Adoptee Denied Driver’s License In Florida

If you would like to know what it’s like to live a day in the stigmatized life of an adult adoptee, I would like to introduce you to my friend Cynthia, or Chynna as she is known. I met her through an adoption support group, where she shared a recent experience that I would like to share with you.

Before we begin, let’s review the difference between an adoptee’s original birth certificate (OBC) and their amended birth certificate (ABC). When an adoptee is born, they have an original birth certificate with their birth mother’s and possibly father’s name. In a sealed-records adoption this document is amended (e.g. legally falsified) when the adoption is finalized (NOT when relinquishment occurs). The adoptive parents’ names are substituted, “as if” having given birth to the adoptee. If an adoptee follows standard procedure to obtain a birth certificate, the amended one is the only one they can get, unless they happen to be from one of the handful of civilized (open records) states.

Chynna recently tried to do something very mundane: obtain a new driver’s license. Yet, because she is adopted, her trip turned into a confrontation with police over the legitimacy of her birth certificate. I quote the following with her permission.

Yesterday, 10-26-2008, I went to my local DMV to finally change my much overdo license to the state in which I was residing, my hometown no less, Miami, Florida.

I brought with me the proper things necessary to legally & easily get a Florida license & finally be legal! I had my previous states license and my microfiche ABC, with proper seal. This is what the State Of Florida sent my parents as my amended ABC and what I have used since I was 18 for all purposes where a birth certificate was needed.

I am there for hours and finally reach the counter. I fill out forms, take the eye test, sign everywhere, etc. I think I am ready for my fabulous license photo so I fix my lip-gloss in a mirror as quick as possible!

I am asked to come back to the counter and do so quickly. One of the DMV people proceeds to question me about my birth certificate. Where I obtained it, they need the original, etc. I am not really stunned as it is typical for an adoptee. I am defensive as I think, “No one else here but, ME, is getting harassed & humiliated in this manner…no one, but ME.”.

I proceed to explain that I am adopted . She is reacting as though this is something she has never heard of and like I have some kind of contagious plague. It was clear that she didn’t believe me. She keeps my ABC even though I requested it back. She asks me to take a seat and she will be right back.

A policeman comes out and once again I am asked up to the counter. All eyes in the place are on me. I make no eye contact, except with the Officer. I reach the counter and pull myself up so I don’t feel so much like a child being scolded as I am only 5′ and the counter was at head level. So here I am if you can picture it, standing on my tiptoes, trying to balance, trying to stay calm in light of my humiliation & anger.

The Officer proceeds to tell me that I need to bring my REAL BC in before they can give me a Florida license. I must admit that I heatedly said, “Are you kidding me? Have you never seen an ABC before? I can’t be the only person in Florida with an ABC.” Now at first I thought he just didn’t want the microfiche copy. I confirmed this was not the case. As it had the seal, the book #, registrar #, etc. I said I could bring my original ABC, which my AP’s finally received later. He said no we need your REAL BC.

I explain to him that I am an adoptee and we ONLY HAVE by law access to our amended or in his layman terms a FAKE BC. Hey, I agree, it IS fake. We go back & forth for 10 minutes or so until he finally says there is nothing he can do. I am asked to leave to allow others to go about their rightful business. I should come back with my REAL BC and they will change out my license.

Their rightful business? Those with identity have rightful business and me without an identity has no rights and therefore no business that they recognize as worthy. Can you imagine the humiliation?

I tell the officer and the DMV staff member and anyone in ear shot that “If I even had the same rights as a dog in this state I would be happy to bring back my REAL BC. My REAL BC with my REAL ID that proves I am a REAL person” and I leave to go to my car feeling totally obliterated.

While at my car the officer approaches me as he can see that I am very upset. He confirms that with immigration here and post 9/11 they are much more skeptical when anything out of the ordinary comes about. So I should feel good right? A policeman is telling me I’m out of the ordinary. Meaning special right?

I go back the next day, on my 2nd day of vacation no less, with my original BC and my adoption decree. I ask for the Policeman as that is what he said I should do so I wouldn’t have to wait in line again. I know it was truly because they thought I was trying to pull some kind of identity fraud. But, I am out of the ordinary remember? I am special. Well, I would like to just be ordinary with identity.

