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Our big gay wedding

21 May

On Saturday, May 18th I had the pleasure of marrying my best friend. In front of a hundred or so dear friends and family on a beach in Provincetown, MA., I did something I never ever imagined I’d be able to do legally in this country.

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Somebody’s getting married!

The ceremony, led by my my dear friend from high school, Shannon – was everything I’d hoped it would be. We started planning with the idea that we could subtly include some purpose – a few readings by LGBT writers, maybe a casual mention of marriage equality since that’s the work both of us do. Let’s just say subtlety has never been either of our best qualities.

Who could stay silent when you discover you’re getting married on the 43rd anniversary of the first gay marriage ever performed in the US? Or that you’re getting married on the 9th anniversary of the first state legalizing marriage equality – and you’re getting married in that state?! Casual mentions plus a reading of Harvey Milk’s “Hope” speech and a request of our guests that they throw fabulous parties when marriage equality becomes federal law made for quite the purpose-driven wedding ceremony.

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Our place cards – everyone had to find their photo!

On to the reception and we did something fun – instead of place cards, we found photos of nearly everyone in attendance. Since I’m a photographer and pictures are a big part of my life, it felt appropriate. People had to look for their photo to find out what table they were seated at.

Then came the tables. Each one was named after an LGBT hero or heroine and featured at the centerpiece, a large photo on one side and a brief bio on the other. It was important to us both that we recognize all those who’ve worked so hard before us to make what we were doing, possible.

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The “Sylvia Rivera” table, honoring the transgender activist and Stonewall veteran.

And of course, who doesn’t have a photo booth at their wedding nowadays? We just set up a simple backdrop and provided a trunk full of horrifically gay props including a rainbow umbrella, rainbow boas, mustaches, glasses, crowns and a blow-up rainbow unicorn.

And if all that wasn’t enough, moments after announcing on Facebook that I’d become engaged, my high school senior class president messaged me saying she wanted to make our cake. She’d started a small business making cakes and as you can see, she was incredible. Her company, Devilish Desserts, is clearly not one of those to avoid while planning a gay wedding!

Following dinner, we all went to the Wave Bar in downtown Provincetown where our very straight family and friends danced the night away with hundreds of lesbians and a few drag queens (it was single women’s weekend). We even met a lovely lesbian couple who got married the same day!

A huge thank you to all of you who helped with contributions to help make our big day possible!

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Taking advantage of our makeshift photobooth!

Overall, it was a marvelous day filled with tons of love and at the end of the day, Sean and I share a favorite memory – in the middle of the ceremony, Shannon asked everyone to be silent for a moment as they considered the vows we’d made and how they could support us in our new life together. And for a moment, after a week of hustle and bustle and frantically organizing the wedding, after driving 10 hours, dealing with family and everything in between, for one moment all you could hear was the gentle lapping of the waves over the sand. Simple, beautiful, and perfect.

A few people have asked us to publish our vows, so here they are. There may be a few insider references, but you get the idea…

Jamie’s vows:

Before our family and friends, and especially Eli, I take you Sean, to spend my days and nights with. To love you and to like you, to hold you tight when either of us need it and to give you the room you need to grow as we do so together. I promise to build our family in a way that honors our past and strengthens the future for those who come after us. I promise to continue to laugh with you, cry with you and continue posting photos of you an Eli sleeping on the internet. And this above all, as our lives blossom together and the winds take us in new directions, I promise to call any place you are, my home.

Sean’s vows:

I promise to be patient, to listen, and to remember that you’re usually right.
I promise to cheer you on when you’re doing great things and hold your hand through hard times.
I promise to make you laugh when you’d rather not, to make you slow down every now and then and live in the moment, and when I’m so very very mad at you to remember that we’re a team.
I promise to teach you how to drive if you’ll teach me how to swim, and to make you turn off Facebook sometimes.
I promise that no matter what comes next for us that we will face it together. Because without you I would be completely lost.
More than anything, I promise to love you. And when you’re old and wise and boring I’ll be right there too – maybe a little less wise, and I will love you still.

Our cake, designed by Devilish Desserts - the inside was rainbow layer cake!

Our cake, designed by Devilish Desserts – the inside was rainbow layer cake!

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Walking down the aisle with our moms

Our first dance - there was a technical malfunction, so the whole crowd sang "Rainbow Connection" a cappella and we danced.

