Our Heroes

BY Mubarak Dahir

September 11 2011 4:00 AM ET

David Charlebois XLRG (DO NOT USE) | ADVOCATE.COMThe Brandhorst-Gamboa family
Los Angeles

The dads and their adopted toddler were returning from an annual trip to P-town.

When J.B. Campise remembers his friends Ronald Gamboa and Dan Brandhorst, he conjures up the images of a blue Miata convertible, towel-wrapped heads, dark sunglasses, a pack of cigarettes, and a box of strong mints.

It was 1995, and the three men had moved together from the New York City area to Los Angeles. Gamboa had just gotten the Miata, and “he loved to tool around in it with the top down,” Campise says. Gamboa and Campise would wrap their heads in towels, don dark sunglasses, and drive around while taking long drags on strong cigarettes. “We thought we were so Hollywood,” Campise says, laughing at the memory.

But Brandhorst hated when his partner smoked, so before the night was over Gamboa would stuff his mouth with breath mints to cover up the smell. “Dan was the more serious, methodical, and restrained one,” Campise says. “Ron was the whimsical, flamboyant one.”

Visually, they stood out as opposites too, he notes. Gamboa, who was born in the Philippines but came to the United States when he was merely 6 weeks old, was petite. Brandhorst, on the other hand, towered over Gamboa at 6 foot 2.

“Dan and Ron were two opposites who complemented each other in many ways,” Campise says.
Gamboa, 33, who managed three Gap stores in Santa Monica, and Brandhorst, 42, a lawyer and partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers, had been together 14 years when their hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 plowed into the south tower of the World Trade Center, killing them and their 3-year-old adopted son, David. The family was returning to their Hollywood hills home from their annual trip to Prov­incetown, Mass.

“They were such devoted fathers,” remembers friend Danny Levy, a 39-year-old graphic artist in West Hollywood who originally met the couple during a gay ski week in Aspen, Colo., five years ago. “They loved to dress David in the cutest outfits.”

The family was active in a monthly potluck social for gay dads, dubbed the Pop Luck Group. When Levy mentioned he was thinking about adopting too, Gamboa and Brandhorst introduced him to the brunch gatherings. “Dan thought it’d be good for me to see there were all these other gay fathers,” Levy says. “Ron thought maybe I could meet a cute single gay dad.”

Levy is now in the process of adopting a child himself and credits Gamboa and Brandhorst as his mentors. “Seeing them with David was such a big influence on helping me make this decision,” he says. “They didn’t slink away to suburbia or shelter their child from the gay world. They showed me I could raise my child in my own community.”