Moving pictures of gay fathers with their families across America


written by Jackie Palumbo, CNN

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A family of two dads and two young sons were spread between white sheets, their hairs scattered, pillows pushed aside during reflexive sleep movements. Boys take up most of the space, despite their smaller frames; A child reaches his arm around his father’s neck, their faces pressed together in a gentle embrace.

Such a photo may have been exceptionally rare a few decades ago, but it is now one of many published in the book “Dads,” a four-year visual collection of gay parenthood across America that began in 2016. The father responsible for the book is Bart Heenen, a Belgian portrait photographer who now lives in Brooklyn. And although the morning photo she took of her family sleeping was shot in Antwerp, she included it in a collection of images from New York, Utah, Alabama, Nebraska, Minnesota, California, and all the other states she took. Went to take pictures. fathers at home.

“I felt a little lonely as a gay father—though there are two of us—but lonely in the sense that all the other families I knew were straight parents,” Heenan said in a video call. Said, explaining why he started the Photos series. “I also thought it was important for (my children) to see other families with gay fathers.”

“Dads” is a four-year photo series featuring gay fathers across the country. Credits: Bart Hein/Powerhouse Books

Heenen has lived with her partner, Rob Haywart, for 25 years after sharing an elevator ride to their building in Antwerp. When they began their relationship, same-sex marriage was not legal in Belgium, and children were far from Heenen’s mind. Even in his progressive country, gay adoption was not legalized until 2003, and paid surrogacy is still banned.

When, a decade ago, Heinen and Hewart wanted to start a family, they decided to seek an egg donor and surrogate away from home in California—a state with more progressive and inclusive laws. (In the US, while same-sex parents have fought for their rights since the 1960s and 1970s, the laws for paid surrogacy remain patchwork by state.)

They now have 10-year-old twins, Ethan and Noah, who often accompanied Heenan to her shoots. Heenan recalled that Ethan, fascinated by other two-father families, liked to ask them, “Who is the father and who is the father?”

spectrum of paternity

“Dads” attempts to show the full spectrum of parenthood in America: married couples, single fathers and widowers; families in cities and suburbs; men of different races, castes and religions; and family units that include close ties with surrogates.

And this book is being published at a time when there is a struggle for their rights in the Supreme Court of the country. Supreme Court this week ruled in favor of a Roman Catholic foster agency that lost its contract with the city of Philadelphia because of its refusal to work with same-sex couples.

“For many people, the book will be an introduction to gay parenthood. And so I wanted to walk a fine line between showing that our families are the same as any other straight family,” he explained. “But at the same time, we have many unique characteristics that are not directly found in families, starting with creating a family.”

Henen was often present for special moments, including in the first hours of a newborn's life.

Henen was often present for special moments, including in the first hours of a newborn’s life. Credits: Bart Hein / Powerhouse Books

It was especially important to include some women who worked as surrogates for the family. To Heinen, they represent extra love and care and help with some of the decision-making, though not typical for him, all gay fathers must contend with. Adoption or Surrogacy? Who will be the biological parent? How much will they share with their children? Will the surrogate be transactional in nature, or will someone close to the family take the child?

In Henen and Hewart’s case, they met with the birth mother in California only a month before Ethan and Noah were born, due to the rules of the agency they used.

“We were extremely nervous … and then it was a wonderful (but) very intense moment,” Heenan recalled. “I took the pictures because I wanted to show my kids to all of us together so they could see because they are not allowed to see their biological mother until they are 18.”

changing the image

Heinen’s images often reveal these decisions and the hardships and joy they bring. In one example, they photographed Mo and Chris nursing their newborn at a gas station during a 14-hour car ride back to their home from Tennessee, as paid surrogacy is allowed in New York until earlier this year. was not. Another illustration depicts the deep bond of an entire extended family involved in the birth of a child: Elliot and Matthew are pictured in Omaha, Nebraska with their daughter, Uma, as well as Elliot’s sister and Matthew’s mother, who Uma had an egg donor and a surrogate, respectively. .

In Salt Lake City, Utah, Heenan spent the day with Bryce Abplanalp and Jeffrey Wright, their two children, and Julie, their surrogate. The couple, who met as adults, were raised Mormons, serving as missionaries before eventually leaving the church.

“We always knew we wanted to have kids…[but]we were really struggling to find a surrogate because we live in Utah,” Abplanalp said in a video call. “Most women are Mormons, and Mormons do not believe in same-sex marriage and homosexuals having children.”

Heenen shows how much love can go in a single birth.  Here, baby Uma is pictured with her parents, Chachi (her egg donor) and Dadi (her birth mother).

Heenen shows how much love can go in a single birth. Here, baby Uma is pictured with her parents, Chachi (her egg donor) and Dadi (her birth mother). Credits: Bart Hein / Powerhouse Books

After a year-long process, they meet Julie, who lives half an hour away with her husband and two children. They now see each other every two weeks, with and without their children, forming a lasting bond between the two families.

“I don’t think we realized the kind of relationship we would have now,” Abplanalp said. “I mean, we’re really good friends.”

Heinen, as well as the father he photographed, hopes that the photos of “dads” will dispel some of the harmful stereotypes that still surround gay parenthood.

Darrell and Charles Barksdale are raising their three-year-old adopted son, Brayden, in Michelville, Maryland. Charles recalled the time a woman asked him at the airport, “What do you guys know about babysitting?”

"I think this (book) will hopefully help in changing the image of the father," said Charles Barksdale, pictured here with husband Darrell and son Brayden.

“I think it (the book) is going to hopefully help change the image of the father,” said Charles Barksdale, pictured here with husband Darrell and son Brayden. Credits: Bart Hein / Powerhouse Books

“I’ve worked with children my whole life,” Charles said, explaining that he works in schools as a speech pathologist. “I know a lot about taking care of children. I think this (book) will hopefully help change the image of a father.”

Abplanalp said he and Wright never shy away from sharing their experiences. Abaplanalp never knew when he was young that parenthood would be possible for him as a gay man. “We don’t try to be role models or make ourselves more important than we are,” he said. “We’re trying to be as visible as we can to help someone else who’s in a dark place and doesn’t know what’s possible in the world.”

husbandPublished by Powerhouse Books, available June 29.

Add to Queue: Papa and Daddies

listen:Daddy Squared: The Gay Dads Podcast(released from 2019)

Hosted by West Hollywood couple Yann and Alex, dads use each episode to chat parenting and relationships, and most recently have been focusing each episode on gay rights and paternity pathways by country, and each Inviting a gay father from the location as a guest.

Clock:six feet down“(2001-2005)

This black comedy-drama of the early aughts was genre-defying and barrier-breaker in many ways, but Michael C. It was particularly praised for the onscreen romance of Hall and Matthew St. Patrick, who played an interracial gay couple who eventually marry and adopt two children.

This YA coming-of-age novel follows the high schooler, adopted by his gay father into a loving Mexican American family, when he begins to question his identity and place in the world during his senior year .

Clock:papa and papa“(2002)

The one-hour documentary chronicles the family lives of four gay families and the legal and cultural barriers men face to become fathers. The director and producer is Johnny Simmons, himself a gay father to an adopted son with his partner in the Bay Area.

Savage became an internationally recognized sex columnist and activist in the 1990s and 00s for his candid cultural insights into gay relationships and identity. The book, which became an Off-Broadway show a decade later, detailed the rollercoaster that she and her boyfriend experienced entering parenthood.

This story was updated to reflect the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the Catholic Foster Agency’s refusal to work with same-sex couples in Philadelphia.

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