307: Adoption in Interracial & LGBTQ+ Families: An Interview with Interracial Adoptee Tony Hynes Transcript

Episode 307 Podcast > Full Transcript

Lori Holden, Intro:
Our guest today, an interracial adoptee, was almost at the center of a US Supreme Court case in the 1990s. While his case was knocked down to a lower court, Tony Hines’ adoption ended up in a rare arrangement joint custody between his black birth grandmother and his two white adoptive moms. Lots of intersectionality here, including race, sexual orientation, mental health, and then at the time, seven-year-old boy who loved all his people wholeheartedly but was forced to choose either his biology or his biography, turning some of his beloveds into the losers. Can you imagine the feeling of being the rope in a tug of war, of being the wishbone at a Thanksgiving dinner? No matter how things turn out, you end up being pulled and torn in two. It was a lot for Tony.

Tony is now an educator at an adoption support nonprofit, as well as a doctoral student. Let's hear more about him from his story and how it felt when the people he loved and who loved him, along with the system, ended up splitting the baby in the parlance of the King Solomon story. Welcome, Tony.

Tony Hines:
Thank you so much for having me. Pleasure to be here.

I'm so glad to have the chance to talk with you. Let me say a little bit more about your biography. Tony Hines was adopted by his parents, Mary and Janet, in the mid-1990s. He writes about his experiences growing up, both as an interracial adoptee and in an LGBTQ-headed household in his memoir, The Son with two Moms. This is a text that has been cited in the family court system to highlight best practices.

Today, Tony is an advocate for families like his having served on the board of directors for organizations that help to highlight adoptive families from diverse upbringings. He's been invited to speak at conferences on adoption and foster care throughout the nation and has a passion for speaking up for children and families touched by challenges in the adoption and foster care system. Tony completed his master's thesis in sociology on The Psychology of Children Within Same Sex Households and is now completing his PhD studies in Language, Literacy and Culture at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where he's begun work on his dissertation, which focuses on social connectedness among adult, interracial adoptees.

As the training specialist at the Center for Adoption Support and Education, Tony Hines has designed innovative training curricula that help families and professionals respond to evaluation and assessment tools that encapsulate holistic pictures of adoptees and foster youth.

So, it's such a treat to be able to talk with you, Tony, and hear more about your story, especially after reading your memoir, which I highly recommend. To start off, why don't you briefly tell us how you came to be adopted in the early 1990s?

Well, thank you, and thank you for that great intro as well. I know that those are trickier than people think. So, thank you a lot for the fantastic intro. So, I was born in 1989 in Washington, D.C., born in Washington Adventist Hospital. And right after I was born, I had two parents, like a lot of people do. My mother and my father, in my case. Shortly after I was born, my family realized that my father wasn't going to be in the picture, really on a consistent basis. And so, he was in my life, for the first year of my life, somewhat. Apparently, he was reading bedtime stories to me sometimes when he would come over to my mom's house sometimes, but he wasn't really in the picture. And so, it was left to my mom (my birth mom, as I describe her) to raise me for that first year of my life. That was hard for her to do because she was someone that was diagnosed with schizophrenia. And she knew she was schizophrenic, and so it was difficult for her on a day-in, day-out basis to raise me.

So, what she did is she really handed me off from time to time to my grandmother, who was the person who was raising me when my mother was having some difficulties raising me. And sometimes, it was difficult for my grandmother to be a caretaker to me because she was also being a caretaker to others within the family. So, what was happening was when I wasn't with my mom or with my grandma, I was placed in an orphanage for not six months or a year, but for just a few days at a time. My mom would take me to an orphanage and basically, for lack of a better term, dropped me off there. And then she would come pick me up maybe three or four days later. And it was in one of those instances where she had come to pick me up, where she was apparently told, “You can either leave Tony here indefinitely or you can take him home indefinitely. But we can't keep doing this back and forth that you have been doing.”

And so, she decided at that time and I was around one-, one-and-a-half years old at this time that she was going to place me in an orphanage indefinitely with the thought in mind that she would come back and take care of me later. So, I stayed in an orphanage from when I was around one years old to when I was around 3 to 3-and-a-half years old. And it was at that time when I was matched with two more moms, Mary and Janet, who were foster parents looking to adopt and were matched with this little boy that was Tony Jones at that time. And I went and- or they went and they saw me. And after that, they spent some time with me and they spent some time with me in their own home. And I did house visits there and I stayed overnight there. And they decided that they wanted to take me to their home and raise me.

