Scroll To Top

A Strategy to Change Minds: Focus on the Gay Family

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," remembers Leffew.

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 them."

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 community.

"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 said.

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."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Advocate Contributors