Lately we've had a rash of really bad bills that dangle the carrot of potential birth certificate access for some, while smiting others with the stick of disclosure veto. Regular readers know of our efforts here in Illinois against HB 5428. Some are celebrating the bill's passage. I am not. New Jersey is about to go the same route, with a bill on the governor's desk that seriously jeopardizes adoption reform. I know many of the people who support the NJ bill, just as I know many of the people who supported Illinois. But I cannot in good conscience support legislation that leaves some adoptees behind. I'm not going to rehash why I disagree with compromise legislation; you can read it here, here and here.
Instead, I want to talk about how these recent events got me thinking. There has been a discussion on the KAD Nexus blog concerning adoptive father and author John Seabrook's NPR segment. Both the post and the comments that follow (including rebuttals from Seabrook) are a must-read. In response to Seabrook's segment, adult adoptees discuss how their criticisms of adoption and racism are often dismissed as "angry," "bitter," or every adoptee's favorite, "ungrateful." I strongly encourage you to read it for context before returning to this post.
In my experience, the same can be said of adoptees who insist upon equal rights for all adoptees. If we refuse to compromise, to sacrifice others or ourselves in the name of a few butchered rights for some, then it must be because we are "angry." We must have "had a bad experience" or "hate our adoptive families." And woe betide those of us who may actually have had a bad experience. Then we are simply disgruntled and souring the milk for others. Our opinions and experiences are instantly negated, regardless of any validity they may contain.
Taking away the rights of a subclass is easier when the subclass is dismissed as "angry." Anger implies irrationality, lack of forethought, selfishness. The weapon-word "angry" is especially effective against adoptees. For fear of being branded as such, many adoptees learn to dismiss their own feelings--for to be angry is to be the Bad Adoptee (as termed by BJ Lifton), the one who refuses to cooperate with the Adoption Game. Some adoptees, in turn, use the same word "angry" to ostracize fellow adoptees who refuse to play the game. It becomes a vicious cycle: society bastardizes adoptees, who bastardize their own kind so they themselves can "fit in" more successfully. Nothing says Good Adoptee like spotlighting another adoptee who's not toeing the line.
This use of "angry" as a weapon has never been more clear to me than in the struggle against compromise legislation like Illinois HB 5428. I've analyzed the media coverage of the bill's passage as an illustration of how adoptee voices are dismissed in discussion of matters that have a vital impact upon our rights. Yet, who better to discuss the pros and cons of the adoption process than those who have experienced it firsthand? I have also included my personal experience about being interviewed for several of these articles.
For my analysis I read all of the articles and press releases about the passage of Illinois HB 5428 I could find, with a mind to the following: Whose opinions were expressed (sponsors, adoptive parents and/or prospective adopters, adoption professionals, birth relatives, adult adoptees, others)? Was the widespread opposition to the bill by the adoption community mentioned? What about the downsides of the legislation--the fact that some adoptees will be blacklisted? IMO, the coverage ranged from fairly well-balanced to outright sponsor propaganda, leaning heavily toward the latter. Some of my thoughts as I read through it:
- Almost every single article spouted sponsor opinion that this bill "opens adoption records." That is inaccurate. What this new legislation does is grants a few rights for some, while consigning others to a permanent black hole of no access. And it's Russian roulette: you won't know which way it will turn out for you until you go through the process. The sponsors have co-opted adoption rights terminology, claiming that this bill is about "rights of adoptees." (Case in point: this self-aggrandizing propaganda from sponsor Rep. Sara Feigenholtz.) But a bill cannot be about the rights of adoptees unless it applies to ALL adoptees.
- "Contact preference" is another co-opted term. What Illinois has is a disclosure veto that has been termed a "preference." But if it's binding on the adoptee, it's a veto.
- Adoptee opinions were for the most part excluded. This is exemplified by the repeated use of the phrase "adopted children" when referring to adopted adults.
- When adult adoptee opinions were included, they were often the parroted opinions of the sponsors. In other words, the viewpoints of token adoptees presumably summoned by the sponsors and/or the media to make it appear that this is what all adult adoptees want. An example is Howard Griffith, adoptee and former Denver Bronco, who attended the signing of the bill.
- Those whose voices were heard are primarily those who make money from adoption (more below).
From the Chicago Sun-Times article "Adoptees cheer birth certificate law" (no longer online; PDF in my possession):
I learned early on what an emotional and tricky area of the law this is," said state Senate President John Cullerton, who teased Feigenholtz that the reason he signed on to her crusade was that, "She said if I can pass this bill out of the Senate, she'll vote for any bill I tell her to vote for for the rest of my life. It's like I have my own vote over in the House. We're going to start with that next week.
This is no joke, this is straight-up fact. HB 5428 was about political cronyism and jockeying for power. Sara Feigenholtz gets off on being "champion of adoptee rights" while calling us "ungrateful bastards" behind our backs. With her self-described "mentor" John Cullerton president of the Senate, she was in a position to reinforce her Confidential Intermediary Program and even get state money to advertise it.
Again from the same Sun-Times article:
Feigenholtz said the law was modeled after similar laws in Maine and New Hampshire to balance the rights of adoptive children and parents.Modeled after Maine? Are you kidding? In Maine any adoptee who is of age can walk in and get his or her original birth certificate, for the same fee as non-adoptees. In Illinois it depends on when you were born, whether you are accepted and whether you can afford to pay fees that only apply to adoptees.
This press release lists the organizations that supported the bill, but (in an example of bias) NOT the organizations that opposed it.
