Saying Goodbye To Mom

Sorry for the hiatus. It’s been a difficult summer, and just when I thought things were getting better, my husband’s mom died unexpectedly at the age of 77.
She was a hell of a woman. She was known for her fancy hats, her no-nonsense attitude, and her nonstop chatting in a Louisiana drawl. Picture a lady in a broad-brimmed hat, driving a hundred miles an hour down the highway in a gold Lexus with a pair of pet chickens in a cage on the seat next to her. Her local politicians quaked at her approach because if they were up to no good, she gave them no quarter. They’d try to shut her up, and she’d keep coming back. You just can’t argue with a Southern lady in a hat, especially when she’s right.
My mother-in-law was not adopted; she knew her heritage backwards and forwards. But she was a forthright champion of adoptee rights. She read my blog avidly and often called me or sent me an email to comment. She read the articles and links I sent, commiserated with me over my struggles to obtain my identity, and gave me advice on how to deal with politicians. Because she really, truly understood why we adoptees fight for our rights.
She told me of her experience with Hurricane Camille in 1969, a Category 5 storm that decimated the Louisiana coast. Her father perished in the storm, along with the relics of her past: not just the house where she grew up, not just the neighborhood, but the entire parish (county) and a great deal of the surrounding area. She struggled to regain that past, documenting her family tree and going to the older folks in her family to ask them to identify people in the few photos she was able to recover. But, as she explained to me, at least she still knew where she came from.
Adoptees, she said, never had the chance to know, and she found that the most devastating of all. She thought if more people understood that loss, if they didn’t take their own heritage for granted, they would be more understanding of adoptees’ plight. She also felt for mothers who were coerced by the adoption industry into surrendering their children, having gone through a divorce in the 1970s in a state so misogynistic that she had to fight the bank to put the mortgage in her name instead of her husband’s.
I called my mother-in-law Mom, and that is not a title I give out lightly. Having had a rough relationship with my adoptive mother, and a rocky reunion with my first (birth) mother, she was the only mother I ever truly knew. She was the one who was there for me, who actually gave a damn if I was upset or having a hard time, who spoiled my kids rotten and taught me that you gotta stand on your own two feet and grab what you want out of life. At the end of her last visit, she gave me some money and told me to go get that DNA testing I’d been talking about, if it was going to help me find out even a little bit more about my origins.
This is a woman who had as much connection to adoption as your average person–namely, she knew some people who were adopted and that was about it. But, unlike most people, she took it upon herself to learn what adoption means to the people who have no choice but to live it, day in and day out. When I first met her, she made the same assumptions and believed the same stereotypes as everyone else. She had no idea that adoptees can’t just go to the courthouse and get their information. She didn’t realize that there is an original birth certificate and an amended birth certificate. She assumed that media coverage and Hollywood depictions of adoption were accurate. She didn’t think about the fact that most public portrayal of adoption is solely from the viewpoints of adoptive parents and the people who make money facilitating adoptions. She was unaware (but, upon learning of it, not surprised) that infant adoption preys upon mothers without resources, and that legislators and their cronies have turned birth certificate access into political capital. The point is, she MADE THE EFFORT, and that is one reason I loved her.
From her legacy, take this: If you do not have direct experience with adoption, learn what it really means, both the good and the bad. If you are an adoptive parent or prospective adopter, talk to first (birth) mothers and adult adoptees before assuming that your viewpoint is the only one. If you’re a journalist or novelist writing about adoption, make sure you know what the stereotypes are before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Question everything you think you know. Don’t dismiss others’ experiences just because they don’t jibe with your assumptions, or because the speaker sounds “angry” or “ungrateful” or “anti-adoption.”
Put yourself in their shoes.
Make the effort.

Good Vs. Bad Adoptees: Dismissing Our Experiences And Criticism As “Anger”

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).
Other gems:
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.

Except…

  • 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.
Staff, Daily Herald
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.

Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing: Adoptee Voices Negated In Discussion Of Illinois HB 5428

From Adoption Reform Illinois:
HB 5428 has passed the House and Senate. Our goal now turns to stopping it at the Governor’s desk. Please contact Illinois Governor Pat Quinn NOW and ask him not to sign this bill into law. This bill has been touted as restoring the rights of adult adoptees–but equality should be for ALL adoptees.
Time is of the essence so calls are best, but anything you can do will help.
Talking points when contacting the Governor:
* 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.
Office of the Governor
Pat Quinn
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
Phone: 217-782-0244
TTY: 888-261-3336
There is also a web form:

HB 5428 has been slipped through the Illinois legislative process faster than bran muffins through your digestive tract. As of today the bill has passed the Senate and is on its way to the Governor’s desk. Please see contact info above and ask Gov. Quinn to veto this bill.
This bill has been portrayed as a “victory” for adoptee rights. If that is so, why were adoptee voices so completely negated in its discussion? Why the secrecy surrounding the bill? Why grease it through the process?
The answer is because this bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. HB 5428 grants some adoptees access at the expense of others. Sponsor Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and her BFF Melisha Mitchell (paid searcher and presumed author of the bill) say that only a very few people will be denied access under this bill. But, as I said before regarding my first-hand experience at the Senate Judiciary Commitee hearing:

What’s ironic is that she [Sara Feigenholtz] 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.

The voices of adoptees, first mothers, and other interested parties have not been heard:
  • The bill was introduced under cover of secrecy. No one knew it existed except those of us on the lookout. Only one tiny article was original posted about it and that in a St. Louis newspaper. If this is really about adoptee rights why didn’t Feigenholtz have a great big press conference when she introduced her bill? Because she knew that would only invite public discussion and opposition. She wanted it passed under the radar.
  • Important dates concerning the bill have been fudged or conveniently not posted until the last minute. On Sunday, March 21st, as I was updating the Adoption Reform Illinois web site, I checked the status of the bill. It said it had received second reading in the House on 3/18/10 and was up for third reading on 3/23/10. The very next morning I received a news item saying the bill had passed the House. When I checked the status again, it had been retroactively changed to say the bill had passed the House on 3/18/10 and arrived in the Senate that same day. Mention of a third reading in the House on 3/23/10 was eliminated. This is not a mistake or merely failure to include all relevant information. You don’t say a bill is up for another reading on 3/23/10 if it’s already passed on 3/18/10.
  • Adoptees were shut out of testifying at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on 4/13/10. The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. A. J. Wilhelmi, was allowed to pick who got to testify. While three people testified for the bill, only one adoptee was permitted to testify against and her testimony was misconstrued as supporting the bill instead of opposing it.
  • The bill was voted upon without the Senate Judiciary Committee taking the time to read the submitted written testimony, which included many letters from adoptees, first mothers and others opposing this bill.
  • The bill was then whiplashed through the Senate. Committee hearing 4/13/10, second reading 4/20/10, third reading 4/21/10 and vote that same day.
Again, why silence the voices of opposition? Because all the major adoption reform organizations are against this bill. Sara Feigenholtz and her fellow wolves knew that if the sheep found out what was really going on they would band together and successfully oppose, as we did against HB 4623 in 2008. The only way to pass her bastardizing legislation was to shroud it in secrecy.

