A Strategy to Change Minds: Focus on the Gay Family
Neither of them knew much about the future, but it looked
bright when Jay Foxworthy and Bryan Leffew decided to register as civil
partners in the state of California. It was Leffew’s birthday that clear night in
1998, and Foxworthy took him out for a night on the town, under the starlight,
as two people in love do in San Francisco.
The following morning at breakfast, Foxworthy officially
proposed with a birthday card slipped across a tiny table inside an IHOP
restaurant. “I was not expecting it, so I cried, which made our waitress worry,”
Right then and there, beside a wide selection of eggs and
pancakes, they felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. The only thing
that stood in their way was a quick trip to the city clerk’s window where they
would sign a white piece of paper. “I felt like I was married even before we
signed,” Leffew said. “And I didn’t give a damn what anybody else thought about
the legality of it.”
Today, stories like these of two people invariably in love and
now raising children are helping to fight against discrimination and hate
through home videos posted on their YouTube channel, "Gay Family Values." And
with a little help from Jaye Bird Productions, those same videos and values
will make their silver screen debut in 2012 in a feature-length documentary, The
Right To Love: An American Family.
“We hope the film can help people see the issue of marriage
equality and same-sex families in a new light,” they wrote about the project in
response to questions from The Advocate.
“It’s so easy to only think of these issues as ideas or concepts that you agree
or disagree with. It turns into something else when you know these are matters
of life and love for real people who have names. You probably know many of
Watch a trailer below and follow some of the moments from their videos on the following pages.
Things As They Are, Things As They Could Be
Two years after Foxworthy and Leffew took children Selena
and David into their home, they decided to leave their civil union for more
equal green pastures — marriage. Luckily, they decided just before a certain
2008 referendum would throw California’s marriage equality rights into the
hands of voters who found it difficult to breathe the same legal air as the gay
“Literally the moment that President Obama was giving his
victory speech about how the promise of the civil rights movement had come to
fruition — with flags flying in the background and throngs of tearful onlookers
— the ticker tape feed was announcing that Prop 8 had passed,” Leffew said.
Like most members of the LGBT community then, Foxworthy and
Leffew were shocked. They couldn’t believe that their state, one of the most
gay-friendly in the U.S., saw same-sex marriage unworthy of equal protection
under California law. (It was also the first time that the California
constitution was used to strip away rights.) They sighed. In truth, they cried,
too, as if they had swallowed hope. They cried those furious tears of defeat
even though they were one of the 18,000 couples the California Supreme Court
allowed to remain married.
Moving Into Action
The next morning, after the shoulders of California’s history
drooped, they started to wonder about why the “Prop 8” side refused to show gay
couples and gay families on television or in print. “We were the ones being
impacted by the law and it seemed as if the Prop 8 proponents were scared to
push away moderate voters by showing living, breathing LGBT people,” they wrote.
“We had initially hoped that Californians would see through the scare tactics
of groups like the National Organization for Marriage” and their “gays are
coming for your kids” tripe.
But the majority of concerned, pro-traditional family
proponents like NOM, the Mormon Church and Focus on the Family certainly
didn’t. So in protest, Foxworthy and Leffew pulled out their digital camera and
made a YouTube video that showed how ballot initiates impacted families like
theirs. “We wanted to dispel myths and fears about the LGBT community by giving
the world a window into our family, and now, three years and 269 videos later,
we are still doing it,” says Leffew. “All of it was essentially done in
response to the passage of Prop 8.”
Reality Sets In
It’s one thing to want a family and another when you actually
bring children home for the first time.
“You will second guess everything you were so sure you could
handle before,” said Leffew, who is the stay-at-home parent. “I had never
learned how to cook, and now here I was, responsible for the nutritional needs
of a 5 year-old-boy and his baby sister.”
Leffew had to learn fast, and he was scared to death that he
wasn’t doing it right.
“I worried that they would not accept us as parents and that
we would always be second in their mind to their biological parents.”
Thankfully, none of his worries became reality. “Every day that went by found
us more and more able to handle what came our way, even the emotional stuff.”
But the couple still inherits those tough and terrified
prophesies that come from the heterosexist voice and worldview. “But hopefully,
by seeing our lives, those who hold homophobic views will gain a different and
more informed perspective on same-sex families, marriage equality and gay
rights in general,” they wrote optimistically.
The Adoption Process
Not surprisingly, the question most often posed to Foxworthy
and Leffew is about the logistics of gay adoption. In these delicate days,
divided as they are, there is little guidance out there for gay couples looking
to build a family. “You are really on your own to figure it out and every state
has different rules,” they wrote.
Foxworthy and Leffew decided several years after their civil
union, in 2006, that they wanted to adopt children after one of Foxworthy’s
coworkers (he works in law enforcement) directed them to True To Life Children’s
Services, a private, gay-friendly adoption agency in Sonoma County. “TLC
treated us like gold, and they walked with us through the entire process,” he
Once they were registered for fost-adopt, they began the
process of leafing through piles of books that contained thousands of profiles
of children available for adoption in California. The agency, soon thereafter,
was contacted by the social workers of two biological siblings named Daniel and
Selena. “I was staggered by the number of kids that I had seen in those books,”
Leffew says. “Daniel’s profile initially scared me a bit because they made his
medical records sound much worse than they were.”
Daniel was taken into state custody due to the drug use and
criminal history of his parents. “Daniel’s mother had lost all legal rights to
any child she might have in the future, including Selena,” Leffew said. “So,
both Selena and Daniel were placed in foster care until a suitable adoptive
family could be found.”
That suitable adoptive family turned out to be Foxworthy and
Leffew. “It was love at first sight for all of us,” the couple exclaims.
“Daniel was barely 5 then and Selena was just over 1 year old.”