National Adoption Month includes LGBTs
by Seth Hemmelgarn
This summer, John Tighe and Ngu Phan adopted a baby.
Tighe, 46, said he's always loved children, but he'd spent years telling himself, "I can't be a parent. Gay men can't parent. It's not going to work."
But having Phan, 41, in his life helped.
"I realized, among other things, that I was ready to make a commitment in terms of a relationship and making a home in a way I had not before," said Tighe.
Phan had fears, too. But he said Tighe "always believed I could be a parent." With Tighe's help, "I was able to open my eyes and dream beyond what was right there in front of me," he said.
Their son Gabriel was born June 26, on what this year was "Pink Saturday" just before San Francisco's LGBT Pride festivities. The couple brought Gabriel to their Castro home the same day thousands of people gathered in the neighborhood's streets to celebrate.
November is National Adoption Month, and Randie Bencanann, co-director of the San Francisco-based Adoption Connection, said an increasing number of gays and lesbians, both single people and couples, are adopting. She said her agency handles about 100 adoptions a year, and she estimated 20 to 25 of those were for gays and lesbians.
Adoption through a private agency like Adoption Connection usually costs from $15,000 to $25,000, according to Bencanann. Adoption Connection is a program of Jewish Family and Children's Services and started 26 years ago. JFCS was one of the first agencies to work with LGBT families interested in adopting, noted spokesman Robert Miller.
Birth parents are "very receptive" to gays and lesbians adopting, said Bencanann, whose agency worked with Tighe and Phan.
"I feel like there's every reason for lesbians and gays to be optimistic about the adoption process," she said. "It's been successful, and I think it will continue to be successful for them."
However, she said, "I think it's pretty hard for a single man to adopt, gay or straight. Our society, or culture, just isn't really ready to look at the motivations of single men as being good to raise children. I think it's just not there yet."
She also said some transgender people have approached the agency, but none has started the process yet.
The agency works with people in 19 Northern California counties.
"Maybe half of our clients live in San Francisco," she said. The remainder lives in the East Bay and other areas.
"I think more and more, gays and lesbians are moving into the suburbs," she said, adding that's "a reflection of people feeling more comfortable in other communities, and more comfortable as parents in other communities."
After they both decided they wanted to be parents, Tighe and Phan started the actual adoption process about two and a half years ago. Their path included attending workshops and a social worker visiting their home.
Eventually, they had to write a "dear birth mother" letter to pregnant women who were considering placing children up for adoption. This June, a woman who was eight months pregnant contacted them for a meeting. The woman chose them to be Gabriel's adoptive parents, and he was soon part of their family.
Tighe said the couple has an open adoption arrangement with the woman, whom he referred to only by her nickname, "Lala." Gabriel will know the woman is his birth mother.
Being part of a same-sex couple raising a child isn't what Tighe had thought it would be in at least one way.
When the couple took a road trip with Gabriel to see Phan's family in Southern California, Tighe had expected to hear comments like, "Where's the mom? You can't be the dads" at stops along the way.
But "We saw none of that," he said. Instead, people approached them and shared their parenting stories.
Rich Brown, 51, said he and his partner, Chris Nordstrum, who'll soon be turning 40, decided to adopt after talking through it for about a year.
Their son Myles was born on June 17, 2006 in Mississippi. Same-sex couples can't legally adopt in that state, so when Brown and Nordstrum traveled there to wait for Myles's birth, they had to put on "a mini-charade," said Brown.
Brown was in the delivery room with the birth mother, pretending to be a cousin or a friend.
"We didn't know what they would do," he said. Nordstrum stayed at a hotel, "then he came to visit her under the ruse that he was a friend or co-worker giving added support," said Brown.
When Myles was four days old, the new family flew back to California. Brown said the birth mother relinquished Myles to Adoption Connection, and the agency placed him with the couple.
Brown said the mother lives in a poor county in Mississippi and has two older children. "We recognized immediately this was an economic burden for her," said Brown. He and Nordstrum live in San Francisco's West Portal neighborhood.
Nordstrum said that with all the obstacles involved in the process, part of him was ready to say, "No way, I can't handle this. ... There are too many things that could go wrong." But now, he said, "I can't even imagine [Myles] not being our son. ... I really think he was meant to be in our family."
Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman, who live in the city's Mission area, are happy with their adopted son, too. And busy. Their son Max was born in March 2009.
Hibbert-Jones, 47, said having a baby "is the most amazing thing we've ever done," but it's also "exhausting."
Talisman, 44, said, "It takes every single inch of attention that you can ever imagine you could produce," plus more, but it's also "more rewarding than I would ever imagine."