From My Family to the Family Pride Network

Joe Matessa, President at Family Pride Network

I was somewhat of a late-bloomer, and didn’t come-out until I was 30 years old.  As I was coming to terms with my sexual orientation, I knew one thing for certain – I didn’t want compromise the two things that I’d always dreamt about: getting married, and having a family.  Fast-forward 6 years to June 2006.  I’m not getting any younger, and I’m not gonna waste my time dating guys that don’t want to have kids.  Against the advice of my friends and family, I would come right out and ask guys on the first or second date whether or not they want to have kids.  As you can imagine, there weren’t a lot of third dates.  So there I am, on a friend’s rooftop deck overlooking the Chicago Pride Parade.  I meet this awesome guy, Billy.  I may have had a drink or two, and true to form – I asked him if he wanted to have kids.  I believe that I may have even asked him if he wanted to have my kids.  And so it began.   

Three months later, we started talking about how we were going to make this happen.  In the state of Illinois, one of us would’ve had to adopt the child as a single, straight male, and somewhere down the road, we could do a second-parent adoption – providing we got the right judge, in the right county.  As we went through the home study process, our partner would’ve been recognized as a “friend”, or a “roommate”.  That just wasn’t acceptable to us.  It didn’t feel like how I dreamt of starting my family.  Billy is in higher education, and their faculty recruitment process can take up to 10-12 months.  So he found a potential opportunity, and asked me how I felt about moving to Washington, D.C.  That following June, we quit our jobs, sold my house, and moved our lives to D.C. 

In doing some research before we left, I stumbled upon an organization called Rainbow Families DC, who happened to be having their annual conference a couple of months before we moved.  So we flew-in for the weekend to see what it was all about – and were so glad that we did.  It was a full day of speakers, workshops and networking for LGBT parents and prospective parents; it was exactly what we needed.  A year later, we had our wedding (before it was legal), and started the process of adoption.  We initially started with a local agency.  However, as we got deeper into the process, came to realize that we were about 2-3 years down the list.  Again…not getting any younger.  So we partnered with a second agency that had a more national reach – Independent Adoption Center (IAC). 

We knew that we wanted two, and were hoping that they might be siblings.  We also knew that infants kindda ‘scared’ us, so we were hoping that they might be toddlers.  Both agencies shared with us that it was quite unlikely that we would get what we were looking for, and counseled us to start with one infant, then a couple of years later try for another.  So that’s how we proceeded.  Billy and I often joked about how great it would be to have twins, but never actually thought it would happen.  As you go through the preparation, there’s a high level of emotional anxiety, and IAC is constantly reminding you that “you’ll get the children that you were meant to have.”

At 10:36, the morning of Friday, November 13th, 2009 - less than two months after our profile became active in IAC’s “parent pool”, I got a call from a birthmother while I was sitting at my desk at work.  She introduced herself, told me that she had one-year-old twin boys, and asked me if I wanted to be their new daddy.  We’d had some failed matches before, so I tried not to get my hopes up – but this one felt different, and I was overwhelmed with joy. And here we are, five years later…we truly got the children that we were meant to have. 

Rainbow Families DC was such an important part of our path to parenthood, and an amazing network of friends and resources as we continued in our journey.  As many of you know, it does take a village.  When we moved to Columbus four years ago – there were a couple of factors that contributed to our decision.  One being the affordability and overall quality of living, two being a great community to raise a family, and three being a vibrant gay community.  While Columbus has been all that we’d hoped it would be, we’ve missed the support network that we had with Rainbow Families, and are grateful to my fellow participants in the United Way of Central Ohio’s Pride Leadership program for their commitment to help me start the Family Pride Network. 

In March 2013, I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.  Now living in the state of Ohio, with a husband and 4 year-old twin boys, I needed to make sure that my family was protected in the event that something happened to me.  Fortunately, because we adopted in Washington, DC, both of our names are on boys’ birth certificates, so they were fully protected by law.  But for most LGBT families in the state of Ohio, that wouldn’t have been the case. 

No one should have to quit their jobs, sell their home, and move to another state in the United States of America for the legal right to be a family.  And while the laws in the state of Ohio still aren’t in our favor, it won’t be long.  Family Pride Network won’t just provide a community of support and resources for LGBT parents and prospective parents – it will establish us as a legitimate organization that represents the future of the LGBT community in Central Ohio.

We have much to be proud of.  

Interested in talking to Joe and Billy? Email info@familypridenetwork.org to get connected!