So let’s get this straight. Chynna takes her amended birth certificate–by Florida law, the only one she can obtain–to the DMV, and gets treated like a criminal. Near as I can tell from her description it was indeed a certified copy, as is typically required. In email she also told me that she had problems obtaining her Connecticut driver’s license too, except her husband was there to talk man to man with the DMV dude. I guess it’s easier to humiliate adoptees when they don’t have backup.

I asked Chynna if she was able to obtain her Florida driver’s license. She said:

yes. But I had to bring another ABC and my adoption decree. I truly believe that if I didn’t bring my decree they might not have given me my new license.

The Florida DMV requirements are here. They say:

US Citizens

State of Florida law requires identification, proof of birth date, and social security number – if you have been issued one – from all US citizens before a drivers license or state ID card will be issued. As a US citizen you must submit the following:

One of the Following

  • Original or certified United States birth certificate
  • Valid United States passport
  • Certificate of Naturalization

In addition one of the following secondary documents is required:

  • Social Security Card
  • Parent Consent form of Minor
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Florida or out of state drivers license, valid or expired

“Adoption decree” is not on this list. Chynna’s previous driver’s license and the ABC should have been enough. She was treated like a second-class citizen simply for being adopted.

How many other adoptees have experienced the stigma of their adopted status? Far more, I suspect, than is generally known. As Chynna says:

To say the least this was incredibly frustrating, exasperating and downright humiliating. It, this dreaded adoption aftermath, continues to make me feel like being adopted was some sort of curse or punishment and it will continue to whollop me when I least expect it.

Yup. This is the wonderful world of being adopted.

I hope you will join me in expressing outrage at the Florida DMV for failing to honor adoptee rights, and consider this a call to action that we should not be treated like second-class citizens.


  1. And what happens to an adoptee who is unable to get their adoption decree, because their county judge declares that is ‘confidential’ as well? I guess that just need to take the bus.

    Stories like these: driver’s licenses, passports, social security, etc. – fill me with so many conflicting emotions.

    First off is just plain outrage that any adoptee needs to go through this type of humiliation.

    But second is an uneasy fear that some extra layer of special treatment for adoptees would be proposed and enacted with lightening speed while the real remedy – just give us our damn OBC’s – is brushed by the wayside.

  2. ULB, I fear that also. Because you know they would attach “additional” fees to it, like they do to adoption records, pricing it out of range for some and further humiliating us all.

  3. Hi All:
    It is the girl, Chynna, with no id here. Thanks Triona for posting this on your blog. At least the experience might help we Triads in some way.

    The one thing I want to add about this is many don’t think about the aftermath. Because I didn’t have a REAL identity per the State of Florida I lost 2 days of vacation, it became the chronic topic of conversation at my house and it just ripped into my adoptee scar tissue. It confirmed that I am less-than a REAL person.

    Now maybe you think the above is trifling. But, for me that was the worst part of it. That this stigma or aftermath of being adopted so infiltrates my personal life. As per most states we are not recognized as REAL. This stigma takes a seat on my couch and makes itself at home.

    My husband & I thought we would hang out, decorate for halloween & have some drinks in our backyard chatting about everything & nothing. Because we took some vacation days.

    Instead, 1/2 of our vacation time was spent venting over what happens to adopted ADULTS & me feeling really low & wondering if I will ever be able to run fast enough to catch up to the REAL people.

    How much humiliation, heartache and life intruding moments do I have to have to make states realize, “Just grant me the right to request my OBC already”. How much?

  4. Chynna, thanks for your comment, and thanks again for letting me share your story. I, too, have had the stigma of being adopted take up permanent residence in my life. It’s the little things that other people take for granted that really hurt.

  5. This is really horrible what happened. I was Adopted in Florida and I know what tight asses they are there. The agency I had to deal with, lied to me for years on end about not having my time of birth, WHICH THEY DID HAVE. I’m sorry this annoying state abused you too Chynna-there is one thing I don’t understand though-you said the next day you went back to DMV with your real BC-I guess I don’t understand how you got it, or did you have it? I may have read this wrong, but I am still confused. Thanks if you clarify.

