Soledad O’Brien: Gay dads unafraid to chart new ground

Posted by Soledad O'Brien on

The concept of family can mean one thing to you and another to someone else. Soledad O'Brien follows a same sex couple in their struggle against the legal and personal obstacles to become parents. Can these men achieve a life as mainstream as their parents? Watch "Gary and Tony Have a Baby," June 24, 8 p.m. ET   See video clip below:

"I settle into my chair on the set of 'Larry King Live.' The familiar light board map of the U.S. glows prominently behind us. Larry is celebrating his 25th anniversary this year. I've come on to talk about my new 'In America' documentary: 'Gary and Tony Have a Baby.' Twenty-five years ago, Larry interviewed starlets, politicians and newsmakers. His first gay guests often spoke about AIDS. Today his show profiles my characters, gay men having a baby with a surrogate. A lot has changed in a quarter century.

"Tony Brown, of Gary and Tony, is with me. He used to be an actor, the kind of guy who might have some day made it on Larry's show to talk about his latest role. Instead, he was cast in Jeffrey, a 1995 play about a gay man who swears off sex because of the AIDS epidemic. Tony played Jeffrey's love interest, a hunky gay man who is also HIV positive. The role transformed his life. He dropped acting and became an activist for gay civil rights. We have pictures of him in our documentary, muscle-bound and wearing a tank top, marching the streets of New York and staging acts of civil disobedience.

"But a lot also changed for Tony over the years. As we settle in to do the show, Gary's face pops up via satellite from New York. He is back in my offices with their 6-month-old son Nicholas. These gay activists have refocused their lives on fighting for gay families. Their work has meant that 5 U.S. states now allow gays limited marriage rights. They can go to court to make both of them legal parents to Nicholas. Their once 'radical' activism looks pretty much like a regular couple forming a traditional family.

"The documentary represents the face of my new initiative, In America with Soledad O'Brien. The idea is to do in-depth stories about communities whose voices often get lost in the cacophony of daily newsgathering. The concept was born with Black in America about 2 years ago as a 2 day, 4-hour documentary surveying the black community. We had trouble representing everyone because the community was so vast. So we are now on Black in America 3. With 'In America: Gary and Tony Have a Baby,' we are trying out a new concept. That documentary is a one-hour tightly focused look at the journey of two people, a way for viewers to watch a human drama unfold organically rather than experience communities as issues or topics of debate. It is part of a larger Gay in America initiative that includes stories about black lesbians marrying in their Washington church, gay teens in Mississippi trying to stem violence in their schools and Atlanta gay families talking about how they had their children.

... "What's most interesting is watching a community marked by bold activism feuding about family values. Gary and Tony belonged to Act-up in the early days of street theater and angry resistance. Now their commitment is to changing laws that hamper their desire to have a life just like their parents. They had a wedding in Canada. That marriage is recognized by the state of New York, giving them some limited state rights. But it's not nearly what they want. My parents did something similar so I understand the situation they face. My father is white and my mother is black. They could not legally marry in Maryland where they lived so they traveled to Washington D.C. They had 6 children before the federal government allowed interracial couples to marry. The push for marriage rights is as much about achieving benefits like social security as it is about changing society.

... "For Gary and Tony, creating a family has been as much about money and perseverance as it has about social change. We surveyed the 3 surrogacy agencies who are willing to work with gay couples and they estimate there have been no more than 1,000 gay men who have had children with surrogates. The process can run as high as $160,000. Gary and Tony inherited money from an elderly neighbor who they had befriended. Our story about them is just about one way that gays and lesbians have created families; it is as much about that journey as it is about the details of making babies. There are many more thousands of lesbians having biological children with sperm donors, including a couple that had a little girl using Tony's sperm. Our documentary opens a window for the public to see how these new families are taking shape, regardless of their position on gay issues. It charts the evolution of a community by giving an inside peak. The face of gay America is changing. That is evident when you see Tony and Gary beaming on Larry King Live with me, discussing their family life."

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