News media, like our legislators, has accepted Token Adoptee Feigenholtz’s word that this legislation is a “victory” for adoptees. The coverage of opposition (for example here, here and here) has been largely ignored. The St. Louis Dispatch didn’t even mention their own article concerning opposition in their coverage of the bill’s Senate passage.
I ask our legislators and the media: If this bill really is about adoptee rights, why are so many adoptees against it? If it’s true, as Sara Feigenholtz testified at the Judiciary Committee hearing, that access to one’s original birth certificate is “a human right,” that “the laws that protected [us] from society inadvertently protected [us] from each other,” then why do we need 80 pages to restore rights that Maine did in two pages and Oregon did in a single paragraph?
Answer: Because HB 5428 is not about adoptee rights. Please understand this. You have been deceived by the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Look under the skin at what is really going on here.
This is the testimony I submitted on behalf of Adoption Reform Illinois. Please contact Gov. Quinn TODAY and ask him to oppose HB 5428.
As representative of Adoption Reform Illinois, and as an adult adoptee who has used the Confidential Intermediary program, I come to attest that fiscally and morally, we must oppose HB 5428.
To single out people for different treatment is to create an unconstitutional minority. There’s a difference between the right to identity and search or reunion. Mothers can say no to contact without signing a binding veto that prevents adoptees from obtaining their original birth certificates.
This bill criminalizes adoptees for what non-adopted people call “genealogy.” Meanwhile, it holds the state harmless for mistakes and mandates a slap on the wrist for intermediaries who break the rules.
Some adoptees cannot afford the CI program, or are not accepted into it. The sole entity contracted to provide these services has pre-approval over petitions before the judge sees them. Worse, there is no oversight nor accountability. The advisory group proposed in this bill is stacked with entities that benefit financially from adoption. The bill enshrines mutual consent registries in law even though they have been shown not to work.
My experience is a case study in how the process can fail. My application was initially rejected because I was adopted out of state. After hiring an attorney and gaining admission, I found the program fatally flawed. The CI program refuses to disclose its procedures, so there is no way to determine what is being done on one’s behalf. When my identifying information was disclosed without my consent, I had no higher authority to which I could appeal.
The Child Welfare League supports the rights of adult adoptees. Research from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute shows that restoration of adoptee rights “is a matter of legal equality, ethical practice and, on a human level, basic fairness.”
Regardless of one’s opinion on adoptee rights, Illinois cannot afford to spend unnecessary funds. On that basis alone, HB 5428 should be opposed. Restoring adult adoptee access results in no spending increase. The state could actually make money by allowing adult adoptees to use the same procedures as everyone else.
We hope you will work with us to restore equality for all Illinois citizens regardless of adoptive status. Thank you again for your time.

Leaving Adoptees Behind: My Experience At The Illinois HB 5428 Hearing

From Adoption Reform Illinois:

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.

Contact Illinois Senate TODAY: Oppose HB 5428, Leaves Some Adoptees Behind

I will be blogging about my experience at the Illinois Senate this week opposing HB 5428, a bill that claims to be about adoptee rights but instead divides us into haves and have-nots. But I wanted to get this advisory out immediately. The Senate will discuss this bill TODAY. Please write ASAP and ask them to oppose this bill.
*** Please distribute freely ***
Dear Adoption Reform Illinois supporters,
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:
Thank you for your help!

Illinois HB 5428: Toxic To Adoptee Rights, Makes It A Crime To Search

Please write to these senators and tell them to oppose IL HB 5428. And be sure to sign our Change.org petition!

You can find the bill status for Illinois HB 5428 here and the full text here. I also encourage you to join Adoption Reform Illinois, a coalition of triad members and others seeking to defeat bills like this and introduce clean legislation to Illinois. On our web site you will find contact information for the Senate sponsors and Assignments committee, and our position paper, Why ARI Opposes HB 5428 (pdf).

I haven’t blogged much lately because I’ve been busy fighting IL HB 5428, a new-bill-same-as-the-old-bill which kicks Illinois adoptees when they’re down. This bill, introduced by legislator and token adoptee Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, is utterly toxic, even more so than most compromise legislation. (Please read this if you think compromise legislation is okay and “baby steps are needed” to achieve adoption reform.)
First, there is the way IL HB 5428 is being slipped under the radar. After the defeat the adoption reform community handed the similar IL HB 4623 in 2008, Feigenholtz must have realized she would never be able to pass one of her odious initiatives if anyone knew about it. So this thing has been silent but deadly. It has already been fast-tracked through a House vote of approval, and is currently in the Senate’s Assignments committee.
Next, there is the unprecedented level of bureaucracy this bill creates — because the more bureaucracy, the more opportunities to charge you for your own information. HB 5428 introduces no less than five levels of disclosure veto (mislabeled “preferences”), ranging from “access if your Mommy approves” all the way down to “F*** you.” It goes so far as to mandate modification of vital records, permanently erasing adoptee identities. Adoptees who have already been shafted by disclosure veto remain screwed.
Feigenholtz is touting this to the media as being good for adoptees, while snickering behind our backs with dollar signs in her eyes. DO NOT BELIEVE THE LIES. This bill does NOT grant birth certificate access. It cements profiteering at the expense of adult adoptees.
IL HB 5428 puts the very same people who run Illinois’ mismanaged registry and CI program on the council overseeing it. This makes the Midwest Adoption Center (MAC), the sole-source no-bid entity contracted to perform these services in Illinois, accountable to no one but themselves. This council is filled with entities who profit from access to adoption records. AAC’s representative (Melisha Mitchell aka Allen) is a paid searcher, a conflict of interest. No adoption reform groups are represented.
When it comes to MAC, we are talking about the same people who consider the confidentiality of their policies and procedures more important than protecting the identities of participants. I speak from experience when I say I wouldn’t trust these people to clean up radioactive sewage — which is what HB 5428 is.
The bill is primarily a money grab for MAC and the CI program. HB 5428 calls for state money to advertise the program. It’s all about profit at a time when our state can’t even pay its own bills. And it’s all about obscurity at a time when the citizens of Illinois are trying to shine some light on the corrupt politics in this state.
And if that’s not bad enough…
IL HB 5428 would make it a CRIME to pursue your own search via non-identifying information (damages plus $10,000 minimum punitive fine). From the bill text:

