Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Complicated Role of Being a Same-Sex Stepparent

From my blog on
I still remember my partner’s tentative steps around my children when our relationship moved from a brief flirtation to becoming significant in both our lives. Not wanting to have children of his own initially, he suddenly found himself in relationship, complete with home ownership and two children. Within a few years, we were joined by a dog. Then another dog.  Welcome to a modern version of the American family.
Dean assumed the role and function of a stepparent, whether he wanted to admit it or not. Being with me meant that he had to be with my children, since my former wife and I shared joint physical custody. With feet dragging at times, always quick to clarify that any hard decisions over the children’s lives were to be decided by the children’s mom and me with no input from him, and quick to let me discipline them rather than stepping in and doing that work, he reluctantly has become and is now a significant parent figure in their lives as well.
Since he didn’t want to be “Uncle Dean” or “Dad 2” or “Pops,” the children went through a long list of names of what to call him, almost relegating him to being their “gay nanny,” a name said with tongue-in-cheek. Finally, he has simply come to be called “Dean.” And they love him with the affection shown to a parent, and he loves them as if they were his own children.
Read more on:

Thank you for voting! My Thanksgiving Note!

From my blogsite on
This year I’ve thrown myself into two political campaigns, with a kind of intensity I usually reserve for my own writing, religious non-profit, family, ministry, teaching, and consulting.
The first political campaign was the Amendment One campaign in North Carolina. This ended with the side I was supporting losing our campaign. (Amendment One was against marriage equality.) In the second campaign — the presidential campaign — the side I was supporting won the campaign. (Though NC voted for a Republican governor and General Assembly.)
The difference between losing and winning a campaign is breathtakingly huge. Regardless of the results, I invested a lot of time, talent, and energy into the campaigns because I knew what I was campaigning for: the rights of individuals to marry or be in a domestic partnership if they wanted to, whether they were in a same-sex or straight relationship, with or without children.
In each campaign, I did whatever the campaign managers asked me to do.  Some felt the draw of canvassing and enjoyed going door to door, meeting people with campaign literature, and others participated in registering voters. I opted to make cold phone calls to complete strangers, asking them who or what issue they were voting for, and when had they decided to vote. Early voting is allowed in NC, and the way early voters go helps a campaign determine how it is faring in the state before election day.
Read more on:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Penguins R Us!

From my post on

My first (but not last) tattoo on my right shoulder is a picture of three penguins in a cameo-like pose. The three penguins are at different heights, with the tallest penguin labeled “Dad,” and the other two penguins representing my two children.
I thought long and hard about my first tattoo, and wanted it to represent my family at the time. I could totally relate to the concept of a doting dad penguin since, like the dad penguin (and unlike other dads in the animal kingdom), I was a full-time, hands-on dad. I was enthralled with the doting actions of the dad penguins in the documentary “March of the Penguins,” and came to understand that my paternal feelings were, well, natural. When I explain the meaning of my tattoo, I invariably draw a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” from admirers over the specialness of my penguin tattoo.
Soon after I got my tattoo, the story of the gay male penguins in the Bronx Zoo exploded across the pages of the newspaper. People were captivated by the idea that two male penguins would not only mate for life, but that they would raise a baby penguin from an egg to adolescent life. This story was captured in the children’s story, “And Tango Makes Three,” where two chinstrap penguins caring for an adopted egg.
Read more on:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thank Goodness for Honey Boo Boo's Uncle Poodle!