Our first dance – there was a technical malfunction, so the whole crowd sang “Rainbow Connection” a cappella and we danced.

After many arguments over clothing, Sean surprised me by showing up in a kilt like mine.

After many arguments over clothing, Sean surprised me by showing up in a kilt like mine.

The head table was of course - the Harvey Milk table!

The head table was of course – the Harvey Milk table!

Why I’m Marrying Sean Carlson

5 Dec
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Me at 4 in a rainbow shirt…just sayin.

When I was a little boy, I read all the same books every kid read. I watched all the Disney movies everyone else saw. I knew the happily-ever-afters in and out. The prince found the princess, woke her up with a kiss and they rode off into the sunset.

From the time I was 10, I was also doing musicals so I figured out early on that I was gay. Even though I may have not known what it all meant, I knew I was different and there had to be a reason that those movies weren’t telling the happily-ever-after that played out in my head. So I hid.

That's me on the right...I was Daddy Warbucks in Annie when I was a sophomore in high school.

That’s me on the right…I was Daddy Warbucks in Annie when I was a sophomore in high school.

I went to high school and continued doing musicals and hating sports – ever the cliché, I could neither kick, throw or catch a ball. By then, the only mention of gay people I ever heard was about AIDS. It was the late 80s and being gay was no longer something that was invisible, it was a forbidden, terrible thing to be. Further into my closet I went. That 10 year old voice in my head telling me that marriage would never happen for me grew ever louder.

In college, things seemed to be changing. Despite seeing Matthew Shepard brutally murdered and the AIDS crisis continue, I was growing up – it was time to start standing up for who I was. I came out. But that 10 year old in my head was still shouting “You’ll never get married – people like you will never be good enough for that.”

Me with my best friend Laura (now a Tony Winner and huge TV star) and Julia (a huge Broadway star) at one of the first concerts I produced.

Me with my best friend Laura (now a Tony Winner and huge TV star) and Julia (a huge Broadway star) at one of the first concerts I produced.

After college, I moved to New York. I worked in theatre, produced Broadway concerts, and became a voice actor for Pokémon and dozens of other cartoons. I was out and I was happy – I even had a few relationships. I was never wealthy, but I made ends meet. I was fighting for equality and it felt right, but strangely enough – I still had that little boy’s voice echoing in my head telling me I’d never have that day – the same one I’d seen my brothers through and stood by as my best friend was married, twice. It wasn’t something that made me angry – ever. It was something I’d just accepted as fact.

An autumn afternoon in DC

An autumn afternoon in DC

A few years later, I was putting together a rally to fight the anti-gay military policy, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I’d brought a bus full of people from New York to DC for the event and the night before, I was running to different gay bars around the city to promote the rally. I walked into Nellie’s sports bar and a man walked up to me. He said “You’re not from here, are you?” “How do you know?” I replied. “You’re carrying a big gay metro DC map. Which of course I was, with rainbow flags emblazoned over all the gay bars. He grabbed half my flyers and spent the rest of the night chatting and getting people to join us for the rally the next morning.

And then this happened.

And then this happened.

Flash forward a year and a half and I was living in Washington DC with Sean. It was New Year’s Eve and we were celebrating in a cozy gay bar with about 40 friends. As the countdown approached, no one was watching the TV, everyone had turned to face Sean and I. I immediately knew something was up. Sean hugged me and whispered into my ear “I have to ask you something.” With tears in his eyes, and having created the public spectacle he knew an actor from New York would clearly love – Sean got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

And for the first time in my life, I no longer hear that 10-year old’s voice.

We both now work as organizers in DC, fighting for equality and teaching others how to fight for the things they care most about. We still don’t make a lot of money, but we’re happy – happier than a lot of people I know. We’re not wealthy, but we make ends meet. And next May, we’re going to get married in Provincetown, MA. This isn’t too far from where I grew up and where my mom (whose health won’t allow her to travel too far) can get to fairly easily. Happily, some friends are pitching in to help us have the wedding we really want and we couldn’t be more grateful.

I’m marrying Sean Carlson because he is strong and he is a person I laugh with more than any other person I’ve ever met. i’ve watched him grow and have enjoyed growing with him. Sean is someone whose values I share. We spend evenings sometimes violently agreeing with one another on the important things we hold most dear to our hearts. On top of that, he loves my dog Eli – truly, the two are inseparable. I’m marrying Sean to honor that 10-year old who never dared dream of what I might one day have. And I’m marrying him because I love him.