A number of medical and child advocacy groups supported the legislation, including: Illinois Psychiatric Society; American Adoption Congress; Agudath Israel of America; Child Care Association of Illinois; Chicago Bar Association; Voices for Children; National Association of Social Workers of Illinois; Lutheran Social Services of Illinois; UCAN; Illinois Department of Public Health; Department of Children and Family Services; Jewish Child and Family Services; Illinois State Bar Association; The Cradle Adoption Agency; Adoption Advocates of America; Adoptive Families Today; Chicago Area Families for Adoption; Midwest Adoption Center; Search and Genealogy Services; Murphysboro, IL, Stars of David Adoption; and The Baby Fold, Bloomington, IL.
- The AAC never expressed a position on the bill. Melisha Mitchell falsely claimed she was the AAC rep for Illinois at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing when she had actually been dismissed from her AAC post prior to that hearing. Why has there been no mention of this in the press? And, because AAC is the only group listed here who represents adult adoptees or birth parents, that means everyone who supported this is either an adoption professional or adoptive parent; in other words, the people who benefit from adoption.
- Similarly, why has there been no mention of Sara Feigenholtz's foot-in-mouth bastard bashing?
- The majority of these groups either make money facilitating adoptions (LSSI, The Cradle) or are professional organizations representing people who do so (Chicago Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association).
- The Midwest Adoption Center is the sole-source no-bid contractor who provides Confidential Intermediary services in Illinois (e.g. makes money from records access).
As I mentioned, I was interviewed for five of the articles (the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times, the Daily Herald, the St. Louis Dispatch and the Associated Press), as spokesperson for the Adoption Reform Illinois coalition. Here's a summary of my experience talking with each reporter, and how those interviews translated to the printed page.
Monique Garcia and Bonnie Rubin, Chicago Tribune
Ms. Rubin was consummately professional. She took the time to listen to our opposing viewpoint, asked intelligent questions and even called back to clarify one or two things. So I was disappointed when there wasn't a single mention of opposition viewpoint in the article she co-authored with Monique Garcia.
Like Ms. Rubin, Barbara (the reporter who interviewed me) was professional and polite, and also called back for a clarification. I was disappointed there wasn't more explanation about why we oppose the bill. A later article on their blog used phrasing that suggested opposition was not legitimate (no pun intended):
On the other hand, a group going by the name Adoption Reform Illinois [emphasis mine] criticized the new law as not going far enough, saying any adult should be able to obtain unredacted birth records. "Any proposed change that does not recognize adult adoptees as having the same rights and responsibilities of every other Illinois resident is unacceptable," the group says in its opposition message.
Kathleen Foody, St. Louis Dispatch
I had been talking to Ms. Foody for quite some time about this bill as it progressed. To her credit she attempted to understand our opposition viewpoint and express that to her readers. I could wish she had made it more clear that this is about adoptee identity and the implications of that, but otherwise this is a far less biased article than most.
Deanna Bellandi, Associated Press
Ms. Bellandi was by far the most aggressive reporter who contacted me. She seemed as if she had already made up her mind what she wanted her story to say, and made numerous attempts to put words in my mouth rather than taking the time to listen and understand the opposition viewpoint. I was mistakenly identified in the article as "Triennia Guider," and while I could care less if they get my name right, it points to sloppy fact-checking and makes me wonder what else they got wrong. This is a prime example of biased adoption reporting: when reporters have already made up their minds what they want the article to say, and when presented with information that doesn't match, try to sledgehammer it in so they don't have to change their minds or their stories.
"Adoptees cheer birth certificate law" (no longer online; PDF in my possession)
Abdon Pallasch, Chicago Sun-Times
Mr. Pallasch was somewhere in between the other reporters. He was aggressive, although not nearly as much so as Ms. Bellandi. However, this article is the one that really got me thinking about the comments on KAD Nexus, and how adoptees are dismissed as "angry." This article failed to mention that I was speaking on behalf of Adoption Reform Illinois, a coalition of people who disagree with the bill, nor did it mention that other organizations were similarly opposed. It did, however, mention my own personal inability to access my OBC, in such a way that makes it appear that I am simply one of those "angry" adoptees who opposes the bill purely because it doesn't help me personally:
"It does not actually open adoption records," said Triona Guidry, whose birth mother will not let Guidry get a copy of her birth certificate. Even under the new law, the best Guidry will get is a birth certificate with her mother's name redacted. "Equal rights apply to everyone. Everyone should have the right to go into that courthouse, pay their $15 and get their birth certificate."
The conclusion of my admittedly non-scientific analysis? Even when opposition to this bill was mentioned, it was overshadowed by the propaganda claiming that this bill is a "win" for adoptee rights. The headlines alone illustrate this. For those of us who have followed this bill, it's clear to see that the much of the media have drunk the same Kool-Aid that was served to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and other legislators. Anyone reading casually, without background on the bill, would assume the opposition was merely a bunch of angry adoptees and that there were no birth mothers who opposed the bill as not going far enough for adoptee rights (not true; ARI submitted twenty pages of testimony including letters from at least half a dozen mothers). Because that way, our legitimate concerns about this legislation are quelled and everybody can party in the streets like Ferris Bueller because woo-hoo, Illinois adoptees have access now! Except we don't. And under this new law, some of us never will. That's not anger talking, it's determination. Equal rights should never be diluted, and we will continue fighting until the rights of everyone involved in adoption are restored.
Since we're stuck with this legislation, what about those (like me -- here's the "angry adoptee" again) who have already gone through the CI process and been denied? Is legislation like HB 5428 punishment for those who insist upon their rights? Are those who go quietly away when they are told "no," or do not make waves, rewarded with the possibility of access while those who are "angry" -- who do not accept the denial of their civil rights even when vetoed -- are consigned to exile? The lesson: Be quiet and wait your turn, and you might win the Russian roulette of records access. But speak up, express your opinion, and you might lose that chance forever.
That's the adoption industry pitting Good Adoptees vs. Bad Adoptees. Play the Adoption Game, or suffer the consequences.