June 22, 2012
By Brandon Garcia
The JCPenney ad showed two real-life parents sitting cross-legged on the living room floor and laughing as their rambunctious children climbed all over them.
It was typical Father's Day fare --- except for the two dads in the photo, Rio Grande Valley native Cooper Smith and his partner Todd Koch.
Now a Dallas-area resident, Smith has found himself at the center of the nationwide controversy that has swirled around the ad since it debuted in late May. He has appeared on NBC and cable news stations defending the spot from its detractors, namely One Million Moms, an arm of the American Family Association which led angry calls to boycott JCPenney.
"That photo," Smith told NBC, "is actually a true second of our lives just playing and having fun with our kids and the affection and love that we have for them."
The 1993 graduate of McAllen High School answered some questions for The Monitor this week about growing up in the Valley, life in the wake of the controversy and the future of gay civil liberties in Texas....
WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP AS GAY TEEN IN THE VALLEY? WHEN DID YOU COME OUT OF THE CLOSET, AND HOW DID YOU FRIENDS AND FAMILY REACT?
"I wasn’t out to myself or anyone else when I still lived in the Valley. People made assumptions that I was, and fortunately it wasn’t too bad. I was fairly popular in school, had good grades and held numerous leadership positions in band, student council and other groups. It was actually harder being very tall, very thin and very white! When I was teased about being gay, though, it was very painful. One time in ninth-grade biology, all of the kids passed around a picture of me and wrote horrible things about me on it. Then at the end of class, someone handed it to me. I was devastated. I left school and just cried in my car in the parking lot. I didn’t come out to myself until my sophomore year at Southern Methodist University. Over the following years, I slowly came out to family and friends as the situation warranted. Most were completely unsurprised and nearly all have been very supportive."...