Photos of the Porter family show a happy teen between two tall men with joyous eyes. The smiles of the three men are so heartfelt—and so natural—that one could assume the trio has been smiling together like this their whole lives. But this family is new; it was a little over a year ago when Leon, age 13, became the legal son of Dan Porter and Tony (McClay) Porter. In the winter of 2013, Dan (a Minnesota school social worker) and Tony (a stay-at-home dad and activist) joined the thousands of GLBT couples across the country who have made the rewarding decision to become adoptive parents. Now a complete family, Dan and Tony Porter experience the joy of parenthood every day, and Leon is blessed to have two loving fathers.
Dan and Tony’s love story begins in April of 2011, when the two connected through an online dating site. What was supposed to be a brief lunch date turned into the two talking for several hours. Tony adds, “We hit it off, and neither of us wanted to leave!” After a second date on Cinco de Mayo, Tony invited Dan to attend a family wedding in South Carolina for their third date. Once Dan met Tony’s “awesome, loving, and very welcoming” family, the two knew that their connection was something special.
As the couple shared their lives with each other, they realized that their love was meant to last a lifetime. On October 17th, 2013, Dan surprised Tony with tickets he “won” to see Illusion Theater’s Love and Marriage show. Though they had seen the show previously, that night’s show was going to be a bit more special. Dan had secretly created a video for Tony that played right before intermission. The video (set to Bruno Mars’s Marry You) showed photos of the couple through all their adventures, and set Dan up to ask for Tony’s hand in marriage. Tony, however, was unaware and oblivious of what was happening, and had to be told to pay attention.
Tony recalls, “It’s funny how oblivious I was to what was happening. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t remember this song in the first show.’ I still didn’t get it…but when it clicked, it was amazing, and I’ll never forget it.”
Dan says, “Tony didn’t even get that I had planned this until the very end!” Finally, when Dan got on bended knee in front of a thrilled audience, Tony figured it out and said yes. Their son Leon then appeared on stage for a special toast, and the couple enjoyed celebratory champagne.
The couple recently tied the knot on August 2 at the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, surrounded by over 200 family and friends from across the country and around the world. The men chose to have their wedding at their church because of how supportive the congregation is of marriage equality. Dan and Tony exchanged vows and rings, and headed off to a reception at the Sheraton Hotel in Minnetonka to celebrate their marriage. Dan says, “We really felt welcome and at home, and everything went off without a hitch. It was a perfect day.”
CREATING A FAMILY THROUGH ADOPTION
Although Dan and Tony were just recently wed, they knew long before that they wanted to have a family together. The couple began family planning in 2013. Dan says, “I’ve always wanted to have kids. It’s my passion.” Based on Dan’s work with children in schools, they decided that they would make the biggest impact by adopting children from the foster system.
Tony states, “Though we did look at different options, we knew that we didn’t need to have a biological connection to our child. There are usually over 300 children waiting to be placed in homes in Minnesota alone.” Dan’s experiences with the social system made him aware of the need for parents who are willing to adopt an older child. Tony adds, “It was important to us to give a home to a child that might be overlooked.”
Dan and Tony began the adoption process by attending a two-day information session for potential adoptive families. After receiving much of the information they needed, they decided to continue through the adoption process. Dan researched adoption agencies known for their work with GLBT families, and the couple chose to use Children’s Home Society and Family Services in St. Paul. (CHSFS recently merged with Lutheran Social Services to better serve their children and families.)
The process began with a home study, where a social worker evaluated the environment Dan and Tony could provide for a child. With a social worker designated to work with the family and an additional social worker set to advocate for the child, these home studies are used to create child and parent profiles to match children with suitable potential families. Then the matching process began, where Dan and Tony perused child profiles to find a child that would fit well with their family. Though the couple initially intended to adopt a set of siblings, they couldn’t ignore their feelings when the profile of young Leon was placed before them. Leon was an older child with special needs who had been in the system for two years. Tony says, “We fell in love with him immediately. We knew this is our child.”
After determining that Leon would be a perfect fit for their family, Leon moved in on June 3, 2013. Leon’s adoption was finalized on December 13, 2013, with both parents being able to legally adopt Leon at the same time (Minnesota is one of the few states that allows legal two-parent adoption). When their family was complete, Dan and Tony were amazed at how quickly and effortlessly the process went. Through their whole experience, Dan notes that they were never met with any bias due to their sexuality, nor were there any hurdles they had to jump as a same-sex couple going through the adoption process.
In addition to the ease of completing the adoption process, Dan and Tony were blessed that Leon transitioned smoothly into their family; it was like he was meant to be their son. Tony says, “He came in with no fear, he was so open and loving.” Dan notes that Leon’s social worker prepared Leon for having two fathers by showing him a video about different types of families. Leon wasn’t fazed by the possibility of having two dads. Dan adds, “He didn’t care; he just wanted a family no matter what.” It seems that young Leon was matched perfectly with Dan and Tony. Not only does Leon have an “amazing, fun personality that matches” his fathers’, but there is a strong physical resemblance between Leon and his fathers. Dan notes, “Everyone thinks we look biological, that he’s not even adopted!”
The Porter family also received special recognition in 2013, when they were profiled by the Adoptive Family Portrait Project, a project created by Voices for Adoption to raise awareness of adoptive issues across the country. The 2013 Adoptive Family Portrait Project focused on older adoptive children and children with special needs, profiling one family from each state. The Porters shared their story, which was included in a pamphlet that was distributed to all the Senators in Washington, D.C., including Al Franken. Dan notes that Franken has their photo hanging up in his office, and Minnesotan friends who visit Franken’s office are thrilled to see the Porter family profile there.
