Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=198653
Story Retrieval Date: 7/24/2014 2:20:12 PM CST
When Rumaan Alam and his husband David Land brought home their son Simon in 2009, they felt many of the emotions that come with adopting a child: trepidation, excitement and curiosity. But, one emotion resonated that doesn’t always register for adoptive families: vindication.
“We were mindful of our family being different, but it felt so natural,” Alam said of the adoption. “We felt kind of vindicated because it felt normal.”
Alam, a writer, and Land, a photographer, live in Brooklyn where gay marriage has been legal since July.
With civil unions becoming legalized in more states and an increasing number of adoption agencies working with LGBT parents, the prospect of non-heterosexual couples adopting is on the rise. With this potential also come unique challenges and couples searching for solutions to be confident parents.
Starting on Jan. 26 the Center on Halsted, an LGBTQ outreach organization and community center, is offering a 10-week support group for prospective adoptive parents in LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) communities.
Due to a growing constituency of interested couples, the center started to offer group sessions where individuals can express their concerns and work through some of the issues unique to LGBT families, said Brian Richardson, director of public affairs for the center.
Alam and Land utilized a similar information session offered through their adoption agency in New York, Spence-Chapin, and adoption agencies such as The Cradle in Chicago have offered similar support groups.
“The group covers topics such as internalized homophobia, raising children of a different race, the adoption process,” Richardson said. “But it is often guided by what the group wants to discuss.”
Although questions regarding the legality of adoption often arise during these group sessions, couples’ concerns often focus on being good parents and finding a family who will eventually choose them as the adoptive family, Richardson said.
The shift in concerns for LGBT adoptive parents points to the political gains for LGBT activists and to changing cultural perceptions.
LGBT couples have been able to enter into civil unions in Illinois since June through the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. This act also extended rights to LGBT parents, making adoption even more accessible, according to Rosemary Mulryan, an attorney who has handled many LGBT adoption cases. Even before the act, she claims that adoptions for LGBT couples have been pretty routine since 1995.
“LGBT parents having children profoundly shifted the way people think because having children is such a universal experience,” Mulryan said.
For Alam, the issues facing him and Land do not revolve around countering homophobia or defining their family, but concern being good parents and addressing the family’s ethnic diversity (Alam is South Asian, Land is white and Simon, now 2 years old, is black). An important aspect of raising their son is ensuring that he is aware of his black identity, Alam said.
“Raising a child has so much more to do with their identity than our own problems,” he said. “Your own identity is such a small piece of the pie.”
Because many LGBT families are formed out of adoption, parents must navigate having multi-racial families and make sure those issues are being discussed, according to Richardson. Part of allowing a child to develop a strong sense of identity is maintaining open lines of communication about the family’s dynamics and also embracing differences in the family.
Although many of the discrimination problems facing LGBT families have diminished over time, instances of homophobia can still arise and should be addressed for the sake of the family, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Kevin Osten.
“Sometimes a child in adopted families has to deal with a lot of adult issues like discrimination,” said Osten, director of the LGBTQ Mental Health and Inclusion Center at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. “It is best if the parent does not place too much on the child early on.”
Discrimination can vary often depending on whether people in a neighborhood know LGBT families, which is why families can have entirely different experiences, Osten said. Children can also encounter being different at school when other kids point out their unique family structure.
Osten pointed out that the best way to address these problems is to keep communication open and to explain the dynamics of the family to the child early but in an age appropriate manner.
Thinking about their son Simon, Alam explained that one of their greatest concerns moving forward is not encountering random homophobia, but rather being denied rights on a federal level.
“One of our biggest fears is going to a hospital somewhere after an accident and being turned away,” Alam said. Often when families must make critical medical decision in states that do not recognize same-sex unions, partners of the patient do not have a say.
In terms of the legality of adoption, Mulryan explained that federal rights is an area where many couples feel uncomfortable and continue to fight for equality. Since many states still do not recognize civil unions, couples fear their rights could be denied and that they will continue not to receive federal support for their family, she said.
While adopted children are eligible to receive Social Security benefits for a deceased parent, partners not recognized federally would be unable to see any kind of support. Many families see this as a detriment to the child because they aren’t receiving equal rights or equal benefits for the family, Mulryan explained.
Land and Alam said they are not naïve about their situation and understand issues will arise. However, they want to adopt again and emphasized that focusing on the well being of the child is their most important consideration.
Alam dismissed the concept of a conventional family, citing increased divorce rates, single parent homes and adoptive families.
“I’m not sure you can call any family conventional now,” he said.