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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A labor of love: Brian Rosenberg ’87 builds an online community for gay fathers

Sometimes it’s hard finding a place to call home. When Brian Rosenberg ’87 couldn’t find a place of his own, he didn’t give up — he built one.

The social activist is co-founder of Gays With Kids, an online community and resource center for gay fathers and other gay men considering parenthood. Established in 2014, the website is one of the first of its kind, aiming to bring together gay individuals from all walks of life in order to share the experience of modern fatherhood, and tackle the tough issues that gay parents face in their day-to-day lives.

“It’s a labor of love. I want every gay dad around the world to feel welcome and represented, regardless of his path to fatherhood or where he lives,” said Rosenberg.

Rosenberg’s passion is drawn from his own experience as a father, a process with inauspicious beginnings. After opening a restaurant in Florida following graduation from Connecticut College, Rosenberg relocated to Boston in 1992. The next year, after coming out as both gay and HIV-positive, he met his future husband and website co-founder, Ferd van Gameren, a graduate student from The Netherlands.

The couple eventually moved to New York City and, several years later, began to explore the possibility of becoming fathers. They settled on the path of adoption, but after an initial plan to adopt fell through, they considered surrogacy. They came across the Bedford Research Lab in Massachusetts, which has conducted research that has made it possible to produce surrogate children with HIV-positive men. They then found a surrogacy agency and fertility clinic to work with alongside Bedford.

Several days after signing a contract with the surrogacy agency, they received an unexpected phone call: A three-day-old baby boy was available for immediate adoption in Brooklyn, N.Y.

While they felt completely unprepared, Rosenberg and van Gameren didn’t hesitate to welcome the little boy, whom they named Levi, into their family. Six months later, the new dads and their son moved to Canada, since van Gameren’s U.S. visa was coming to an end. (The Defense of Marriage Act prevented Rosenberg from sponsoring van Gameren to become a permanent resident of the U.S..)

Seventeen months after Levi’s birth, the couple welcomed twins, Ella and Sadie, through surrogacy.

The couple soon found that the arduous process of becoming fathers was nothing compared to the challenge of raising three children. “But we knew we couldn’t be the only gay dads going through this experience,” he said.

They started Gays With Kids with stories of their own experience, and it has continued to grow. Today, the website has more than 50 bloggers and contributing writers who cover everything from the adoption process to dating tips for single gay fathers, as well as touching personal stories for gay fathers.

“Nobody else was really covering these topics,” Rosenberg said. “It is really important to us to cover what the mainstream and gay press aren’t covering.”

And the website is making a difference. Rosenberg said it’s not often a day goes by when he doesn’t hear from thankful fathers who have found the support they needed from Gays With Kids. Its Facebook page is full of messages and photos from gay fathers around the world. “We are fathers, parents, people who love their children as much as the next father, mother, parent, person … What a beautiful thing you're doing,” reads one such post.

Rosenberg credits his liberal arts education from Connecticut College with his penchant for involvement. In addition to running Gays With Kids, he’s also been a longtime HIV/AIDS awareness activist, volunteering with the Boston-based AIDS Speakers Bureau and formerly working at the Fenway Community Health Center, an organization that provides health care and advocacy to the LGBT community.

“A liberal arts education helps you learn how to be a leader and how to truly value other people," he said. “Those are skills I’ve used throughout my life."


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