Nipomo trio are a pioneering story in families

Todd Souza, left, Kevin Kirby and their son Joshua, 14.
Photo by Joe Johnston 08-22-12
Todd Souza, left, Kevin Kirby and their son Joshua, 14. Photo by Joe Johnston 08-22-12 jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Still distraught from his father’s funeral earlier in the day, Kevin Kirby was at his parents’ home when he responded to an urgent message from his social worker.

“She said, ‘I know this is really bad timing, but we have a baby that needs a home immediately,’ ” Kirby recalled.

A year earlier, Kirby had been estranged from his parents, who disapproved of his homosexuality. Now, he was sure his deceased father had somehow helped him become a parent.

“The minute I heard that, I knew my dad was pulling strings for us,” said Kirby, of Nipomo.

Like Kirby’s father, Americans’ views on homosexuality have evolved, studies show. And, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, for the first time, a majority of Americans are now open to the idea of gay and lesbian parents.

But it wasn’t that way when Kirby and Todd Souza adopted their son 15 years ago.

“A term like ‘pioneer’ would work for them,” said Gary Gates, an expert on gay and lesbian issues at UCLA’s Williams Institute. “There aren’t that many people from that long ago who would have had that circumstance.”

While the number of gay and lesbian parents who adopt has doubled over the past decade, two-dad families were a rarity in the late 1990s — and more so 21 years ago, when Kirby and Souza met.

“Even when we first started dating, we started talking about kids and family,” Kirby said. “We knew somehow, some way, we wanted to adopt a child or surrogate a child.”

Conservative backgrounds

Both Kirby and Souza came from conservative, spiritual families.

In Santa Cruz, Kirby’s parents were devotees of Jerry Falwell — the one-time leader of the Moral Majority — who shunned their son for more than a decade after he announced he was gay.

“At first I couldn’t even come home to their house,” Kirby said. “And my dad would beg me, ‘Please move as far away as possible.’ ”

In Orange County, Souza’s parents were also spiritual — his father was a minister. But while they had prayed for gays and laid hands on them to cast out demons, they always supported their son, even after he came out.

“When I would date people, I would take them to my parents’ house first for a barbecue,” Souza said. “And my parents would either give him a thumbs up or a thumbs down.”

There was one drawback.

“My mom thought, ‘He’s not going to have children,’ ” Souza said.

At his father’s request, Kirby moved to Orange County, where he met Souza through Evangelicals Concerned — a group for gay Christians. A few years after they started dating, they began to aggressively pursue parenthood, choosing adoption over surrogacy.

“We’re pretty conservative,” Kirby said. “Not to say I’m pro-life, like waving banners, but I appreciate when women give up their babies for adoption. It’s the most courageous, selfless thing they could do, and I wanted to put my money where my mouth was and adopt a baby.”

Meanwhile, Kirby worked on re-establishing a relationship with his own parents.

“A lot of people said, ‘Oh, just cut them off — screw them’ or whatever,” Kirby said. “But I thought, you know what — I can’t do that. My family means a lot. So I just kept going back and showing them, ‘Look — I’m the same son you always knew. You just have a little more information about me that you didn’t know before.’ ”

They did reconcile, but his father’s fatal heart attack a year later made the reunion bittersweet. Just as Kirby experienced the death of a parent, though, he became one himself after a birth mother decided to place her child for adoption.

He and Souza had been talking to an adoption agency that didn’t discriminate. And when they got word of the available baby, they didn’t hesitate. Three weeks later, after a few arranged visits, the baby was theirs.

“It was just cool, driving home with a baby in a car seat,” Kirby said. “We’re just crying tears of joy, but also mourning my dad.”

The baby was named Isaac, but they renamed him Joshua. While he’d use the surname Kirby, both parents were named on the birth certificate, thanks to a state law that had just passed, allowing both parents to be named even if the couple is not married. (Kirby and Souza are domestic partners, not married.)

Not everyone knew how to react when they saw two men and a baby, though.

“A lot of people would say, ‘So who’s the dad and who’s the uncle?’ ” Souza said. “Because we were two guys with one kid, so they’d think we were brothers.”

To get support, the couple got involved with the Pop Luck Club, a Los Angeles-based group of gay dads.

Founded in 1998, the large group is often mined for research studies on gay parents. Kirby and Souza have been interviewed several times for research.

While many conservative groups argue that children need a mother and a father, groups such as the American Psychological Association have issued statements saying there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation.

Homosexual parents who adopt might even be better than many heterosexual parents, noted Gates, the UCLA researcher.

“The decision to have children tends to mean they’re probably a fairly highly motivated group of parents,” Gates said. “There’s a lot of evidence showing that parents with a lot of motivation are actually better parents, and kids fare better.”

Some will disagree with that, but generally, Americans are more open to the idea. According to a July study by Pew Research, 52 percent of those surveyed said gays and lesbians should be allowed to adopt — up from 46 percent in 2008 and 38 percent in 1999. Meanwhile, TV shows like the new sitcom “The New Normal” — about two gay dads who want a child — show acceptance has crossed into popular culture.

“I think these more positive portrayals of (gay and lesbian) parenting contributes to people being more willing to think about the issue and perhaps be accepting of the issue,” Gates said.

A typical family

As Kirby and Souza’s son grew, the family remained regular churchgoers, even if some churches were vocal in their opposition to same-sex relationships. Kirby and Souza even started a Laguna Beach Chapter of Evangelicals Concerned, where they helped other gay men deal with the conflict.

“We just tried to love them and steer them in the right direction and get them back in a relationship with God and teach them that God loves them and created them just as they were,” Kirby said.

Meanwhile, Kirby said, his family is fairly typical.

“One of the reasons we wanted to do the interview is to show people we’re just a normal, regular, boring middle-aged couple with a kid,” said Kirby, who has been a stay-at-home dad while Souza runs a cleaning business.

Josh has participated in cross-country, performed magic shows for neighbors, played the lead role in a local production of “Johnny Appleseed” and participated in youth church groups.

“He’s girl crazy,” Souza said.

When Souza asked how many girlfriends Josh has had, the Nipomo High School freshman nonchalantly answered, “I don’t count,” while tooling around on his smartphone.

While his parents expected a certain amount of taunting, other kids have reacted well to his two dads.

“It’s only a first-time reaction,” Josh said. “And it’s usually a positive one. Nobody’s ever cared, ever.”

The curly haired teen, who once spoke at a rally in favor of gay marriage, one time had a youth group pastor say marriage should be between a man and a woman. But, he said, he ignored the comment.

“I wasn’t listening,” he said. “His points were just completely invalid.”