I’ve been loving the work of the Donaldson Adoption Institute more and more as I continue to get to know them. In 2014 I started getting to know their then new CEO April Dinwoodie. We hit it off immediately, talking about the challenges of supporting families, discrimination, LGBTQI issues, and promoting healthy dialogue on both legal and social issues. As an LGBTQI adoptive parent I had mostly thought about my family as an LGBTQI and multiracial one, focusing on the challenges of those identities. It was through that lens that I dealt with adoption. But over time I have come to a much deeper understanding of adoption and, in general, the impact of of the choices we make in how we have children.
That was a big reason I was so thrilled to go on a national tour with DAI to discuss adoption reform this past year. For Pride this year I was honored to be invited to write for DAI’s blog. Here’s my piece. I hope you enjoy it.
It is hard to write anything this Pride month without acknowledging the massacre of 49 LGBTQI people in Orlando on June 12. Such a savage event in a place of respite and safety, and on a night specifically for the Latino community will leave a scar on this nation and on our hearts. In sitting down to think about my own family this Pride season, I cannot help but think of all the parents who lostchildren, all the lives cut short, the families that were devastated and the love that was lost.
Whenever I speak in public, I try hard to say “I am gay. I am a parent. I am Jewish. I am your neighbor.” The Orlando massacre is a terrible reminder why we need to name our identities and embrace all of the challenges that all of our communities and identities face. In a world where homophobia and transphobia, racism, and anti-Semitism are so prevalent, our creating a family and becoming parents happened through those lenses. So when my husband and I decided to add to our family and adopt our son, we saw ourselves as part of the LGBTQI community, but it took time to fully realize we are part of the adoption community too.
We always knew we would adopt. We met in 2003 and, as children of the 80s and 90s, being two gay men meant that the default for us was to not have children. But here we were, part of a new generation, two men in their 20s, on a first date, walking through Central Park, and talking about marriage and children. (The usual first date stuff right?)
When I was coming out, most people had never even heard of an LGBTQI person with children. And neither had I. But in my heart I knew we could do it.
When the time came, we did everything we could to educate ourselves about what it meant to become a family, what it meant to be gay men becoming parents, and what it meant to adopt. We built a small community of other adoptive LGBTQI parents, we listened, we talked and we explored. Adoption felt right for us with all of its blessings and challenges. But if I’m truly honest, I think we were LGBTQI parents-to-be first and adoptive parents second. We chose adoption intentionally and learned what we could about what being adoptive parents meant, but the social and legal barriers we faced as LGBTQI people were front and center.
We confronted these barriers in every way we knew how. We learned about our rights, we engaged in community and we planned. Back then, we weren’t legally married, we couldn’t necessarily adopt in every state, and it was unclear whether being gay would mean that a mother who felt adoption was her child’s best option would choose us as her child’s parents. But we proceeded and, faster than we imagined we were parents in a multi-racial, LGBTQI, adoptive, Jewish, middle-class family. And, as any parent can attest, parenting in any situation is all consuming. You are literally figuring out how to keep a person alive. And how to get some sleep. Never mind all the social, cultural, and legal challenges you need to be preparing to face.
Our LGBTQI friends and communities were ecstatic, mostly. It was 2008 and LGBTQI parents were still novel to most Americans. And so that became the focus of our identity. We were 27 and everyone, from social workers to attorneys to sheriffs, commented on us being the youngest adoptive couple they’d ever met. The nurses and midwife at the hospital where our son was born were mostly excited about being part of the process and the relationship we had with our son’s birth mother. We and most of the people around us saw the process through an LGBTQI lens: exciting, groundbreaking (not actually, but perceived that way), challenging the status quo.
For sure, not everyone was on board – some friends thought we were rejecting our LGBTQI identities. We were conforming to something that wasn’t meant for us. For some of them, it was the painful confrontation of watching something that they had finally made peace with, not having children, become an opportunity for others.
Choosing to adopt, while natural for us, was clearly not seen by others the way we saw it. What we hadn’t anticipated is that while we were just parents living out our family’s truth, others drew lines in the sand. More than one person told us we were “brave” and that they couldn’t do what we did. They couldn’t imagine parenting children who “weren’t really theirs.” They needed their own “real children.” This came from all kinds of people – straight and LGBTQI.
At one difficult moment, I was in a meeting – a meeting about securing lived and legal equality for families like mine – when the person I was with suddenly said they really couldn’t relate – “I have two perfect white children who are really mine.” And then he laughed a little. I smiled uncomfortably and nodded. “You know what I mean,” he added.
In other meetings, I learned that people were all for securing the rights to have children, but not addressing the needs of our families beyond legal rights. Supporting children as they come to terms with being adopted, or have an anonymous egg donor, or sharing a sperm donor with a handful of other kids they didn’t know? These were for other communities to address, not us. These weren’t LGBTQI issues. But of course they are, because these are the stories of our families.
Over the last eight-plus years, we’ve learned, of course, about what our son and family needs from us. We’ve opened our eyes to see how we’re part of a larger adoption community defined not just by being with others whose families are adoptive, but by the beauty and complexity of what our family story means for our son.
Sometimes these still feel like two different communities, but more and more we see them converge and are finding places where we can be our whole selves. And rather than see the complexities as things to avoid, we are realizing that the more we lean in, the richer our family is.
So during this bittersweet Pride season, let’s embrace all of the communities we need to be part of. Let’s see what LGBTQI issues what our families face because of their whole selves, not only what we face because of our gender and sexual identities. For me, that means embracing our story as an adoptive family truly and fully in addition and in connection to our transracial and LGBTQI stories.
I am gay. I am an adoptive parent in a transracial family. I am Jewish. I am your neighbor. And this is my Pride.