By KJ Philp, November 2015 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2015 here.
You’ve seen them on the front page of the Arizona Republic, on the cover of Echo and on billboards for Arizona’s Children Association. They’ve rallied in support of causes ranging from marriage equality and fundraising to adoption and families.
They are the Pattersons. David, Kevin, Cayla and Cayden (pictured clockwise). And their collective passion for equality, community and family was ignited when Lambda Legal asked them to become plaintiffs in one of Arizona’s marriage equality cases.
“What truly connects us to Arizona is the community,” Kevin and David agreed. “We can see the impact our family is having on many fronts, and the community keeps allowing us to do more.”
In fact, these dapper dads will celebrate one year legally married in the state of Arizona Oct. 17.
In the past year, David has returned to work, now as Banner Health System’s organizational development director, and Kevin, executive development director of for Banner Health, was selected for Valley Leadership’s Class 37. Meanwhile, Cayden, 9, is continuing in Girl Scouts with David as a troop leader and Cayla, 5, just started kindergarten.
And that’s not even taking Kevin’s work on the board of Arizona’s Children Association and Equality Arizona’s Project Jigsaw or David’s work with HRC Arizona’s Family Outreach Committee into consideration.
How do they do it all? Even they’re not sure. But these dads agree that when any activity aligns with passion, it doesn’t feel like work.
“This involvement is energizing and stimulates a deep passion in us,” the dads agreed. “The fact that individuals can get plugged in and can make lasting change has made this the community we want to raise our kids in. We want them to see that we all have a voice and the opportunity to use it to help others.”
Web-Exclusive Q&A with The Pattersons
The Pattersons: Our lives have changed drastically in many ways, and subtly in others. Once example is that we were able to legally change all of our names to reflect “Patterson” because we are legally married.
Since then, we dove head first into the major need in the Arizona foster and adoption system. I [Kevin] joined the board of Arizona’s Children Association and Equality Arizona to create and launch Project Jigsaw, a coalition of Arizona leaders and organizations that are joining forces to promote education, resources and services, and to propose legislation aimed to support prospective families choose to foster or adopt. This time last year, David chose to stay home with the girls. Going back to work has been great for him and our family, and has taken some adjusting on everyone’s part.
The biggest change for us, though, has been the peace of mind that has come from knowing that our family is more protected than we were a year ago because we have been able to legally get married.
On a serious note, I [Kevin] was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and it has had a significant impact on our family. I have a good prognosis and a positive attitude, yet it has been a challenging experience to work through.
Echo: Kevin, tell us more about your work with Equality Arizona and as chair of Project Jigsaw.
Kevin: Initially, I thought that as we approached individuals and organizations in the community to ask for support, that we would have to really sell the idea to them. At almost every meeting, the individual we are asking for support from interrupts to say, “This is wonderful work! You don’t have to go on any further. I’m in. What do you need?” Since May, we have been focusing on networking with LGBT organizations that provide adoption services to prospective families, behavioral health providers, support groups for kids and foster/adopt parents, pediatricians, academic professionals, and organizations that provide mentoring. We have been asking for a public statement of support, the opportunity to plug into their calendar of events, and the permission to add them as a provider to the consortium of resources we are creating. Next, we have been shooting videos and commercials sharing powerful stories on why fostering and adopting is so important. In our next phase, we will pursue legislative needs such as lobbying for the verbiage on many Arizona forms to change to support LGBT parents, and to learn which candidates support and promote child welfare. It really is meaningful work. Our end goal is to create a one-stop shop for all things LGBT adoption and foster-related. The process is intimidating and there are tons of wonderful resources that go underutilized. Our goal to find loving homes for all kids.
Echo: David, you the reigns on the Arizona Human Rights Campaign Family Outreach Committee, what can you tell us about your work on the council?
David: HRC Arizona does amazing work. The great thing about the LGBT organizations in Arizona is that we are beginning to align on our programs and promote stronger relationships to further everyone’s causes. Therefore Project Jigsaw will be a cornerstone and will provide a coalition-type opportunity for both HRC’s Family Outreach and EQAZ committees focused on foster and adoption work together because David and I driving both of those bodies of work.
The Pattersons: Arizona’s Children Association is one of the most fantastic organizations to work with in the foster and adoptions space. They invited me to join their board to gain an LGBT perspective. They are very diverse and inclusive in their mission to find kids a loving home, regarding of what the family looks like. They were quick to say that they wanted to send a message as a result of the marriage ruling, and they asked that our family be the face of this movement. It was so exciting and I am so grateful to help with that initiative. I will admit that it was a little overwhelming to drive by each day on my way to work and see it.
Echo: Speaking of that, is David’s step-parent adoption final now? How has the process been for you and the family?
The Pattersons: We have experienced many roadblocks in this process. Specifically, the girls are blood-related sisters and were born in different states. Each state has its own process for issuing birth certificates, and one state has proven to be extremely challenging. We have had to amend both documents and are waiting for final approval. Once again, this demonstrates why marriage equality and the need for improvements in the foster and adoption system are needed. Cross your fingers this will be finalized in 2016!
Echo: What advice do you have for community members who are just considering the idea of fostering to adoption?
The Pattersons: Start with mentoring, if you are unsure of whether or not you can have a child in your home full time. Many older kids need someone they can trust and have as a constant. If you do want kids permanently in your home, know that foster kids can come and go and that your main role is to provide a safe space. It can be very emotionally taxing when they come to take the kids for reunification or placement in an adoptive home. If you want to adopt only, know that your process might take longer because not every kid is eligible for adoption until rights are terminated. Therefore, just educating yourself on your choices, and knowing what you will accept or not accept into your home is key. Ask questions, do your research, or ask David and I and we will answer any questions.
Echo: Of all the things you are involved with, what do you find the most fulfilling?
The Pattersons: Project Jigsaw. This is a massive need in the state of Arizona. We have over 18,000 kids who do not have a permanent home. This number grows each year. Our infrastructure cannot support it and our state system needs many improvements. This project really does support our future generations. We need loving families.
Echo: I hear you four are starring in an upcoming documentary series showcasing LGBT families in Arizona; what else can your tell us about that?
The Pattersons: For Project Jigsaw, and for a campaign that Arizona’s Children Association is running, we launched a storytelling project showcasing the touching stories of many Arizona families, including ours, which will run on local networks, online commercials and be featured on many Arizona websites. Stay tuned to Equality Arizona for Project Jigsaw details and updates.
Echo: What would you consider your greatest feat?
The Pattersons: We still say that being involved in the marriage equality cases was the most meaningful work we’ve ever done. At the time, we had no clue how significant it would or how central of a focus our family would play in the public view during this process. I think the girls are going to have fun looking back and seeing what they were a part of.
Echo: Who are some of your role models/inspirations and why?
The Pattersons: For us, Karen and Nelda are huge role models. They are so strong and steadfast in their love and support of each other and LGBT issues. My dear friends, Nate Rhoton and Catherine Alonzo, are also role models for advocating for change in the community. We also respect the work that One Community does for anti-discrimination work.
For me [Kevin], my mother and sister have been a huge inspiration for our family. Their love, encouragement and support have been unending. They both wrote meaningful statements on our behalf during the marriage equality cases, and we were told these statements really moved many of the court officials reviewing the case. I am very grateful to them.
Echo: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The Pattersons: Never say never. You will be that parent that takes your kids to McDonalds three days in a row. You will be that parent that gives them an iPad to be quiet. And you will lose your cool with them and have to apologize frequently.
Echo: Other than family efforts, have the girls expressed or shown any interest in working to raise awareness in any specific area?
The Pattersons: They are natural walking billboards communicating the power of what happens when amazing and overlooked kids find loving homes. They raise awareness by capturing the hearts and minds of those they interact with. They are very special girls.
Echo: If you could summarize your efforts and experiences in 2015, what would you say:
The Pattersons: It has been our honor and complete pleasure to serve the LGBT community in Arizona. Thank you for supporting the work we are involved in. Thank you for loving us and our kids. The work is just beginning; there is much more to do! The theme of my year has been to develop leaders in various parts of our community. I think it’s important because focusing on leadership now sets our future generations up for greater success.
Echo: Cayla, you started Kindergarten this fall; what’s it like being in school like your big sister?
Cayla: I like it because I don’t have to take naps anymore, and I am learning to read.
Echo: What’s it like having a little sister at school now?
Cayden: It’s cool because I see her at lunch and we waive to each other. She seems happy.
Echo: Happy birthday, Cayden! Tell us what it’s like to be 9.
Cayden: 9 is good so far! There’s not really a difference between 8 and 9, other than my teachers give me more homework. I had a party this year where my friends and me painted pictures of owls and had cupcakes.
Echo: Are you both in Girl Scouts now? What can you tell me about it? What’s your favorite part?
Cayden: No, just me. My favorite part is having my dad there and making friends with all of the girls. We have a trip planned where we are going to pet otters and I can’t wait.
Cayla: I can do it next year!
Echo: What are your hobbies? In what ways do you like to help others?
Cayden: I like to be a good friend.
Cayla: I like to speak Spanish.
Echo: What does family mean to you?
Cayden: Family is knowing that my dads love me, even when I’m in trouble. I like my house and my dogs. I know we look different, but it doesn’t bother me.
Cayla: Family is my daddies and my dogs. I like when we go out for dinner and talk about our day.