And so, they became my foster parents when I was about three and a half years old. And they became my foster parents and then they decided that pretty quickly that they did want to adopt. And so, they went through with the process of adopting me when I was about five years old. And so, I was adopted when I was five. And you’ve read the book, so you know what happens after that. But there was a lot of tumult that happened after that adoption when I was five years old by these two white lesbian parents, by the way. To add to that, as I was a black boy and my birth family is a black family.

Yeah. And let me bring up something. I noticed in your writing that you use the word interracial adoption here. The word I've heard used elsewhere is transracial. Is that a deliberate word choice you're using?

It is. It is a really deliberate word choice that I use. And I really started using that because- And I was somebody that used to use the term transracial adoption, transracial adoptee. And in doing my dissertation research on interracial adoption, I discovered that the term, transracial adoption, originated in the sixties and in the seventies and was created by mental health professionals who were envisioning this post-racial society that was trans-race, that was post-racial, that was a more colorblind society. And they were thinking to themselves that simply by the act of white parents, specifically white parents being able to adopt children of color, that this pointed to post-racial society that they were now living in, and that we become more post-race as we moved on. And they at the same time, we're not envisioning having training for white adoptive parents on the importance of talking about cultural awareness, about talking about the importance of affirming racial identity in the household. It was more about, “Well, isn't this great that we can have these multicultural families in this way?”

And the mental health professionals that were creating this terminology, a lot of times, of course, were white mental health professionals that were creating this terminology. And so, that's one thing I discovered.

And then in my personal world, I discovered that the term transracial wasn't as defining a term for me, personally, as I felt that it should be if I was going to use the term. And I discovered that others also were having some confusion around the term transracial, especially in the 2010s as the term transgender, rightfully so, became more popular in our lexicon.

And so, I was in a class one time, and one student in the class, we were asked earlier to share one interesting fact about ourselves. I shared that I was a transracial adoptee. And at the end of class, she came up to me and she said, “So, transracial. Does that mean you want to be white?” And I was thinking, “Oh, well, no.” And then I told her what transracial adoption was and what it meant to be a transracial adoptee. That this just meant being an adoptee with someone of different race parents than you are. And when I explained it, she understood it.

But I understood why maybe she thought that way. Because if we are really being literal, trans is to transition. And I wasn't trying to transition into a different race. As transracial adoptees, we're not trying to transition to any different race within our households. We are trying to be all of who we are and exist in our own bodies, in our black and brown bodies. And in some cases, in our Jewish bodies. There may be eurocentric Jewish bodies in that way. It might be Russian bodies that are raised by interracial adoptive parents who are Indian, for instance. But either way, we're trying to exist in our bodies and affirm our identities. And I got to a place where I was like, “You know what? Transracial adoptee doesn't define who I am.” And it was the terminology that was really created by power structure that, at the time, was really perpetuating not best practice; practices that were minimizing race in the household, practices that saw adoption literature come from white adoptive parents voices, white research voices that did not go to communities of color or did not talk to birth families to get their opinions on adoption. That that's who created this term, transracial adoptee and transracial adoption. So, why would I then, for myself, want to call myself something that someone who, at the time, did not in practice was not able to put my best interests really in the play.

And so, I discovered that interracial adoption was used interchangeably actually with transracial adoption into the 1990s and something happened (We're not really sure what) in the 1990s that really began to necessitate this use of transracial adoption, predominantly, as the term that would be used. And so, in research, in podcasts, in nonprofits, you see transracial adoption use. And you see transracial adoptees using that term.

Now, I tell other adoptees, I say, “Just because I call myself an interracial adoptee doesn't mean that I feel you shouldn't call yourself a transracial adoptee. If that's how you identify, then please feel free to identify that way. But this is how I choose to identify myself and also my research too.”

I love that you've added richness and context and history to all that; the cultural backdrop. I do remember in the 1990s, that was kind of the era where we were trying to be colorblind and minimize things, not just in adoption, but in the wider world. And then also your personal experiences of the word; it really helps me see, and perhaps use that word, in a different way in the future. But let's return to your story. Your adoption by Mary and Janet was finalized and then it was contested and you ended up in a joint custody arrangement. Can you tell us about that?

Yes. So, to your point. So, the adoption, like I said, it happened. It happened and I was adopted. And then three months after the adoption, I was told by one of my moms that the adoption had been overturned and I was no longer adopted anymore. And I didn't know what that meant exactly, but I knew that it was really bad.

How old were you then?

