Huffington Post Gay Voices and RaiseAChild.US are collaborating in an 10-part “Let Love Define Family” series for November’s National Adoption Month. Each series installment will introduce you to another aspect of fostering and adoption. Together we will meet foster youth, hear from culturally competent foster and adoption agency leaders, chat with cast members from the ABC Family television series “The Fosters,” and celebrate LGBT parents and the successful and healthy families they create across the United States. -- Rich Valenza, RaiseAChild.US
For about six months, I kept the secret from my family and most friends. But this was the day. The kind of late autumn Saturday afternoon in Southern California where you can still drive with your sunroof open and windows down, knowing that family and friends back in the northeast were certainly not enjoying the same luxury. Everything was perfect and I was in a celebratory mood. I had just finished my eighth full day of training and was driving home with the paper certificate required to move on to the next step. I could keep the secret no longer. I rolled up the car windows, hit redial, and pressed the flip phone to my ear.
“Hello, Mom. How’s it going?”
“Penn State won today,” my mother replied. “I think the final score was something like 30 points different. Did you watch the game?”
“Nah,” I replied. “We don’t usually get their games out here. But I couldn’t have watched the game anyhow. I was in class all day. Have been every Saturday for weeks.”
“What kind of class?” she asked.
“Well, I haven’t wanted to say anything until I got this far enough along,” I confessed. “I’ve wanted to surprise you.”
“Surprise me?” my mother hesitated. “Surprise me with what?”
This was one of those moments that I had been imagining and re-imagining for years. I had pictured the moment to involve laughter and joy. My mom and I would congratulate one another. But now the moment was real.
“I wanted to wait until I was well on my way,” I spoke loudly over the wind from the open sunroof. “Well, remember when I told you I was gay, that you said how disappointed you were that I would never give you grandchildren, right?”
“So, I am going to make you a grandmother again,” I said, loud and proud.
“What are you talking about,” my mom asked in a tone that was more curt than curious.
“I’m talking about,” I answered, “that I just finished classes with the County and I’m about to get certified and licensed. I’ve been thinking about it for years, and I’m well on my way now.”
There was silence on the phone so I filled it.
“Mom, I’m going to adopt! You are going to be grandma again!”
Still silence. This time, I checked my phone to make sure that we were still connected. We hadn’t lost the signal. I put the phone back to my ear.
“Hello,” I asked. “Mom, are you there? Did you hear me?”
Finally, my mother spoke.
“I’m just concerned for you,” she said. “I’m afraid you will get hurt.”
“How am I going to get hurt?”
“You know, they are never going to give you a kid,” my mother informed me.
I was stunned. Never in my imagining of this joyful moment did I expect to hear this.
“You know,” she went on in a manner that was matter of fact. “You’re gay. You are single. You are probably too old. They are never going to give you a kid. And if they do, they are not going to give you a good kid.”
Misperceptions & Misinformation
That phone call with my mother took place over eight years ago. But every word stuck with me. The entire story comes down to two things: misperceptions and misinformation. Both reasons were instrumental in why I wanted to start RaiseAChild.US. On a daily basis, I am fueled to make sure the organization is a success so that we can continue to erase misperceptions and misinformation with efforts to educate, inform, and encourage for the benefit of all the children in foster care and for all families, especially those parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
We at RaiseAChild.US believe in the good in all children. I have yet to hear of an instance when a child asked to be put in to the foster system. Kids don’t ask to be abused, rejected, neglected, or abandoned. So it angers me to hear people say that foster kids are too damaged or too old to be adopted. Time and again, history has shown that, regardless of age, humans are resilient and people flourish in stable and loving environments.
Similarly to foster children, a large percentage of LGBT people have also experienced rejection and hurt in their own lives. For some of us, the message is sometimes subtle and recurring. For others of us, the rejection is or was painful. Throughout life, we are often reminded that we are different and sometimes unequal. But it is this experience of rejection that I believe enables some LGBT people to make outstanding foster and adoptive parents. As a community, most LGBT people can understand what it is to be rejected and how it feels. I believe this experience makes us more empathic as parents for children who have experienced a rejection of their own. For this reason, we have a skill and ability like few others to relate to foster children and youth and help them heal, develop, and grow to their fullest potential.
Eight Years Later
Today, I have two beautiful, healthy, and considerate children who have been with me for eight years. About a year after I finalized their adoption, my partner Jared moved in and he co-parents with me. Our kids’ school is welcoming to our family and the administrative team describes our children as happy and well adjusted. Their standardized state test scores have consistently shown them to be at the top percentages of California kids their ages. Jared and I love our kids. To each of us, there is no question. We are a family.
I still call my mother several days out of each week. In one of those phone conversations, just days before the Supreme Court decision to overturn Proposition 8, my mother asked, “So what do you think of all that is being said in D.C. nowadays?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m hoping we win. But who knows how it will go.”
“I will tell you one thing,” my mother said with a defiant tone. “All anyone would need is to see the great job that you and Jared are doing with those two kids of yours. If they knew how far your kids have come and how well they are doing with you, no one in their right mind could question what is right and what is wrong.”
In that moment, I was moved and speechless. Finally, the moment I had anticipated arrived and it took me by complete surprise. Right then, I realized that no matter how grown up a kid is, it is always powerful to hear good things from one’s parent.
Rich Valenza is the founder and CEO of RaiseAChild.US, a nonprofit organization that believes all children deserve a safe, loving and permanent home. We educate and encourage the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adoption to answer the needs of the 400,000 children in our nation's foster care system. RaiseAChild works with foster and adoption agencies that have received training in LGBT cultural competence through the Human Right’s Campaign Foundation’s “All Children – All Families” initiative [link: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/all-children-all-families-about-the-initiative] and received its Seal of Recognition. RaiseAChild’s National Adoption Month campaign includes special events for prospective parents in Chicago (November 18), Los Angeles (November 20), Kansas City (November 21), New York City (December 3), and San Francisco (December 5). To RSVP, visit www.raiseachild.us or email firstname.lastname@example.org.