Toronto
3 min

Bringing up babies

Coming out can co-exist with parenting

GAYBY HIMSELF. Program designer Chris Veldnoven's two gay dads have been together for 28 years. Credit: Dean Tomlinson

The combination of gay men and childrearing isn’t oxymoronic anymore.



Or it shouldn’t be.



“For a lot of men when they come out they assume it means they have to give up the opportunity to have kids,” says Rachel Epstein, coordinator of Toronto’s Lesbian Gay Bi And Trans Parenting Network. She’s helping launch North America’s first-ever parenting course for gay men next month.



Aimed at gay men who want to rear children, Daddies And Papas 2B is intended as a step towards normalizing the concept of gay families and erasing internalized homophobia associated with gay men and children, says Epstein. She’s worked with The 519’s family support worker Rebecca Gower to develop the course.



“Really the options, as we see them for gay men, consist of co-parenting either with lesbians or other women, adoption or surrogacy,” Epstein says. “We want to give people lots of really practical information about what’s involved in each of those choices.”



Aside from providing information and family planning strategies, Epstein hopes the course will help to dispel some of the assump- tions that have in the past discouraged gay men from developing their own families.



“The whole idea of gay and lesbian parenting really gets people’s backs up,” she says. “Even more than same-sex benefits or gay marriage.



“People are worried that kids [from gay families] will grow up with inappropriate gender identities…. And there are fears that the kids will be ostracized. That it’s not fair to put kids into this position because they’ll get teased so much by their peers.”



Or worse, there is a misconception that, “gay men will be child abusers and always sexually motivated. Basically too busy having sex to think about parenting kids.”



Those arguments are based in homophobia, she says. Telling gay people not to have kids because of their minority status is just as bad.



“It’s like saying that any group that experiences social or systemic discrimination shouldn’t have kids. Black people shouldn’t have kids because of racism, Jews shouldn’t have kids because of anti-Semitism, or people with disabilities because of disabilism,” she says.



Chris Veldhoven was recently hired as the course designer and facilitator. He says gay men are becoming increasingly interested in raising children, a phenomenon he refers to as the gabyboom. He has two gay dads himself – when his father and mother split up, his father began a relationship with another man which has lasted for 28 years.



With Daddies And Papas 2B, he aims to create a supportive atmosphere where practical information is presented and then personalized.



“We’ll look at private adoption and public adoption, what’s going on in international areas of adoption for gay people,” he says. “We’ll also look at surrogacy and other options such as foster parenting and mentorship,” he says. “Most people don’t have access to this knowledge yet, especially as gay men.”



According to the Children’s Aid Society Of Toronto, the number of children placed in same-sex family situations has been increasing steadily, though the numbers are still low.



“In 2002 we placed nine children with same-sex couples,” says Wilma Burke, supervisor in adoption services at the society.



Burke says that children placed in same-sex households tend to do as well or better than those placed with heterosexual families.



“Most of the reports say that children raised in same-sex families do quite well,” she says. “There is no correlation between children placed with gay men and abuse.”



Martin Bourgeois says he wishes there was a program of this kind available when he started his family.



“I answered a personal ad from Xtra 12 years ago and met my co-parent,” says Bourgeois. “At the time there were no resources available to gay men considering fatherhood.



“As a gay father, I have been forced and encouraged to be part of the straight world through my kids,” he says.



“It is so important to feel solidarity in our community and at times as a gay father I have felt on the outside of both worlds: the gay and straight worlds,” he says. “The course will create new relationships for gay men with a common goal.



“Many gay men do not realize that they can adopt children. They give in to the homophobia and discrimination out there. A course [on parenting for gay men] will clarify these issues for them,” says Bourgeois.



* Daddies And Papas 2B runs from Thu, Apr 9 to May 2 at the 519 Community Centre (519 Church St); registration is $60. For more information call Rebecca Gower at (416) 392-6878 ext 109 or Rachel Epstein at (416) 595-0307 ex 270.