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A chorus of people strongly disagree with the state's contention that allowing Houton to adopt Oscar would not be in the boy's best interest.
Houton's live-in partner of three years, 38-year-old Gil Avila, is a tall, athletic man with a quiet nature. Houton describes Avila as the "straight man" in their relationship because he's a sports junkie, always shooting hoops with Oscar in the back yard. The two met at work; Avila is a supervisor of the radiology department at Jackson Memorial. On their first date, Houton told him about Oscar.
"I was a little surprised, sure," Gil remembers. "But it was fine. You know, I liked Doug a lot. I didn't meet Oscar until our third date, and the kid ... isn't he incredible? He's really something. When Doug first took him, he really couldn't do much of anything; he was really underweight. Now all you have to do is look at him and I, personally, see a very different kid."
Avila and Houton share the responsibility of making sure Oscar is shuttled back and forth from school. They both meet with his teachers and take him to sporting events. A few months ago, when Oscar turned ten, Houton rented a limousine (knowing that Oscar is mesmerized by them) and chauffeured the boy and eight of his buddies to a Heat game, where Oscar was wished Happy Birthday on the scoreboard.
"That was unusual, but Doug really does special things for him that he'll remember forever," Avila says. The ACLU lawsuit has brought a barrage of bright lights into their living room, as reporters have continually come knocking for interviews. Avila admits that can sometimes distract from normal family living. "But I believe in the cause very much, and so does Doug. He's doing what he thinks is right and what he and Oscar deserve."
Oscar's love for basketball has allowed model Linda Overheu a chance to get close to the shy boy. The 28-year-old has mentored him for two years through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program. She sees Oscar almost every day, because the two happen to live near each other, and she frequently takes him to Fort Lauderdale to visit his grandparents and brothers.
"Oscar has really opened up," she says. "When I met him, he didn't say very much, but we'd walk dogs together and talk. And I like to play basketball. You know, it was just allowing him to be a kid. He's very affectionate with his brothers. I've never met his father."
"Linda has been great, because I wanted Oscar to have a female influence," Houton says.
Oscar's best friend, nine-year-old Emmanuel Teagan, is another foster child. He sometimes joins Overheu and Oscar on their outings. The boys met playing soccer, and are now inseparable. They spend nearly every night together, switching between Houton's home and that of Tracy and Mark Teagan. Emmanuel was seven years old when the Teagans adopted him. He's black. The Teagans are white.
"I felt comfortable immediately with Doug. I guess we identified with each other," Tracy Teagan says. "We haven't encountered any prejudice, at least to our face, and maybe that's because we live in [Coconut] Grove, and it's particularly progressive. But my neighbors will say, when they see Doug and Oscar, 'So what's the story with that?' When I tell them that Doug can't adopt, they're like, 'You're kidding me? That's awful.' It seems ridiculous, and hardly anyone knew it was against the law. The guy is the most attentive parent in the world."
Raising Emmanuel has presented frustrations for the Teagans that Houton's advice has soothed. The child, who today is taking jazz and hip-hop dance classes, just a year ago was an angry, frightened boy suffering from the aftereffects of years of sexual and physical abuse. Tracy says she learned from Houton the importance of being firm with her son. "Doug told me that these children, more than others, need structure double-fold because they have lived in such chaos and adults have never come through for them," she says.
Mostly unaware of how the ban on gay adoption came to be, Teagan continues, "Telling someone like Doug that he can't parent Oscar is so offensive to me. He's already a parent. He's more than earned the right to be that wonderful boy's father in full. And it upsets me very much that I live in a state that refuses to see that."
More than a quarter-century ago a former beauty queen arrived in Florida, took up residence in Miami, and began preaching that gays were going to hell.
Today, Anita Bryant appears on her Website (www.anitabryant.com) as a small-time Branson, Missouri, performer decked out in bedazzled denim and pancake makeup. She performs every week in the wannabe-Vegas map speck, belting tunes your grandparents might remember. But in the late 1970s, Bryant was a force. Using the fame she acquired as the pitchwoman for Florida orange juice, Bryant made use of her fundamentalist Baptist upbringing by persuading the state's conservative masses to form Save Our Children. The now-defunct organization was one beginning of the state's religious right.