I will never forget the moment my path to parenthood came into full focus. It was accompanied by a wave of emotion that left me overjoyed and, at the same time, spitting mad.
I was driving home from work on Thursday, March 6, 2006 and I had to pull over. I had been listening to an interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation program. The discussion was about adoption by gays and lesbians, focused on pending initiatives and legislation in 16 states that sought to ban it.
Representatives of the Family Research Council and the Child Welfare League of America were citing dueling research data about whether children need a mother and a father and what outcomes we could expect, as a society, from LGBT parents.
The debate was interesting, but predictable and I was only half-listening. That was, until Loretta called in. The host took a call from a 24-year-old woman from Missouri who described her situation of "aging out" of the foster care system with her 20-year-old sister, parentless. It was obvious that she was irritated that the woman from the Family Research Council had defined the ideal family as heterosexual and married.
She was angry and sad -- and polite -- but strident. She said, "I would rather have gay or lesbian parents than no parents at all. I feel like the people making the decisions are the people who probably have had parents and have no idea what it's like to live in this world without parents."
Her next sentences brought the theoretical discussion to a halt. She said, flustered, "And I just wish that there's more... of... maybe... like more of us who could make that decision... Because what I'm worried about is that less children are going to have people to turn to, like us. I mean, if we have to borrow money, all we have is each other, and it's very hard. It's just so hard."
I had pulled to the curb and could barely see the road though the water welling in my eyes. I felt as if I had just heard from the future... from one of the children that would never be mine. In retrospect, this was the moment in my life that I became an activist for foster children's rights. I was angry. I knew that I had to stand up for these sisters, that I had to do something radical on their behalf. A seed was planted that has brought me to RaiseAChild.US.
Before I forget to explain, I co-founded RaiseAChild.US with my friend Rich, a fellow gay dad. We buy billboards and put images of LGBT foster and adoptive families up for all to see and hold recruitment events to connect prospective parents like us with agencies that are eager to work with us to match with waiting foster children. While we are a young organization, we are starting to make a difference.
Fast forward six years from that radio interview, my husband and I have two kids in elementary school. Both came to us through the foster care system. We finalized the adoption of the oldest before she was one year old and we are still fostering her biological little brother. Through training and certification, home studies and fingerprints, we have learned a great deal about the foster care system and the children who need refuge from a veritable storm.
Don't misunderstand me -- we were in this to build our family. We were not driven by a need to "save" children. We knew that biology was not our highest priority, but rather we wanted to have a rich experience as "dad and daddy," shaping and guiding a child (or two) in our image. We are both highly motivated and driven people, engaged in our communities and in the promise of our nation. We met in college, so we see in one another each other's youthful optimism. We wanted to wrap all of that into a child who could go out into the world and learn and grow, just as we are.
Our children are African American and we are Caucasian. We do not "blend in" in most places. We are not interested in passing as heterosexual, but have quickly learned this is a near impossibility with children. They tell everyone our business in line at the grocery store, in elevators with strangers.. we are clearly a family, regardless of how someone in Washington might describe us.
Was it easy to foster? No, but then again many of our friends created their families through surrogacy and (yikes!) that comes with its own difficulties and heartaches, too. Our friends who conceived and bore their children have faced unexpected challenges as well. Parenting, no matter which path you take, is a painful and wonderful process that changes every mother and father. Nothing looks the same anymore through a parent's filter. These children cleave themselves to our hearts and it's hard to distinguish where we leave off and they begin. Any parent reading this knows exactly what I mean. Those among you who are not parents, beware -- nothing in your life compares to how parenting will push you.
I am not complaining, but -- lest anyone accuse me of false advertising -- parenting is not for the faint of heart.
The whole premise of RaiseAChild.US is that every prospective LGBT parent needs an advocate. For my husband and me, this was Robyn, our social worker, who helped us to navigate the foster care labyrinth. She interviewed us together and apart. She visited our home and checked for child-proof cabinetry, a locking medicine cabinet, fresh food in the fridge. We were fingerprinted, TB tested and CPR trained. We submitted letters of recommendation and pay stubs from our employers. We readied a room in our home and we waited.
We only waited for a couple of weeks. The wait was so short because we indicated that race did not matter to us and that we were open to learning about potential challenges a child might have before accepting the placement. We turned down a couple of potential matches due to health challenges. Then, one bright summer day, Robyn placed Emma in our arms.
Long story short, Robyn placed three kids under 18 months old in our arms that summer. Marisol & Isaías, brother and sister, needed a safe and loving home for six months, until their parents' rights were terminated, a family member could adopt them. At first, we were devastated to "give them back," but we have been able to maintain a connection with them over the many years since. We have watched them grow, learn to read, ride bikes, everything... but more as their uncles. I never could have imagined how much foster care would teach me about my own capacity to love... and let go... in the best interests of the child.
After all, that is what this whole debate boils down to... what is best for the child. "A mother and a father" vs. "LGBT parents" is a false dichotomy set-up knowingly by those who have pre-judged LGBT people. Even our detractors "bend" their message when faced with the fact that each year tens of thousands of children will "age out" of foster care parentless due to a simple and cruel supply-demand formula.
If you think your life could be enriched through parenting, I urge you to be ready for a crystallizing moment. For me, it was the plea of a young adult calling in to a radio program, who had already made peace with her future. When that realization comes, reach out to those of us who have traveled similar paths. We are ready to help you along your journey. We'll all celebrate together down the road apace, our kids at our sides.
RaiseAChild.US is hosting recruitment events in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Los Angeles and Orange County (CA) in November and December. RSVP or take the next step to parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.US.
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