Why I Put My Family on Display

I’m ashamed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with the story of Ruby Bridges until my son brought a picture book about her home from school. For those of you who are also uninformed, here’s the TL;DR version:

In 1960, schools in New Orleans were still segregated by race. A judge ordered that a 6-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges be allowed to attend a school that was, until then, all-white. When she showed up on the first day, she was met with scores of furious, shouting protestors trying to scare her away. She went inside anyway and sat in a classroom with the one teacher who’d agree to teach her. Unwilling to attend an integrated school or simply intimidated by the mob, EVERY SINGLE WHITE STUDENT stayed home.

Yes, every one.

Ruby was the only kid in school, but she kept coming back, day after day, until the protests finally subsided and the white kids started returning.

rubybridges

Ruby Bridges at school (with U.S. Marshals)

When I first read about this little girl’s amazing life, I had several thoughts, including:

  • Ruby Bridges is a hero.
  • Ruby Bridges was braver at six years old than I will ever be.
  • Shame on those horrible people who tried to intimidate a little girl to keep her from going to school.

And lastly…

  • What were Ruby Bridges’ parents thinking?!

It’s hard as a parent not to have that last thought. Surely, the world is a better place because Ruby Bridges’ parents allowed and encouraged her to go through something no 6-year-old should ever have to endure (but which, sadly, at the time, was fairly commonplace). How many of us, though, would put our own children in such a vulnerable spot, knowing the harm that could come to them, just for the benefit of the greater good?

Lately, people have been asking that same question about blogger Kristen Howerton.

Here’s the TL;DR version of her story:

familycloseupbestforblog300

via Rage Against the Minivan, with permission

Kristen has a beautiful family consisting of her, her husband, their two biological daughters and their two adopted sons. As you can see from the picture, not everybody in the family is the same race. Kristen writes thoughtful, moving pieces about race and adoption, as well as thoughtful, moving pieces that are not about race and adoption. She posts pictures of her family and uses their real names on her blog Rage Against the Minivan.

 

Recently, a white supremacist group targeted Kristen with a campaign of hate, stealing and altering photos of her kids, tweeting racial epithets and other jackassery. Kristen’s followers rallied to her support and helped shut down the haters, but many other people thought Kristen was at fault for putting her family on display in the first place. You can read more here and here.

I was lucky enough to share a stage with Kristen several years ago at a Listen To Your Mother reading in Los Angeles. I was inspired by her family and felt a kind of connection to her as a gay dad. People give our family funny looks, too, and much of the world is built around a concept of family that doesn’t include a family like mine. I loved the fact that she wrote about it so openly, and I’ve tried to do the same with this blog. I’ve talked about being a gay dad, and I’ve shared pictures of my family, like this one:

ilovemyfamily2

There have been times that I’ve stopped and wondered if what I was doing was wise. What if some homophobes used my pictures in an anti-gay ad or on some hate site? There are prominent figures who’ve suggested that their followers should kidnap children who have gay parents. The danger from these people is real.

So what am I thinking?

Now, I’m in no way trying to equate myself with Kristen Howerton and the wonderful things she does on her blog, nor am I trying to equate myself or Kristen with Ruby Bridges or her parents.

But every time I’ve wondered if I should stop doing what I’m doing, I end up even more determined to keep doing it. I know that will lead a lot of people to judge me and even to question my parenting. I know that if anything like what happened to Kristen ever happens to me, there will be people who will say I deserved it for putting my family on display.

You want to know why I still do this? Let me do my best to list the reasons.

It does more good than harm.

I get messages all the time from people who appreciate what I do. I hear from gay parents who are glad to see other families like theirs. I hear from young gay people who are inspired to see that a happy family life is possible for them. And I hear from plenty of straight people who thank me for helping them to understand something that’s foreign to them, or to say how much they can relate for one reason or another.

Do I sometimes get hate mail? Of course. But it doesn’t really bother me much because it’s far, far outnumbered by the positive responses I get.

