Illinois HB 5428 has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will be heard in the Senate today, Thursday April 15, 2010. Please contact the Illinois Senate NOW and ask them to oppose. This bill has been touted as restoring the rights of adult adoptees--but equality should be for ALL adoptees. HB 5428 divides adoptees into haves and have-nots leaving some behind. This is discriminatory and unjust.Talking points when contacting legislators:* Identity is identity, whether you are adopted or not.* ALL adoptees, all people, deserve equal treatment under the law.* The state of Illinois cannot afford to waste money on this expensive and ineffective bill.Contact info for senators available on our web site:or the ILGA web site:
As many of you know, I went to Springfield this week to testify against Illinois HB 5428, a bill that claims to support adoptee rights while doing the exact opposite. If you still think compromise legislation is the answer -- if you think it's okay to leave some adoptees behind -- please take something away from my experience.
Going to Springfield was not an easy decision. I have two small children, a business to run, and limited finances, but I felt obligated to go not only for myself but on behalf of those unable to make it. So on a gorgeous spring morning I packed up a cooler of caffiene, downloaded my Weird Al Yankovic collection to my iPod, and headed out. (Nothing like Weird Al to keep you entertained on the flat, soporific stretch between Chicago and Bloomington-Normal.)
I brought with me the testimony of many birth mothers, adoptees, and others who, like me, believe that any legislation that leaves some adoptees behind is bad for everyone. A big thank you to those who sent letters, wished me luck, or otherwise supported me personally and the Adoption Reform Illinois coalition I went to represent.
First thing I learned: Parking in Springfield SUCKS.
Second thing: The staff at the Capitol are super-nice. From the security guards who pointed me in the right direction to the elderly gentleman manning the door of the room in which the meeting was held, they helped make my trip just a little smoother.
That's where the niceties end. Once the meeting started I began to get that sinking feeling you get when you're watching the original V and the spaceships show up. You want to scream: "They're lizards in human skins!" but everyone wants to believe that the kindly Visitors are here to help. Except they're not, and you're on the menu.
HB 5428 was the first bill heard, because there were "so many people from out of town and out of state." Senator A.J. Wilhelmi, Judiciary Committee Chairperson and Senate sponsor of HB 5428, yielded the chair to Senator Don Harmon so he could sit in the hot seat with Sara Feigenholtz and Rep. Terrence Martin of Alaska, who was brought in by the Feigenholtz team as a proponent of the bill.
When you arrive you sign a little slip that says who you are, who you represent, whether you're pro or con and if you want to submit oral and/or written testimony. Harmon read off the list of these people. Proponents: Terrance Martin, the organization Shiva Siv (sp?), Linda Coon from the Chicagoland Bar Association, Julie Tye of The Cradle (an adoption agency), Melisha Mitchell of the American Adoption Congress (sic), George Rudis of Illinois Dept. of Public Health (who runs the Illinois registry), a representative of DCFS. Opponents: Tom Nolan, Christopher Brown (husband of adoptee Gay Brown), Gay Brown, Mary Lynn Fuller of Illinois Open, Rev. Bob Vanderberg of Concerned Christians America, Mary Dixon of the ACLU, Ralph Rivera of Right To Life, and me for Adoption Reform Illinois sponsored by the Green Ribbon Campaign For Open Records.
Senator Wilhelmi started off by expounding on all the "good" Sara Feigenholtz has done for adoptee rights and what an honor it's been to work with her. Everyone sees her as a "champion" of adoptee rights, except those of us left behind by her compromises. Then he turned it over to Feigenholtz who talked about "wearing her heart on her sleeve" and "begging for human rights." She whined about being called a "traitor to the Adoption Reform Movement" but felt that she was striking a balance by honoring the voice of the majority. Small consolation to those in the minority.
For those of you reading, if you don't already know: I am in that minority. My birth mother has filed the denial of contact. So hearing that it's okay for people like me to be left out so others can have access does not sit well with me. And I speak as someone who used to believe that intermediaries were the answer, that compromise was necessary and fair, until I got screwed by the process and realized that it's really all about politics, influence, and making money off adoption records access. All of this became even more clear to me as I sat and listened to the committee meeting.
Feigenholtz pointed out that confidentiality is a myth because adoptive parents can obtain the decree of adoption which states the birth parent names on it. This became quite a contentious point later. She also mentioned that if a child surrendered for adoption is not adopted, the record is never sealed, and that some adoptive parents choose not to seal the file.
What's ironic is that she was all about the rights of adoptees. The good news is, the legislators are starting to understand why adoptee rights are important. Feigenholtz's testimony was full of the message we want to get across: why adoptees deserve the same rights as everyone else, why lack of access is discriminatory, etc. The bad news is that HB 5428, like everything else Feigenholtz has introduced, fails to fulfill that. If everyone deserves equal rights, then EVERYONE deserves equal rights, bar none. But Feigenholtz is very good at convincing people that it's okay for the lizards to eat a few humans if the rest get to survive.
