In a sign of progress, experts encourage gays and lesbians to become parents
The 24th annual tri-state gathering of the Adoptive Parents Committee was more than happy to have lesbian and gay participation on Sunday, November 21, at Long Island University and provided two gay-specific workshops, a measure of equality, perhaps, for would-be parents excluded from adopting in many foreign countries and American states.
Lisa Schuman, a Manhattan psychotherapist with Adoption Cooperative Consultants, told gay singles and couples in her workshop, “The most difficult obstacle you have is yourselves. You can adopt! It takes education and hard work. But it will happen.”
People seeking to adopt children typically go through one of two main routes: paying a fee of ten to fifteen thousand dollars to an agency that finds an adoptee, or going the independent route and contracting with a birth mother and retaining a lawyer to help with the reams of paperwork. Schuman called the latter “a general contractor-type experience that can be less expensive,” but requires a lot more of your time. Advertising for a birth mother can run upwards of $10,000.
Suzanne Nichols, an attorney who specializes in adoption, sough to minimize gay people’s concerns with the processes seemingly insurmountable difficulties. “If you want a baby, you’ll have a family,” Nichols said, emphasizing, “clients that follow instructions do best.” Both experts said that it is critical for both members of the couple to become the legal parents of the child they adopt for their own protection and the child’s. In New York, New Jersey and several other states, gay and lesbian couples can co-adopt at the same time.
For gay men in particular, Nichols said, the hardest thing to get through is “the first phone call from a potential birth mother.” Once you’ve advertised yourself, you have to field calls that could come at any time from a mom willing to give up her child, usually with some compensation for medical expenses. She coaches potential parents on how to handle these calls, noting that the biggest concern of birth mothers is sending their child to “a stable family.”
Kate Finnick, a lesbian teacher from Long Island, led an entertaining workshop detailing the emotional roller coaster she and Bobbie, her partner of ten years, experienced trying to adopt their first and only child. “We decided on independent adoption,” she said, and found a supportive attorney. They created a Web site for themselves and advertised widely, but acknowledged that the business of hearing from potential birth moms at any time “can really wear you down.” They were scammed by one who did not show up for a meeting at a restaurant in Hoboken. Another reneged after they traveled to Pennsylvania to pick up the child, citing a dispute with the birth father. But seven months into the process, the women succeeded with a married mother of two in Michigan who did not want to keep her third child.
Finnick now provides a consulting service for those going the independent route.
An array of domestic and international adoption groups were represented at the conference, virtually all of them gay-friendly, even though some were clear that some of the countries they work with won’t let gay people adopt. China requires adoptive parents to sign an affidavit certifying that they are not homosexual. Russia won’t let single men adopt.
Brad Jones and Greg Hoffman of Hell’s Kitchen thought the conference was a “great way to get exposed to all the aspects and challenges of adoption,” according to Jones. Hoffman said it would have been helpful to have representatives of the agency and independent process together in the same workshop.
Avery Marder, president of the New York City chapter of the Adoptive Parents Committee, said that he has been involved in the all-volunteer group for 13 years and that “members of the gay community have been becoming members for the last seven.” Board member and past president Felix Fornino remembers a lesbian couple coming to the conference as long as ago as 1984 with the sense that they would not be able to adopt. “If you want to adopt, you’re welcome,” he told them.
In the entrance hall to the conference, the group posted names and pictures of famous adoptive parents and adopted children, including two gay men, Edward Albee, the playwright, and Greg Louganis, the Olympian. The parents included former Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, a virulent homophobe, Joan Crawford, Rosie O’Donnell and Al Roker.
For more information, go to AdoptiveParents.org for information about this support network with chapters throughout the region. Within the community, the Family Pride Coalition, at familypride.org, has supported lesbian and gay parents since the late 1970s.