I first met Shawn Kendrick back in 2008. We were both working at the Stagecoach Festival for Borders Books and Music; he was a general manager at the now-defunct company.
He showed me a photo of his family: Shawn is white; his husband, Gerald Raye, is black; and they’re the parents of six children.
Just another American family.
I recently caught up with Shawn, Gerald and their children at their home in Murrieta, about an hour and 15 minutes outside of Palm Springs.
I arrived shortly after 3 p.m. on a weekday; the kids had just come home from school and were each given the opportunity to pick something out of the “treasure chest,” a box containing various toys. Raye explained that he’s a seasoned bargain shopper at Walgreens, so he knows how to stock up on items to give them.
The kids are 15, 13, 9, 7 and 5. Their oldest son is 20 and now lives on his own.
Shawn Kendrick and Gerald Raye met two decades ago.
“We met through a personal ad in the Los Angeles Times,” Kendrick said. “The Internet wasn’t like it is now, and there weren’t really all these sites they have now. I had just moved here from Missouri. I was tired of hanging out in bars, and I wanted to settle down a bit, so I put an ad in the paper.”
Raye said he still has the ad that Kendrick placed.
“It was funny how I responded,” Raye said. “I was at work with my best friend, and we used to look in the paper at the ads, circle them, read them out loud to each other, and make fun of them. For that whole week, one ad kept appearing—so I took it and called it. We talked on the phone for two to three months before we actually met each other because of my job at the time.”
As they got to know each other, they learned they were both interested in having children.
“I’ve always wanted children, because I’m an only child,” Raye said. “Starting from the time I was 10 years old, I always said I was going to adopt children. The relationship I had prior to Shawn—we were always going to do it, but every time we went to start, he got cold feet. When I got together with Shawn, we talked about having kids, and he told me that he wanted to have kids, too. On our first-year anniversary, he gave me a card, and it had the foster-care application in it.”
They were living in Long Beach at the time, and they began the licensing process and the training classes, dealing with an agency that mostly worked with gay couples.
“We didn’t know how to start the adoption process, so I thought it’d be good to become foster parents and see how that works out,” Kendrick said. “We became foster parents a few months after that. A lot of people think you can’t do it if you’re gay, (and did) especially 20 years ago. California’s laws have always been very liberal, and they don’t look it as gay or lesbian. … California always let unmarried people do it, and there was never a question.
“It was way easier than we thought. In fact, it was harder when we first went to get our car loan.”
Kendrick and Raye are not wealthy by any means. Kendrick works for Fresh and Easy; Raye stays at home with the children—all of which have special needs.
“People think we’re different, and we’re not,” Kendrick said. “We struggle with our finances; when we sit together at the end of the month and try to figure stuff out, most of our disagreements are over money. With that being said, (the government) doesn’t want that to be the reason you don’t adopt children. When you adopt through the county in California, they’re going to do some things to help you. The children are eligible for Medi-Cal until they’re 21. … You’re also going to get a stipend. You can’t live on that, and you can’t get rich from it, but it sure helps to keep them clothed. They’re also eligible for a college grant.”
All of those factors make it much easier for them to be good parents.
“It allows us to have Gerald stay home,” Kendrick said. “When you have special-needs kids, you have to have someone stay at home. You can’t just parcel them out all over the place. They need the direction you get by having a parent at home. With special-needs kids, we determined we were going to have to make some sacrifices, and one of us would have to stay home. ”
Being an interracial gay couple with children of various races hasn’t always been easy. Raye remembered one frightening instance when he was shopping with his son Anthony, and the fact that their skin colors are different became an issue.
“I was in the dollar store, and he was in the cart with me. I’m shopping the whole store, and as we’re getting ready to leave, security grabs me at the register, and has me with my hands up and pinned against the wall, asking me, ‘What are you doing with this child?’ I’m screaming, ‘Why would I shop in a store this whole time and pay for stuff if I was stealing a child?’ They asked Anthony, ‘Who is this man?’ and he said, ‘That’s my dad.’”
Kendrick said there have been times when they’ve received dirty looks or looks of scorn from people while out in public. However, they’ve also earned a lot of people’s respect.
“People see that (as a gay couple), you’re not having big sex parties, and you’re not having a huge Sunday brunch in your backyard … (and) they see that your kids are the same as everyone else. They see that your kids get in trouble just like all the other kids, that you do homework with them every night, that you go to the school activities—and they see that you’re more normal than they think. We have straight families in our neighborhood who will drop their kids over here and ask Gerald to watch them. We know a husband and wife who are both Marines, and they went away for the weekend and left their daughter with us.”
The subject of race is discussed openly in the Kendrick-Raye household. They teach their children about it and expose them to different cultures.
“We teach that there is no better race than any other race—and that we are one race, all together, in this house,” Raye said. “During Black History Month, we’re all at the parade, and we’re front and center. If there’s a Latin parade, we’re front and center. Our children come from all different backgrounds, and we’re going to know all of them. If there’s a powwow at the Pechanga Casino, let’s all go, because there could be Native American in our bloodline somewhere.”