I was five years old when the adoption was overturned and when the adoption was initially granted. And so, it was it was really only a three-month period that I had of being an adoptee at that time. And my moms contested and appealed that adoption. And I was told that the adoption had been overturned on the grounds that a white same sex headed household wasn't the right household to raise a black child in. And in D.C. at this time, typically, it was an unspoken rule that you didn't place black children with white families. And of course, there was bias and prejudice in the system about placing with LGBTQ+ families, too. And so, this these two reasons really allowed for my birth family, who would appeal the adoption for those reasons, it allowed the judges in that case, there were three of them, who had overturned it in that panel to make that decision.

And so, when that decision was appealed, that process took much longer than three months. The decision was appealed and we went back and forth in court for a couple of years actually. So, there were years literally, from when I was about five years old to when I was eight years old, that I didn't know which household I was going to be able to exist and to stay in. And in the meantime, I was still growing up with Mary and Janet, I was technically what's called a ward of the state. During this particular time, I was not a foster youth and I was not an adoptee. I was kind of in this limbo space.

And we came back and eventually, a joint custody agreement was arranged where Mary and Janet would be my legal guardians and members of my birth family would also be my legal guardians, too. And so, that was the agreement. And I was still able to grow up with Mary and Janet. But the agreement was that I would see my birth family every other week. And so, this was basically a de facto open adoption without calling it that. We didn't actually get the adoption granted, again, I think for some of those same reasons, which was unfortunate. So, I wasn't able to call – I called myself an adoptee, but technically I wasn't. And I was adopted formally when I was 19 years old by Jane and one of my moms. And so, at that time, I became an official “adoptee” again.

Yeah. And so in in that interim, which was very long, you were under legal guardianship. And I see this posited as a perhaps an alternative way of doing adoption rather than adoption. But talk about the limitations of that for you and how being in that space did and didn't serve you.

Yeah, it's a great question. Well one, there were things that were difficult for my moms, because when I was younger, technically, they had to get permission for certain things from my birth family. If they were going to take me out of the state, for example, they had to notify my birth family that they were taking me out of the state. And so, they did that for the first couple of years. If we went on a camping trip and we lived – I was born in D.C., raised in Maryland, really close to D.C. But as Marylanders know, D.C., Maryland and Virginia are basically interconnected. And so, if we decided to take a camping trip to Virginia, we had to tell my birth family that that was happening.

Now, over time, my birth family, and it didn't take long. Basically, my grandmother said, “You don't have to do that. You can take him and we trust you to do that.” But for them being parents, that was difficult. And I felt that. Even I wasn't told that, but I felt that there was some uncomfortability there. I felt that there was uncomfortability around this idea of me and who I belong to most; who I could be most loyal to. And there was still uncomfortability around and bitterness around the decision; bitterness around the joint custody agreement that was made, bitterness around the idea that I wasn't going to be able to grow up with my birth family on a day-in, day-out basis. So, what happened was when I went to my grandmother's house, she would say things like, “They stole you from us. And, you know, those white people didn't want us to have you.”

And there was difficulty around interactions with my birth mother as well. My birth mother, before that joint custody agreement was agreed upon, she asked me, “Tony, which family would you would you rather live with? Would you rather live with them or with me?” And it took me a while and I paused and I said, “You know, I'd rather grow up with them.” I'm pretty sure I said it just like that; with no stutter and a pause and she said nothing. She just started crying in that moment. And my grandmother, who was there was (and I was seven at this time) she was raising her voice and she was saying, “Look at what you've done to your mother,” who she pointed to and was still crying. And of course, I felt terrible and I comfort her. And I said, “You know, I still love you.”

But there was, I mean after that decision, because neither family was able to, I think, say, “This is your adoptive family now,” I think that there were still a lot of – there was ambiguous loss going on for all sides, unresolved loss going on for both sides. And it was difficult for both to really come to a space where they felt like this is solidified; that Tony is growing up here and this is his home. I was never told that, but I felt that.

It took years to rip off their Band-Aid, instead of just saying, “Here, let's rip this off.”

To be honest, I don't ever feel like they even took it off. I feel like it stayed on and the Band-Aid was just covering this wound that was there that, in some ways, still exists to this day. Even though I feel like there's mutual respect from both sides of my family, I do feel that that decision tore them and tore us apart in different ways.

Specifically, the decision to stay in this legal guardianship space. Can you talk about that legally? What did that mean for you with documents and things like that?

Well, it meant for me that I couldn't get a job when I was 16, 17 years old, because I didn't have the ability to get my original birth certificate to prove exactly who I was, to get my Social Security number to prove who I was. And we, because of the legal guardianship, my parents were worried that if they tried to get permission, they had to get permission from birth family because they were just my legal guardians. And they worried that if they tried to do that, then it would set in motion, potentially, another appeal of the legal guardianship and that we would be back in court because they would be saying to themselves, “Well, they don't have a right to do this or a right to do that.” And so, it became hard in that way.

