Raising 7 Kids While HIV Positive, and Why It Takes a Village
Whitney Kyle always knew he wanted to be a father. Through a combination of adoption and foster parenting, he was able to see that come true -- with seven children! Now 65 years old, Whitney looks back at his time parenting, talks about his policies on openness and honesty, and discusses the three children who currently live with him -- and why they must all go to school.
This interview was conducted along with Brian Rosenberg, CEO of Gays With Kids. TheBody.com is proud to present this interview as part of a series of interviews with HIV-positive dads done in collaboration with Gays With Kids for World AIDS Day 2014.
Mathew Rodriguez: Whitney, had you always wanted to a father, growing up? Was that a role that you saw yourself having?
Whitney Kyle: It was, yes.
Mathew Rodriguez: What do you remember, when you were young, about wanting to be a father?
Whitney Kyle: I was aware that I was gay from an early age, but I still dreamed of being a father with kids. It was just part of the list of things I wanted in life.
Mathew Rodriguez: When you were first diagnosed as positive, after you dealt with everything that comes with your diagnosis, did you think about what it meant for your hopes of becoming a parent? Did that ever come into your mind?
Whitney Kyle: Actually, my partner and I were looking into adopting a girl from China. But then, when he became ill, that was postponed. We didn't know which direction it was going to go. And his health just went down.
By the time that I was diagnosed myself, with full-blown AIDS, I figured it was just not going to happen.
Brian Rosenberg: And, Whitney, you've been positive for about 20 years?
Whitney Kyle: Right. HIV for 20 years. But the AIDS diagnosis came in 2001.
I found out in '95 that I was HIV positive.
Brian Rosenberg: Well, I'd say that still makes you a trailblazer.
Whitney Kyle: Thank you.
Mathew Rodriguez: Can you walk us through, really quickly, how many kids you have, and what their ages are?
Whitney Kyle: I went through a total of seven kids, five of which became mine. But currently, in the house, I just have three. The first kid I got when he was 9 years old, and got guardianship for him when he was 13, and adopted him at 14. He's currently 17, and he'll be 18 in February.
Then the second kid I got was through Department of Social Services [DSS]. I knew her parents. Her parents were busted by CPS [Child Protective Services] and I went to court and got custody of her. And then I became a licensed foster parent.
Then my third kid was a friend of my two kids who was having problems with his mom. So I took him in when he was 14. And he's still here. He'll be 18 in June.
Then my fourth kid, I've known him since he was 13. He's a full gay kid. He moved in a year and a half ago. He's currently also 17.
And then I have one more kid who came into my home right after turning 18. He actually this morning flew out to live with his parents, because he couldn't find a good job here.
So those are the five. Currently at home are three 17-year-olds -- one gay, one bisexual, one straight.
Mathew Rodriguez: Oh. The full gamut.
Whitney Kyle: There's also a sixth kid, Jacob, who went back with his folks. And they sent him off to live with another relative. So I don't know when he'll be back. But I do know that when he turns 18 he made me promise I'd take him back, and I said yes.
Brian Rosenberg: Are they going to school? Are they looking for work? What are their plans, Whitney?
Whitney Kyle: Well, the three I have in the house now, one is still in high school. But the other two finished high school early, and they're enrolled at the local college here.
Brian Rosenberg: Wow. That's awesome.
Whitney Kyle: I'm big on education. If they're going to stay here, they're going to go to school.
Mathew Rodriguez: That's awesome. Do you speak a lot with your children about your HIV-positive status? What do you talk to them about?
Whitney Kyle: Absolutely. I basically don't have any taboo subject, whatsoever. These kids pretty much know everything, including my bank balance. I have to teach them how to balance their budgets, so I do it by showing, by having them walk through every month with mine.
Brian Rosenberg: How do you broach the subject initially, specifically about your HIV status? We [at Gays With Kids] talk to a lot of HIV-positive gay dads who are not that comfortable bringing it up. So I think any advice or suggestions they can hear from you and others would be really helpful.
Whitney Kyle: I've been completely open about my status. For one thing, I'm 65, and I'm on disability. So, pretty much every kid that's come into the house, I've informed.
I also had a rule that I no longer enforce, but for a kid to come spend time at my house, I had to meet their parents first. So it's been out in the open all the way through. At no point was it ever hidden from anyone -- none of the kids. DSS, of course, knew. Everyone has known.
Mathew Rodriguez: Was your status something that the foster system where you live asked about, or that complicated your application? Or was it fine?
Whitney Kyle: It kind of complicated it. Because I was the first. So I was like a test case. It didn't become a problem until a worker in the training department found out, and we had some go-arounds. I just didn't want to deal with her anymore, so I gave [up] my license. None of my kids -- even my daughter, who was here through DSS -- I went to court and got custody as fictive kin, because I knew her folks -- so she wasn't actually in here under my license. I got my license after she was placed here.
So there was a little bit of trepidation from a few people. But, for the most part, open arms.
Mathew Rodriguez: That's amazing. One of the great things, I think, about your story is that it shows, not only for positive dads, but for all people who want to be parents, that there are so many roads to parenthood. What would you say to other HIV-positive men who are thinking about becoming parents?
Whitney Kyle: I really don't know how to answer that. But I'd say, if your heart's in it, go for it.
Brian Rosenberg: I'd say that's a good answer.
I have another question. Given that, not only do you have an HIV-positive status, but also an AIDS diagnosis, do you have plans in place, God forbid anything happens, and you get sick for a short time? Or any plans in place for the kids?
Whitney Kyle: Yes. I have a really good support system. The kids have a godmother who really loves them, as well as my parents, who are walking distance away. And they're totally supportive. So, if I did get sick, or if something happened, they would step in and make sure they hit the world at 18 on their feet.
Brian Rosenberg: That's great. I've been saying all along it certainly takes a village. And it sounds like you've got your fellows in the village to help you, as well.
Whitney Kyle: I do. I do.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.