We understand that us getting married is bound to be a political statement – and while that’s clearly not the reason we’re getting married, I can’t help but hope some 10-year old kid out there doing Evita reads this and realizes that there is nothing that’s too good for him.

If you’d like to help us have the wedding we hope to have – and after helping those who need it most you have an extra dollar or two, please visit our little fundraising page. Thanks again for reading our blog and we wish you the happiest of holidays.

The Little Engine that Could: Family Week Day Six

4 Aug

My favorite book growing up was The Little Engine that Could. It was the most requested bedtime story and I think it has also provided a bit of a narrative for my life. And other than the creepy clown in the illustrations, it always made me happy.

We’ve been through five days and there’s only two more to go. I think I can, I think I can. Growing up gay is a constant reminder of the struggles that little engine faced. Getting knocked down and getting back up again over and over again, whether it’s literal or figurative – it’s something every LGBT person I know can relate to. And when we have kids, they’re sometimes going through the same thing on our behalf – helping to educate on what discrimination does to families like theirs.

The Outspoken Generation is a new program started by Family Equality and chaired by Zach Wahls and Emma Robinson. It’s focus is to provide a platform and guidance for teen children of LGBT parents. This morning we started with a heavily-attended panel featuring several of these well-spoken teens. Emotions ran deep and kids spoke from their hearts about their incredible families. Some kids have been raised in places where they’ve never faced a single adversity regarding their family and others have felt at times that to protect themselves, that they needed to lie about who their parents were.

Coming Out is not just something we do as LGBT people, it was explained by Zach Wahls and other members of the panel that it’s sometimes a similar process for our kids. And like us, we are sometimes faced with communities that are intolerant and even hateful. But as was made evident by the panelists, it seems the younger the kid the more tolerant and supportive our communities have become. The youngest people on the panel spoke about their families and the bigotry shown their parents almost as something you only hear about on television – all their friends and their friends’ families have never treated them as anything but another family in town. So as the panel progressed, it became more clear that through education, and through excellent parenting, the world is changing before our eyes.

If I learned anything from the panel, it’s that the parents of these young people have done an extraordinary job bringing them up.

Following the panel, we began preparations for the Annual Clambake. This is one of Family Equality’s major fundraising events and it’s held in one of the most beautiful places on earth – the base of the iconic Pilgrim Monument.

Roughly 300 made the climb up the hill to the tent next to the 100+ year old tower. Rainbow leis around everyone’s necks and smiles on their faces, they sat down to a lobster dinner. The kids were running circles around the monument and I was able to take photos of some beautiful families with one of the most stunning backdrops I’ve ever seen.

Following some brief remarks from Family Council leadership, a special guest of the event came up to Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler. A lesbian veteran burdened with an oxygen tank, bringing with her an enormous brood of kids said to Jenn “my daughter has something to say to you.” The young teen reached into her canvas purse and handed Jenn a crumpled $20 bill and a handful of change. Choking back tears, Jenn helped her fill out the donation form so the young girl would get proper credit for her contribution.

Dinner was followed by lots of incredible conversations and lively dancing. Please enjoy some of the day’s photos. Many more can be seen at Equality Photography.

 

The Giving Tree: Family Week in Provincetown Day 5

2 Aug

I’m trying to figure out why I’m calling this day The Giving Tree. It’s obviously one of my favorite children’s stories and I’m a fan of pretty much everything Shel Silverstein wrote. I also look at the story as a euphemism for parenting.

This morning, my day started with an emotionally-charged panel featuring kids from Family Equality Council’s “Outspoken Generation.” 7 teen children of LGBT parents were on the panel and it was one of the most heavily-attended events I’d seen all week. The room was packed to overflowing and Dr. Kim Bergman moderated the event. While one of the main draws of the event was Youtube star and author Zach Wahls, all the kids had really poignant and important things to say.

With the recent (and quickly debunked) study from Mark Regnerus has provided a springboard for misinformationists to spread lies and falsehoods about our families. But with these young men and women on the scene, a firsthand experience of being raised by LGBT parents can be told. I’m hoping Family Equality Council lifts up this vital program that’s currently missing from the national dialogue. Every one of the young people on the panel today should be appearing on television wherever we can put them.