I dread the thought of my kids being the targets of anyone’s hate. But if my husband and I didn’t put them out there, they wouldn’t see all the love the world has to show us, too.

We’re on display anyway.

You think you get a lot of attention for writing blog posts about your non-traditional family online? Try just leaving your house.

Everything we do together as a family invites scrutiny — getting groceries, going to school, playing at the playground, taking our kids to Disney World or doing a million other things. Every time we go out in public we open ourselves and our children up to the possibility of critical glares and even outright hostility. It’s not posting online that makes us potential targets of the hatemongers. It’s just existing.

But you know what? Hardly anything bad ever happens. For the most part, the reactions we get are amazing. People embrace us, show curiosity, compliment us. Last year, a few weeks before the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, a complete stranger who’d been sitting near us in a restaurant approached us with tears in her eyes and said, “You have a beautiful family! I hope the Supreme Court does the right thing!”

The bullies don’t get to set the debate.

Plenty of people believe they have some good points to make about why two men shouldn’t have kids together. (Or why white families shouldn’t adopt black kids. Or why little girls should get shouted down for trying to go to school. Or [insert some very important opinion here].) OK, if that’s you, you’re entitled to speak your mind. But don’t expect to espouse views that I find offensive and dangerous without hearing from me in return.

You can be vile and bigoted, you can harrass me and level death threats from behind the veil of relative anonymity the internet provides you. I’ll continue to defend myself openly, with logic, reason and probably sarcasm just for fun.

Just get this straight: I’m not going away.

And I refuse to teach my kids that we need to hide from the world in order to keep from upsetting crazy people.

I don’t know if I’d have had the guts to make the decisions Ruby Bridges’ parents did, but I’m glad they did.

That being said…

I believe people are generally good.

I know there’s a chance the wrong people will find my blog and twist it around in some horrible ways. I’m sure if that happened, I would be terrified and furious and do everything I could to protect my kids. But I know something else:

People would rally to my defense. My readers, my friends and my family would support me, as they always do, and whatever dribble of hate got spewed my way would be washed away by a tsunami of love. I’d end up more convinced than ever that the world has my back.

I hate seeing what’s happened to Kristen Howerton, but it makes me think of the Mr. Rogers quote everyone always posts after a tragedy:

mr-rogers

via everyone’s Facebook page, ever

So I’m not going to focus on the bad people who were nasty to Kristen Howerton and her family. I’m going to focus on all the people who came to her defense, and I’m going to add my voice to theirs.

Lastly…

My kids think it’s awesome.

My husband and I have warned our kids that homophobia exists, but I don’t think they believe us. They believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but the notion that people would be mean to someone just because they’re gay sounds completely absurd to them.

It’s not something they’ve ever witnessed.

A couple of nights ago, my husband and I were anxious to start story time so we could get the kids to bed. Our daughter was taking her time coming in, and we were getting really frustrated. We were too tired to get out of bed and round her up, so we shouted downstairs. “What are you doing?”

“Hold on! I’m making something!”

Our daughter is always making things. It’s what she loves to do. So we rolled our eyes and waited.

A minute later, she came running upstairs, with a big smile on her face. She had three post-it notes, and she handed one to me, one to my husband and one to her brother. This is what they said:

ilovemyfamily

I love my family. It came out of nowhere. Just something she was thinking about and which was important enough to delay story time for. I have piles of notes like that, a million little ways my kids show me that they love me and they love our family.

I know most parents have stuff like that. I’m not saying my family is any more special than anyone else’s or that I expect special treatment or whatever some wacko online might want to turn this around into.

All I’m saying is, I ❤ my family.

And I don’t care who knows it.

60 comments on “Why I Put My Family on Display

  1. Jerry ,
    What a beautiful expression of what a family is. Your blog,book,posts make it a little easier for all of us. Keep writing and posting pictures.

