A Reason for Pride: Gay Parents Are Changing the World

Alec Mapa, a coach on AMC's new reality talent show, talks about adopting his son with partner Jamie Hebert and the challenges of taking the family show on the road.

BY Lucas Grindley

May 23 2013 1:00 PM ET

There have always been gay dads, but maybe not quite like this. As states drop legal barriers, more LGBT people are trying the foster-adopt route. Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center found that from 2007 to 2011, there was a big swing in the proportion of people who view gay parents as bad for society — 50% dwindled to 35%. Still, a study by Binghamton University researchers published in March found that gay parents are judged more harshly when in public than their straight counterparts.

“Of course,” is Hebert’s reaction to the study, “because it’s a new frontier. It’s something they don’t see all the time, so if there’s a couple examples of it they are going to judge those more.”

“Meanwhile there are like a billion examples of bad heterosexual parenting,” Mapa interjects, once again only half-kidding. “That science has actually been proven. That great ‘social experiment’ has had countless failures.”

Traveling away from their home in Los Angeles has surprised Mapa in good ways too. For his new reality TV show on AMC, Showville, Mapa swoops into eight small U.S. towns, even in “the well-armed, Jesus-filled center of America,” and holds auditions for a talent show. Mapa’s job is to mentor the four finalists who compete for a chance to win $10,000.

In Oklahoma a man auditioned while wearing a giant-size black cowboy hat. He had a hard-to-describe quality that made Mapa think of Fred Phelps. The man sang a ditty about the Rapture.

“Everything in me is like, Oh, great, I’m going to die of a hate crime here,” Mapa says. Then the producers announced the cowboy as a finalist. “The first thing he does is he runs up onstage and he hugs me, like a big bear hug, lifts me up off the floor,” Mapa remembers. “And I’m like, Uh, OK, who is the judgmental bigoted person here?

They learned about each other’s lives and became friends. Mapa is helping people’s dreams come true in small ways, but all of it means his own dream is realized. Like a lot of gay men, he once gave up the idea of having it all — the big career, a husband, and a house with their son. Hebert’s parents had a hard time with his coming-out because they imagined their son living life alone, like some of the gay men of their time. Now Zion can spend a weekend with his grandparents in their California dairy town while his dads have time alone together.

Zion’s dream is coming true as well. He skateboards and hangs from a tire swing his papas hung from a tree in the backyard. “He’s changed so much since he’s come to live here,” Mapa says. “Now he’s like the mayor of Circusville. All of our friends are drag queens and burlesque performers, and that’s his tribe. I mean, it looks like the opening scene of Auntie Mame around here at dinnertime. And those are all his aunts and uncles.”

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Catch Mapa on Showville, which debuts on AMC on Thursday at 9 p.m. / 8 p.m. central. 

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