November 09, 1987 12:00 PM

For as long as he could remember, Brian Batey had been trapped in the middle of a wrenching custody battle between his homosexual father and his fundamentalist Christian mother. The struggle seemed settled when a judge decided in Frank Batey’s favor and Brian moved into his father’s Palm Springs, Calif., home. Then last June 26, the day before his 43rd birthday, Frank Batey died of AIDS, and a hard-won peace was abruptly shattered. At the memorial service Brian, 16, told the mourners, “My father was not only the best friend I could ever have, he’s also the best friend I’ve ever had. I really loved him.”

With his father’s death, however, the custody battle resumed, this time with an unusual twist. Under California law, custody of Brian should revert to his mother, Betty Lou Batey, 43, a nurse’s assistant who lives in San Diego. But Brian does not want to go. After living with his father and Craig Corbett, 49, Frank’s lover of 13 years, Brian wants to stay with Corbett. As she has many times before, his mother has taken her case to court. “He has a home with me,” says Corbett. “If he feels this is where he belongs, well, I’ll fight for him.”

A Superior Court judge is scheduled to rule on the case this week, but Brian vows he will not live with his mother, even under court order. “I guess I’ll just take off and get a place by myself if that happens,” says the lanky six-footer. To that end he is considering filing his own motion for emancipated minor status, which would allow him to choose with whom he lives. “I respect and love my mother,” he says, “but she doesn’t respect me and how I feel. I like my life now. I like where I live. I wish she’d just leave me alone.”

Corbett, whom Brian and his friends affectionately call “Corb,” has known the boy since Brian was 4. “In a way, he is my son,” he says, picking up one of Brian’s shirts and tossing it into the laundry room. “I helped raise him. I loved his dad, and I love him like he was my own. Now that Frank is gone, I’m the best parent he’s got left.”

Brian’s mother couldn’t disagree more. A member of a Pentecostal church, she recently told Brian, the boy says, “The devil was in your father, and now he’s in you.” Betty Lou refuses comment, but her brother, Nathan Rose, a Pentecostal minister from Grand Rapids, Mich., says, “Betty Batey is frustrated after years of being put down when [she is] a godly, God fearing mother and has always tried to raise her son the way moral people raise their children.”

Frank and Betty Lou were married in the Pentecostal Church in Belle Flower, Calif., 18 years ago. But in 1975, four years after Brian was born, Frank became openly homosexual, and the couple divorced. Originally granted custody, Betty Lou did everything she could to deny Frank visitation rights, including claiming in 1976 that her ex-husband had once sexually molested the boy. A year later this charge was dismissed as groundless. Frank denied the accusation to the day he died, and Brian supports him. “I have never been sexually molested,” he says. “Not by my father. Not by anyone in this house. Man, I’ve never seen anyone here, my dad or Corb or any of their friends, engaged in any sexual acts. Nothin’.” In 1982 San Diego County Juvenile Judge Sheridan Reed awarded permanent custody of Brian to his father. Psychologist Russell Gold later reported that Betty Lou had hampered her ex-husband’s efforts to develop a normal relationship with Brian. “It was wonderful,” recalls Corbett. “Frank was so happy.”

But less than two weeks after Brian went home with his father, Betty Lou showed up for her first visit and disappeared with the boy, who was then 11 years old. Frank spent the next 19 months searching for his son. Eventually Betty Lou turned herself in to the FBI in Colorado and spent 13 days in jail for refusing to tell where Brian was. At that point the boy surfaced, after making a videotape in which he described homosexual behavior in his father’s home. He did not want to live with his father, he said, ” ’cause I don’t want to live with no homo.”

Brian now says that he had been “coached” to say the things that he did. “At the time I believed what I said in the tape,” he says. “You have to understand that I was young and all I knew was religion. Everything I saw was sinful in some way.” It was during this period when he was in hiding, Brian now says, that he began using drugs. Returned to California, he was placed in foster homes for two years while his parents returned to the courts. “Brian had nowhere to go,” says a former teacher. “His mother was a Christian fanatic, and his father was homosexual, and everyone knew it. He wasn’t torn between them. He was embarrassed by both of them.” But in 1986, after he was returned to his father’s care, Brian was able to quit drugs and improve his schoolwork. Says another teacher: “If living with his dad, gay or straight, helped him say no to drugs, then it’s the right place for him.”

If the atmosphere around the Palm Springs house is any indication, Brian’s home life is remarkably wholesome. His teenage friends come and go, splashing in the pool, talking on the phone with girls, or playing with Corbett’s parrots and lovebirds. “I don’t care that Brian’s dad was gay and neither do my parents,” says Brian’s friend Steve Israelson. “They know he died of AIDS.” Since Frank died Corbett has tested free of the AIDS antibody, as has Brian. Not that he might have acquired the virus from a homosexual; Brian says he likes girls—period.

But the custody dispute continues. In an attempt to persuade Brian to come and live with her, Betty Lou visited Palm Springs in July and took him out “for a hamburger.” Corbett did not see or hear from the boy for four days, until Brian sneaked out of his mother’s San Diego apartment and called a friend to take him home. Brian says he could have left at any time, but he “wanted to try and talk it all out so everyone could get along.” His effort failed, he says. “All we did was fight and scream at each other.”

In October members of Betty Lou’s family, led by Nathan Rose, filed an additional motion for guardianship of Brian. At an earlier hearing Betty Lou had asked Judge Judith McConnell to step down, claiming that the judge’s feminist beliefs and what Rose calls her “obvious support of homosexuals” would lead her to favor the gay community. The case passed to Judge Reed, but Betty Lou objected on similar grounds. “I think it’s a sick society,” says Rose. “They used to be called queers, and they are queer. It’s a perverted act.”

As for Brian, he seems quite untroubled by Corbett’s sexual orientation and jokingly calls him his “step-mom.” “Hey, man, you love it,” says Brian. “You love all this teenage be-home-early-it’s-a-school-night stuff.” And Corbett, who wants to convert his temporary custody of Brian into permanent guardianship, pleads guilty. “If cleaning, cooking, two loads of laundry and studying for school is a bad homosexual environment for Brian, I won’t argue with them,” he says. “It’s also the same environment that most well-adjusted kids have a chance to grow up in, and that’s what I want to give Brian.” As for Corbett’s way of life, Brian has his own religious view. “I still believe in treating others right and being kind,” he says. “But I try never to judge other people—something my mother should learn. I leave judgment up to God.”

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