Rep. Martin of Alaska spoke of his experience in an orphanage in Baltimore and his struggle to gain access to his origins. "It's all about truth," he said. Julie Tye of the Cradle spoke about how adoptees aren't trying to "stalk" birth parents. "They don't do that," she said. No one mentioned the adoptees left behind by this legislation. Next, Senator Harmon allowed Senator Wilhelmi to choose who got to testify and suggested he pick one person from each of the two opposing camps: those who feel the bill goes too far (e.g. Right to Life, ACLU) and those who feel it doesn't go far enough (like Adoption Reform Illinois). I thought this was inappropriate because it allowed the sponsors of the bill to choose who got to speak.
Ralph Rivera of the Right To Life movement got his ass handed to him over the matter of purported confidentiality because it had already been established that adoptive parents have access to the birth parent names via the adoption decree. He doesn't like the retrospective aspect of the legislation although he would be fine if it were prospective, in other words if birth mothers got to choose at the time of relinquishment if they want later contact. Yeah, yet another thing to burden a woman who's immediately post-partum; a lifetime decision on contact. Ms. Dixon of the ACLU questioned whether adoptive parents actually know the birth parents' names and pointed out that adoptive parents almost always opt for sealed records. (I bet most of them are never told there is a choice.)
Something Ms. Dixon said is important for every adoptee. She spoke of the legislative intent of sealing records from the general public -- and said that the adult adoptee IS INCLUDED in the general public. She didn't share what she'd been smoking.
Next they called oral testimony from someone who believes the bill doesn't go far enough. That person was Gay Brown, an adoptee who flew in from New Jersey to testify. She spoke of her need for birth certificate access because of her medical condition in which she needed to be tested for the breast cancer gene. Her insurance wouldn't cover it because she couldn't prove anyone in her family has it. She said, "Answers could save my life, and my daughters'."
With respect to Gay, medical necessity is a red herring that only encourages legislators to opt for conditional legislation. Because if all we need is medical, then it's easy to condone things like registries and confidential intermediaries, even though they're expensive and not available to everyone. It's easy to say, "Okay, we'll give you the information, but only if it's redacted." It's easy to continue to deny our civil rights to access our original birth certificates.
My biggest disappointment was when Senator Harmon asked Gay, "As Senator John Cullerton [Sara Feigenholtz's mentor and current Senate President] used to say, do you think this bill is bad, or is it better than we have now?" She said, "Perhaps," and they swung right into the vote. In other words, the oral testimony that was supposed to reinforce the position that everyone deserves equal rights was basically negated.
The committee voted without reading any of the submitted written testimony, and the measure passed 6-3. Voting for were Don Harmon ("Step in the right direction"), Ira Silverstein (a sponsor), Terry Link (spoke of his experience as an adoptive uncle and favorably toward the concept of adoptee rights), Michael Noland ("the benefit to society outweights the possible detriment to birth parents"), Kwame Raoul, and Edward Maloney. Voting against were Randall Hultgren, Kirk Dillard ("I'm not ready to be on board this bill, but after meeting with my constituents I might change my mind"), and Matt Murphy. There were two abstentions (I believe Dale Righter and William Haine).
The second reading in the Senate is today, April 15th. This thing is being lubricated through the process as quickly as possible because Sara Feigenholtz and her allies know that time allows opposition.
Once again, I find myself not only fighting people who believe adoptees have no rights but also those who believe in adoptee rights but think conditional access is okay and we can go back and fix it later. What if there isn't a later? Don't you think they will grandfather in anybody who's had a disclosure veto filed against them? My rights may be gone for the rest of my lifetime, but I'll be damned if I sit by and allow it to happen. I encourage those of you in other states to think long and hard before agreeing to compromise. You may never get another chance, and you are selling out your fellow adoptees and possibly yourself in the process.
All people deserve equal, unfettered access to their original birth certificates without having to go through expensive and ineffective intermediaries. As I said, the legislators understand why adoptee rights are important. What they don't get -- because they haven't had the opportunity to listen to anyone other than the Feigenholtz team -- is that rights belong to everyone, without exception.
Post-meeting fun: meeting Sara Feigenholtz and her right-hand gal Melisha Mitchell in person. Melisha says she reads everything people say about adoption reform in Illinois, so let me say a big online howdy and hope you're enjoying my blog.
Please contact the Illinois Senators TODAY and ask them to vote NO on HB 5428. Ask them to enact legislation that truly honors the civil rights of ALL adoptees. Use Maine as an example. And speaking of Maine, a big shout-out to Paula Benoit who took time out of her busy life to submit written testimony and coach me on speaking to legislators.