In today’s installment of the Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family™” series, we highlight a culturally-diverse, multiracial family formed through foster-adoption whose differences ultimately add to the strengths of each of its members.
Eddie and Chip’s family is not simply multiracial but also multicultural in more ways than one. Eddie and Chip are both white and gay and their children are black, so the family incorporates both African American culture and LGBT culture. But because Eddie is deaf, the family also straddles the boundaries of deaf culture.
Edward “Eddie” Peigneux, Jr., 44, known as “Baba” to his kids, is the supervisor of California School for the deaf in Riverside, CA. His partner, Raymond “Chip” West III, 41, whom the children call “Dada,” is the assistant vice president for capital planning and facilities management at the University of La Verne. The couple lives in Diamond Bar, CA.
Many people are not aware that the word Deaf defines not only a medical condition, but a rich culture with specific history, jokes, poetry and literature. Eddie and Chip’s children are growing up conversant in the two languages spoken at home, English and American Sign Language, and culturally competent in mainstream American life, African American culture, LGBT community and deaf culture.
“Being deaf and gay as well, I have experienced all of the things that go along with that, the discrimination, the oppression, and the depression,” said Eddie through an ASL interpreter. “So I have a strong identity. I know who I am and I know that there are struggles out there so I’m very aware and very sensitive to those things.”
“I wanted to make sure that the African American culture is part of my children’s lives,” continued Eddie, who explains that he and his husband have worked carefully to find ways to immerse their children in their own cultural heritage. “For example, the children go to a day care run by a woman who is African American and there are African American children there as well. We want them to be exposed to the food, customs and all those things.”
“The daycare provider has been fabulous and has really taken the kids in,” added Chip. “And she tells Eddie and I all the time that she had a preconceived notion of gay couples and we really changed her mind, not only because Eddie is deaf but because of the relationship we have. We’ve been together 19 years, so we’re an old married couple even though we’re not married!”
To give the children a well-rounded cultural education, the dads select books for their children that reflect their family structure and cultures, take their children to cultural celebrations and participate in cultural dinners and activities. They also take the children a couple times a month to an African American Baptist church in Compton that Taylor’s adopted biological aunt attends.
Fostering runs deeply in both Chip and Eddie’s own family histories. Growing up in Virginia, Chip was inspired by his mother, who decided to become a foster parent while he was in high school. Preferring to foster rather than adopt, she had more than 12 kids in her care over the years. Eddie’s mother and father, who lived in Montana, also became foster parents while Eddie was growing up, and Eddie’s sister and her husband later became foster parents and adopted one of the children they fostered.
As a child, Eddie attended an all-deaf school in Great Falls, Montana about six hours away from his family’s home in Miles City. Eventually, a deaf family who had fostered him there decided to adopt him while he was in high school. He still maintains connections with his deaf family, as well as his hearing family.
Eddie and Chip started with fostering, taking care of two teens briefly, but when now 14-year-old Taylor was placed with them they fell in love with him and wanted to adopt him. A year later, at the final hearing for termination of parental rights, the biological aunt suddenly changed her mind -- an experience Chip described as very painful. Nevertheless, the adoptive mother recognized the important role of the men in her son’s life and worked out an arrangement whereby Chip and Eddie pick him up every Thursday and keep him through Sunday. That arrangement has persisted fairly consistently over the past three years and created a strong support system for Taylor.
After that four foster children followed in rather rapid succession and were all adopted. The last two’s adoptions were finalized in October. Eli, 3, Chase, 3, Chloe, 2, and Ethan, 1, are all fluent in ASL, a particular blessing because all of the kids have had speech delays based on their individual circumstances -- either drugs or neglect.
“Signing has been a really great tool for us,” said Chip, who says none of the children are deaf but some have biological family members who are deaf. “We’ve had each of the kids in speech therapy, so the signing is a great way to help them communicate as their spoken language has been a little delayed.”
The day care provider has been so impressed by the children’s communication skills that she has added ASL to her programming.
Growing up gay, Eddie never thought he would have the opportunity to adopt. But with Chip’s determination to pursue parenthood, the couple eventually expanded their family through working with the Los Angeles County Department of Children’s Services, which welcomes LGBT prospective parents. Today, Chip volunteers as a foster parent advocate for DCFS.
These days, Eddie anticipates meeting with his children’s elementary school teachers in the years to come -- he is more concerned about being a deaf parent than a gay dad.
“The teachers might see bypassing me as a simpler way to communicate, so I would end up feeling excluded,” said Eddie. “There might be parent-teacher meetings where they might believe that since Chip’s going be there they wouldn’t need to get an interpreter. That’s something that I have faced already in my life so I anticipate that that might be an issue. But here in California I think people are pretty deaf aware, so I don’t foresee that as being a big barrier.”
Corinne Lightweaver is the Communications Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns and events to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,200 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US.