Garry and Kyle Ratcliffe have been awarded an Attitude Pride Award for their fight to break down the barriers of the foster and adoption services.
After meeting 12 years after bumping into each other in the queue at Costa, they’re married and always longed to have a family of their own - but it was only until 2002 when the UK government legalised same-sex adoption that their dreams started to come true.
After becoming the first gay male couple to foster through the local authority in Kent, Kyle and Garry are now parents to Haydn, 14, seven-year-old Curtis, and sisters Bella, 11, and Phoebe, six.
As if having four children wasn’t enough, three of them have complex medical conditions: Haydn has severe cerebral palsy; Curtis is blind and also has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, scoliosis (an abnormal curvature of the spine) and hip dysplasia, while Bella has Down’s Syndrome.
Phoebe is physically able-bodied but suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Garry and Kyle – whose home on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent was transformed by Nick Knowles and the team in BBC’s DIY SOS The Big Build team in 2016 – brim with pride while speaking about their children, and while the set-up certainly presents challenges, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“People don’t have the knowledge, the expertise, the want to have an ‘imperfect’ child as they would see it. That’s not how I see it,” maintains Garry, 45, a primary school headteacher who has always wanted to be a dad.
“When I came out, my mum’s biggest concern was not, ‘This is going to ruin your life,’ but, ‘You wanted a family, are you going to be able to do that?’ I came out 28 years ago and it was not the norm for a gay couple to bring up children.”
However, obstacles arose when Kyle and Garry offered a home to siblings Bella and Phoebe.
“We were only registered to look after boys. Why? Because gay men can’t look after girls, can they?” said Garry, with more than a hint of sarcasm.
“We challenged this,” adds Kyle, “‘Let’s just say that two lesbian ladies have a 14-year-old boy. Are they going to sit down with him and talk to him about masturbation? We can’t talk to a girl about her period because we’re men?”
They succeeded in having their documents changed and adopted the girls in March 2014.
While keen to change the view some people may have of adoption – “no one should ever adopt or foster and think you’re going to save this child, that everything is going to be perfect,” stresses Garry – they hope to make the process easier for any LGBT+ people ready to take the leap.
“One thing we did do a lot was challenge the system, stick two fingers up to it, and anything we could to change that system for the next people coming along,” concludes Kyle with a glint in his eye.
Meet the Ratcliffe family and hear their inspiring story below:
You can more about this year's Attitude Pride Award winner in out new August issue, out 19 July.