By Dan Avery
Originally published on Advocate.com June 04 2008 12:00 AM ET
We’re always skeptical about reality shows that promise to change perceptions, but unlike The Real World,Trading Spouses,Amish in the City, et al, FX’s 30 Days tends to take the high road. Produced and narrated by Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock, the series has brought an unemployed programmer to his outsourced job in Bangalore, a pro-choice woman to an anti-abortion clinic, and a straight Christian into the heart of the Castro. Partners Dennis and Thomas Patrick must have had a good feeling about the show too: For the June 24 episode, “Same Sex Parenting,” they invited Kati, a 40-something straight mom who thinks gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to have kids, to come live with them and their four adopted sons -- for an entire month. Were eyes opened and fences mended -- or did the two sides drift even further apart? To find out, The Advocate contacted Dennis and Thomas, who spoke to us from their Ypsilanti, Mich., home.
What possessed you to get involved with the show?Dennis: Well, they came to us -- they must have found an interview I did online. We didn’t have a burning desire to be on reality TV, but I thought it was a real opportunity to make a difference. I said if someone stayed with us for just one day, they would see how loving our family is. And we thought we could get more gays to think about adopting or fostering children. There are 500,000 kids in foster care and 110,000 waiting to be adopted.
Thomas: I was more reluctant. It seemed like one more intrusion in our lives. It was the end of summer and school was starting up. [Laughs] But Dennis kind of blackmailed me into it.
Dennis: I told Tom if we didn’t do it, I was gonna be really depressed and no fun to be around.
Your sons are all fairly young. Were you concerned about bringing someone into the house who might antagonize them?Dennis: Well, all we knew was this was someone was who was opposed to gay adoption -- we weren’t sure what she'd say. But the kids understand there are people who don’t think we should be a family. She couldn’t say anything we hadn’t all heard before.
Thomas: I talked to the producers about my concerns, and they explained it would all be monitored and that the kids would be OK and adult conversations would take place in another room away from the boys.
Aside from the gay issue, how was Kati as a houseguest?Thomas: She was a pleasant enough person.
Dennis: [Laughs] “A nice enough person.” You sound like Barack Obama.
There’s a fair amount of confrontation in the episode. Did the show present an accurate depiction of what happened while Kati lived with you?Dennis: It’s basically an honest representation, though it kind of suggests she was always apart from us. Which wasn’t necessarily the case -- we did a lot together, and there were times where everything was fine and nice. It’s not like she was upset and crying for 30 days.
Thomas: That was the other part of my concerns. How would this affect the boys once it aired? What will it make us look like? But it was fair. We felt going in we'd be OK -- we had seen the show and met with the producers.
Why do you think Kati did the show?Dennis: We don’t know. I thought they'd pick someone from Focus on the Family.
Thomas: She responded to an ad on Craigslist.
Her position seems almost entirely based on her Christian values -- that homosexuality is a sin and children shouldn’t be exposed to it. How to you reason with that kind of tightly held, knee-jerk belief?Dennis: Look, she comes from such a sheltered environment. I wanted her to understand the options are not Leave It to Beaver versus gay dads. One of the most powerful parts of the episode, which was actually my idea, was when Kati talked to the kids who aged out of the system. They would’ve loved to be taken in by a gay couple.
Kati also argued that children of gay couples aren’t exposed to both sexes. Do you work to make sure the boys have female role models in their lives?Dennis: It's important for the kids to have adult women in their lives who love them. My mom, aunts, teachers, female friends.
Thomas: Hey, the more good people around our kids the better.
Did you feel bad for Kati?Dennis: Sometimes. It was hard for her, leaving everything behind to live among people whose core values seemed to be completely different from her own. But then I’d think how she brought it on herself. She would just be so obstinate. Josh's family said they were grateful we adopted him, but Kati just could not -- or would not -- understand that.
Thomas: She acted like she wasn’t prejudiced. But even if the words come out monitored or un-angry, they're still offensive. She didn’t understand the intent behind some of the things she was saying.
Dennis: I think Kati was truly hurt when I told her I couldn't be her friend. But she told us she was going back to California to work against gay marriage. Ultimately, it's not a “live and let live” or “agree to disagree” situation. We’re not passing judgment on how she lives her life, but her views and actions threaten the existence our family. Michigan just had a marriage amendment updated by the courts that eradicated domestic-partner health care benefits for state employees. Now Tom's not covered by my health insurance.
Did your time with her teach you anything?Dennis: The biggest thing I learned is that I was naive. Being exposed to our family is not enough. Kati was so rooted in her religion, and there’s no arguing faith.
Thomas: I'm learning that so many people are afraid to challenge themselves. They’re happy to look to others for direction. I’m a high school teacher and the kids just believe everything they’re told. I guess it confirmed my feeling that we need to challenge our beliefs. Allow others to do what they think is right. If you can’t live your own life for yourself -- if you have to force your will on others -- I really wonder how strong your values are.