THE LOFTON-CROTEAU FAMILY
A New Kind of Family – Raising Generation HIV
Today, there is no consistent definition of the American family. The modern family defies categorization with single-parent households, varying blended family structures, and fewer children. The Stonewall uprising didn’t start the gay rights movement, but it was a galvanizing force for LGBTQ activism in many aspects of an LGTQ American. LGBTQ Americans, both by chance and by choice, have come together to add to the fabric of being a parent(s). Steven Lofton and Roger Croteau formed a family by fostering and caring for six unwanted infants born with HIV/AIDS from 1988 to 2011.
I began photographing this project in 1989 when I took a course at the International Center of Photography in New York with Nan Goldin titled “Personal Vision.” Ms. Goldin challenged me to photograph the family for as long as possible. After more than 30 years of documentation, I feel a second photography book would do this photographic essay justice.
Babies born with HIV in the 1980s were cruelly labeled “crack whore babies” because most mothers were drug addicts. Most of these had been abandoned and not expected to reach their second birthdays, but that did not stop Steven and Roger from expanding their new family to include one-year-old Tracy and Ginger. In 1991, they took in a 9-week-old biracial infant named Bert. At this point, Steven, having trained in foster care and become licensed, quit his nursing job to be at home with the children while Roger continued working as a nurse.
In 1994, Bert began testing HIV negative and (sero-reverted) losing his HIV antibodies as he grew older. When Steven applied for legal adoption, he was denied for refusing to answer a question regarding his heterosexual or homosexual status. Steven sued the state of Florida with the assistance of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). As a lengthy court battle (Lofton vs. Butterworth) ensued, Ginger died when her weakened immune system could not fight off an attack of chicken pox. In a ruling by the Supreme Court decision was made, and Steven lost his right to adopt Bert as his legal son. It resulted in a media spectacle, death threats, and heated debate between their supporters and anti-gay Christian fundamentalists and right-winged politicians, receiving national attention and appearances on the Rosie O’Donnel Show and an ABC Special hosted by Diane Sawyer.
In 1998, the family moved to Oregon to be closer to Steven’s family and expanded their family to include two HIV-positive brothers: Llweyen (Wayne), who was five, and Ernie, who was two.
As a result of the couple’s commitment to caring for these children, Frank, Bert, and Ernie have grown into productive and healthy adults, except Tracy, who sadly passed away in 2012, and Llweyen (Wayne) in 2019.
Throughout the years, the Lofton-Croteau family faced the daunting daily medical challenges of raising HIV/AIDS children, who would become to become “Generation HIV.” These photographs are not about militant activists or even martyrs, but just a pair of middle-aged gay men deciding to use their professional abilities and love to create their family. Steven Lofton and Roger Croteau’s names may not be noticed on social media as searchable notable LGBTQ figures. Still, their lives as parents are an inspiration and mark their rightful place in the annals of the history of the LGBTQ community.