Any person who learns a sought-after relative’s identity, directly or indirectly, through the use of procedures provided in this Section and who improperly discloses information identifying the sought-after relative shall be liable to the sought-after relative for actual damages plus minimum punitive damages of $10,000.

Yes, you heard that right. If you’re not adopted, it’s called genealogy. But if you are adopted, under IL HB 5428 you will be penalized if you attempt to search on your own. This is so that all Illinois adoptees and their birth families will be forced through the jaws of the intermediary program’s profit-making machine.
Oh, and at the same time they hold themselves unaccountable for any mistakes they may make while meddling in your business, such as the way they disclosed my identifying information to my birth family without my consent. CIs who make mistakes keep their jobs and are charged a modest penalty which is paid to DCFS, not the injured party:

The Department shall fine any confidential intermediary who improperly discloses confidential information in violation of item (1) or (2) of this subsection (k) an amount up to $2,000 per improper disclosure. This fine does not affect civil liability under item (2) of this subsection (k). The Department shall deposit all fines and penalties collected under this Section into the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Fund.

Here’s a barf bag. I’ll wait while you hurl.
Bastardette has posted part 1 of what is sure to be a rousing series on Sneaky Sara and her machinations. I strongly encourage you to read it, and to write to Illinois senators to put a stop to this toxic bill.

Compromising On Adoptee Access? The Foot You Shoot May Be Your Own

I wrote this as a response to the news that Missouri has enacted a compromise bill for adult adoptee original birth certificate (OBC) access. I really wish people would understand that compromise legislation is a ploy to get us to shut up and go away. You never know if you yourself may be the one vetoed out of your own rights.
If you are thinking of supporting a bill, please understand what these compromises actually mean. Insist upon clean bills, every time, no exceptions.
What I said was:
While I appreciate all the hard work those involved have done to enact this bill [in Missouri], baby steps and compromises are not a fair solution. So-called “disclosure vetoes” such as the one in this new MO law require adoptees to get approval from their birth mothers before they can have their original birth certificates. Disclosure vetoes are sometimes phrased as “contact preferences”, but if it is binding on adoptees and prevents them from accessing their OBCs, it’s a veto.
This is unequal and a blow to the civil rights of adoptees. No one else needs such approval. The fact is that “baby steps” end up stopping at step one. No state that has enacted compromise legislation like this has ever revisited it. The legislators consider it a done deal and don’t want to revisit. Speaking from experience, a system like this does NOT work. The people typically in charge of it are often political allies of those who enact it. In other words, it’s a way to make money off adoptees, again. For example in Illinois the people who run the program are political allies of the legislator who enacted it, and make six figure salaries off babysitting adoptees and their birth families.
Compromise legislation is neither right nor fair. ALL citizens, regardless of adoptive status, deserve the same equal treatment. That means ALL adult adoptees should be able to access their original birth certificates in the same manner, and for the same reasonable fees, as everyone else.
Forgive me but this strikes close to home. I am an adult adoptee who has been denied her original birth certificate because of Illinois’ disclosure veto. I personally could not look at myself in the mirror if I got my OBC via a law that meant the adoptees in front of or behind me were unable to get theirs. We must all stand together and insist upon our civil rights instead of falling for cleverly-worded “solutions”. This is a political gimmick to lure you into thinking you are restoring your rights when you are really shooting yourself (and others) in the foot. Please think about and understand what compromise legislation means. It means you get your information at someone else’s expense. It means you yourself could very easily be the one left behind. You won’t know until you try to access your OBC and discover that you’re one of the “small percentage” that got bit by a veto.
It is perfectly possible to enact clean legislation. Other states like Maine have done it. You have to take the higher ground, insist on clean bills, and kill the bill if it is amended with a disclosure veto. South Dakota just went through that and I admire the South Dakota SEAL group for vowing to kill the bill they worked so hard for if it was compromised.
For every state that enacts a compromise, it makes it that much more difficult to enact clean legislation elsewhere. This is why we have not made more progress in opening records, because people are willing to fall for these compromises. Working together is paramount. Access must be equal, across the board. I have no problem with true contact preferences, those that allow birth families to state their preference while still allowing the adoptee to obtain his/her OBC (versus a binding veto, whatever it might be called). The notion that such preferences must be binding assumes that all adoptees are potential stalkers, which is demeaning and discriminatory. There is a vast difference between search/reunion and the right to one’s identity. The former is a decision that families must make among themselves. The latter should be a basic right of all human beings. Missouri’s bill is a tragedy for those who will be left behind.
One thing I would like to mention is that I do actually have a problem with true contact preferences (those that are not binding on the adoptee). Namely, that is that it is too easy for what begins as a “preference” to become a binding veto. Politicians are confused as to the difference between a contact preference and a disclosure veto. See the recent South Dakota decision on HB 1223 for an example of that. But I would rather see an otherwise clean bill pass with a nonbinding preference than a binding veto.