  6. I want to say too the way you wrote this:
    “So I should feel good right? A policeman is telling me I’m out of the ordinary. Meaning special right?”
    Perfect. 🙂

  7. Thanks Triona for posting this and Chynna for sharing your story. This is a very very important story and we will see more of these problems.

    I’ve run into a couple people with similar circumstances. One was the president of the Ohio State University Young Republicans who couldn’t get a driver’s license due to his adoption status. I was on a radio show with him, and he said he was going to court th next week. I never heard what happened.

    Another was a fellow whose adoption covered 3 states. Each state thought the other had his records. The aparents had a handwritten note regarding his adoption from the agency and that was it. He’d been able to get his driver’s license (though not a 16) with it after a lot of problems. When I met him he’d been denied certification as an EMT because he couldn’t prove who he was.

    I met an Army vet who after he retired worked for the Army as a civilian–both with a high security clearance. He couldn’t collect his pension and SS because although he had his obc, nobody could find his abc! My own abc was sealed after I obtained my obc, but that’s been fixed. You can’t win!

    This is a huge problem and we need to publicize it.

  8. I sent this particular blog post to the Indiana Legislators and Texas legislators. They need to see this.

  9. http://Anonymous says

    OMG to be treated like a second class citizen in front of others in a public place. I feel so very bad for the adoptees this happens to.I cannot even imagine the humilation to you and anger at these so called public servants.

  10. Hey Improper Adoptee:

    To clarify the birth certificate question;
    *I don’t have my original birth certificate…meaning my unamended birth certificate.
    *I have a microfiche copy that the State of Florida sent to my AP’s as my new/original ABC or amended birth certificate.
    * I have used this since day 1 that I was adopted.

    When I returned I brought exactly the same thing it was just a copy of the original microfiche ABC.

    All I can say is that I guess it looked less suspicious as it was all white, clean, not folded up over many years of use, etc. AS well as bringing my adoption decree.

  11. Marley – I always wonder how many of these stories we *don’t* hear. So many of us go through these experiences and are too ashamed to admit them. Or, if we say how offended/shocked we are, we are told to shut up and be grateful we were adopted, to accept the scraps of information we’re tossed like bad dogs at the dinner table. We need more people like Chynna to stand up and speak out when they are discriminated against.

    Kite Kamp Girl – Thanks. We can use all the help we can get, convincing legislators to restore our civil rights.

    Anon – I have had a couple of incidents like this, the public shunning of the adoptee. It stinks. I’d rather have leprosy, at least they eventually found a cure for that. There’s no cure for being adopted.

    Chynna – It really sounds like it was the adoption decree that made the difference, and like ULB said, there are plenty of adoptees who have no access to their decree. What the heck is an adoptee supposed to do then? And you are right. The worst part of it is how it all makes you feel less than zero.

  12. http://Anonymous says

    I think Chynna should go straight to her local TV station, and have them do a story about this on their local news! Without the publicity, people will not learn of the trouble that adoptees have with our “fake” identities. Adoptees make up only 2 to 4 percent of the population. Politicians listen much better to larger populations. So, to get the laws changed, adoptees need to also get other people “on board” to pressure lawmakers to change the laws. To get others aware of the problem, we need the media exposure to our plight. JMHO.

