First openly gay man to legally adopt in Canada hopes new memoir will boost adoptions

In 1998 David McKinstry became the first openly gay man to legally adopt a child in Canada. He is now the father of two men, but to get there he went through what he describes as an “onerous” journey.

'I'm trying to encourage people to get into the adoption arena,' David McKinstry said

David McKinstry was the first openly gay man to adopt a child in Canada. (Derrick Keshav Deonarain/CBC)

Twenty years after he became the first openly gay man to legally adopt a child in Canada, David McKinstry hopes that a new book about his long fight to become a father will inspire others to consider adoption. 

McKinstry, a long-time Peterborough resident, published Rebel Dad: Triumphing Over Bureaucracy to Adopt Two Orphans Born Worlds Apart in November. 

The memoir tells the remarkable story of his "onerous" battle with the Canadian government, social agencies and societal prejudices to raise a child of his own — and how a twist of fate brought him a second son. 

"In 1979 I tried [to adopt] as a single man in Vancouver and I was told: 'Why would we give a single person a child over a couple?'" McKinstry recalled in an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday. 

He faced constant discrimination as he pressed on. The prevailing view was that gay men, and same-sex couples more generally, were unfit to be parents. 

McKinstry remembers being asked questions like, "Are you trying to home grow your own play toy?"

'We don't give to homosexuals'

After years of difficulties, in 1997, he received a fateful phone call from Canada's then-immigration minister, Lucienne Robillard.

"She said, 'We'd like you to be our test case for international adoption,'" said McKinstry. 

Canadian bureaucrats sent adoption requests to 13 different governments. Within two weeks, each replied with a terse message: "We don't give to homosexuals," McKinstry remembered.  

When you put that child in your arms it doesn't matter by what womb it was born, that child is your child.- David McKinstry

So the Canadian government took a different tack. Some two years earlier, McKinstry's first husband, Nick, had passed away. The couple had always wanted to raise children together. 

McKinstry's personal information was altered to show that he had once had a spouse, but instead of recording the spouse's name as Nick, it was written as Nicky.

Now, McKinstry said, he appeared to be a heterosexual man, with a wife who had died, who was now looking to fulfil their shared goal of adopting a child.

"That was the only reason India looked at me," he said. 

'If you want him, he's yours'

The following year, McKinstry travelled to India to visit 18 orphanages to find a child to adopt. The director of the last orphanage sent him home with the promise of finding him a son, he said. 

Three months later, she called.

"She said, 'We've got a little boy. He was found clutching the corpse of his mother in a back alley. If you want him, he's yours,'" McKinstry said.

"She didn't have to ask twice."

Then, in a twist of good fortune as he waited for his new son to join him from India, he got an unexpected chance to adopt another young boy.

During that time, the Children's Wish Foundation contacted him about a woman simply in need of a room — something McKinstry had in spades. Years earlier, with his first husband Nick, McKinstry had opened a lakeside bed and breakfast north of Peterborough. 

Listen to the full interview with David McKinstry below:

The woman, he recalled, needed a place to stay because she was living with AIDS, and U.S. authorities had barred her from flying with her young son. 

"[The foundation] was trying to send her for one last holiday, to Disneyland, with her four-year-old son," said McKinstry.

So he offered her the room. And, over dinner, he told her the story of his long adoption fight. 

The next morning, she approached him with a life-changing proposition.

'Will you take my son?'

"I now know why God didn't let me get on that airplane," McKinstry recalled her saying.  

"I was meant to come here and ask you ... to adopt my son and make him a little brother to your boy in India. Will you take my son?"

He didn't have to consider the question for long.

"She didn't have to ask twice," he said. 

McKinstry's adopted sons are now 25 and 26 years old. He was recently diagnosed with cancer, which in part was what prompted him to pen a book about his story. 

He hopes it will help other children find a home. 

"I'm trying to encourage people to get into the adoption arena," he said.

"When you put that child in your arms it doesn't matter by what womb it was born, that child is your child."

With files from Metro Morning


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?