Gay and Lesbian Adoptive Families
by Ellen Singer, LCSW-C, Adoption Program Specialist
Center for Adoption Support and Education, Inc
Rita and her partner, Cindy adopted Jackie, 10 from China as an infant. A star soccer player, Jackie was fortunate to be able to have both parents attend most of her soccer games. On one particular occasion, the game involved a new team in an unfamiliar league. As they began walking from their car to the soccer field, Rita began to feel uneasy as a tall, large man, walking with his soccer player son to the field, stopped and approached them. She worried that he was going to say something unkind about their family. Jackie started talking to her teammate. The dad said, "So is Jackie adopted?" and before Rita could answer, he said, "Well I'm asking because my wife and I adopted both of our children from Russia." Rita states, "This was the start of some wonderful field side conversations over the rest of the playing season between us. Somebody, who on the surface appeared to me as unapproachable and potentially not accepting of my family, actually did not care at all about the gayness of our family."
Adoption presents many challenges for families. All adoptive families struggle with society's bias about being "second-best" to biologically related families. Gay and lesbian adoptive families face an extra layer of challenge. Even within the adoption community, it is well known that very often, gay and lesbians face the struggle of being perceived as "last resort" families for adopted children. In domestic adoption, some states, such as Florida, do not permit gay and lesbian people to adopt. A number of states do not permit second parent adoption, as they do in Maryland and D.C. In international adoption, some countries do not support placement of children with gay and lesbian parents. Interestingly, statistics show that in privately arranged adoptions, birth parents do choose to place their children with gay and lesbian parents. (naic)
Gay and lesbian adoptive families not only have to cope with the challenges presented by adoption, including racism if the adoption is transracial/transcultural, but certainly discrimination by people who do not approve of their sexual orientation, known as heterosexism. And they need the support of the adoption community. While some families can rely on the support of their extended family, others may have lost these relationships or experience strained relationships as a result of "coming out." (Partners may also handle their sexual orientation in different ways - some choose to be more open, others more selective about who they share their status with.) The debate over gay marriage, of course, also strikes at the very heart of recognizing and supporting these families. Rita's story demonstrates the power of adoption to unite diverse types of families within the adoption community.
While gay and lesbian adoptive families need the validation and support from the adoption community, heterosexual adoptive families can learn a great deal from gay and lesbian adoptive families about children and resiliency in the face of unkind questions/remarks about adoption. Amber Adams and Kristen Benson write in Family Therapy magazine, "Children are teased and discriminated against in our culture for many reasons, including gender, skin color, the size and shape of their bodies, their names, and the way they talk. Considering the presence of teasing and even bullying that occurs in schools, it seems children of gay and lesbian families may actually be better prepared to face these struggles than other children..many may have developed coping strategies to help their children adjust and thrive in a heterosexist culture. Some.prepare their children through open discussion about sexual orientation and the possibility of experiencing heterosexism.and encourage their children to learn that (people's negative attitudes) has nothing to do with their inherent worth."
Like all adoptive parents, Rita's concerns center on how Jackie will process the experience of being part of an adoptive family. As Rita says, "Our conversations with Jackie have been much more about adoption than about our sexual orientation. Early on we helped Jackie understand that some people will not respect our family and that they don't matter. We've protected her as much as possible by lessening the risk of her being hurt by the choices we've made about where we live and what school she goes to. But we cannot protect her from the very personal pain she feels about the losses inherent in adoption. In this, we're like every other adoptive parent who must validate their child's feelings and be there to help them work it through."
Gay and Lesbian Adoptive Parents: Resources for Professionals and Parents, National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
Perceptions of Social Support Among Heterosexual and Homosexual Adopters, by Peter Kindle and Stephen Erick, Families in Society, Nov./Dec. 2005
Considerations for Gay and Lesbian Families, by Amber Adams and Kristen Benson, Family Therapy magazine, Nov./December 2005
The Lesbian and Gay Parenting Handbook: Creating and Raising our Families by Dr. April Martin
Upcoming two part series on Gay and Lesbian Teens in Adoptive Families and Adopted Teens in Gay and Lesbian Families by Debbie Riley, Executive Director of C.A.S.E. in Adoptive Family Magazine - May/June 2006
© 2004 The Center for Adoption and Support Education, Inc.
Family dynamics such as relationships with parents and siblings and separation anxiety >>
The classroom and relationships with peers and role models>>
Identity, Heritage and Belonging>>
International adoption and siblings with different adoptive backgrounds>>