Lessons learned from a quartet of gay parents

How two men and two women from conservative backgrounds wound up raising kids in Metro-Atlanta.

Before there were four, three of my parents met at a bar in the early 90’s.

Lesley Brogan (Les) and Linda Ellis (Mom) were in love and fresh out of theological seminary while John Blevins (Dad) worked in the clinic at Grady Hospital helping those living with HIV/Aids.  

Each born and raised in different conservative settings around the US: Les in Mattoon, IL, Mom in Chattanooga, TN and Dad in Winston Salem, NC, they were all too aware of the sexual orientation based they would experience throughout their lives.

The trio planned to share a booth that night, and while Les and my Dad knew each other from their collective work at Positive Impact, Mom and Dad had only met a few times.  The conversation shifted from religion, sports and music to the possibility of them raising a child together before the cheese dip got to the table.

Mom and Les had been together for 8 some odd years and had always been extremely open about their desire for children, despite Les’ reluctance to bare the child herself. The two had been committed for four years, and regardless of the federal ban of gay marriage – starting a family seemed to be the next logical step.  

That’s where convention and biological possibility voiced their personified objections, and the two had to look outside of their relationship to find a way to conceive a child.  John was Lesley’s close friend and agreed to meet Linda that night to discuss their future together.

By the end of the night, the lesbian couple and the single gay 30 year old decided they would have a child together.

I was three years old when my brother was born under nearly the same circumstances as myself.  However this time they did so with a more secure sense of the whole process and the help of a new and welcomed face.

Rande Allen met my dad two years after I was born and quickly settled in as my father and parent, a role
I’m sure he never expected he’d fill, but one that I’m really glad he did.

Regardless of their unconditional love for their children, my parents shared concerns of raising a child in such an unconventional environment, and while it’s nothing compared to the prejudice they faced, they were scared of people’s reactions.

Family 1
(Left to right Sam, Mom, me, Dad and Les.) This was taken in April at our family’s third same sex wedding for my Mom’s brother, Ray.

It makes me kind of sad to think back on the fear and uncertainty they must’ve experienced, but they kept it together and continued supporting us.

Honestly, until I was five I thought that being gay just meant being really good friends with someone. It never occurred to me growing up that the number of parents I had and their respective sexual orientation would have any impact on me, but it did.

Like everyone, I’m a product of my environment.  I’m shaped, molded, scolded and nurtured by the people who raised me.  And in my case I have more people to be shaped by than most.

I come from not two halves that make one whole, but two wholes that double the encouragement and reassurance that I receive on a daily basis.

Les is honestly one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve ever met, going out of her way to offer support and comfort to anyone who needs it.  She once sat down with the dean of Candler (a strict and feared man) and split a peanut butter and jelly with him because it looked like he was having a hard day.  She regularly blesses and buys food for the hungry, gives rides to those stuck in a storm without an umbrella, and once sat with a distraught friend of mine for three hours after he found out his mom was admitted to rehab.  She’s my mom, and when I hold doors for those behind me, smile at strangers in front of me and go out of my way to help someone, I thank her for how she’s shaped me.

I’ve noticed that Mom can’t really sit still for long.  Last summer she took a day off work and built a fully functional bed-swing for our porch out of some wood she found in our shed.  She went out to buy a mattress, and a year later it still works great despite the bright green color.  Mom has this creative drive that I definitely inherited from her.  She works with wood, metal and glass, and I work with pens, pencils and paint, but I dive into the joy of creation because of her.  She provides structure to my life as the summer calendar she created for me can attest to, and she keeps me grounded.  Whenever I pick up a pencil or a pen and think of all the things I create, I thank her for that inspiration.

Family 2
When I was ten or so, Dad and Rande foster parented a friend of our’s named Kash. He had some relation to Rande’s side of the family, and to this day I can’t tell if I should call him my brother, cousin or something in between.  There he is between Sam and I.

Dad doesn’t have the best eyesight and is pretty hard of hearing.  He was three years old when he got glasses, and had to wear a flesh-colored patch for a few years to correct his lazy eye.  And somehow, the way he interprets the world is on a level of understanding that I doubt I’ll ever reach.  He got his doctorate in theology when I was in kindergarten, and it wasn’t until we started having conversations about how the two of us view God and religion that I started to grasp how smart he was.  Sure if I wanna talk to him I have to talk towards his “good ear”, but he’s taught me how to interpret the world in an unfiltered way.  He’s taught me to be smart as much as one can, and no matter how hard it is, he’s taught me to listen to others.  I thank him for that insight.

When Rande decided to go back to school to get his MBA, I don’t think anyone could’ve stopped him.  It took him a few years, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of vacation days, but he walked across the stage with that degree in his hand.  He’s one of the most dedicated and hard working people I’ve ever met.  He keeps me honest when it comes to myself and others, and he knows how to hold me up when I don’t feel like standing.  He continues to push me even when I think I’m at my best, and even though I know I’m not there yet, he’s still there.  Everytime I go back on an essay I’m writing and read through the entire thing to change two words, I thank him.  Whenever I’m sketching a design for a painting I want to do, and continue to do sketch after sketch until I can’t anymore, I thank him.  Whenever I’m about to stop reaching
for something because it’s hard, but keep going because I can, I thank him.  I thank him for that dedication.

Sure I have Mom’s hair and Dad’s nose.  But I have Rande’s dedication to his work, and Les’ kindness to strangers.  I have Mom’s creativity and artistic drive.  I have Les’ passion and ear for music.  I have Dad’s knowledge and curiosity.  I have Rande’s commitment and honesty, and I have all of their support.

I’m sure they still worry, all parents do.

I am myself.  Like everyone else, I’m a product of my environment. I’m a product of a support group that not everyone understands. I’m a product of four parents that continue to shape me in ways I’m not even fully aware of.

And I thank them for that.

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Decatur High School, GA
Lessons learned from a quartet of gay parents