Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

Agency seeks more gay parents

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

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Unlike the Catholic Church, which is slamming the door on gay parents, an adoption agency in Oakland is actively searching for more gays and lesbians to become both foster and adoptive parents. Family Builders By Adoption is launching a new campaign to attract prospective LGBT parents to its doors.

Planned long before the controversy now circling around the Catholic Church, Family Builders is set to announce its new program Monday, March 27 at San Francisco City Hall. It is called "No Place Like Home" and is an amplification of the agency's long history of working with both gay men and lesbians seeking to become parents and LGBTQ youth in the foster care system.

"Our program is not another foster care dead-end for these youth. We want to get them out of the foster care system," said Jill Jacobs, Family Builders' executive director. "We will create safe and affirming foster families for LGBTQ youth. We will be providing foster care to permanency."

Family Builders is the only Bay Area adoption agency that specifically focuses on LGBT youth, said Jacobs. In addition, the 30-year-old agency has always welcomed LGBT people interested in being parents. Its supportive policy on gay adoptions, though, was a well-kept secret until it hired Jacobs in 1996.

"A funny thing happened when we hired an out lesbian 10 years ago as executive director," joked Jacobs, a single mother who adopted two girls out of the foster care system. "We have been working with very open and out families [over that time] but prior to that it was a little more discreet."

Jacobs said her agency's new program is specifically designed to match families that want to house LGBTQ youth with LGBTQ kids in foster care. Those families, she noted, may not necessarily be same-sex couples.

"It is not targeted specifically to same-sex couples. Certainly, we are starting in the gay community but non-LGBT parents are very willing to parent LGBT youth," said Jacobs. "Not all LGBT adults want to parent an LGBT-identified youth and not all LGBT-identified youth want gay parents."

There are roughly 10,000 children in foster care in the Bay Area, and Jacobs estimated between 10 to 15 percent are LGBT youth. There is no definitive number because no agency keeps track of LGBT youth, she said.

"It's possible that a greater percentage of LGBT youth are in foster care than in the general population. One third of the LGBT youth there are there because they got kicked out or had to flee an abusive situation," said Jacobs, who noted that 25 to 40 percent of homeless and runaway youth identify as LGBT.

Ironically, Jacobs believes the media attention the Catholic Church has given to the issue of gay adoption is having a positive impact. More gays and lesbians are learning they can, in fact, adopt, she said.

"In San Francisco it always amazes me when I meet someone who is well read and educated and they say 'We thought we couldn't adopt because we were gay.' People still have that belief system," she said. "Even though it is very negative publicity for Catholic Charities, it is bringing attention to the issue. We want all gay folks who want to be parents to know this is a real possibility."

Family Builders places 30 to 40 kids each year with adoptive parents and between 40 to 50 percent are gay. Between July 2005 and February of this year, the agency placed 14 kids with gay families. A total of 22 kids found homes in the last seven months.

Single gay men and lesbians are also able to adopt, said Jacobs.

"We have lots of single gay men adopting and single women who are lesbians," said Jacobs, who joked, "I think I have a new bumper sticker: single straight men don't adopt."

The agency has a strong track record of matching special needs kids – deemed as such because of their age, emotional issues, or learning disabilities – with gay parents. Jacobs said gays and lesbians are often more willing than others to adopt such kids.

"I think it is not a coincidence. There is a tradition in our community around advocacy and giving back to the community. Most LGBT people had some difficulty in life that helped them build strength, compassion, and understanding of what might be happening to children in foster care," said Jacobs.

As for comments that placing kids with gay parents does them harm, Jacobs said countless studies over the years have proven the opposite to be true. She noted that nearly all of the major medical groups, from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the Child Welfare League of America, support gays adopting.

"The literature does not substantiate it. This is not holding up anywhere," said Jacobs.

Gay parents who have adopted children out of foster care say their kids have forever changed their lives for the better. But they advise anyone thinking of going that route to parenthood do it with their eyes open to the challenges children in foster care have faced.

"I think it is a life changing and life affirming experience and I really encourage people to consider it," said Johnny Symons, an Oakland resident who with his partner, William Rogers, was the first gay parent to adopt a child through Catholic Charities of San Francisco in 2000. "We don't get enough messages about becoming a parent in the gay community. Particularly as gay men, we grow up thinking we will not be parents."

Before they became parents, Symons and Rogers thought long and hard about being dads.

"It was a lot of work and the two of us doing some soul searching to see if this is a good thing for us. It sure changes your life around," said Symons. "We have made political advances which allow us to be parents now which is fantastic. If we take advantage of those new political rights, do it with it a lot of consciousness and be ready to make that commitment to the kids."

San Francisco couple Mark Randall and Christopher Saldivar used Family Builders to adopt their son George two and a half years ago. The men opted to adopt from the foster care system after watching ABC News show 20/20 interview Rosie O'Donnell about her adoptive kids and two gay dads fighting the state of Florida for custody of their adoptive children.

"We were stunned to learn there are half a million foster care children in this country," recalled Randall. "Not every gay man or lesbian who wants to be a parent is going to want to adopt. We have found this way to do it to be very good."

Saldivar added that George "has enriched our lives. He gives more meaning and purpose to our lives."

The men encourage anyone thinking about becoming parents to consider adopting. Randall compared the adoption process to applying for a loan.

"In a lot of ways it is no more difficult," he said.

He said the couple had a lot of misperceptions and some fears about what the process would be like.

"We thought the process would be horrendous," he said. "If we knew then what we know now we would have been even more interested in moving forward."

So pleased with their experience, Randall joined Family Builders' board.

"My goal is that any parent or potential parent interested in adoption has a realistic picture. We are a resource they can call upon to see what it is like to address their fears," said Randall. "These poor kids are the most heart breaking of all. They are in the most desperate need of parents. What they need are parents whether gay or straight, old or young, men or women."

Anyone interested in becoming either a foster or adoptive parent can call Family Builders at (510) 272-0204 or visit its Web site at www.familybuilders.org.






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