I remember the exact moment when I stood sobbing behind three inches of glass at a crowded social security office in Nashville, Tennessee. One older man with his pants hiked to his midchest leaned nearby on a cinder block wall shaking his head. Another lady rolled her eyes and put her right hand over her eyebrows to avoid looking at me. It was too much for them to understand or even to share here, but a glitch in a birth certificate system that didn’t allow for two dads to be listed led the lady behind the glass to inform me that my son wouldn’t be able to get a social security card until he was 18. Now, we all know this is ludicrous, but it took a call to my Congressman to get it handled.
It was fixed within days, but I knew then that being a gay father was going to be a road filled with roadblocks. I also realized that my husband and I were the only allies and advocates our son had. Little did I know that three years later, my husband and I would receive a letter denying our son a visit to a preschool, because they viewed our “homosexual lifestyle” as counter to their institutional values. Marriage equality was bubbling at the federal level in 2015, and our family, who had just recently given birth to a baby girl, found ourselves at the center of a national conversation.
It was really easy to play the victim card at that point, but we had to make a stern decision. Either we start paving uncharted territory for our children or we continue to live the lives of second-class citizens. Our story is quite common. If you were to spend a few hours scrolling through our Gay Fathers Facebook group, you’d find story after story of fathers dealing with discrimination. Among the group’s nearly 10,000 members, you’ll also find action after action that gay fathers took to change the narrative.
While the list is long of all the things you can do to be your child’s biggest ally, here are a few core values in raising our children that our community has shared:
Create a community of safety
When it comes to having kids who have diverse families like ours, there’s no room for people who view your family as invalid. Some fathers have had to say goodbye to their own parents, siblings, and life-long friends because of the toxicity those people bring to their environment. I always tell my nine-year-old son and six-year-old daughter there are two types of family: our biological family and our chosen family. They control both of those and are empowered to create the sphere they feel most confident in. On the day of the George Floyd verdict, I remember my son talking about his two best friends’ parents, “Carter’s mom and Xander’s mom and dad love me. They will always accept me for who I am.” Our kids have to have a say in who we and they trust.
Seek out social mirrors
Many of our families are transracial. I have two Black children. When my white parents are out with my kids, they report how they are stared at by Black neighbors. I had to educate my own parents that we are viewed, rightfully so, as privileged to adopt a child that they feel should be in a household that looks like them. Many adopted Black children live in homes that inadvertently rob them of their cultural heritage and history. While gay fathers have many routes to parenthood, those who adopted must be deliberate in creating secure cultural zones for their children. We moved out of our dream home in a downtown neighborhood for an area of town that demographically made our children the majority. We sought out families who would celebrate our children’s culture as their own. This isn’t something to be praised. It’s something that you have to do as a true ally for your child.
Nurture uncomfortable honesty
Six-year-old little girls ask the boldest things. My daughter can make a hardened human blush with some of her questions. Fortunately, there are no taboos in our family and every question is answered honestly and age-appropriately. Children with gay parents are going to have questions that straight parents won’t get. We also get the same questions our straight friends get.
My daughter loves asking about every step of how her Daddy and I fell in love. She cherishes the stories and retells them to her friends with pride. That honesty has led to when we have lunch with our kids at their school, their friends want to sit with us. We often hear, “I sure wish I had two dads, too.” Our transparency and honesty has given our children the confidence to own and celebrate their stories.
Map out your values and pathway to create a culture of allyship with your children that will create a bond that will last a lifetime.
Brian Copeland is the founder of the largest Facebook community of Gay Fathers globally. The Facebook group of nearly 10,000 members provides support, advice and resources with one another every day. Brian is a real estate broker in Nashville and is married to Greg, a pastor of a local affirming congregation. They live on a mini-farm with their two children, five dogs, twelve goats, two cows, three alpacas, and more chickens than they can count.