  2. Hi Jerry!

    My name is Natasha and I just wanted to say that I’m so glad I found your blog. Despite being only 19, the love you have in your family is something I truly strive to create one day. I adore you, your kids, and your husband. You guys are awesome.

  3. So enjoyed this blog, as I do all of them, but this one really hit the nail on the head! I so love you and your beautiful family…you “represent” amazingly well! I am so glad you don’t hide…the way you are living, like Kristen and her family, is the way it should be and hiding would just make you have to take another step later to be truly accepted and visible! Be visible now…I, for one, have your back!
    Love & Hugs,
    Mary

  4. I post pictures and stories about our family online, too. I think it’s important when advocating for causes and even when showing people how you have fun. It helps our world connect and grow.

  5. My parents probably did a lot wrong. But the one thing they did right was not pointing out people’s physical differences to me. I had no clue about race, abilities, until into my double digits. Call me naive, but I had a great childhood and still don’t focus I the obvious outside to this day thanks to them.

  6. I’m glad you are not letting all that hate stop you from sharing your lovely family with us. I this day and age of horrible stories of war, refugees dying, innocent people murdered etc…. We need stories of love and hope…And yours gives us exactly that. 😀

  7. As always, I applaud you & your husband for not “hiding” your beautiful family. It is pretty clear the love you share, any child would be blessed to have such loving & supportive parents.

  8. Another family who made the brave, terrifying decision to put their children in harm’s way because they believed it would make essential change was Malala Yousafsi’s family – and both the danger and the change happened. Thanks for the reminder about Ruby Bridges; I had read about her before but didn’t know much and forgot how young she was.

    The world will only stop hating what it doesn’t know when it knows all the things it used to hate.

  9. I LOVE my odd family!! I am a single mom. My daughters, now 26 and 30 are from India, one light brown and one dark. The older has cerebral palsy and uses a power wheelchair. While her physical abilities are few (no walking or standing, no writing, no ability to use the bathroom or get in or out of bed on her own) her intellect and speech are intact. She lives on her own, has a college degree and a full time job. The younger daughter is married and has two daughters, who don’t look the least bit Indian. My son didn’t come along until he was sixteen. A few years ago he asked me to adopt him as an adult, which I did. He is gay and married to a British national and they are working on adopting. Yes, we always got the stares, but after a while I didn’t notice. Yes, I truly do LOVE my odd family.

  10. I completely agree with everything you said. Years ago I had a website about a multitude of subjects, but one in particular was child sexual abuse. I put my childhood story on there and later found out it was being used on a pedophile website as a romance story. I never even thought of taking my story down though, because there were a lot of people who contacted me that it had helped, so to me it was worth it.

  11. I just realized it’s been ages since I’ve visited your blog. Don’t know why. But I’m always glad when I do. Please keep on being that bold, brave voice for love, kindness, and humanity. I pray for safety for your family, just as I pray for safety for my gynecologist who also performs abortions when the need arises. (Well, I don’t actually pray, but I fervently hope!) Hopefully, by the time your kids have kids, all these perplexing debates will look as odd to us as the notion of white kids staying home because there’s a black student in class.

  12. I ❤️ this post, ❤️ your way of thinking and yes, I ❤️ your family, too! Blog on, and we will have your back!
    Jeanne,
    Moma to twin girls who also have a Mommy

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  15. Love this! I often think about these things and get asked by others if I have concerns about posting about my life and my family, but I think sharing stories about life, parenting, love, etc is helpful to all. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Thankyou thankyou thankyou. God bless your beautiful family. Everything you listed is so true, and as we all know, a struggle for some is just life to others. Here’s to life and a life lived in love and acceptance.

