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.