They also didn't have the same level of rights to medical care that they would have had if they were my adoptive family, too. So, if there was ever (thankfully there was not) but if there was ever a health emergency where I was under the knife and needed medical attention, they didn't have the same rights that adoptive parents have. Adoptive parents have more rights during those times than legal guardians have.

And so, there were things legally that were going on there because they were my legal guardians. Technically, these two women were not able to be legally both my parents; in written law. And so, you had these two women who were queer women who were not able to claim that from a legal perspective, too. So, there were different things that really went on that were impacted, legally, by that particular decision. And so, that's why it's really important that parents understand that. When you're thinking about do you want to be this child's foster parent or do you want to be the legal guardian, or do you want to be their adoptive parent? If you are prospective adoptive parents, I would highly recommend you go and you try to become their adoptive parents because you will have the most independence that you can have being their adoptive parents versus those two other options and other stipulations.

Yeah, it sounds like that limbo would be very difficult from the parent's perspective, but also from your perspective, just being in that in-between place where this big decision needed to be made for you by committee almost.

Tony, I can tell when I read your memoir, The Son with Two Moms, which I loved and I recommend and would include a link in the show notes, I can tell that you deeply love your mother, Colleen, your birth grandmother, and Mary and Janet, the women who raised you. And like I said in the intro, when I hear your story, I see you as the rope in a tug of war or a wishbone at a holiday dinner; the loved ones are fighting over you. But you're the one being pulled and you're the one being broken. So, what on the part of your parents and family members, what could have made things better for you?

It's a phenomenal question. One, I think them interacting with each other a bit more could have made things better because when I went to see my birth family, Mary and Janet were not there interacting with my birth family. So, I saw my birth family for 6, 7 hours. And I went back and I was picked up by either Mary or Janet, and then I would spend time with them. And sometimes, they ask me questions about how it was and – Or they usually ask me how it was and I would usually just say it was fine, but I definitely felt like neither family was comfortable interacting with the other. And so, that left me in a space where I have to be comfortable interacting with both of you, but I don't get to share my families, and I don't get to feel as though my families are comfortable with being shared because they aren't telling me that.

And that brings me to my next point. It would have been really great if I could have been told when I was growing up, “Hey, we know that this custody decision was made and that we are your parents (meaning Mary and Janet). We are your parents. But we also know that you love your birth family and we want you to know that we love them, too. Despite what's happened and what they may say here or there, we love them because they are also our family now. We are all family to each other. And you don't have to feel as though you have to exist in a space in between.”

And on the birth family side of things, it would have been great for them to have acknowledged that, one, that Mary and Janet are doing a good job and that they are accepting that they are also supporting of your racial identity. Because the opposite was actually said. The opposite was said around, “They don't want you to have black friends. They don't want you to do that.” So, just even taking away statements like that or statements that I heard. I heard some homophobic statements from time to time when I was at my birth family's house around, not my mom's, but I heard, “What are those f-words doing in DC now? They're catching HIV and AIDS.” And as a kid raised by queer parents, I was hearing this and I knew these words were incendiary terms and I was like, “Wow, this is not good. This does not make me feel good. This does not make me feel comfortable here in this space.”

And then it also made me feel, when I got back home, as though maybe I should have spoke up. Maybe I should have said something. And so, there's so many of these moments where as a child, I felt like I was being made to feel as though I had to suppress and also be at the same time that bridge without taking a full account of my own feelings and being able to feel like I had a voice. I had to really take it upon my myself (It felt like by myself) to stand up for myself. And in standing up for myself, I was also standing up for either my two moms or my birth family when I felt like there were shots being thrown in either direction. And it would have been nice to have not felt that tug and pull in that way, as you said.

I almost feel like I have to say this in every interview that I do, because this goes back to, for both your sets of parents, their words and their actions are coming from their own feelings. And their own feelings of fear and insecurity and maybe anger and loss and grief. And when the adults around an adoptee are not doing their own work – This is what I was going to say is, “Do your own work, people.” The more they would have been able to do their own inner work on this, the less you would have had to cover the spread. I mean, that's a lot to put on a young person.

Exactly. And that's why I think that so much of that work, if parents do have a chance, should be also coming before they even adopt. So, discussing how do you feel about adopting? How do you feel about being an adoptive parent versus being a birth parent? What are the differences that you think are going to exist in being an adoptive parent versus being a birth parent? Would you prefer to have an open adoption, semi-open adoption or closed adoption? If you don't know what those terms are research them and figure out which one you would be most comfortable in.