From my column
The first time I heard the name of the reality television show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” on the TLC cable channel was after this summer’s political conventions, in which “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” received more viewers than either presidential candidate’s address to the nation. Sad, right?
“Honey Boo Boo,” otherwise known as Alana Thompson, received her own television show after being discovered on the other hit TLC television show “Toddlers and Tiaras.” This small, blonde, and curly-haired little girl, with more than her share of attitude, comes from a part of the country that some people affectionately refer to as “redneck,” not that there is anything wrong with that. Her show usually captures Honey Boo Boo making some humorous, and often insightful, comments about daily life in the sleepy town of Milledgeville, Georgia, as she interacts with immediate and extended family members and friends.
Read more on:

Same Sex Marriage Around the World

From my column on
On Tuesday, October 23, demonstrators gathered throughout France to oppose a bill that would allow same-sex marriage and adoption of children by same-sex couples. The French, like many people here in the United States, are struggling with the issue of same-sex marriage, otherwise known as marriage equality. In front of one crowd who opposed same-sex marriage in France, two women kiss one another, holding each other carefully and with love, in front of the shocked protestors surrounding them. It is a beautiful picture, made even more magnificent as it was two young women who are straight who were kissing, but who wanted to draw attention to the issue with a gesture of solidarity.
We in the United States — especially the citizens of Maryland, Washington State, Maine, and Minnesota lately — struggle with the issue of same-sex marriage. Being given the option of being married in the eyes of our children, our extended families, our neighbors, our friends, our community, our state, and our country, matters. The ritual of a wedding and an actual marriage — for better or for worse — draws lines of demarcation that lets a couple and a family know, officially, who we are, who we interact with daily, and establishes what relationships we hold closest to our hearts, minds, and bodies. In other words, a marriage will have an impact upon not only of those who are wedded, but also upon the children in our families. Marriage helps our children know not only what to call us, but gives them a sense of security of knowing that we are, some how or other, related to one another.
Amid the protests and rallies here and abroad that arise as we slowly move towards marriage equality, it is helpful to see how same-sex marriages have “worked out” in different countries around the world. In a sense, we may get a glimpse of how our country will look once all states allow same-sex marriage.
Read more on:

Don't Touch the Birth Certificate!

From my column on
I never thought much about birth certificates in life until this year. My earliest memory of needing a birth certificate came when I applied for my first passport. I remember getting my daughter’s birth certificate recorded in myriad places in London, England, where she was born. My son’s birth certificate was issued from Florida where he was born. I need their birth certificates during their teenage years in order for them to get their driver’s licenses in North Carolina. Birth certificates simply verify what all of us already know: that you are born in a certain time and date, by particular parents, at a hospital or home in town, city, state, province, and country.
Birth certificate-as-political-football did not come to my mind until the election of President Barack Obama. President Obama’s birth certificate from Honolulu, Hawaii has created a lot of news and commotion.
Read more on:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Perfectly Normal

From my Q Notes/, column "On Being a Gay Parent":
“Gay and Lesbian Parents are Perfectly Average,” screamed the headline on In an article by Katie McDonough, the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (another social scientific study) reported that “’high-risk’ children adopted from foster care do just as well when matched with gay, lesbian, or straight parents.” To summarize, 60 foster children were placed with straight parents, and 22 with gay or lesbian parents. At the second year evaluation, there was little difference between the cognitive growth and any behavior or social problems were stabilized (, Oct. 19). According to this report, what was unusual was that lesbian and gay parents were more prone to adopt children with “heightened risk factors — such as premature birth, prenatal substance abuse or repeat placements in foster care.” The conclusion of this report? Gay and lesbian parents are “ordinary parents.”
Every time I read a report like this, I simply smile. The purpose of social science study is to take something that seems ordinary and common sense and see how common it is, or determine why it is ordinary. Both those who are pro-LGBTQ parenting and those who are anti-LGBTQ parenting use these articles to prove a point or establish social policy. If memory serves me correctly, I believe that most of the studies seem to come the same conclusion: LGBTQ parents are pretty “normal,” just like the “gold standard” of parenting: straight parents. However, having been raised by straight parents in middle-class America, I can point to anecdotal experience, along with enough Lifetime movies, family system theory case studies and other social scientific evidence that makes any impartial observer question such a rating.
Like many other dads and moms who had their children while being in a heterosexual marriage, I would have to say I have been a better dad out of the closet than when I was in the closet. There were some family members along with friends who cautioned me about being out, warning me about what hardship I would put upon my children as an out gay dad in a southern city. Living truthfully means that I can be a more honest, and thus more earnest, parent. Throughout my children’s growing and turbulent teenage years I was free to ask them about what was going on in their life because I was living more honestly and openly. As a former special educator, it is my hunch that the reason some out-LGBTQ parents do so well as parents of foster-care children, or with children living with behavioral or social disabilities, is because these children are in the presence of those who have had their very mettle tested in simply coming and being an out LGBTQ parent. There is something about being in the company of those who have been stigmatized in life, branded as an “outsider,” marginalized, where others who have been ostracized feel comfort and a sense of belonging. I’ve witnessed a unique kind of love among friends who are gay or lesbian foster-parents with their children, or parents who have adopted children with disabilities. While the possible rants and tirades of a child who may not know how to love or accept the love of another person initially would scare many others, I have watched as a gay dad or lesbian mom simply waited until the storm was over, never leaving the side of a child in pain, always there to apply the medicine of a healing touch of love. Such is the care and love of a perfectly normal parent. : :

