or other helpful hints to raising kids in a gay-headed household. For me, it was like creating a new recipe—my life partner Michael Elsasser and I took our own family experiences, read straight parenting reference books, and talked to those we trusted for advice. Luckily for us, our good friends and role models, Dr. Billy Jones and his life partner, Lewis Duckett , had adopted a wonderful baby boy two years earlier, thus making them the go-to gay support family.
Life with our boys in the LGBT community was not simple. Most gay establishments were not child-friendly. Gay restaurants were un-welcoming, and public events, such as the pride festival, were not at times the most suitable place for young children.
I remember our first pride march with Center Kids, the family project of the LGBT Community Center. It was wonderful being with many other LGBT families, even though Heritage of Pride placed the parenting groups in the back of the parade. Our kids made new friends with those who shared the same parenting situation. Michael and I bonded with many parents that day—they are people we remain very close to today.
As the boys entered school, we all faced what would become a constant in our lives—explaining our family to the hundreds of straight families we met. Whether it was at a PTA meeting, a playground, at summer camp, or on vacations, straight families who for the first time met an openly gay-headed household always asked the same old questions. Michael and I always found it interesting how heterosexuals would broach the topic of whether we were gay and how we lived our lives.
In retrospect, I have to smile at those many experiences, but life during those times was sometimes filled with major stress. Michael and I were always determined to support and protect our kids from homophobia and racism in their school life and extra-curricular activities.
In the early 1990s, our family alongside many other New York City families, fought in support of the “Children of the Rainbow – 1st grade multicultural curriculum teachers’ reference guide” in the public schools. In debating the religious right, we were confronted with some of the most ridiculous and homophobic arguments. Were gays adopting children as a means of recruiting? Were gays child molesters? Were gay men and lesbians selfish in attempting to adopt, thereby denying children of “normal” homes?
Certainly these kinds of comments, questions, and as often as not accusations were hurtful, but we remained resolute that religious zealots were not going to determine the destiny of our family. Our day-to-day life in the classrooms, supermarkets, playgrounds, and everywhere else we spent time together were part of our family lives. Having other families over for dinner or for play dates was our norm. We were your typical American family, no different than any other caring and loving family.
Today, Zachary is 17 years old and a junior in high school preparing for his SATs. Justin is completing his sophomore year in college in upstate New York. And just like any parent, I ask where did the time go?
Our family spent many hours talking about being good citizens; exploring current events; attending school activities; and engaging in sports. The things we talked about every night at home involved the same topics, the same anxieties, and the same pleasures being discussed in other homes throughout America.
This is the life that I have shared with my life partner, Michael, and our boys, Justin and Zack, as loving spouses and as loving fathers and sons.