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insists that if I live there at her house, then I’m not gay that I cannot be gay.” Brandy is finishing her last year of high school. Since her parents kicked her out, she has been living with a friend. She hopes to go on to college to study psychology so that she can help runaways like herself. Being a parent means saying to your child “I’m going to love you no matter who are,” says Mark Gartner. “The parents see this as a sign that my children are rejecting me, but it’s not that.” John thinks that even though being gay sometimes means being abandoned, it is also the parent’s loss because “you’re losing someone you love.” If they could just see,” says Brandy, “that we’re really not bad people. I think gays, we’re really not bad people. I think gays and lesbians are among the most caring people, because they’ve been put down so much that they know how to open their hearts. If parents could just sit down and realize that we’re still the same people.” Gay Father: Being There BY JOHN DAVID MOSS Austin I IN GET UP AT SIX in the morning ‘ cause I’ve got to get the kids to school. I jump in my car. I fight the traffic. I go to work. I practice medicine all day. I get home in order to get supper on the table. Get their homework done. Spend a little time watching TV together. Get them in bed, leaving me an hour or an hour and a half of free time.” That’s how Philip Baker, 44, describes a typical day with his two children. That doesn’t include an active role in Gay Fathers of Austin, one of three such chapters in the state. Baker is the father of Jesse, 12, and Caitlin, 9. They live in a middle-class neighborhood in the north-central part of the city. “Being a gay parent is no .different than being a straight parent,” says Baker, whose wife was killed in an automobile accident five years ago. “If you have children … you have to be prepared to dedicate the rest of your life to their well-being … and that means being there gay or straight.” In Austin, Dallas and Houston, where there are large and very active chapters, gay fatherhood is not an anomaly, says Baker, a physician’s assistant with the city of Austin. Most gay men who are fathers conceived children in wedlock, realizing at the time that they were going against their true sexual orientation; for others, more time was necessary before they made that discovery and accepted it. When a gay father first comes out, says Baker, he not only has to deal with his own homosexuality but the impact that acknowledgement will have on his children. Gay Fathers of Austin was formed to provide a support group for just such men who may have nowhere else to turn. Ironically, says Baker now, that support group has worked all too well, with the group no longer as active as it once was. “Everyone got stable,” says Baker with a smile. “The kids knew, the wife knew, the fights were over. We keep the listing, but John David Moss is an Austin freelance writer. This originally appeared in Texas Triangle. we have no formal meetings.” He and other. members do meet, when asked, with parents just coming out. Of the fathers involved with the group when he joined, Baker says that all have either received custody of their children or have regular visitation rights. “It’s hard to maintain a support group when everyone’s life is great.” Yet the need of such a group remains, as new gay fathers come out and gay couples decide to have children. Legal and emotional needs of those families must be met. In Travis County, “there is a gentleman’s agreement that, basically, sexuality is not an issue,” says Baker. Though that may be the case legally, that’s not necessarily the case emotionally. In some cases, said Baker, straight spouses may use the issue to get back at their partner or to gain full custody of children. In one example, a gay father was given a divorce decree mandating that his daughter not spend the night at his home. Nor could he nap in the same room as his lover when his daughter was visiting. Others are not allowed to see their children unsupervised, or at all. Most of these problems usually are worked out over time, as was the case of the stiff requirements of the father’s divorce decree, Baker said. “In time, his wife agreed that these restrictions were unfair and they were removed.” Generally, said Baker, matters work out best if hostility is not an overriding factor in the divorce. “Most people wait [to divorce] ’til they’re at each other’s throats. If they split when they still love each other, still friends, then there is so much more to work with.” Baker says that it also makes a big difference if the husband comes out to his wife, rather than being found out. And what about the children? “To most children, being gay is just another piece of information. The most important thing to them is that you are “Dad.” It also helps when children are told about a parent’s homosexuality when they are young, rather than in their teens. Jesse was 6 or 7when his dad told him he was gay and he was more interested in getting a coke to drink.”I wasn’t shocked or anything, but I didn’t understand.” Jesse adds that things might have been different had his dad waited until now to tell him. “For six years I’ve known not to listen to everybody at school … if I had not known and I started believing all these things they say, it wouldn’t have worked. It would have taken a long time.” Caitlin is more interested in her homework, trophies, blueberry muffins and not cleaning out the cat’s litter box, than she is about her father’s sexuality. She did talk to her school counselor about her father, and her father did receive a concerned call from the school. “My experience has been, so far, that people’s reactions depend upon whether they know you or not,” Baker said. “I’ve found that given a chance, lots of people are surprisingly tolerant.” “A lot aren’t,” Jesse interjects, explaining that, in school, there is a lot of homophobia. “I’m not going to come out and tell somebody because they don’t know anything. They won’t listen to anybody, they’re really closed minded about it all, so I just don’t talk about it at school.” He said it frustrates him when his peers exhibit prejudice in remarks or jokes about homosexuals. “It bothers me, but I don’t say anything. I’ve gotten real close to getting in big fights over it.” Jesse looks at his father shyly, and adds: “And I probably will before the year’s over.” Baker believes the reason so many people have such negative images of gays is because they mostly see only the negative stereotypes. “Most straight people have never thought about gay issues, Why? Because it didift touch their lives, because we were invisible. We kept ourselves invisible. I understand why we did that, but the bottom line is we have to take responsibility and come out of the closet.” Caitlin, asked whether her father’s sexuality makes a difference to her, simply said: “Not at all.” Jesse had this advice to other children of gay parents: “Don’t listen to the kids. If I’d listened to everybody at school, I’d hate him [his father], but I don’t. I don’t listen because they’re wrong.” 14 MAY 21, 1993