I was touched by the positive messages I received last week addressing the comment made to me that my family was dysfunctional. So, thank you. Some of you asked whether I always knew I wanted to have a family. Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to be a dad, but I didn't think that was ever going to happen for me.
I came out 19 years ago. It was at a time when people were just trying to come to grips with HIV & AIDs, and I was surrounded by posters telling me (and others) that I couldn't get AIDs from sharing a water fountain. LGBT role models didn't exist. In fact, why would anyone want to be out? I had already been ridiculed for years, and as an immigrant who didn't speak English when I moved to North America, I didn't even realise the extent of what the homophobic rhetoric actually meant. Looking back, my ignorance was truly bliss.
So back to coming out. It was about 2am on a Saturday morning. I just came out to my best (girl) friend after watching My Best Friend's Wedding, drove home and woke my mother up; me in tears, saying I needed to talk. The tears were not about being gay. The tears were not about fears of HIV. The tears were not about being able to find love. The tears were because I had to accept I was never going to be able to be a dad. It wasn't legal at the time, but even if it was, I told myself I would never put a child through the pain of the bullying and hatred I faced just for being me.
I'm glad the world has changed. It is far from perfect, but it has come a long way. I'm now a single gay dad. I have the most amazing six year old son by way of adoption, and I consider myself blessed every day to be able to have this kid who thinks the world of me, as I do of him. I get to do all the amazing things that my straight counterparts do; my son and I play football, we go swimming, we have Xbox tournaments, we play superheroes, we bake double chocolate chip cookies, and we do movie and pizza nights. And yes, I also get the joys of trying to get him to eat his veggies, finish his homework, get to bed on-time (showered and teeth brushed), and convince him school is important and he can't spend all day playing Pokémon GO!
I'm still very much gay, but I'm a dad first. I don't think the things I do are "gay" dad things (OK, yes, the Spotify playlist that we dance to around the house may differ to my straight counterparts), they are just "dad" things. We're not an LGBT family; we are just a family. Mind you, if society says I need to be labelled a "gay" dad, does that mean all those other "dads" at the school gates who do the same things I do and who (I believe) are straight, should also be referred to "gay dads"?
The limited available statistics suggest that approximately 20,000 UK lesbian and gay couples are raising families, compared with 220,000 American lesbian and gay couples. These numbers do not include trans*, single or co-parenting LGBT individuals. So, I can only assume the numbers are higher. More impressively, some 6 million Americans report having at least one parent that identifies as LGBT. Having said that, it was only possible for same sex couples to start adopting in the UK in December 2005, while it took until March 2016 for it to become legal in all 50 states in the US. And did you know that same sex adoption is only legal in about 20% of the world's countries? Clearly, there is still a long way to go.
I'd like to share with you this video called Family is Love, which kicked off the #familyislove campaign by P3:Proud.Professional.Parents. I hope it will invite you to reconsider your notions of what makes up a family. I'm co-founder and co-chair of P3, a support and educational network for (predominantly) LGBT parents and prospective parents, but more and more, a support network for any parents whose family is non-conventional or non-traditional. Non-conventional or non-traditional does not make it any less of a family!
You can help support the #familyislove campaign by liking and tweeting the video, sharing it to Facebook and LinkedIn and in so doing, help challenge people's conceptions of family and who can be a parent. Follow P3:Proud.Professional.Parents. on twitter at @p3parents and at their website at www.thep3network.com.