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#65 of Our Amazing HIV-Positive People of 2016: Scott Dukes

#65 of Our Amazing HIV-Positive People of 2016: Scott Dukes


Leading by example, this single HIV-positive gay dad encourages others become foster parents to LGBT youth.

Scott Dukes and his daughter are technically homeless.

Like thousands of other Americans, they are kept off the street and out of shelters only through the generosity of friends and family who’ve given up space in their homes.

Dukes couldn’t be called Pollyanna but he shrugs off the loss of his job, his home, his car—as though they were the price of his happiness, unexpected costs associated with being a father. Perhaps they were, and if so, Dukes is more than satisfied with the trade. 

Four years ago, when Dukes first learned of his HIV status, he thought it would take a deal with the devil for him to ever have a child.  Back then he wasn't sure he’d even live long enough to see an HIV specialist.

“It's not like you find out you have HIV and then go the next day to see a specialist,” Dukes recalls. “Many of us wait weeks or even a couple of months before being able to see a specialist...I literally felt I had been given a death sentence and then made to wait over a month…Our minds play clever tricks on us when we are faced with trauma and mine were deeply rooted in shame and fear.”

As the days went by Dukes fixated on the thought that he would never become a dad. “It was the one thing I have said I wanted to do as long as I could remember, “he explains. He had been waiting for a partner, “but now my diagnosis had changed that.” It wasn't long before Dukes “found myself attending an orientation for foster care,” where he learned that HIV wouldn’t bar him from parenting (read more about becoming a poz foster parent here). “And in an instant I had been given a second chance.”

Nine months later, he met the transgender girl who eventually  became his adopted daughter. He lovingly refers to her as a “pain in the ass kid who needed me as much as I needed her,” and boasts, “I learned I had been a dad all along and it took nearly losing my life to find my inner strength [and] to find my kid…The perfect person for my home and the one who would be my forever family. “

Dukes calls the next few years “a roller coaster,” saying, “I can remember people asking me why I was freaking out about X, Y, or Z and I would remind them that although my daughter was 14, I had only been parenting for three months. So when she disappears, curses me out in public, or shows up to family functions in six inch stilettos and a mini skirt, I am being asked to use parenting skills I have yet to develop!”

In some ways, Dukes says parenting as a HIV-positive person probably isn’t that different, but he acknowledges, “What I did experience that was different was a big need to take care of yourself so you can take care of your kid. Non-poz people get just as exhausted as poz people when it comes to parenting, but the consequences associated are greater. Being so sleep deprived due to your ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] kid sleeping only two hours a night when you are poz means you can easily forget your meds. It means you don't eat right at times and that makes you sick.”

Dukes wants more LGBT people to think about fostering queer or gender variant kids, many of whom are in the system because of homophobia and transphobia. “Before I met my daughter, she had been in many, many foster homes,” he says. “Even one with her paternal grandparents: that home failed because she was transgender and it didn't fit that family's religious beliefs. Her two younger brothers were eventually adopted by the paternal grandparents but my daughter was sent back to foster care.”

That fact clearly pains him. “All kids deserve to be in a loving home, one that accepts them as the people they are. But don't get me wrong, pulling back the reigns is definitely a must. My daughter would have removed and added body parts [if allowed]…. I tell Erica that my job as her parent isn't to prevent her from doing what she wants. It's to slow her down so she can understand how her decisions affect her, to love her unconditionally, and to allow her to get what she [needs] from life to be happy.”

“I'm not going to downplay the real challenge it is to raise a foster kid with special needs,” Dukes adds. “It has been the hardest thing I have ever done. By every account I have — we as a family have — overcame the impossible.” Not only did Erica catch up in school after testing six years behind, she graduates next year and has become “amazing, resilient, compassionate, and loving: That same child came to me cursing me out in stores, telling the world she wanted to be an assassin, and was also identifying as a boy back then.”

Dukes concludes, “I would never talk anyone into being a foster parent, I do however encourage anyone who loves kids to find a way to help these kids. There are court appointed special advocates in every county who act like a godparent in these kids lives, there are volunteers, extended family, and friends who have all affected my daughter in positive ways. It literally takes a village.“

Once employed by the State of California, Dukes says he was "forced to resign" when “my tardiness, absences, and drama surrounding my HIV and my daughter…got to be too much for my employer...We gave up the condo we were living in and two years later we are still technically homeless and without a car. We have had rooves over our heads thanks to the patience and generous parents and friends.”

Now a “healing practitioner who uses energy work to heal others by way of reiki, theta healing, and sacred activations,” Dukes works with Light Weavers Academy and says, “The pain I have experienced has been my catalyst to help myself and others." 

On the verge of being able to afford “our own place again and maybe even have a car.” Dukes adds, if “I were to be given a chunk of change I could do whatever I wanted with it, I would take [Erica] on vacation. We’ve never been on a real vacation.” 

Dukes dreams of taking his daughter to Disneyland, or Six Flags, or even a nice beach, somewhere “neither of us are struggling and both of us can enjoy each other's company.” They came close a couple years ago while visiting friends in Anaheim. “Erica and I walked to the gates of Disneyland,” Dukes remembers. “And we talked about how we will go one day. It was an odd feeling to know I couldn't provide everything for her. It was one of my parenting lessons. But one day we'll find a way to an escape from reality and just have fun.”

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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