  17. lovely blog! Nowadays all you can do is to surround yourself with loving and positive people. My little one is mixed race and I often get a question: Is she yours? There are times I want to reply: I am her kidnapper and I am taking her to neverland so we can ride on unicorns. 🙂 Most often I just smile and say… yes, she is all mine. All the best to your lovely family! Keep smiling 🙂

  18. Love your article! I will keeping an eye on your blog! Family come in many ways, and it seems to me you have a very lovely one! 👍

  19. I had to read this post before I walked into work today. You have such a positive and hopeful outlook in life. I think you’re really brave.

  20. Pingback: Why I Put My Family on Display – Schooling in a Democratic Society

  21. Great post. And I think it applies to so many things in life. The good far outweighs the bad. Love is stronger than hate.

    It’s incredible to me that your kids really have no concept of homophobia. It’s a credit to you both as parents that you’ve been able to surround yourselves and your children with a positive and inclusive community. Though the cynical part of me (the child who experienced homophobia towards her parents) doubts this will last forever, the dreamer in me so hopes that it does!

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  23. Hi there, I am from India and I just want to say how much I enjoy your blog, I have friends who are very much struggling with the coming out process and to see you and your partner thriving like you do is great motivation for them! Love your work!
    Cheerio!

  24. I knew about Ruby as a child and mixed with black and white it was confusing because I couldn’t understand why people like my moms would do something like that to my dad’s family. It makes you feel torn in half as a human. I wish more compassion for the world and your family is beautiful your so lucky.

  25. I loved reading this. And I appreciate you putting your family on display. If we can remove even a little bit of homophobia (it confuses me how this even exists in this day and age), then I see that as a win. Only the other day, my twins were watching one of my TV shows with me, and two men were kissing. One of my daughters (they’re 3) said “That’s not his wife”. I replied “No, it’s his husband”. She just turned back to the TV and said “oh, that’s alright then.” It really was that easy for her to get her little head around. What I can’t fathom, is if a 3 year old can understand that love isn’t restricted by gender, how are there adults out there with such closed minds? I loved reading about your wonderful family. And thank you for showing the world the only thing a family “should” be. Full of love.

  26. Yes! I love this! My girlfriend and i had a similar discussion when I was considering using my daughter’s name in the book I wrote. She was worried that it would bring the backlash directly to my daughter, and I am just kind of hoping for the best. I don’t want to live my life in fear of others. Thanks for reminding me of that 🙂

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  28. This was a beautiful post. I love reading about other gay families, although sometimes it makes me a little sad. Growing up 20 years ago in a ultra-conservative state with gay dads, we were forced to hide in the shadows. It’s great to see how times have changed, but also difficult to see that some of the same struggles exist. I completely understand your desire to share about your family. I’m working on a memoir about growing up with gay dads and have the same goals as you: to educate and help others understand families like ours. I truly believe that if we keep talking more will start to listen.

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  30. Hello, I came across your site via the reader. I’m really glad that I did!! I’ve been debating on whether or not to put my family on display, as you say. My oldest seems to be having some emotional problems, and social problems. She’s hit a few people, and thankfully in many ways she’s NOT a bully (her cousin’s transgender transition went swimmingly for both, as they are more like siblings than cousins), but there’s fear of her becoming a bully in other ways. Currently the focus has been discipline. And why blog about discipline!? And put those embarrassing moments up for all to see!? Well, maybe you have some input, but we’re hoping that it will be helpful to share our experiences with getting creative with discipline and other parenting “tools.” My blog isn’t just about parenting, but this is the direction my life is heading, and thought it was still a good fit for the blog. Anyhow, Congrats on your feature in the reader and thank you for all of your time and effort sharing your life with us!!
    http://www.psychozenmom.wordpress.com

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  33. Excellent! As a fellow blogger, this has always been my reasoning to not hide myself. However, my new blog is all about my wife and I starting a family together, and because we’re both in positions of public service and for the sake of our future kids, we have decided to try to be relatively anonymous. But these are definitely things to consider – a talking point for us as we head out on this blogging journey! Thank you for your insights. Also, I agree with you about Ruby Bridges’s parents – I would love to meet them and pick their brains about why they did what they did!

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