Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Separating Adoptee Rights from Homophobia

Guest Entry by Shannon LC Cate

Shannon LC Cate is a lesbian housewife and write-from home adoptive mother to two beautiful girls. She blogs about her life at Peter’s Cross Station and about writing at Muse of Fire.

Amanda asked....
There have been a few times lately where I have seen/read adoption discussed in relation to gay and lesbian rights where it is almost framed as homophobic for the original (biological) male and female parents to be viewed as important to the adoptee. Someone might point out that a loving parent (or parents) is what a child needs, regardless of the gender of the parent(s). I would agree. However, the assumption that valuing original parents is about saying the nurturing parents, in this case, gay or lesbian parents, are not adequate or capable parents is perhaps another instance where Adoptee Rights may be misunderstood. I decided to ask Shannon her thoughts on this topic. What would you say to someone who feels that placing importance on the biological roots* provided by the male and female original parents is homophobic or offensive to LGBTQ parents?"

*by biological roots, I mean it would be placing importance on anything from a relationship with the original parents, to access to ancestral information, to access to adoption records or original birth certificate.
Shannon answers.....

This sounds to me like yet another case of a misplaced sense of who adoptee rights are about. They are not about adoptive parents. Let me say that again, the adoptee rights movement is not a comment of any kind on adoptive parents. The adoptee rights movement is about adoptee rights. Period.

I think it’s a shame that we (“we” adoptee rights advocates and activists) must keep repeating this, clarifying this and explaining this, when all that energy could go into pursuing, you know, adoptee rights.

It’s a particular shame that queer* parents don’t come by an understanding of it more naturally, as it seems to me logically, they should. But perhaps there is some legitimate reason for the confusion. After all, there are times when children’s rights—adopted and otherwise—are adversely affected by a lack of queer individual and/or family rights.

Here are a couple of the most common examples.

Queer rights to fostering and adoption: Most large, well-researched, truly child-focused fostering and adoption organizations (for example, the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Ethica) recognize that allowing full and equal participation by queer adults in foster care and adoption are in the best interests of children, because they open a pool of potential parents to underserved children who are difficult to place. In this case, queer rights further the good of fostered and adopted people.

The right to same-sex second-parent (sometimes called “step-parent”) adoption: In many jurisdictions, two people of the same gender cannot legally parent the same child or children. This leaves such a child or children unprotected in the case of the legal parent’s death or in the case of a split in the parents’ relationship. An ugly breakup can result in the orchestrated loss of one parent (the non-legal one). A death can lead to court battles between the surviving (non-legal) parent and the deceased (legal) parent’s other family. Giving queer people the right to adopt each other’s children—or adopt as couples in the first place—means giving children more security in their homes and families.

These two examples are probably the most important places in which “gay rights” align with the best interest of children. However, the rights of adoptees to basic information about their biological origins have nothing to do with either of these two examples. The rights of adoptees to know their origins are simply human rights of individuals and are no comment on adoptive parents, whether straight or gay.

On the one hand, I can understand why queer adoptive parents might tend to undervalue the importance of biological ties in their children’s lives. After all, many of us are abandoned, scorned, disowned and otherwise abused by our own biological families when we come out. This legacy of rejection has led to a strong sense of community among queer people, one that is, in fact, often called “family” in queer slang.

On the other hand, isn’t this ability to reach beyond our immediate and most obvious relations to make family among strangers—perhaps to include adoption—something that should guide us in opening our hearts to the biological kin of our children, when we have an opportunity to learn about, or even get to know them?

Adopted people aren’t always looking for a relationship when they seek their natural relatives. But sometimes they may be lucky enough to stumble into the possibility of one, and the chance to build it. But even in the absence of such an opportunity, knowing more about our children—even if it is only the names and basic identities of their first parents—can be regarded as a treasure not just for them, but for us.