Following the panel, Sean and I had scheduled time for some wedding planning and wound up at a tasting at one of the locations we’re thinking of. It seems we have a lot more work to do, but that just means another trip to Ptown this fall! I was also really happy friends Amy, Ty and (an asleep) Declan joined us for a little stroll as well. Wedding advice is always helpful!

The late afternoon and evening activities included a screening of The Muppets, a happy hour for Transgender parents and then a fundraiser comedy night starring Kate Clinton. All were extraordinarily well-attended and Kate’s show was so packed, I got booted from the theatre, so I couldn’t take the photos I was asked to. It looks like Family Equality is having quite a successful week!

The night closed with some drinks with the now-legal Zach Wahls and then a run-in with some old friends from New York. I’m glad the rain seems to be gone as it was one of the most beautiful nights I’ve seen in a long time!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Family Week Day 4

1 Aug

What a day!! There are so many incredible families here. I think probably twice as many as there were last year. It all reminds me of being on Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Cruise when it was brand new. Seeing so many dads and moms and these kids that nearly every one of them had to fight for. I believe there’s something to be said for that.

How many straight parents can say they had to fight to have their children? Of course there are many, but I don’t know of a single case where a gay or lesbian couple was able to fall into parenting. They all either adopted, worked with a surrogate, had to deal with artificial insemination, or even if they had kids from a previous heterosexual relationship, many live in places where their spouse still isn’t the legal parent of their child. I’m sure there are cases out there where everything worked out swimmingly, but the vast majority of gay parents had to/has to fight to be a parent. I’ve never heard of a gay or lesbian couple having a child by accident. Every one of these kids is wanted, loved and it shows.

This morning, I went back to take some more shots with the Littles. A whole lot more bouncy house time, some bouncy slide time, facepainting, temporary tattoos and pure joy everywhere. I followed that up with a trip to Kidapalooza where everyone was tie-dying t-shirts (or legs and arms if you ask Riane from Family Equality). I stopped to support Cape Cod’s PFLAG group and pick up a gorgeous rainbow sweater for Eli – pictures of that will follow once we return home.

In the afternoon, I got a surprise text from my extraordinarily pregnant friend Amy. She’s amazing and one of my besties from high school. She and her husband Ty and adorable boy Declan were in town for the day and wanted to grab a bite. I was happy to have a little break where I could join them!

Then came the bonfire. Now as history tells it, we’ve never (or at least very infrequently) had a bonfire night that wasn’t at least a little rainy. Last year it drizzled a bit throughout, but I don’t recall it being all that bad. And as of this past weekend, things looked pretty good. No showers in the forecast. But then apparently, someone must have told whoever’s in charge that it was bonfire night. And the rain came. Now the bonfire and s’more-making (with a generous donation from Hershey’s) happens to be the obsession love of Family Equality Council’s Executive Director, Jennifer Chrisler. Unfortunately I’d heard Jenn wasn’t going to be coming to Family Week this year due to the very recent birth of her third little boy, Matthew. But there were then rumblings that she would be here on Wednesday. Why would she come on Wednesday? The day AFTER her beloved bonfire and s’mores??

The bonfires were set-up, with holes dug and fire started by my very own Beyoncé, Family Equality Council’s New Media Manager Sean Carlson. The misty rain was annoying and it was overcast, but it looked like it maybe possibly perhaps could clear up. And it did, briefly anyway. Then in came the families. I was in shock. We all assumed no one would come due to the rain, but there were twice as many there as last year. I was instructed to get photos of the messiest s’moriest faces I could, and it wasn’t hard.

Then the rain turned from a mist to a drizzle. The camera was put away so it still works for the rest of the week. And the s’more-covered kids (and adults) made their way out. Drenched, we worked to extinguish the fires – btw – didn’t know this, but you’re not supposed to just cover a beach fire with sand. You have to put it out with water because the heat from the fire will get trapped under the sand and stay hot for days. Then someone could step on it and get burned. Crazy, right…just a little tip for all you beach fire lovers. And just as we were about to put out the last one, there’s Jennifer Chrisler – also drenched, toasting a soggy marshmallow over the flickering flame. She just couldn’t stay away.

