When I met my husband, Kelly Vielmo, almost 11 years ago, neither of us did anything that might be labeled ”activism” on behalf of gay rights. Our lives had been fairly low key. Not our jobs, our friends, our hobbies, nor our volunteer activities screamed ”activist.” If we were a flavor, it was vanilla. In a cosmopolitan city like D.C., we could just blend in.
Then we had kids.
Ten years into our relationship Kelly and I opted to foster and adopt through D.C.’s Child and Family Services Agency. The act of adopting kids or growing a family in itself is not something that one would chalk up to activist behavior. But now we are conspicuous. We are two white men with three black children, and that stands out. We’re not the invisible couple we once were, instead turning heads on almost every occasion. First glimpses of our family seem to start some questioning process, with many trying to connect the dots.
”Are those their kids? Is that okay?”
This is where the accidental activism began.
Kelly and I are probably as boring as ever, if not more so as we are neck deep in the daily routines of parenthood. But now we are boring people who are very conspicuous. For countless neighbors, co-workers, friends and strangers, we have become the faces of the debate around same-sex marriage.
At times it can be exhausting being the public face of a debate that every passerby seems to be trying to figure out on the spot. Then I stop and think: I have done absolutely nothing in my life to help further any human-rights agenda, to legalize gay adoption or same-sex marriage, or worked on any other LGBT issue. Yet more than anyone, I benefit from the hard work of the many who have made our family possible. The least I can do is be visible, especially with the national debate happening in my backyard at the Supreme Court.
The night before the argument in the Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, was being heard, Kelly, our three kids and I handed out candy to those camping out at the court to thank them. The next morning we kept the kids out of school to walk down to the pro-marriage-equality rally and, as conspicuous as we are now, were surrounded by press photographers. Our 4-year-old daughter was quoted on NPR to contrast a representative from the Westboro Baptist Church. Kelly got a call from Sacramento, Calif., saying he was just seen on the news. I received emails with innumerable links to blogs with our photos.
I ended up penning an open letter to the Supreme Court about my experience and bought the domain dearscotus.com to host it. To put our conspicuous image with the words I wrote, I also posted a YouTube video with me reading the letter. A week later the letter had been featured on several media outlets including the Huffington Post and The Advocate and read by tens of thousands, if not more.
I am not sure if my letter or video will ever reach any of the Supreme Court justices. But as a result of just showing up and posting a single blog entry, I became an accidental activist. I have learned from the experience that just being present and visible matters. I have received countless messages thanking us for simply telling our story. Co-workers who have gay children have approached me to say they now have role models to tell their kids about. Supporters with gay family members feel we are paving the way for other families like ours.
So my simple message to anyone reading this – especially those who may not relate to activism – is that it’s not so bad being an accidental activist. Just live your life as positively as possible, and allow your life to be seen.
Jack Montgomery lives with his husband and children in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @dearscotus.