"He doesn't mind giving oral presentations in class," says Carla Swauger, his teacher at Fullerton Elementary School. She describes Justin as "one of the most well-rounded" and "grounded" students she has seen in 15 years of teaching. "I asked him if he was nervous talking in front of adults rather than students, and he took it very casually. I said, 'You're so lucky to see government in action.' And he said, 'Yeah, well, it was pretty neat.'
Never shy, Justin danced to a Pokemon rap song at his school's talent show when he was in the first grade. In the third grade, he put on a fake mustache and did an impersonation of Hagrid from the Harry Potter books. This year, he's thinking of doing stand-up comedy. Here's one of his jokes:
"What is the best day to go to the dentist?"
Justin has performed at Pumpkin Theatre, and he stole the show when he played the role of the weatherman in a modern retelling of Frosty the Snowman.
He is such an outgoing kid that when he went to the bookstore for the midnight arrival of the last Harry Potter book, he was interviewed by a television station. He liked the spotlight and was upset another time when a reporter overlooked him and interviewed his two moms.
That happened in February. Kathy had heard Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. say something about gay marriage that she found so offensive she got on the Internet, went to the Human Rights Campaign Web site, and asked how she could get involved. The family wound up being profiled and pictured on Equality Maryland's Web site, and that led to the TV interview.
Kathy told Justin after the interview aired that the next time an opportunity arose, he could speak if he still wanted to. The press conference in Annapolis was scheduled a few days later.
"I was going to be totally fine if he chickened out," says Kathy. "There were about 20 big, giant cameras facing the podium with five microphones on it and all these politicians speaking, but Justin got up there."
Strangers approached him afterward and said he was a brave kid. U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts shook his hand in Washington, the Washington Blade wanted to do an interview, and Nightline expressed interest. Yet Justin didn't think much about any of it.
"He doesn't see the significance of what he is doing the way we adults do," says Justin's dad. "This is his world, and he's OK with it. That's the message, in his own way, he's trying to get out."
Word about Justin continued to spread, and it wasn't long before adults started coming up to meet him even before he spoke. All of a sudden, Justin knew how Harry Potter felt when Harry went to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the first time and discovered his reputation had arrived before he did.
In the minivan on the drive home from Hagerstown, Justin is going through caverns, fighting beasts, looking for hidden treasure, trying to light two lighthouses because doing that will save the world.
Nothing can distract him from this game, not even his baby sister, who does not readily fall asleep in the car despite the stereotype that all babies fall asleep in cars.
Justin was excited to have a baby sister. So were his moms, who started trying to have a baby together two years ago. They wanted a blood tie, so Kathy was artificially inseminated with sperm from Whitney's brother. Whitney will adopt the baby, and they both will be Maya's legal parents.
Kathy was working with a client on the Eastern Shore on 9/11 and couldn't get in touch with Whitney for hours. The losses that so many families suffered that day made Kathy and Whitney think differently about their family. The very next month, Kathy surprised Whitney with a trip to Vermont, where they were wed in a civil-union ceremony on Oct. 20, 2001.
The desire to "have something on paper" is not something Justin can comprehend. Many of the legal issues are beyond a fourth-grader's understanding. He has been taught the structure of the state and national governments, but the nitty-gritty of how laws are made doesn't appear in the school curriculum until the fifth grade.
Kathy and Whitney believe Justin is learning something a school can't teach.