I can tell you as an adoptee that the best one, in my opinion, to have is an open adoption where the child is able to interact with both birth family and adoptive family and to not feel as though either one is being minimized.

And what are your biases? Do you have biases as they relate to race, class, sexual orientation? And why might you have those biases? Where did they come from? Even if they're fleeting thoughts that you might have negatively about a group, those are biases. Those are biases that we have. If you're able to voice the existence of those biases, that's going to be really helpful for you doing that work. But also, in talking to your child about how you work in combating those biases that you have had and that others have. And how do you talk with members of your family, members of your family who might not know a lot about adoption or about interracial adoption, if you are adopting across race? What are some of their thoughts about what it might mean to have an open adoption or an interracial adoption?

Because then you'll be able to see, okay, maybe they have some bias here as well, or maybe they just don't understand some things or maybe, in their language, we can educate them about the proper language to use when our child might be around them. So, having those types of conversations before adopting is important.

And then when you adopt, continuing to have those conversations moving forward is really good. Finding an adoption competent mental health professional clinician to work with to help you during that process, post placement, is also really helpful for families.

Yeah. So, what you're talking about is thinking about our thinking; the metacognition of discovering where our biases may be and then examining them and thinking about our feelings and where our fears are, where our insecurities are.

I want to go back just briefly to something you said about open adoption, semi-open adoption and closed adoption, because some of the work that I've done with Angela Tucker and we've trained on with the inclusive family support model is where contact is really the lesser of the criteria that we should use to determine whether or not an adoption is open or closed.

The thing that makes more of a difference to an adoptee, and you can tell me your feelings on this, would be the vibe that the adoptive parents, and perhaps the birth parents, also come to. And that vibe comes from them doing that inner work; that metacognition, that thinking about their thinking, that analyzing their feelings and dealing with their own emotional suitcase rather than – so that the child doesn't have to do that work for them.

Yes, I definitely agree with that. And I think to add on to that, it's really important to say that adoptive parents can do everything to a T, the right way and do all these great things and that's going to support and help the adoptee to no end. However, there are still going to be challenges that adoptees will face as they move through their lives. And I think that parents sometimes get in their heads that, “Okay, if I do this, if I do that, if I do that, then everything will be fine for my child.” And sometimes if they are engaging in some of these processes, they may think to themselves, “Well, I did that when they were age five to age nine. So, we're good. We're good to go. They know that they're loved. They know that their birth family is loved. We interact with them sometimes and we talk to them about our own biases that we have.” But especially as they're moving into adolescence, they're really creating their new selves; they're really solidifying their identities during that time, and they're figuring out even more what adoption means to them. They're figuring out what are some differences, what are some similarities that I have both to my adoptive family and to my birth family.

So, it's really important for parents to know that, one, it’s okay to, in language, to not do everything the exact way that you wanted to do it. Because sometimes we see parents shut down when they learn that they've been doing things not in best practice, and they think to themselves, “Oh, I've ruined it, I've done a terrible job.” Or they are on the opposite end of the spectrum and they feel that they've done everything right. We really need to help them get to a middle ground where they're constantly working with their child, and they're also accepting that there are just going to be some things that children have to go through by themselves, where they will figure out by themselves how they want to be. There was no amount of training that my white adoptive parents could have had that would have prepared them to prepare me for what it means to be a black man in the United States. There were just going to be some things that I had to go through on my own. There were just going to be some things that, as an adoptee, I had to experience and know that just because I'm a black man doesn't mean that as a black man, the black man who wasn't raised by adoptive parents, that they had the same experience I did. As an interracial adoptee, I had different experiences there.

And there are so many intricacies of this. And I think parents accepting that is also its own form of support for their child. And knowing and understanding that their children need to be independent to, too, a certain extent, that they're not always going to be there to prepare them. As a black person, I know that that's what black parents are telling their black and brown children. They're telling their children that we are going to help you as much as we can, and these are the tools that we're giving you. But at the same time, they're going to be some things that you need and have to experience on your own to come into all of who your self is. And that's going to feel scary but affirming for that child at the same time. We really want to help parents get to a point where they are setting their children up to affirm themselves in the classroom, to speak up for themselves when their friends say things. And so, that's also in addition to the great points that you made that I would also offer to parents.

