On this Father’s Day, I want to share my personal story of how I became a dad, and how this decision has been the catalyst for my role in civic engagement. I grew up in a conservative, small community in New Mexico during the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton era. Politics was something we didn’t talk about at the dinner table, and more importance was placed on whether or not one was at church on Sunday morning. When I knew I was gay, I immediately believed that my life’s opportunities would be severely limited…until my family moved to Phoenix and I saw a large city full of possibilities. But would these opportunities be there for someone like me? When I was in my early 20s, I didn’t think that marriage, fatherhood, and civic leadership was available to me. This changed when I was 26 and Barack Obama was elected. This man filled me with such hope because he promised to advocate for a world in which someone like me could have a shot at the American Dream. Prior to this moment, I had never been deeply invested in voting, state and local politics, or the important role that everyday leaders play in the shaping of our communities.
David and I had been together for over two years at this point when we decided to get married. However, we couldn’t do it legally because the state of Arizona prohibited us, and so we had an unofficial commitment ceremony in 2009 with many friends and family. In 2011, David and I made the decision to expand our family through adoption. We had previously thought that expensive and alternative paths were our only choices until we learned that there are over 13,000 kids in the state foster and adoptive system in Arizona. We knew that adopting from our state was the only option and would help this crisis and reduce this number. When we went to our adoption orientation class with DES, we discovered how many barriers exist for families like mine to expand. We learned that only one of us could legally adopt. We learned that there is a preferred order for which homes are deemed “qualified” and same-sex couples are at the bottom. We learned that many agencies didn’t work with “people like me” when having to select one to work with. We learned that it was difficult to complete paperwork because there were only lines for “father” and “mother.” We learned that the fate of our adoption was in the hope that we were assigned a judge who supported us. We learned that DES will remove kids we’ve bonded with if they find a more “qualified” home. Essentially, we learned that Arizona was not on our side and that we could never alleviate the child welfare crisis if we intentionally create barriers that prevent kids from being placed in loving homes.
During our adoption I was on the Board of Directors for Equality Arizona, which was on the front lines, fighting for marriage equality. David and I had agreed that I would be listed as the adoptive parent, while he would be certified as my “roommate.” This broke my heart because I knew he would be the one who worked from home and would play a key role in our daughters’ transition. On the day of our final adoption hearing, the judge pulled David and me aside and said, “I know this is a happy day for you, but you need to protect your family. If something happens to Kevin, David doesn’t automatically get the girls because he’s not their legal parent. You have to sue the state of Arizona for marriage equality.” Within a few months, David and I found ourselves as plaintiffs in the case that successfully overturned the marriage ban and allowed same-sex couples to marry. While this was significant progress, we still had the issue of protecting our family and removing barriers the state created. Arizona’s Children Association was the agency that helped us navigate every turn and every hurdle. In a meeting over coffee at a local spot, my friends Catherine Alonzo, Nate Rhoton, and I created the idea of Project Jigsaw. We envisioned a campaign that sought to educate all families on the process to foster and adopt, to provide resources for key relationships – schools, physicians, and businesses – who support LGBTQ families, and to advocate at the state level for policy change to support these families.
Throughout my experience of advocating for families, children, and equality for the last several years, my two beautiful daughters have taught me what’s worth fighting for. They have taught me that everyday leadership wins the battles in our communities. And while I’ve previously believed change happens at the national and state levels, I’ve learned true change happens at the ground levels of local government.
With that, I will end this long and sappy Father’s Day post. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s out there fighting for their children’s opportunity to live happy and safe lives. Never forget how much you mean to your children and your community.