My whole life, I’ve been hearing many stupid things that people, for some reason, think it’s OK to say. I get it, sometimes we see things, and we wonder, and we’re curious, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to say or ask it out loud (or write about it). And some things are just hateful and mean.
Last week, my husband and I visited a museum. I was pushing the stroller with our 6-month-old baby girl. When an old man comes up to me and asks, “where is her mother?” I responded, without hesitation, “she doesn’t have a mother; she has two dads.” Which he then proceeds to tell me, “she needs a mother.” I just turned around, and while walking away, I said, “she has two grandmothers.” It’s the only thing I could think of that didn’t involve expletives.
Unfortunately, it’s only one of many similar experiences. Before Avery Elena was born, I was in a Zoom meeting with colleagues and the head of a marketing agency. During the initial awkward small talk, while waiting for everyone to join, she asked me, “who’s the real father?” It felt like forever — the awkward silence filled the virtual room, and no one moved or made a sound. It was like a game of chicken of who would break that silence brought on by ignorance. I broke the silence. “She has two real fathers,” I said. At that moment, the last person we were waiting for logged in, and we started the meeting.
Avery Elena was born in Atlanta, Georgia, this past April. She’s a beautiful COVID baby — her smile can light up any room. My husband and I were so happy to finally have her in our arms that we cried tears of joy. That incredible moment will forever be tainted by one hospital staffer — the woman who was supposed to help us get our baby’s birth certificate. She decided not to accept our paternity order and refused to include my husband and me as the fathers on the document. The staffer told our surrogate that she had three options for the birth certificate. One option was that the surrogate could be the only one on there. The other option was to have her and her husband as the parents, and Avery would have her husband’s last name. And the third option, if the surrogate denied being on the baby’s birth certificate, the hospital staff person would hand our baby over to the state.
Two capable and loving parents were sitting in that hospital room who waited three years for this moment, and a staffer tried to deny us because we were two men. But the hospital staffer messed with the wrong folks. Our surrogate is an elected official in Georgia, and she made a few phone calls that got the legal counsel and even the hospital CEO involved. Long story short, the outcome was satisfactory for us. We were othered, denied our rights and treated less than straight parents. We were lucky to be adjacent to power, which solved our dilemma.
I want to go even further back in time — back to my college years. I went to Auburn, Alabama, to visit one of my best friends. We were walking on the sidewalk to get to our car when a guy driving by in a pickup truck yelled, “f—ing Mexican!” We looked around, and we were the only people on the street, so no question that message was for me. I looked over at my friend, and his face was a different color. He was embarrassed and more perturbed than me by what had just happened.
I don’t have enough space in this opinion piece to continue sharing anecdotes like these. But my message to you — sometimes it may be better to withhold comments or questions. My experiences have been filled with racism, bigotry, homophobia and othering because people thought what they had to say or ask was more important than how it could make me feel. I share this with you to better understand that our life experiences shape how we view and interact with the world.
So when you hear me speaking up for a need for more people like me in power, it’s for a pretty darn good reason.
Rudy Espinoza Murray is a Redwood City resident and community organizer on housing, gun violence prevention, LGBTQ+ and Latinx issues. He is a co-founder and lead of the San Mateo County Farmworker Affairs Coalition.