That's so helpful. That's really helpful. Let's go back to some of the intersectionality that we were talking about, because you found yourself at the intersection of two highly charged political and identity situations. One was race; should a black child be raised by white parents? The other was sexual orientation; in a time before gay marriage was even legal, should a gay couple be able to raise a child? And you, at the center of this (This is what I got from reading your book) it almost felt like race and sexual orientation were not what mattered to you most at the time. First of all, is that true? And if it is, or what else mattered to you? What else was this about for you at the time?

Right. And the time is referring to when I was a child, right? Well, I will say that I do feel like race mattered for me, but I wasn't able to put really this direct line and articulate it that way when I was a child. It just showed up in certain ways. So, I was really interested in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and sixties in the United States. I was really interested in learning not only about Martin Luther King, but about Medgar Evers and Ralph Abernathy and Fannie Lou Hamer and these other really important figures to the movement at a really young age. And I was really, really interested in fairness and equality, and I was really interested in why they were treating black people so badly throughout history. And I was really interested in knowing what could drive someone to want to lynch somebody.

And I was also scared too. I was scared because in learning this, I knew that, “Okay, well, I'm in an integrated household.” So, you're reading these books about people in the backlash to integration during the fifties and sixties. And you're seeing that there were literal riots just because people and schools wanted to be integrated. And here we are, this interracial family. So, what are they going to do to our family? And then I'm learning also about Matthew Shepard, who's gay man who was killed, who was executed just because he happened to be gay. And so, I'm thinking to myself, “Well, we're an interracial family and we're a gay family. So, they're going to hate us doubly.” And so, in those two ways, I was thinking about race and I was thinking about also sexual orientation and what it meant for our family.

I was reminded all the time that our family was different than other families. Every time we went out, it seemed like people were staring at our family. But too, because we were different and because they wanted to perhaps learn more. I don't want to always say that it was because of prejudice; I think that a lot of it came out of curiosity. What is that family? I wonder what that family structure is like? And sometimes, I'm sure it did come out of prejudice. And so, I think I was reminded a lot by the outside world of my race and also the multiculturalness of my family and also the LGBTQness of my family by the outside world. By myself, I'm not sure that I would have noticed those things if the outside world hadn't reminded me that this is who your family is to us, and therefore this is how your family is going to get treated by us.

I don't think I would have thought about what it meant to have two moms as much if a kid hadn't come up to me (And I said this in my book) and he said, “So, do you two moms sleep in the same bed as each other?” And I said, “Don't yours; don't your parents sleep in the same bed as each other?” I didn't think that it was different necessarily to have two women sleeping in the same bed, but this kid did and he got – Where did he get that from? Because he was only eight or nine years old when he said that. So, obviously an older person, an adult, had told him that.

So, the world, really reminded me of those things. And so, I carried that with me. But these weren't things myself where I felt as though it's important every day that I know, that I carry, that I'm a member of an LGBTQ headed household or that I'm a black person in a in a white home. But the world will remind you of what your identity is. And then you conceptualize your identity based upon how the outside world is then viewing that identity a lot of times, which is what I think was happening for me.

And I just want to say one more time that your book is so adept at helping people see how you navigated, as a little boy, this triple whammy piece of your identity where you've got the racial piece going on, the interracial piece going on, the LGBTQ headed household piece going on, and then the adoption piece. And like you say about language, you know, in adoptive families, we can never use the word, real, (Who's your real mom?) in our homes. But the child goes to school and comes home saying somebody asked him, “Who's my real mom?”

So, it's out there; the adults talking to the other children with misconceptions about things. Yeah, that happens. And you had it happening to you on three fronts, at least; maybe there's more.

In the present day, Tony, in your work at CASE, the Center for Adoption, Support and Education. You help educate people on this idea of not splitting the baby. And you've already told us what adoptive and birth families, what you'd like them to know about making adoption work better for the child at the center. But I also want to ask you, what would you like policymakers to know about not splitting the baby?

For one Policymakers need to stop incentivizing adoption as a cure all to family displacement, separation. And what often is happening policy wise is by incentivizing adoption, we've been – whoever has been involved in policy making, which is in its own way, all of us, because we vote for the people that make policy. We've been putting in place people who are incentivizing the separation of black and brown families through policy. One way that that is done is through policy called the Multiethnic Placement Act, which was passed originally in 1994, amended in 1996. Multiethnic Placement Act stipulates that there basically shouldn't be discrimination when placing children with adoptive families. That the race of the family, that doesn't matter. So, if my two white moms want to adopt me, that an adoption agency shouldn't say, “You can't adopt this child because you're a different race from him,” which is great on the surface in terms of just thinking about we shouldn't be discriminating, of course.

