Two Houston dads reflect on their journeys.
In the fight for transgender rights, Texas mothers with trans kids have been front and center as advocates for their families, earning the nickname “Mama Bears.” But fathers tend to process things a little differently.
Ahead of Father’s Day, two local dads who’ve become advocates for their trans sons, Aaron Richie and Greg Lambert, reflect on their journeys and offer some advice.
“If you can sit down and have a true conversation without judgment, just listen to your kid, you will learn that they aren’t doing this because it’s a phase,” says Lambert, whose 15-year-old son, Dean, transitioned last year.
“They’re doing it because they are finally able to express in words and actions what they have probably been feeling for years,” Lambert adds. “It isn’t about you. They are smarter and know themselves better than you think they do.”
Richie, whose 14-year-old son, Landon, transitioned two years ago, encourages trans kids to come out to their parents—but only if it’s safe. “Otherwise, find someone else so that you don’t have to carry that burden,” Richie says. “If you’re not sure who you are, but you know you’re different, that’s okay, too. You don’t have to have it all figured out.”
‘There Were a Lot of Tears’
Richie says Landon first expressed that he would grow up to be a boy at age two-and-a-half. “My reaction was to make him feel good about being a girl,” Richie recalls. “I talked about all the positives of being a girl and all the negatives of being a boy.”
But Landon persisted in his preference for typically male-identified objects and activities. On one occasion, during a role-playing game, Landon insisted on being the lion son.
“I was pushing hard against him being the lion son, and he adamantly said, ‘Why can’t I be the lion son?’” Richie says. “That was a big wake-up for me, that I needed to be able to accept my kid for who they were, and I wasn’t there yet.”
Landon came out to his mom, Erika Richie, via email when he was eleven-and-a-half. Three weeks before, she’d seen a video of activist Debbie Jackson talking about her trans child, and started connecting the dots.
“[My wife] brought it up to me, and I was pretty defiant that no, this was not our kid,” Aaron Richie says. “I was at work when Erika forwarded me the email, so I gathered myself up and headed home. I hugged Landon, there were a lot of tears, and a lot of relief to see him get this off his chest.”
Lambert says he and his wife, Jan, attempted to address Dean’s gender identity in the same way they dealt with the cancer diagnosis he received at age seven. “I don’t want this to be something that defines him,” Lambert says. “It may not even be the first thing people think of when describing him. I want it to be, ‘He’s done this, and this, and this—oh, and he’s also trans.’”
Lambert also stressed the importance of parents being open and available to their kids. “We try to teach our children to communicate with us and tell us what’s going on: ‘We’ll support you, as long as it’s not illegal. Be respectful of others. Not everyone is the same,’” he says. “I think this made it easier for Dean to confide in us, to know that we weren’t going to be the issue.”
From Acceptance to Activism
Both families turned to Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) for support. “Within a week or two of Landon coming out, we attended our first PFLAG meeting,” Richie says. “It was a small group, a Thursday meeting, and one person was gender non-conforming. Meeting this person was my first glimpse that this was going to be okay. This was an important moment, for me, in getting comfortable and in a good place with Landon’s future and meeting people who had overall acceptance.”
The two dads have also gotten involved politically.
Richie was active in the effort to pass and defend the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015. Sitting alongside Landon, he recently gave powerful testimony in opposition to Senate Bill 6, one of Texas’ anti-trans bathroom bills, before a legislative committee.
Lambert, meanwhile, first shared his experiences with state lawmakers back in March during Equality Texas’ lobby day at the capitol in Austin. “I’ve advocated on behalf of my profession, but this was definitely my first experience as an advocate for social issues,” Lambert says. “I want to pick my battles. I want to advocate for issues that are close to my heart.”