Right from the start of their relationship, Eric Charles-Gallo and Louis Gallo of Kansas City, Missouri, knew they wanted to be dads.
“We only wanted one kiddo at first, and thought we’d be lucky to have one,” Eric tells Yahoo Parenting. He says it with a chuckle because now, nearly a decade later, the two men have adopted six kids between the ages of 4 and 12 — many with significant medical issues — and fostered about 30.
“It just felt like it was the right thing for us to do,” explains Eric, who quit his job as a visual merchandising manager 12 years ago to work at a local foster and adoption agency. “And it felt really important to give back in some way to kids who are already here instead of bringing another child into the world.”
They’re still not done giving back, either. The couple is now in the process of adopting yet another foster child, 16-year-old Darnell. And while the teen doesn’t have any of the health challenges faced by his soon-to-be siblings, he is struggling with an issue that his new dads are uniquely qualified to support him through: being gay.
“I think when Darnell first came to us, we both kind of had that moment where we were like, ‘Do we want all the issues that come with having a gay teen?’” Eric, 39, admits. “And being gay parents, people are already looking at us under a microscope. We wondered, if they see we have a gay son, would they say, ‘Oh, they turned him gay?’ Will people think it’s weird?”
Darnell had the same initial reservations. “I didn’t know how it would be to have two gay dads,” the high-school cheerleader tells Yahoo Parenting, admitting he was wary about their intentions. “I wondered, why would two dads want a gay teen?” But soon, he says, “I discovered they were just a really loving, caring family.”
It was a stark difference from the atmosphere Darnell was experiencing at home in small-town Missouri with his biological family — where a combination of homophobic rejection and an abusive relationship between his parents sent him running away one cold winter evening earlier this year.
“He was picked up by police and brought to detention, then they gave him a day in court and said, ‘You can go back home or you can go into foster care.’ He chose foster care,” Eric says, although some of his family placements wound up being less than welcoming. “They were like, okay, you can be gay, just don’t be gay here — which happens a lot [to gay youth in foster care].”
Darnell was soon assigned to a group home, but it wasn’t a good fit, which was when his file came across Eric’s desk. “I did a lot of work trying to find a family for him, but the more I looked at his profile the more I realized we had a lot in common, and it came down to the wire with him having no place to go,” he recalls. “They asked if we would be a visiting resource and we said, sure, he could come for weekends or whatever, and when he came, he just stayed.”
Eric and Darnell realized quickly that they were kindred spirits — Eric had been an avid cheerleader as a teen, they have similar personalities, and both are biracial. In fact, Eric explains, it was that latter quality that was his personal struggle as a teen, more so than realizing he was gay. “I come from a neighborhood where you’re either white or you’re black,” he says. “So that’s how I was different.” He came out at 21 and Louis came out at 19, he adds, and both men are lucky to have very supportive families. And now they’re able to provide that for Darnell, while also showing him, through example, how possible it is to lead a proud, full life.
“He had never seen a loving relationship between two guys, so he didn’t think it was possible,” Eric says. “He didn’t think it was possible for two guys to raise kids and be happy, and be married, and be monogamous, and not be the sensationalized gay drama he saw on TV. So what we’ve been able to show him is yes, you can be a gay couple that has the same issues about putting milk on the table and going to work and paying bills [as anyone]. It’s more about us being dads and parents and married as husbands than it is about being gay. It’s been an eye opener for him.”
Kind of like his newfound happiness. Though he misses his biological brother and sister, who remain at home with his mom, Darnell has found new purpose in being the eldest at the Gallo household. “I feel like a role model for them,” he says about the little ones: Justice, 4; Ava, 5; Dane and Giovanni, 6; Michael, 10; and Lake, 12. “I’m just so excited.”
It’s stories like their own, Eric points out, that underscore the injustice of new laws like the one passed in Michigan earlier this month, which allows adoption agencies to turn away LGBT families for religious reasons. “There are so many kids in foster care waiting to be adopted, and when you shut off a group you shut off a resource of potential loving families for them,” he says. “And it breaks my heart when it feels like you’re not doing the best thing for kids.”