Gay Dads, 4 Kids Terrorized by Neighbors – You Can Help!

13 Jul

Roy, Felix and their four children

You may recall last week when we told you about the Arizona family that has been threatened, had their property set on fire and their children chased down the street by men with guns while police did nothing.

While local authorities are  still being pressured by the media and people around the country to investigate this and prosecute accordingly, not much has changed for the two dads and their four adopted children.

While we can’t go wave a magic wand and make Arizona police and elected officials comprehend the idea that all families should be treated equally, we can show them they’re not alone.

The Family Equality Council and their new media manager, Sean Carlson (my fiancé) are attempting to do just that. Last August, I took part in a life-changing week in Provincetown, MA. Family Equality Council’s Family Week is a place for families of all different combinations. Two Dads, Two Moms, Two Grandpas, Two Grandmas – no matter what – everyone is welcome.

For the first time in many of their lives, children of LGBT parents are shown they are not the only family like theirs. In fact, not only are they introduced to a world with hundreds of families like their own, they are even celebrated in a parade down the main street of town.

With your help, the Family Equality Council is going to be bringing this family to Provincetown for Family Week this year.

From their fundraising page:

“It started with grafitti, then escalated to setting their bushes on fire and banging on the windows at night. Then the unthinkable happened: someone broke into their home and vandalized the children’s furniture.

The past few months have been a nightmare for the Bermeas – the harassment, the late night calls to the police, the aftermath, and the increased media attention have all made this time a less-than-ideal summer vacation.

We can do something about this – raise enough money to send the entire family to Family Week in Provincetown, MA.

Please help show this family they’re not alone! Contribute Now!

A More Perfect World: Celebrating Our Families in Provincetown

10 Aug

Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown, MA (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

I had been to Provincetown twice in my life – once as a 13-year old with a summer camp field trip and once in 2005 on Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Cruise as a correspondent for BroadwayWorld.com. It was always an exciting place to be. A weird sort of Narnia where the world was upside down, straight was gay and gay was straight. But the Provincetown I saw last week changed my life.

Family Equality Council‘s Family Week is intended to bring together LGBT families from across the country for one week of sun and fun. But that’s not all it is. Throughout the course of the week, kids are in summer camp classes learning about photography, dance, playwrighting, nature and all sorts of other summer campy-type disciplines. Parents are taking part in “Parent Cafes” learning about the state of the movement and meeting with other LGBT parents struggling with a lot of the same challenges they face. The week is filled with teen dances, movie nights, clam bakes, and whale watches. In this magnificent Utopia, kids get to be kids instead of “that boy with two moms” or “that girl with two dads.”

Brent Wright (Family Equality Council), his daughter, Olivia (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

For three years, I was the camp director at Camp TLC – a summer camp for inner-city teens living with HIV and AIDS. Not since that time did I see the difference it made in a child’s life to feel like they weren’t alone. Like at Camp TLC, these kids got to spend one week out of 52 weeks a year where they weren’t “the other.” For this week, every kid they knew was in the same boat as them and the support they felt and gave each other was palpable. I like to think they’ll be able to carry that through the other 51 weeks a year.

Family Week Parade (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

Most of the families I met last week came from parts of the country where marriage equality is not the law and where bigotry and hatred is alive and well. One young girl told us the story of her school chorus singing a song where one of the lyrics was “gay.” The kids snickered as kids will do and the teacher explained that the word “just meant ‘happy,’ not the other kind of gay – the other kind of gay is just wrong.” This wasn’t the only time this daughter of two moms faced these kinds of comments. But not this week – this week, instead of finger-pointing and exclusion, these kids are literally celebrated in a special parade down the main street of town.

For this one week, these families got to see what life could be like in a place with no discrimination or hatred, where they were the “normal” ones. Also encouraging to see were a few straight families bringing their children to Family Week. I spoke with one Dad who told me that this is the world he wants his children to grow up in. His two boys were adopted and he said this was one of the only places he could take them where the majority of other kids are adopted as well.

I learned a lot this week – far more than I could ever teach or write about here – but more than anything, I learned that as cliche as it may sound – it’s not biology that makes a family… it’s love.

Please enjoy some of our photos from this week and check out the slideshow we put together with the Family Equality Council. And also drop by their site and make a contribution so that Family Week can continue and grow to include as many families as possible. (all photos copyright: Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

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