  13. This is definitely a frustrating situation and appropriate action should be pursued and employed. I myself am an adoptee (specifically a Korean-adoptee), and I have experienced similarly endless instances of such ignorance and misunderstanding. I hope that as adoptees, though, we will use such experiences to cultivate understanding and compassion not only toward other adoptees but also toward other groups of people who face similar discrimination and prejudice. Adoptees are not alone in our experiences. With this in mind, I like to quote an author, Chang-Rae Lee, from his novel “Native Speaker”: “I ask that you remember these things, or know them now. Know that what we have in common, the sadness and pain and injustice, will always be stronger than our differences.” No doubt,as adoptees we face very unique situations in which misperceptions, false presumptions, lack of understanding, and the like pervade. However, to overcome the ignorance that abounds, we must add to our passions and emotions maturity and wisdom as we proceed in advocating & educating others about adoption. Also, it helps to acknowledge that there are myriad others who deal with similar ignorance on a daily basis. I have several African-American friends (meaning they immigrated to the U.S. from Africa) with whom over the years we have discovered how similar some of our experiences have been growing up in the States. I also had a friend (she passed away years ago) who fled from Iran during the revolution. Although he had been a diplomat in Iran, her father had great difficulty finding work because of the prejudices he faced. Just something to think about and to help remind us all that it can often be helpful, while not neglecting the adoption community, to remember to reach beyond the adoption box. (If you have not watched the movie “The Visitor,” or read the book “Kite Runner” I highly recommend them both!)

  14. Unbelievable.

  15. To Further Add about my ABC:
    Got a hold of my orignal ABC today when my Mom came back into the country.

    My Mom confirmed that that microfiche ABC was definitely the birth certificate sent to them by the State of Florida & should be used as my new ABC.

    She pulled out the original ABC and we noticed that it was not sent until 02-06 of 1989! Well, I was born in 1965!

    I write this as once again: Not only we should have the right to our OBC, but this document should go with the child upon adoption. End of story.

  16. Catch 22 over and over again.

    I empathize with Chyna! Several years ago I was turned down for a passport because the only birth document I had didn’t show “proof of place of birth.” And this was before 9/11.

    “Don’t worry,” the clerk said, “just bring in your adoption decree?”

    “WHAT adoption decree?” says I.

    “Girl, you’ve got big problems” replied the clerk.

    And indeed I did.

    We are all real people living in a world where our identity documents are not considered “real.” Of course, they forget to say that all of our identity stuff is locked away by the state. If that’s not discrimination, I don’t know what is.

    Thanks for writing about this, Triona. People need to hear about our “special treatment.”


  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Hey Improper Adoptee:

    Yes, you are correct in that the ABC that was to be my official & supposed legitimate BC sent to my AP’s upon amended date was a microfiche copy.

    It is still mind blowing to me as I also learned and my Mom confirmed that THIS IS WHAT THE STATE SENT AS MY OFFICIAL ABC. I would be happy to scan in my official ABC so you all can see the stamp date of 1989!

    I asked my Mom again about getting it when I was 24. She thinks that they NEVER sent it. That we must have asked for it when I applied for a passport. As I remember distinctly bringing what we thought was my official ABC/microfiche copy and the passport people looking at us like we were really insane.

    I do remember the passport thing causing hassle. My Mom took care of it, sweet thing that she is, so I didn’t realize fully at the time what was happening.

    So in further conversation with my Mom we don’t think they ever sent that official ABC on that funny paper that looks like money. We had to ask for it.

    So crazy isn’t it? At this point it is such nonsense to me all I can do is laugh. And not a funny laugh, like a what the BLEEP laugh.

    I am willing to do whatever necessary to expand upon this opportunity. I wonder if we could get a compilation of stories like this. Now that would be something. You know this is the speck of ice on the enormous iceberg.

  19. HAD TO ADD:
    Oh, my gosh! Just talking to my husband about this incident. We compared it to when this happened to me in CT. I think you all recall that I said this same thing happened there.

    In CT. the DMV clerk kept saying I need to have these documents…and listed what she needed. Same story fast forward. I get totally upset and so they called a Trooper over. I spoke to the Trooper and then my husband spoke to him, big boy man to big boy man. He asked if I had anything else with my name on it. My husband went and got our electric bill. He then gave the green light.

    I had TOTALLY FORGOTTEN THIS! Or probably blocked it. My husband reminded me that I was upset to the point of hyper-ventilating & tears. He said he thinks that is the reason the Trooper basically said okay and that he the spouse was there to confirm that YES I WAS AN ACTUAL PERSON.

    This is NUTS!

  20. Chynna that happens to me too, where I will suddenly remember some adoptee outrage. What always floors me is that the outrage is so – outrageous – I can’t believe I had completely pushed it from my mind.

    I wonder if we could get a compilation of stories like this. Now that would be something. You know this is the speck of ice on the enormous iceberg.

