Editor’s Note: Adam Pertman is Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a national nonprofit that is the preeminent research, policy and education organization in its field. He is also the author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America. Pertman sat down with dot429 to discuss LGBT adoption, explaining the progress and the trials and tribulations.
There are claims that gay parents are unfit for parenthood. What is your response to these claims?
Pertman: Those claims are made by people who are either uninformed or homophobic.
What are the benefits for our country and for society when more LGBT parents adopt?
Pertman: The principle benefits are for children. We often look at this as an adult issue. Of course, all adults should have the same rights, but in terms of benefits, you can have children any way you want, such as by surrogacy or adoption. The fact is, there are lots of lesbian and gay people who want to give homes to children, so the real victims when that isn’t allowed to happen are the kids who wind up in temporary or group care or some other less advantageous situation. Yes, we should be working for equal rights for all, but the bottom line is, we’re here for the kids.
The number of LGBT people adopting is on the rise. What are the statistics?
Pertman: There’s no question that the number is rising. You don’t have to go back very long to get to a time when there were no out/open lesbian or gay adoptions. It was “don’t ask, don’t tell,” or “don’t ask, and I won’t tell.” At some point in very recent history, the number of public gay adoptions increased by 100 percent, and we’ve been going up ever since. It’s happening from state to state and coast to coast. The more it happens, the more the trend fuels itself. People feel more comfortable doing it, they see more and more that qualified LGBT people can be good parents.
Is it more expensive for an LGBT couple to adopt? Is the process more invasive to their personal lives, and is it more difficult to pass adoption qualifications?
Pertman: The answer is probably sometimes. I don’t think there’s an answer across the board. Certainly, with adoptions from foster, money is not the issue. Sometimes roadblocks exist, no questions asked. Like most cultural revolutions, the people who are coming out, coming into the mainstream, face obstacles along the way. Women did, blacks did (they still do, by the way), and gays do. The good news is I think this revolution will move quickly. We see it in marriage and “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” I’m not saying we’re there yet, but the progress is substantial, real, and in historical terms, very rapid.
Do you have recommendations for LGBT couples who are thinking about adopting versus surrogate birth? Are there trials and tribulations that people may not be aware of?
Pertman: In short, my advice is to think it through carefully. Most people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gravitate to, and in the short term, think about having babies. That’s normal and natural for anybody. It’s the world and culture we live in. Now it’s changing—it’s part of the adoption revolution I write about. The move towards adopting older children and children with special needs is part of it. It’s happening in growing numbers among all parents. In that context, I would say: think about it first. Don’t necessarily go with your gut instinct. It should be an educated and informed decision and not just gut.
For LGBT couples specifically, are there specific issues to be aware of?
Pertman: It depends on which process. Adoption abroad is basically a non-starter, unless the agency and the couple is willing to do a “don’t ask, don’t tell” game. Infant adoption is tough, not because you’re gay or straight, but because there aren’t many infant adoptions in America anymore. In foster, there are trials and tribulations, depending on where you live. It’s a normal process in San Francisco, and it’s really tough in Florida. So it depends on where you live, where you are, and on the social worker. It’s not a fair world in this respect. If you’re gay or single, sometimes you have to get through the prejudices of that single worker sitting in front of you that a straight couple would not have to get through. So yes, there are obstacles, but the fact is, the number of LGBT adoptions is rising, it’s a do-able process for most qualified applicants. There are plenty of agencies out there that work with lesbians and gay people, they’re growing, and acceptance of the practice is growing. For most people, if this is the route they choose to go, they can get there.
There’s a lot of media attention on high-profile LGBT couples adopting. Do you think this is making LGBT adoptions more acceptable to society?
Pertman: I think the high-profile cases are a mixed bag. On the one hand, they fuel this sense among some people that adoption is about getting trophy children — and that’s lousy. I think it’s not true of these celebrities— it’s an assumption we make. On the other hand, I think that nothing normalizes new aspects of society more quickly than celebrity. If they can do it, I can do it. In balance, it has a positive effect. We see history being made before our eyes, and I think lots of gay people are in fact adopting because they saw a story about a famous couple that did it, and they think, “I can do it too!” Now I’m not saying there aren’t bumps along the way, but it does put forth the notion that this is available and ok.
Is it more difficult for transgender people to adopt than for gay people? If so, how?
Pertman: I think you need to be out and public and willing to walk the walk before things get normalized. We, as a society, keep some people more closeted than the rest. There is a progression here, it’s not fair, and we need to get to where everybody’s on a level playing field.
For transgender people, I honestly don’t know because I’m a researcher not a practitioner. I think, at a minimum, it’s tougher for all the reasons discussed for single or gay people. It takes more open-minded people to get there because society hasn’t gotten there. I mean, we just got rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell” two weeks ago? As a society, we’re not there yet, and the real victims of that are the people least understood by society, so we have work to do.
What steps do you think need to be made to make the LGBT adoption process more fluid?
Pertman: Most of the work that needs to be done is with adoption professionals. They need to be better- trained and educated about the LGBT community, how to do outreach, and post-adoption work. They need to be trained to help their clients more, not just in terms of how to place children, but in terms of helping families succeed. And in that regard, it’s a two-way street. Too many people think it’s all about child placement. They think, “I got my child, it’s over, and now I’m going to be a parent like everybody else.” That’s fine, but if you have a kid from foster care, you need more education and support. It’s not a sign of weakness—you need to help your kid. Gay and straight adoptive parents need as much education as possible so they can do a good job with their kids.
What states are the easiest and hardest for LGBT people to adopt?
Pertman: I can’t name them all off the top of my head, but Utah, Arkansas, and Florida are very gay-unfriendly.
What are the most important issues right now in terms of LGBT adoption?
Pertman: Broadly speaking, in terms of making genuine progress, we still have a lot to do. Adoption is not an isolated issue—it’s reflective of society at large. Most states aren’t legalizing gay marriage, but they’re getting to the heart of what the debate is about, which is forming families. In most states, gay and lesbian people are forming families through adoption, and that’s part of the substantial, leading edge of progress. If you’re changing things from the ground, laws have to catch up eventually. They’re not going to take gay people’s children away, so the more reality changes on the ground and people start seeing that LGBT people and their children are just like everyone else, the more we accelerate towards a better time and place.