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Family Values

Gay Charlotte parents and their children speak OUT

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* Names and other identifying information about this couple and the child they are raising have been changed.

Rory and Frank* had a fairytale meeting in New York City, at a gay bar Rory's mother had dragged him to because it was across the street from their hotel. When Frank left his F.A.O. Schwartz bag by his seat, Rory, at his mother's insistence, followed Frank out to return it. Outside the club, Rory and Frank exchanged phone numbers and they began dating, eventually moving in together."My mother still just thinks that men in New York really know show tunes," says Rory.

Eventually, both came out to their parents and family, and not quite four years ago held a commitment ceremony in the backyard of their Elizabeth home. While their dog howled from the bedroom, they clasped hands by the fishpond and exchanged rings, one of which each now wears on his right hand, before a Unitarian minister and gathered family and friends.

When both recently entered their forties, with good jobs and good salaries, they felt they had some options to consider with the arrival of a stable and happy early middle age. Both loved to travel, so expensive and carefree trips overseas were an option. So was a beach house. So was a chance for Rory to go back to school and follow his dream of becoming a social worker.

What they really wanted was a child.

While gays of past generations lacked today's gay-parent role models (from Rosie to the two mommies down the street), more and more gay people are aware of the option. Due to changing attitudes and opportunities in society, gays are now less prone to end up in a wrongheaded attempt at married heterosexuality, and are in greater and greater numbers raising children within a co-parenting relationship with a same-sex partner.

Early in their relationship, Rory and Frank made it clear to one another that becoming a parent was something each wanted to pursue. "We are both maternal," says Rory. "We recognized that part of us and were attracted to that part of us."

Rory and Frank chose overseas adoption because they felt its labyrinthine legalities better protected them from losing custody of a child. Baby Mark had been cared for in an Eastern Europe orphanage that was built to house 200 children but held 250. Instead of a tub bath, he was hosed down with a water wand, and was so fearful of water that Frank observed three orphanage workers having to hold Mark down for his "bath" as the child kicked and screamed. At 15 months, Mark could not walk. Quiet and thin, with large brown eyes and an observant gaze, he did not even register on the percentiles for height and weight for a child his age.

The day Mark was adopted, Rory says, was "the most emotional day of my life, the most emotional day of both our lives."

Rory and Frank were the first gay couple their social worker had ever worked with as adoptive parents. They were open with her about their parenting arrangement, and have been equally forthright with everyone else involved in Mark's welfare. They say they have had no negative experiences in revealing their couplehood to caregivers, doctors, or fellow church members.

"At some point we're going to have a negative experience," says Frank. "But the way we've approached this is, we just think people look at you, and think, "Well, these are normal people.' You make a conscious effort to go forward into whatever situation that you are in and to not show that you're ashamed in any way. There's always a point where you have to say, "I'm not going to hide anymore.' But while you should stand up for who you are, you also have to make a choice. What's more important? Making a stand, or my child?"

"Daycare people have been unanimously positive and accepting," adds Rory. "I think people in that position would have to love kids. And because of that, they see two people who are available to be good, loving parents. They know we offer a home to a child who otherwise never would have had one."

Accepting is one thing; truly making Frank and Rory's household dynamics part of what is taught at the daycare is another.

"We have had to ask them to please make sure that when they're saying "mom and dad,' or "mama and papa,' that they're saying "mama and mama' and "papa and papa,' too. Because that's the way it is for us, and we need to make sure that that world is represented to our son."

Some parents at the daycare were uncertain about the two men raising a child. There were stares and silences. But "it's progressed to where they now recognize that we are good parents. We've changed their opinion," says Rory.

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