    I remember this person was collecting stories back in June…. I don’t know what ever came of it though:

  21. Ungrateful Little Bastard:
    In regards to the “person collecting stories in June”…Do you recall what website/forum they were on? Maybe we could go on it and post a thread searching for this person?

    If you don’t remember:
    I am going to be proactive and start asking Adoptees to send me stories. It is unfortunate that this being election month we don’t have it already. But, I do think a book of these stories w/a brief recap of the impact it had mentally/emotionally, could possibly be of great use for future endeavors.

    If you or anyone reading this has anyone suggestions on sites to advertise this please let me know.

  22. It was forwarded to me by a friend who I believe was on the MichiganSearching group at Yahoo; I don’t know if that’s where it originated. I’m going to send them an email and direct them to this thread though.

  23. Your friend Chynna should get a lawyer, file a suit and win an out of court settlement. Somewhere between defamation of character and discrimination sounds pretty good. Honestly, it’s the only way to get peoples attention sometimes, hit ’em in the pocket books and I’ll bet that pretty soon you’ll see the ABC on the list of supported documents for a drivers license in Florida. I sure hope our experience is different where we live. I appreciated your story and felt frustrated right along side her as I read it. People’s ignorance continues to amaze.

  24. It’s normal to get upset Chyanna-what isn’t normal is people not caring about what they are doing to us-The CHS in Florida made me cry alot-for years-they made me throw things at the wall alot too-it is hard to be treated like shit, no matter what way it comes down-don’t ever be ashamed of it :). The people who made the system that makes you cry should be ashamed.

  25. http://lori%20Oneal says

    Louisiana did the same thing to me a few years ago they would not accept my ABC so I had to keep my DL in Texas and use my Mom’s address the whole 2 yrs we were in Louisiana.

  26. You know, I’m so thankful that you posted this. My daughter is only 2, but since her “real” BC is from China, I’ve worried how the schools and such will handle it. I did get her adoption registered in our state (KY), and am getting ready to apply for a BC, but it makes me feel a little worried that she’s going to have to go through this type of crap. I’m sorry for anyone who has to. People don’t realize that there are different kinds of families, and that doesn’t make them any less real. 🙁

  27. http://Anonymous says

    This doesn’t make any sense. Permanent residents are allowed driver licenses, and they would have neither a US birth certificate, a Naturalization certificate, nor a US passport. Therefore, some other type of ID must be acceptable.

  28. Anon, doesn’t matter if it makes sense to you or not. It happened. It’s happening all over the country. Here are just some of the stories from adoptees who can’t get passports. Yeah, this shouldn’t happen either, but it does.

  29. Anonymous:

    I am the girl whom had this experience. Believe that it is happening ALL the time. Not sure if Triona remembers, but this exact same situation happened to me when we were living in Connecticut.

    The Policeman was escorting me out when my husband walked over and privately spoke to him. All i kept saying was, “It looks like that because I was adopted.” Referring to my license.

    My husband’s family had lived in that area for decades so his last name was quite known. If it wasn’t for that I know they would not have issued me my license.

    Here is what is required today in Florida not only for NEWLY issued, but even for just renewals:
    Examples of Primary Identification
    One of the following:

    Certified United States birth certificate, including territories and District of Columbia
    Valid United States Passport or Passport Card
    Consular Report of Birth Abroad
    Certificate of Naturalization, Form N-550 or Form N-570
    Certificate of Citizenship, Form N-560 or Form N-561

    I have actually hesitated to go back there to renew my license since we moved. I am actually breaking the law and if pulled over would be in legal trouble as the law here is you have 10 days to renew if address change. I just don’t want to put myself through that again.

    These incidences inflicted humiliation, despair and made me feel inferior. Might sound crazy to you I know. But, you have something like this happen to you and then contact me.

    I will say the same thing I always say, “Thank You State of Florida for protecting me and acting as my Guardian when I was a child. I am greatful for all you did for me.

    I am now a full fledged, community giving, tax paying, contributing adult. I no longer need you in this capacity.

    Please cut the umbilical cord before I suffocate.”