But then when you actually look at that actual policy, it states that we can't be discriminatory when it comes to adoptive parents. However, birth parents are not allowed to choose then the race of the child that their family is going to, but adoptive parents are still allowed to say they prefer a particular race of child or that they or that they are open to interracial adoption. But the birth parents are not allowed to do that themselves.

And so, we've created this hierarchy where adoptive parents then have more power when it comes to choosing, racially, who they would prefer to adopt. And white adoptive parents are predominantly the group who are adopting the most and the group who are overwhelmingly adopting interracially. When it comes to interracial adoption in the United States, over 70% of domestic interracial adoptions are done by white adoptive parents. When you talk about international, inter-country, interracial adoptions, it's over 90% of the parents adopting are white adoptive parents.

Also, we need to look at this policy and amend it and change it again. So, if we're saying that white adoptive parents have that ability to say, “I prefer to not adopt across race,” or “I do prefer that birth parents should also have the right to do that,” because we're seeing overrepresentation, of course, of black and brown children in the foster care system. So, the parents that are not allowed to do that are overwhelmingly going to be black and brown parents.

And we're also seeing when it comes to TPR, which is Termination of Parental Rights over time, that's gotten shorter and shorter and shorter. So, before, it used to be when your child, as a birth parent, went into the foster care system, you had a certain amount of time in which you still had legal rights to your child before that termination of parental rights kicked in and your child automatically was no longer your child, from a legal perspective. And over time we've seen that time a lot then get shorter and shorter and shorter. And now with the overturning of Roe v Wade, we're seeing people in certain states that are saying that things like perhaps, maybe things like that should be even shorter; that we should be doing even more to incentivize adoptions.

And so, we really need to continue to understand the intersectionality between incentivizing adoption without training, by the way; still without more training for adoptive families and how that's intersecting with our racial issues in this country and discriminatory issues around race and sexuality in this country. And so, that's one of the things that I talk about.

And organizations need to be not afraid to talk about these things. Because what happens is if you have an adoption agency and they're getting funding federally, then they don't want to talk about policy. And those adoption agencies, though, are the ones that have a lot of power in this adoption world. And we also need, on podcasts and other places, educational forums to begin to talk about this more broadly so we can educate and really make people more aware that this is continuing to go on and what we can do about it.

Besides the incentivization of adoption, is there anything else that you think policy wise should be done?

I definitely think, and I think I alluded to it there, but I definitely think we should have more training, policy wise, for prospective adoptive parents. If parents are going to be adopting across race, if parents are going to be – if they're an LGBTQ couple who's adopting a child, they need to have more training on what that experience is going to be like. They need to hear from adults like me who have had that experience. They need to have social workers and clinicians at their disposal who have also had those trainings. And those trainings really need to be standardized and made widely available.

There are so many times when I hear from adoptive parents and they're saying that, “Well, you know, we had 6 hours of training” or, “you know, 3 hours” or “we didn't have any training.” And other places that say they've had a little bit more training, but they don't really feel as though they've been prepared to think about post placement, what it means to be, as you said, not only connecting with birth family, but thinking about language and what language means and thinking about grief and loss of the child, thinking about how the number of moves before the child has reached their family, how that impacts that child when it comes to attachment, when it comes to separation, when it comes to feelings of not belonging to that adoptive family.

So, I would love, policy wise, if we trained on that more often. And if we said that in order to adopt, you need to have this training, because I think that adoptive parents would feel a lot more aware that they had more in their toolbox and that they understood more of what their kids were going through and be able to support them in broader respects if they had things like that. And I could go on about other items that I think that that older teens should have in relation to aging out of the foster care system as well, when we're thinking about that from a policy perspective too.

Does your work at CASE address some of this training that you're recommending?

Yes, it does. It does. So, we have a few different trainings that are standardized trainings that we have for social workers, clinicians and also adoptive parents. And they're not just hour-long trainings, they are entire courses that we've developed that cover openness and adoption, that cover grief and loss, they cover interracial adoption, recover SOGI (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity). They cover the importance of sibling interactions for kids. And so, we do a lot of training around these areas that are gaps right now, not only in literature but also in training materials. And we make that widely available for adoption agencies and for adoptive parents. And we also have trainings on, you know, birth parents in the sense of loss and grief that they are experiencing, too. And what that means, because birth parents are way too often villainized and are the left-out parties when we think about talking about adoption. But they are not the left out-party when it comes to adoptees thinking about their birth family. Adoptive families, we in this adoption spectrum, we just aren't talking enough about birth family and what they mean and what they have lost.

I love the focus that you have there on knowing more, knowing better, and communicating and talking and having the confidence and the willingness to go there with each other on what might be really happening for the child, for the birth parents. And systemically, you've addressed things a little bit systemically, too, in terms of policy.