How a Neighborhood Coffee Shop Became a Safe Zone for Same-Sex Parents and Our Children

From my blog site:

I am writing this from one of my favorite coffee shops, Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I like coming here to write in the afternoons after spending some solitude in my writing studio in the morning hours. The food here is delicious, with wraps and pizzas, soups and salads that are a delight to the palette. The coffee and tea choices, along with wines and beers, are simply divine. And don’t get me going on the desserts, my weakness: chocolate whopper cookies with chunks of chocolate and walnuts, alongside coconut cake and berry pies to die for.
A couple of young women, true entrepreneurs from a nearby town, dole out peanut brittle samples in handfuls. Needless to say, this place satiates my gustatory needs, and then some. The yellow walls and high ceiling, with Martha Stewart kitsch d├ęcor, offset by all the Carolina light blue t-shirts and caps, gives Foster’s a homey country feel in a university town. (This is, after all, home to the University of North Carolina.)
As a writer, I’m always watching people, listening in on their conversations (hopefully without their knowing it), looking for fodder for more blog entries and writing projects. I smile as I notice people laughing together over a silly joke across the restaurant, while I watch dramatic news being shared among several generations of family members next to my table. A young child runs loose, with a lesbian mom in hot pursuit, while African American students hover over their laptops, working on term papers with a mocha latte within arms reach. There is an Indian American grandparent carrying a grandchild in her arms, while a young straight college-aged couple look adoringly in each other’s eyes over a pizza.
Read more on:

Why Don’t Same-Sex Couples Have the Same Work Benefits as Traditional Couples?

From my column in

In North Carolina, I live in land of inequality. Straight couples and their children have advantages that same-sex couples do not. For example, all public or governmental state-funded positions — from the person who works in a secretarial position to a senior university professor, the state police trooper to all elected officials — in which a person works full-time and receives a benefit package (salary, health care, and retirement benefits), there is a difference in terms of who may be covered under the health care and retirement benefits plans. For a straight couple and family, the other family members’ health care — including children — may be covered, and the retirement benefits can be shared between spouses. Such is not the case for same-sex couples and our children.
I know this from personal experience, as my partner and I are both public employees. My partner and I have our own individual paychecks, separate health benefit plans, and individual retirement programs, which cannot be shared between us. And when one of us dies, neither of us will get the other person’s social security benefits (when we reach that proverbial old age), nor can we continue to share in the pension plan we are each on individually. In an ironic twist, my partner — in his role in the university where he works — is responsible for signing off on a health care plan for graduate students who are in same sex relationships. While the state of North Carolina already had its own Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), stipulating that marriage is between a man and a woman, this inequality was further buttressed by the recent amendment of the state constitution of North Carolina that states the same condition: marriage is between a man and a woman. Any other kind of domestic relationship — common law marriage or straight domestic partnership — mean nothing legally in North Carolina.
Read more: