Watching on his computer screen from thousands of miles away, Jerry Windle saw his son Jordan follow the U.S. flag into the opening ceremonies for the World Junior Diving Championships on Monday. He could see Jordan smile, a message he knew was meant for him, that everything was OK, even though he wasn’t there.
It was as heartbreaking as it was comforting, because if it was anywhere but Penzi, Russia, Jerry Windle would be there. Instead, this modern family of two gay dads and adopted son will be apart during one of the most important weeks of Jordan’s life, out of fear of Russia’s anti-gay laws.
Jordan Windle, 15, is a potential 2016 Olympian who lives in Morrisville and trains at Duke. Jerry Windle adopted him from a Cambodian orphanage as a single father when Jordan was 18 months old.
When Jordan was 9, Jerry met Andres Rodriguez, who has been his partner for the past six years. The two plan to be legally married when it is legal in North Carolina.
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In just about any other country, this is an inspiring story of love and family. In Russia, it’s potentially a crime. The mere presence of a competitor with two dads could possibly be considered a violation of the strict law prohibiting “gay propaganda” that Russia passed ahead of the Sochi Olympics.
“We don’t hide the fact that he has two fathers,” Jerry Windle said Monday from Florida, where he was traveling for work. “We didn’t want to get detained in Russia because we would have to travel as private citizens, and we didn’t want to take away the experience of going to the world championships for the other divers by politicizing something at this stage in the game.
“There’s a time and place for every battle and we didn’t want it to happen here. Frankly, we feared for our safety. We didn’t want to travel as private citizens and get held up at the border, even if it was just the accusation of some kind of propaganda because a child was presented as a national champion having gay dads.”
Jordan Windle will compete in all four events in the 16-18 age group – 1-meter and 3-meter springboard, 3-meter synchronized springboard and platform – after winning the adult national championship in the platform in Knoxville, Tenn., last month. It’s his second international competition, and by far the biggest. His teammates voted him one of two captains of the 19-diver team.
Jerry Windle travels extensively as a health-care consultant, while Rodriguez runs their online diving shop, thediversclub.com, and drives Jordan back and forth to Duke for six hours of training, six days a week. Jordan attends an online high school to facilitate his schedule.
That leaves them free to travel, so Windle and Rodriguez rarely miss any of Jordan’s meets.
It was not an easy decision to stay home. They were torn between making an important statement and being there for Jordan on one hand, and on the other fear for their safety and that if something went wrong it could somehow overshadow the other divers.
“As a humanist and someone who believes in the human condition, absolutely, I wanted to take a stand for equality and for human rights,” Jerry Windle said. “At this stage in the game, this is Jordan’s first major international competition, and for him and for every other diver in the competition, I didn’t want to be the focus.
“I wanted the focus to be on Jordan and his amazing diving talent, not the fact he has gay parents.”
At a moment this family should be together, it has been driven apart by Russia’s ignorance and intolerance. Whatever success Jordan has will be bittersweet, tempered by his fathers’ absence.
“It would be awful if we couldn’t go because I had to work or we didn’t have the finances,” Windle said, “but not going out of fear of being treated as less than a human being boggles the mind.”