Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate and affirm family. Too many LGBTQ kids have been rejected by their families of origin. But they have a family in the community, represented by the dads of Stonewall Community Foundation’s Dad Fund.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, mostly because it is a day for my large extended family to be together. When I was a kid this meant that the Vermonters, who saw each other regularly, would be joined by relatives who were spread across the Eastern Seaboard. I can’t think of a Thanksgiving where fewer than three generations were together. We would gather at my grandparents house, known as the “meadow house,” in central Vermont, or at the house of another relative. We would dress in church clothes, play Handel’s Messiah, eat a lot of food, go for a long walk – ideally there would be snow by then – and then play charades or cards into the night. Thanksgiving was an opportunity for us all to formally affirm that we were a family, that a central purpose in our being was to love, nurture, and celebrate each other. And to give thanks for that. I basked in that love every year – coming out as a teenager made no difference, and I brought several boyfriends to dinner over the years.
I have a family of my own now, and I am grateful for them every day. My husband and I – together for 12 years, married for 7 – surmounted a lot of challenges and heartbreak to bring kids into our home. We have a daughter, Matilde, adopted in Wyoming, and a son, Giuseppe, adopted in Pennsylvania.
Having kids means that family is no longer something that culminates with me – I am now the caregiver as well as the cared for. I am a link in a generational chain that started before I was born and will continue long after I’m gone. That offers an incredible sense of security and love – something I, my husband, kids, and other relatives will joyfully celebrate with food and music on November 26.
As I give thanks for my family, I know that there are thousands of kids in New York City who either have no family, or whose families do not celebrate them. There are between 4,000 and 8,000 homeless youth in New York this year – it’s a number that is tragically difficult to pin down. An estimated 40 percent of these kids are LGBTQ. LGBTQ kids are said to be 8 times more likely to experience homelessness, where they are at considerable risk from the moment they arrive on the street. LGBTQ kids are at a significantly higher risk of suicide, drug use, of being forced into sex work, and of getting lost in the justice system. These are kids whose families rejected them, who actually forced them out of their home for being queer or questioning. Many thousands more LGBTQ kids are still at home, hiding their identities from their families in order to stay, living a lie or being abused because of who they are. They might be at home, but they aren’t getting love.
Fortunately, these kids, though in real danger, have organizations that help them. New York has some of the best services for runaway and troubled youth in the country – even though it is not anywhere near enough. Drop-in shelters such as Ali Forney offer a wide range of services from health care to beds. Streetwise and Safe runs know-your-rights workshops for fabulous youth who routinely get harassed by cops. Peter Cicchino Youth Project offers legal services to LGBTQ homeless youth, helping them access public services. Hetrick-Martin, the LGBT Community Center, Green Chimneys and other organizations are there every day making sure kids – our kids, the most vulnerable of LGBTQ community’s next generation – are safe.
Last Father’s Day I was reflecting on being a dad and living in a city with such disparity between such as my own who are safe and loved, and those on the streets or in hostile homes. I’m a dad to my kids, but I’m also a gay adult in a community that sees LGBTQ kids as our kids. Doesn’t that make me a dad to those kids? Thinking this, I checked in with other gay dad families and posed the idea of a collective fund to raise money for organizations that care for our community’s kids. With an enthusiastic response, and support from the folks at Stonewall Community Foundation – a key vehicle for our community to care for itself – we set up The Dad Fund. Members commit to donating a minimum of $20 a month to the fund, which Stonewall can use to respond to community needs, and which the dads can also collectively direct to projects they identify as needed for our youth. It’s a community of gay dads mobilizing for our community’s kids.
In addition to the financial support, the Dad Fund intends to make our presence known in the community – to let kids know that there are gay men (trans and cisgender) who care about them as dads. Let’s face it – dads in American society aren’t necessarily thought of as the nurturing parent, and gay men working with kids still face prejudice. We gay dads know that the stereotypes aren’t accurate, and we’re living that truth openly. The Dad Fund wants LGBTQ kids to know that not only are there people and organizations to support them, there are dads who see them and care about them and want to help them. We know the dads they started with aren’t there – so we’re taking up the job. That’s what family does.