Monday, March 02, 2009

73adoptee Bears Witness for Those "Left Behind"

73adoptee has a crucial blog, which can be found here, "Compromise Legislation: Why Some and Not Others", which I consider a must-read for everyone interested in AB 372 (Asm. Ma, D-San Francisco). It is crucial not simply for 73adoptee's eloquence and intelligence, it is crucial because of who 73adoptee is: an adoptee left behind by compromise legislation. One of the rhetorical methods used by C.A.R.E is to reduce adoptees to numbers, to statistics. But adoptees who have been left behind have their own voices, and we should listen to them before we marginalize any more.

I attended an AAC conference back in the late nineties, not as a registrant, but as a guest of their Board to discuss ways in which AAC and BN could work together on legislative campaigns. The conference took place in Nashville, Tennessee, and was themed as a celebration of the enactment and implementation of Tennessee's open records law. There were many happy folks in attendance; adoptees and first mothers who had effected successful search and contact, many testimonies of the law's beneficial impacts. Since I was a guest and not a registrant, though, I wasn't allowed to attend the official programs, so I roamed the halls, talking with people, which is what I prefer to do anyway. It was in the hotel lobby, by the registration table, that I met a young man who was not celebrating.



This young man explained to me that he was a subject of Tennessee's contact veto provision. The contact veto worked this way; he was allowed access to his records of birth, but since his first mother had made a simple check in a box on a form, he was not allowed, under civil and criminal penalties, from making contact with her. Or his siblings. Or his uncles, aunts, cousins... Anyone with a relationship with his first mother. Ever. Now, bear in mind that most, if not all, of these people with the exception of his first mother, probably had no idea that this adoptee even existed. They wouldn't know that there is a de facto permanent restraining order on this young man placed in their name.

There weren't any banners at the conference celebrating this young man, who looked shell-shocked and bereft. He did not expect to be called to the podium and applauded along with the other first mother/adoptee dyads. He was truly and utterly screwed, invisible, a non-entity. He didn't count, he was one of the .02% or so we are told must be sacrificed so the other 99+% can be made whole under the law. It's actually more than we are told if you count adoptees born in the "donut" hole in states that carve out years, even decades, in which adoptees are born that can expect no records.

Those of us who insist that every adult adoptee has a right to unconditional access to their unaltered records of birth are being told in California that we should accept compromise for the greater good. One of the first things we were told at the beginning of this year's legislative effort is that if we will not accept compromise then we shouldn't be involved. We are "divisive", we threaten "unity". We were more interested in "statements" than working in the "real world". Basically, we were told that we should accept that we are invisible, that we didn't count, that we are non-entities. If we weren't ready to celebrate, then we were welcome to roam the halls like ghosts, like that young man in Nashville.

Again, it is clear that we need to contact Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, the author of AB 372, and let her know we believe that no adoptee deserves to be left behind, invisible, excommunicated. Her webpage, with contact info, is linked here.

5 Comments:

Blogger triona said...

As the author of 73adoptee I am humbled and honored by your post. Although we haven't met personally I have heard many, many good things about you over the years, and I salute your contributions to (real) adoption reform.

I feel a great kinship with that young man you met in Tennessee. We who are left behind in compromise legislation are lost in a great chasm. We have no further recourse, no higher authority, just continued existence in adoption limbo. I don't even know if my birth mother understood the implications of checking that box to deny contact. The intermediary systems operate under so much "confidentiality," you're not even allowed to know what they say to your contacted relatives! I also wonder if she was "encouraged" to deny contact by the program. Certainly the "support" they provided me as an adoptee was a lick and a promise, I can't imagine they offered much wisdom to a birth mother newly faced with the potential for contact.

And what about the unseen implications? What if that young man accidentally meets a birth relative without knowing it and gets slapped with legal repercussions? It's a Sisyphean conundrum.

Another group of left-behinds are those who never even make it into the programs created by conditional legislation. I blogged last year about how it took two years and an attorney before I was even allowed to apply to the Illinois intermediary program. My crime? Being adopted in a different state. These are also left-behinds with no recourse, no options, no hope.

It's vital we all pay attention to adoption legislation, and put down our collective foot against bills that leave some of us behind.

3:08 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

Thank you, Triona. I could write a hundred posts and none of them could speak with your authority on the impact of a badly conceived law.

I have spoken with Assemblywoman Ma's legislative aide and he is reading and listening to comments on her prospective legislation (the bill text as exists may bear no relationship to what eventually is proposed). I would encourage you to write him at Asm. Ma's office, because you put a human face and voice to a statistic.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma
State Capitol
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0012

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CARE is not communicating with us adoptees on what they intend AB 372to be. Their website already talks about compromise: Contact preferences. Their "fluff" video and "fluff info" piece on this bill does not mention the omission of birth parent names from the OBC unless the adoptee proves to the judge that he/she needs it for a "legal right". That's what the bill currently says!

Their fluff piece mentions what will be given to the adoptee once the OBC is released and BIOLOGICAL PARENT'S NAMES ARE LEFT OFF OF THAT LIST! Imagine that. AND GIVING ME MY ORIGINAL LAST NAME IS SUPPOSED TO PROTECT ME FROM INCEST? BS. Horse pucky. My last name is my b-mom's. I need BOTH names to protect me from "so-called" incest. What a crock.

8:08 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

The bill as currently written is meaningless. The day after it was introduced I read it, and then read the CARE website which said that the bill "created" some right or other, and reread it several times. I sent a link to the bill to a couple of adoption lawyers I know in California who are pro-open records, and they concurred. One said, "I don't know why this was even introduced..."

I have communicated with Asm. Ma's office, this bill does not contain the final bill language. It is a bookmark. It does seem to provide intent, however, by referring to pieces of the law that deal with the courts.

CARE is, again according to their website, has met with members of the Judiciary Committee. I suspect they are negotiating the final language, and which compromises they will accept.

This is why it is crucial to speak with Asm. Ma's office right now. Not to criticize the existing bill language, which is moot, but to advocate for a clean bill.

When speaking with Asm. Ma's office, use positive language, in other words advocate for what you want, not what you don't want. Be respectful, Asm. Ma is not our enemy. Be helpful, if her aides ask you for related materials, send them or refer them to someone that can send them.

1:15 AM  
Blogger triona said...

I've posted my letter to Asm. Ma and other California legislators on my blog at 73adoptee.blogspot.com. I wish you all luck in California and I hope you wind up with clean legislation.

4:50 AM  

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