Jarrett Barrios is the President and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). We was previously the President of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, and was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and state Senate. He is the founder of three nonprofit organizations: Oiste, a Massachusetts Latino political organization; Acceso, a humanitarian organization that provides outreach to Cuba; and The Commonwealth Seminar, which seeks to diversify the Massachusetts state legislature.
Question: How has being gay influenced the way you’ve raised your children?
Jarrett Barrios: Being gay has opened me – helps me understand how one can be misunderstood. How you can be trapped in the lens of somebody else’s’ stereotype. Whether it’s “all kids are like that,” or “all teenage boys are like that,” or “all gay people are like that.” And it’s made me thing more compassionate. Not necessarily any less strict with my sons, but certainly more understanding, I think, of the challenges that they are facing and really, the challenges that I, as a parent am facing, to make sure we grow them into fine young men. And you know, teenage boys are, you know, it’s day-by-day on that score.
Question: Do you feel, living in Massachusetts, that you have full equality?
Jarrett Barrios: You know, it’s wonderful living in Massachusetts because we are – we have the option of full equality, of legal equality. And that’s important to distinguish between legal equality at the state level and full legal equality, which would include federal recognition of our marriage, of our family, which isn’t the case because of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.
But at the state level for sure, we are about as equal in Massachusetts as anywhere else in the United States as a gay family. Now, what does that mean? Well it means that I have the same challenges and frustrations raising kids, but I also have the same rights that are necessary for me to take care of my kids, whether it’s access to school records, whether it’s being able to get the hospital to take care of them. If my husband’s name is first on the list, I’ll still be recognized because we are legally married. If I were to die, we wouldn’t face additional tax burdens because your relationship isn’t recognized; countless ways, 600-700 different ways. We are held to be equal in Massachusetts that I wouldn’t be in another state. And that’s very important.
My younger son tried out for the local baseball team. We moved recently; a couple of years now, from Cambridge, which is where I was in the legislature where I served, to Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. And I live in a part of Jamaica Plain that was where a lot of Dominicans lived, where a lot of Dominican folks lived, and a lot of lesbians. So, we had the best little league team in the city. It was the place everybody wanted to come. And the tryouts happened, my son made the team – he was thrilled. The second day of practice comes home excited. The third day of practice comes home and he’s in tears. And I asked, “Nathanial, what’s the problem? Do you want to talk to me about it?” You know, 13, he’s a tough kid; he’s not going to let anything – let me see any vulnerability or weakness. So, I call his coach and his coach explained, you know, “I was going to call you Jarrett. The baseball team, they were practicing today and there were a couple of other kids that Nathanial was trying to make friends with, and they were calling each other gay. And Nathanial, in an attempt to make friends offered up that his two dads were gay, not understanding that they were using the term “gay” in the way that it was derogatory;” making fun of each other. And so when he offered that up, they clearly ate that up and began to ridicule him. Which totally hurt, disoriented and defeated him in his intentions, you know, in his new neighborhood, new community, new team to be a valued member and embraced member of his baseball team. And that was very hard. It was hard because, you know, we live in Massachusetts. We live in a place where we’re nearly legally equal, but there’s no court and there’s no legislature that can change how Nathanial was treated on the baseball diamond.
Recorded June 17, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman