The Triumphs and Challenges of Gay Parenting in the Modern Age

Playbill Pride   The Triumphs and Challenges of Gay Parenting in the Modern Age
 
Producers and husbands, Jordan Roth and Richie Jackson, always wanted “to love someone and to be a father.” Now they take pride in their growing family.
Jordan Roth and Richie Jackson with son Jackson
Jordan Roth and Richie Jackson with son Jackson Craig Paulson

“Look at us, casual and lovey at home,” says Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Jordan Roth as he cozies up to his husband, talent manager and producer Richie Jackson, in their West Village apartment. Suddenly, while posing for photos, Roth leaps up from the couch to smooth an unflattering crease in his shirt. “Always producing,” Jackson quips.

Their next co-production? A second child, due via surrogate at the end of July. “We’re having a baby! And it’s a boy,” Roth tells me. “It’s a little scary, but it just felt like the right moment for us to expand our family.”

Roth, 40, and Jackson, 50, both leaders in the fight for marriage equality, were married in 2012 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. “I said at our wedding that I have only had two goals in my life: to love someone and to be a father,” Jackson recalls. “I’ve always wanted to be a dad too,” Roth says, “but how it happened the first time was not at all how I expected.”

Richie Jackson and Jordan Roth
Richie Jackson and Jordan Roth Monica Simoes

Roth and Jackson co-parent their 16-year-old son, Jackson, with actor B.D. Wong, Richie Jackson’s former partner. Also born through surrogacy, their son was just a toddler when Jackson—already split from Wong—began courting Roth in 2003. “It never turned out to be all that complicated,” admits Roth, who was hesitant about entering the relationship. “Fatherhood is nothing like what I thought it would look like, but it’s everything I thought it would feel like.”

Although they share the same joys and fears as straight parents, Roth and Jackson insist that LGBTQ parents face additional challenges, including the threat of bigotry aimed at their children. “It’s still assumed that parents are a straight male and female, so kids of gay parents essentially have to come out,” Jackson says. “You can sometimes live in Manhattan and think everything’s fine everywhere, but it’s not.” And while marriage equality has minimized some legal challenges for same-sex couples, many obstacles remain. “Paid surrogacy is still illegal in New York, which we feel very strongly has to change. Our carrier has to be in a different state.”

The couple is involved with Family Equality Council, an advocacy organization working with LGBTQ families across the country. “Things have changed a lot since our son was little,” Jackson says. “Even in Chelsea, there was one highchair in one restaurant on Eighth Avenue, and I’d have to borrow that highchair for us to eat at another restaurant. Now you’ve got young guys on first dates asking each other if they want kids.”

“You don’t necessarily see two men with a stroller and assume they’re the uncles anymore,” Roth adds. “Gay people once believed that marriage was never a possibility, and now we’re seeing all these paths of parenthood that are possible. But there are still opportunities for change, like registration forms that only say ‘mother’ and ‘father.’ You just point out those problems as lovingly as you can.”

Roth oversees five Broadway houses as president and majority owner of Jujamcyn Theaters, which has hit tenants such as The Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys and Kinky Boots. Jackson, as the president of Jackson Group Entertainment, most recently executive-produced the Showtime series Nurse Jackie. They’re also tireless philanthropists; The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, will honor them this month as Trevor Heroes.

So how do they find time for a growing family? “We have a very caring community of people around who help raise all of us,” Roth says.

In other words, “It takes a Greenwich Village,” Jackson jokes. “Balancing work and family is a challenge, but it’s important to be ambitious in your personal life. We know so many people who are ambitious career-wise, but we’ve also put a lot of time and energy into our family. We think it’s benefited our son to have three parents who work hard at things they’re passionate about.”

Richie Jackson and Jordan Roth with son Jackson
Richie Jackson and Jordan Roth with son Jackson Craig Paulson

“There are a lot of busy parents in the theatre community, and I get a lot of inspiration from watching them,” says Roth, who often rushes home for family dinner before heading back out to a show. “Hey, sometimes you have to bring your kid to the theatre. We’re having a backstage baby for real!”

With more LGBTQ families behind the scenes, expect to see greater representation of those families onstage. Referencing last year’s Off-Broadway premieres of Dada Woof Papa Hot and Steve, as well as Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons, which played Broadway in 2014, Roth and Jackson tease that there are plays with similar subjects in development. “LGBTQ playwrights who’ve become parents are now writing about their experiences,” Jackson explains, “and one day our children and their peers will make art about their own experiences.”

To that end, Roth is producing a Broadway revival of Falsettos, which deals with gay parenting, this fall. Naturally, he ends our chat with a closing number, quoting the musical with glee: “This is the year of the child when he spreads out his wings,” he sings. “There’s music in his heart. His life’s about to start!”

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