Rainbow Families conference – transracial adoption in the GLBTQ community

This morning I spoke at the Rainbow Families conference. My presentation was about transracial and transnational adoption in the GLBTQ community. Interestingly, they put my presentation in the "social justice" category, not parenting!

I thought I would share parts of my presentation in the next few posts.

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LGBTQ families often have to look at alternative ways to become parents and adoption is one of the growing ways that the LGBTQ community chooses to build their families. These days, as with the mainstream population, more and more families are choosing to adopt transracially or transnationally. Often, white LGBTQ parents believe their own experiences of marginalization and discrimination as members of an “outside” group are enough to bridge the issues their children of color might face. However, racism is not the same as heterosexism. White adoptive parents need to understand the differences and challenges in adopting children of color. Drawing from ally models created for the LGBTQ community, this workshop will explore ways in which white LGBTQ parents with adopted children of color can be allies for anti-racist activism.

In the past five to ten years, the numbers of GLBTQ parents adopting children of color have markedly increased. As the community finds itself increasingly restricted from adopting through international adoption programs, domestic private and foster care adoptions increase.

We don’t yet have a cohort of adult transracial adoptees who can bring together the perspectives of “queerspawn” (Abagail Garner) and adult transracial adoptees like myself. When this cohort comes of age, we will learn what this group of people experienced being part of two distinct oppressed groups all at the same time.

From a social justice perspective, we find ourselves at an interesting time when the intersections between the rights of gay and lesbian to be parents, the rights of the mothers who birthed their children to be ethically treated, and the rights of the child to be part of his or her ethnic and racial culture of origin. Are white gay and lesbian activists investigating whether their rights to adopt are at the expense of poor women of color? Are they investigating whether their rights to adopt are at the expense of their children’s racial and ethnic identities if the parents feel it is insignificant? What about the rights of the child to know who birthed them?

This is not to approach the issue from a framework of pathology or from a deficit point of view, but that parenting isn’t just about building a family. For those who cannot or choose not to have children biologically, they must recognize that their reproductive rights (which include the right to adopt as a way to experience parenting) might be at the expense of another woman’s reproductive rights.

Some discussion points:

  • Transracially adopted children will experience “double consciousness” (W.E.B. DuBois) – transracially adopted children of GLBT parents will experience “triple consciousness”
  • We tend to look at the micro issues around adoption – a child without parents, people who want to become parents by adopting. We don’t look as much as larger, broader views
  • Most of the research done on transracial adoption is dominated by white researchers and social workers who are also adoptive parents
  • Most of the research is conducted with transracial adoptees while they are children and teenagers; very few study adoptees in middle years or past 30, therefore we get only a skewed perspective of how a transracial adoptee identifies racially, culturally and ethnically as an adult
  • No studies about transracial adoption and GLBTQ families
  • Transracial and transnational adoption would not exist without poor women of color with no resources
  • We are buying into this social pressure to define a family through a set of normative “frames” which only serves to reinforce those who don’t fit in those norms. Instead of trying to be “normal” why don’t we encourage society to embrace differences?
  • In the GLBTQ community, there has been dissent among queer people of color – also in feminism, which was largely driven by middle to upper class white women. Still fight to have women of color taken seriously in other social justice issues
  • GLBTQ parents feel their experiences with heterosexism enables them to relate better than straight white parents to transracially adopted children but no studies yet to support it. According to Pauline Park, a transgendered Korean American adult adoptee, “No matter how empathetic and sincere, most white GLBT people lack the direct personal experiences of racism. While there are significant parallels between the experience of racism and that of homophobia . . . there are also significant differences and oppressions are not . . . interchangeable.”

Some of the most common mistakes I see white adoptive parents doing:

  • “Drive by culture” – sending the kids places where they interact with their community but not participating in the community with them
  • “Cultural tourism” – culture is tacos on Tuesdays or egg rolls on Wednesday. It’s the kind of culture you can buy like art, folk costumes, food or celebrating folk festivals/holidays but there is no real interaction with the child’s adult community and no role models for them to envision themselves as adults
  • Placing a child’s racial identity as a low priority over other identities (religious, familial “we’re the Smiths,” GLBT family, “American,” the adoptive parent’s white European ethnic identity “we’re Norwegians”)
  • Dismissing racism when the child begins to experience it. Often done by statements like, “we all get teased for something.” This could potentially be dangerous because it teaches your child not to trust their gut and could put them in dangerous situations
  • Expecting your child to handle issues the way you would (I just ignored the teasing, why can’t you?)
  • GLBTQ parents – trumping the family’s queer identity over a multi-racial identity

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

3 thoughts

  1. I know this is an old post but hopeful someone will see this. It’s only to say, as a black lesbian woman who hopes to adopt domestically from foster care probably same race due to the disproportionate numbers of black kids in foster care- but open to TRA and a supporter of TRA, I always feel there is no concept of black LGBT adoptive parents and that somehow LGBT adoption equals white APs.
    So that the conversation about LGBT adoption gets looked at negatively because it must mean white TRAPs. I also wonder about TRA between various minority groups. That idea is never considered- granted it is less common than white TRA of minority groups, but is that seen as just as detrimental?
    Lastly while I was not adopted, I was raised by various family members and in group homes. My mother couldn’t care for me- yet she would never “choose” to “give me up” which meant I suffered a lot when I was with her and people had to force her to put me somewhere safer and better for me- So, one of my biggest issues with my mom is that she never thought about how not giving me up would impact me and made my life crazy. Programs and services were not enough, the support of family willing to let us both live with them was not enough- so it’s not like she did not have help and support, so I wonder why sometimes the TRA discourse seems to largely be about how mothers are not given a real choice and aren’t given help/support, or that giving a child up could actually be the best thing. Now don’t get me wrong- I understand poverty and lack of power is a huge part of the problem, and I support more resources for all families such as paid child care, longer leave time from work, family treatment centers for parents with substance addictions and much more. I know the system is not equal or just. I know domestic and international policy is corrupt and that all factors into adoption- but I am confused as to why it feels like some think if we fixed those issues that TRA would not be needed or exist and that TRA as a whole is the enemy itself, and not the overall racism of the society. I know I speak from my world with my lens, and I am not a TRA- not even truly adopted, and while I have a slight sense of my biology- I only slightly know my mother’s side, never knew my father, wouldn’t know him if I passed him on the street- I sometimes don’t see how staying in my bio family provided me with a profound sense of self that I couldn’t have forged otherwise. I’m just confused and want to make sense of this. I want to be able to support TRA is it can be beneficial to children- if there is very little good that can come out of it, I don’t want to support it- but I have some questions as to why it seem pitted as the worst thing- and not how the issues that some TRAs have are not on par with some of the dysfunction emptiness and lack of knowledge about self and family history that many some people in bio families face. All bio families aren’t a wealth of information about where one comes from, some families don’t talk about the past. I’m confused and would love to talk to someone about this stuff.

  2. To MJay above, I agree!
    Bio families are NOT always the best upbringing for a child nor always provide a child with an understanding of their bio “roots”!

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