My partner and I chose open adoption first for our children, second for their first parents and finally, for ourselves. After all, our children are the most interesting people in the world to us and knowing more about them is a gift. The light in my daughter’s eyes when I can tell her she has her mother’s brilliant mind or beautiful smile is not something I would trade for the world. It does nothing to diminish her love for me to be given a deeper and broader sense of herself and her connections to the world through all her inheritance—biological and adoptive. In fact, one of my primary motivations in supporting the healthy growth of her fullest possible sense of self is to add to the foundation I am laying for our continued healthy, happy, attached relationship in the future when she has a choice about whether or not to call me “family.”

*I use the word “queer” instead of GLBT. Queer is a term embraced by many activists as offering the best coverage for the varied people who find themselves—or choose to step—outside of hetero-normative sexual identities and/or family models.


Lori said...

Very interesting post. I honestly see this a step forward. I wish that "hetro" adoptive parents were as open to emotional growth for themselves and for their children.

I also believe that adoptees rights and mothers rights coincide, but are different... regardless of gender/sexual orientation.

Unsigned Masterpiece said...

When do adoptee rights begin? I think they begin before the adoptee is an adoptee.

glory said...

When my reunion began, my son and his wife were having their first child. When this child began to talk he called my grandma, but my son firmly told him, "NO". He (my son) said they would tell the kids I was a grandma when they were 12 years old. Now the oldest is 12. How does a father tell a child he basically lied by omission all his life? How much more honest and enriching it is to allow children to know original families and hence the history of the family. After all, a family can be shaped in so many different ways. All of them are fine, but they do need to be honest so children understand. It is their family, too!

Anonymous said...

My ex partner is my son's biological mom. Right now I have legal guardianship but I will soon be his adoptive mama. I am lucky to have always been involved in his life and always acknowledged as his mama. I have to admit though that I do not care for my ex or the way she has treated our son since we seperated. I have a hard time accepting that she is not involved in his life. It angers me. He needs more from her than an occasional phone call after all. But, regardless of her behaviour, I know that she loves him. More importantly I know that my son loves her deeply. He still needs her in whatever capacity she is capable of being here for him. He needs to know his history, who his birth family is and that he is loved by all of them. He needs to know who HE is.

I look at our family pictures though, with the three of us in them, and at times it makes me cry. I know our son needs those pictures up and that he needs to see us happy, together and that she wanted to be here. I also have pictures of his extended biological family hanging with all our other family pictures. I want him to know that we all belong to him. His needs have to come first.

All this would be much easier on me if I had not been in a relationship with his mom. The more I read and learn though the more I realize it is better for him that we were in a relationship. He got to have his mom around on a daily basis for three years. He still gets to talk to her and visit with her (although at times it does have to be supervised.) He knows his granny and pop and uncle and cousins. They are all real people to him. Because we were together I have a copy of his original birth certificate (and won't be changing his name or taking away part of it.) I have to remember it isn't about me anymore. Really though isn't that the way all parents should feel?

LilySea said...

Lori: right on about adoptee rights and mothers' rights...also women's rights generally. Adoption is about almost everything!

Jim G said...

I had one of the most public searches ever. In 1981 I was diagnosed with leukemia, a type with an average life expectancy of three years. The only known cure was a bonemarrow transplant from a blood relative. I went to court in Kansas City Mo. to get my records opened so as to be able to see if any relatives matched my blood.

When the court would not even give me a court date, ABC News and then many media forces covered my case. I was asked to do Oprah, Today, 20/20, etc. I did the shows to pressure the courts to act but more importantly to educate the public and pressure legislatures to change the laws.
Eventually the State Supreme Court ruled against me but by that time we had located family, gotten a blood test and found no match.
The ending is that I was still alive in 1991 (vs. 100 to 1 odds) and the technology caught up to my needs. I had a successful transplant from an unrelated donor and am now cancer-free.

Secretly we searched and found my family, in one of the strangest searches I know of. I got a lot of help in my search and have helped others when I can.

I hope my story can be used to educate others in support of open records.
Jim G. George

LilySea said...

Couldn't agree more. I think we need to reduce the need for adoption and certainly get financial incentives OUT of adoption so as to prevent unneccessary ones from ever occurring in the first place.

LilySea said...

Amen to this. We need to support mothers and eradicate financial incentives in adoption to prevent unnecessary ones from occurring in the first place.