Dan and Tony encourage other same-sex couples to consider adoption when starting a family, noting the severe need for families in Minnesota alone. Tony’s work as a volunteer guardian ad litem (a court-appointed advocate who represents the best interest of a child in court proceedings) has given him the opportunity to see how children can “quickly fall through the cracks” of the foster system. Tony notes, “There are so many children that need the love…If you’re thinking about adoption, just do it. It’s such a rewarding experience.”
Dan adds that he believes there is a unique connection between GLBT people and children in the system. “There’s a neat connection between GLBT communities and adoption because many GLBT people do not have supportive families and all the kids in the system didn’t receive the support they needed from their families.” He adds that, due to their own family experiences, many GLBT parents can look at situations differently and recognize what their child needs. In addition to helping children, Dan says that adopting a child has enriched their lives by making them feel like a complete family. “This whole process has solidified and made our bond [as a couple] richer and more meaningful.”
BACK TO SCHOOL
As fathers of an older child, Dan and Tony utilized their experiences within the school system and social services to help Leon adjust into school life. Because of Leon’s special needs, Tony became a stay-at-home father to help ensure normalcy and structure in Leon’s daily routine. But Tony does far more than many stay-at-home dads; in addition to volunteering as a guardian ad litem, Tony joined the school PTA and volunteers his time weekly within the school system. This involvement has allowed Tony to meet Leon’s classmates and “normalize” their family situation. Tony states that the school system has been overwhelmingly supportive, right down to the parents of other students who have welcomed the Porter family with open arms.
Dan and Tony believe their positive experiences are due to the fact that they make an effort to be extremely visible. Dan’s job as a school social worker allowed him to be familiar with most people in the district, and he was able to utilize those resources to create a support network for their family. Dan suggests that parents who are unfamiliar with a school system become acquainted with teachers and administration so any questions or concerns that arise may be answered quickly. Tony adds that volunteering or attending school functions allows you to “be seen, be present, and be involved. It helps both the students and the parents.”
In addition to getting involved in the school, the Porters networked with other GLBT families at events organized by the Family Equality Council. The FEC provides many resources for GLBT families, along with social opportunities for families of all kinds. One particular event that the Porters really enjoy is the FEC Family Camp, a four-day event that focuses on GLBT families. There, Dan and Tony networked with other parents, Leon did activities with youth from GLBT families, and (most importantly) they celebrated their family and what makes them special. Dan and Tony suggest the camp for all GLBT families, and they intend to continue attending for the next couple of years.
But Dan and Tony don’t stop there when it comes to advocating for GLBT families and improving the school environment for all children. Dan and Tony recently both applied and were accepted to sit on the newly-formed School Safety Technical Assistance Council for the Minnesota Department of Education. This council’s goal is to assist schools with the implementation of the new Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Law, which transformed Minnesota’s anti-bullying laws from the weakest in the country to the strongest. The bill clearly defines bullying and sets expectations for responses and consequences in any bullying situation.
Dan notes that the council will focus on the education and development of programs that assist schools and families, and they will also observe trends and issues that commonly occur within the schools. He adds that the “council will create materials that will support schools and make schools safer for everyone.” Though Dan and Tony have only dealt with one bullying situation since Leon has been adopted, they understand that children from GLBT families can easily become targets for bullying. They hope their work on the council will protect GLBT students as well as any other students, making schools a more welcoming place for all.
What’s next for the Porter family? After the busy school year ahead, Dan and Tony plan to take their honeymoon. And their cozy family might get a bit larger: their positive experience with Leon’s adoption (not to mention the joy of being parents) has encouraged Dan and Tony to consider adopting additional children, allowing Leon to have the opportunity of being a wonderful big brother. But best of all, the Porters get to look forward to sharing each day with each other, surrounded by the love of a family.
ADVICE FROM DAN & TONY
Here are a few tips and ways that have helped our family in working with schools and ways to support our children:
Be as visible and involved as possible and/or as much as your son or daughter asks you to be. Our son asked us to volunteer at school events. We attend everything (even if only one of us can make it). It’s a great way to meet parents and students that are in classes with our son, and it creates opportunity for dialogue.
Attend all school functions: concerts (Our son is in choir), volunteer on the PTA, introduce yourself to teachers, attend back to school nights
We made sure that the principal and his teachers knew he had gay dads, and we were available to support the school. We also wanted to be involved in helping in any way we could.
Be proactive and tell them how you would like them to address and respond to other childrens’ questions about your family.
It’s ok to help teachers with language that describes our families; school staff are amazing, but we can’t expect them to know everything. They will more then likely be overjoyed you made the effort; what a great way to support each other.
Talk to your kids: it’s an ongoing process (daily check-ins on highs and lows). They will tell you the pressing issues they face and the topics that are on their minds. Help them solve problems and come up with solutions. But be realistic—children will tease. What is important is how it was handled, and how it can be handled next time.
Build resilience in your kids. Help them feel proud of who they are and appreciate differences in how all families are. Remind them that diversity helps us all, and no two families are alike.
Help your child find adults at school they can talk with. Ask your school who those adults might be. Then go and talk to them and let them know who you are, who your child is, and align with them.
Start school routines early (meals, bedtime, wake-up) to help your child adjust back into routines.
Work to build a support network. Below is an organization through which we have found some GLBT parents with kids and families like ours. It also has some tips for back to school!