It's time for our last question, which I'm asking of all the guests this season, from your perspective as an interracial adoptee raised in an open adoption, what is the most important piece of the long view of adoption that people tend to miss on the front end?

People tend to miss that adoptees grow up and that we have experiences that we grow up, that when we're adults, we still need you as parents. We still need your support. And a lot of times, when we hit 25 and when we hit 30 and we see, as interracial adoptees, Asian people being killed in a mass shooting, or we see a black man being killed, or we see comments online about affirmative action being a farce and being stupid, we want to be able to talk to our families about those items, about those things. But there are very, very few of us that actually feel comfortable doing so, because we feel as though we are being placed in the position of educators to our families at that time. And we understand that when we were growing up, race was not talked about in our household and that sometimes racism was coming from within our own households.

We talk all the time in adoption about the importance of understanding race and racial identity, but what about talking about racism? We need to talk more about racism within the household, and we also need to understand that sometimes parent who is a parent of an interracial adoptee, they might say something racist sometimes. They might say something prejudiced. And we as adoptees feel as though it's our role to suppress those feelings when we hear things like that and to never even talk to the outside world about what we might have heard our families saying.

We need parents to feel comfortable, feeling uncomfortable with learning, as you said, more about bias. And then, at earlier ages, talking about racism and not only why it's wrong, but what you think you can do about it in your own communities and what you did when your child was growing up to combat racism. Maybe you stood for community policing in your neighborhood. Maybe you stood for more diverse curriculum in your particular school that your kid was going to. Maybe you called out a family when their child said something racist to your child at school. When we talk about the long view, these are all things that are going to stick with your child moving forward.

When I was growing up and I was 14, 15 years old and police pointed guns at my back or when I was accused of stealing inside the store and I went to my adoptive parent, my white adoptive parent, and she not only went to the store, but said that they were never getting our business again or went to the police station like she did, and railed against what they had done to her child. Those were things that stayed with me to this day. So, I know that even though there are still things I might feel uncomfortable discussing with her, that that what I had is not what a lot of interracial adoptees had from that perspective. And that stays with them not only when they're 15, 16, 17, but when they're 50, 55, 60 years old, past their parents time on this earth.

And so, when we're thinking about the long view, the things that you're doing in your kid’s childhoods play into the rest of their lives. So, that's why when we talk about doing the work, it's so important. And to do the work, we need to be listening to the voices of adoptees. We need to be educating ourselves and going to as many trainings as we can. We need to be connecting with other interracial adoptive families as much as we can. And we need to be understanding the intersectionality, because there are more and more kids like me who grew up with two moms and two dads, right? Or a single queer mom or a single queer dad. And there's intersectionality. And those experiences are going to be different from just growing up in interracial adoptive households for a lot of families, too. So, that's, in a nutshell, some of the things that I would say when it comes to that long view.

Thank you so much for addressing that long view, because that's where we're headed here. And I am just so grateful to you, Tony, for helping us see all the ways that we can split the baby with the way we think and the way we talk and the way we deal with the world at large, the world in our home, the big and smaller things. It's not just splitting the baby through adoption. We can split the baby through interracial ways, through LGBTQ headed households; anything that makes a child feel different puts them in the position of maybe having to straddle two worlds. And we need to be really mindful of supporting them and not making that straddle any harder than it needs to be, and ameliorating that straddle in all the ways that we can.

And I completely agree with that. And one last thing to add that I wanted to say is that when it comes to interracial adoption, the way you talk about your child's birth family is sending a message not only about how you think about their birth family, but also how you think about the racial group that they belong to as well. If the only time they're hearing about black and brown people is when you talk negatively or dismissively about their birth families, they're going to be thinking to themselves, “Is this how they feel about all black people?” Or “Do they think that I'm only successful because I'm growing up in this particular household?”

If they're talking negatively about the education status, for instance, of birth family members, that's a message that's going to be sent to that child around maybe my parents feel that the education of black and brown people, maybe they feel that they're just not educated individuals. And so, in talking positively about birth family, sometimes it's going to double is also sending positive messages around racial identity for that child, too.

And of course, this needs to be done in tandem with talking positively about racial mirrors and role models as well, and also having black and brown friends that are not just random people that you meet and invite over for dinner, but that you actually create meaningful friendships and you actually, in what you read and what you listen to, are reflective as well of some of your children's experiences. So, that's also just something that I wanted to add.

Thank you so much for that, Tony, and thank you so much for talking with us today. I really appreciate it.

Thank you for having me, Lori.

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