Greg Stephens, a self-proclaimed “country boy” from Lockhart, Texas, grew up in a sheltered environment. He admits his father and the old-timers in his town passed down closed-minded views while Stephens was growing up. But his worldview was certainly widened once he met his high school sweetheart, Tracy Linder.
Once a young married couple in love, the two are now divorced but have forged a new kind of relationship, one that is stronger than ever before, for the sake of their 7-year-old daughter, Grace. Stephens co-parents with Linder and her partner, Ryan Kelsey. An unlikely supporter, he is an unsung ally for the LGBT community because of his understanding and care for his daughter and her mom.
“There are a lot of single moms and single dads out there, and I’m fortunate that Grace’s mom is a great mom,” he said. “We’re even more fortunate that now Grace has another mom. Three is better than one or two.”
Stephens and Linder met when they were teenagers in their freshman English class. He definitely had a crush on her, writing notes to her in class and buying her Valentine’s Day gifts. They never dated. Once their English class ended that year they didn’t speak to each other again till their senior year when they reconnected at a party. “We ended up having fun together that night, talking a lot, and we just started hanging out from there,” Stephens said. “It rapidly turned into young love.”
After graduating from high school in 2004, they moved in together and were soon expecting a baby. When then-19-year-old Stephens found out he was going to be a father, he felt overwhelmed, scared and excited all at once. But after three months, Linder had a miscarriage, which left them both devastated. “Me and Tracy grew up together; we went through a lot of ‘grown-up things’ at a young age together. So, we had a huge bond for sure, and we always will.”
They had a second chance at a family six months later when Linder became pregnant again. Grace was born in April of 2006. The young parents chose the name “Grace” because it was a combination of their first names, Greg and Trace. A couple of years later in July 2008, Stephens and Linder officially tied the knot and moved into a new home together in Lockhart.
But as the year slowly progressed, the newlyweds started moving apart and grew emotionally disconnected. “I think that we were so involved in parenting Grace that we drifted apart as partners and in our personal relationship together,” Stephens said. “We didn’t nurture that as much as we nurtured Grace and being parents to her.”
The two separated in the summer of 2009 and officially divorced the following year. Even though their relationship had been nonexistent for several months, Stephens said it was heartbreaking to separate from Linder because she was his “first true love, the mother of his child, and his wife.”
It took some time for the two to start talking again and forge a new kind of relationship. Linder said it was a struggle for both to let go of their thoughts and perceptions of each other as husband and wife. The other battle was getting everyone else in their life to understand their odd partnership. Six months after their split, the two finally figured they had to put their past behind them and put Grace’s best interests in the forefront.
Linder, who identifies as pansexual (someone who is attracted to others, regardless of their gender identity or sexuality), had her first same-sex experience in middle school. She said Stephens knew she wasn’t always “straight as a board” when they were dating. It came as no surprise to anyone when she started dating her now partner Ryan Kelsey in 2010.
“Everyone thought it was fun and games when I was dating a woman—until I decided to marry her,” Linder said. The couple had a marriage ceremony, along with others, on the steps of the Capitol in 2011 through a GetEqual Texas equality march. Linder added that many people told her their same-sex union would negatively affect Grace.
Stephens said Kelsey is a great friend, someone he can truly talk to, and that she is a huge support in raising his daughter. “I think it’s been easier to have another woman in Grace’s life than another man. With me being so close to Grace, it would have been harder for me to share her with another man, as another father figure.”
A bright first-grader, Grace loves to read, paint and do arts and crafts, traits Stephens says she got from her mom. But she also loves going hunting with her dad, playing at parks and throwing the football around with him.
Stephens and Linder live just three miles apart, making things easier for each family member, especially Grace. The key to running each household smoothly is communication. The two are always on the same page in terms of disciplining Grace or addressing an issue. “Grace knows that she can’t get away with anything in one home and not the other,” Stephens said. “She understands it and respects us all three as parents.”