My Letter: YES on South Dakota SB 152 Adoptee Access Bill

There’s still a few hours left! Please visit the web site below to learn how you can help passage of SB 152, a clean bill that restores adult adoptee original birth certificate access. Hurry, they’re voting today!
I am writing to ask you to vote YES on SB 152, a bill that would restore original birth certificate access to adult adoptees.
For too long, adult adoptees have been denied their civil rights. SB 152 restores those rights by allowing adoptees to access their original birth certificates, without restriction, in the same manner as the non-adopted.
This is a simple matter of identity. It is not about search and reunion, but the rights of everyone to access the unmodified records of their birth. Adoptees who do not have this information are routinely denied driver’s licenses, passports and other necessary documentation. Identity is identity, whether you are adopted or not. South Dakota has the opportunity to acknowledge this right through passage of SB 152.
Thank you for your time.
Triona Guidry
Author of the 73adoptee blog, www.73adoptee.com

Think Before You Support Compromise Adoption Reform Bills

The new legislative session is upon us, and I encourage you to think long and hard before throwing your support behind a bill just because it claims “adoption records access”.

Whenever there’s word of a new records access bill, members of the adoption community scramble to support it amid cries of “Write the legislators!” and “Write the newspapers!” But not all bills are created equal. Some are wonderful, shining examples of clean legislation, like Maine, for example. Others are travesties and need to die before they suck the life out of adult adoptee and birth parent rights.
A clean records access bill is one in which adult adoptees (and birth mothers too!) have the same access to original, unaltered birth certificates as people not touched by adoption. Compromises take many forms but may include:
  • A disclosure veto, which allows a birth parent to prevent an adult adoptee’s access to his or her birth certificate. (On the other hand, a contact preference is just that, a preference. It does not legally deny access to the adult adoptee’s birth certificate.)
  • A mandatory intermediary, which requires adult adoptees and birth parents to submit to third-party mediation even if all they want is information and not contact.
  • Sandwich bills, in which adult adoptees born before or after certain dates have access, while others do not.
There are several bills in discussion right now, including New Jersey and Missouri. It’s sad that people have invested effort in these bills because they are so compromised, they will do more harm than good. They’re based on the myths that “baby steps” are necessary to adoption reform, that compromise legislation can be revisited, that nothing else will work in XYZ state, that “almost good enough” is good enough. None of this is true. The best way–the ONLY way–to restore equal rights to adult adoptees and birth mothers is to enact clean legislation from the start.
Here are some truths about compromise legislation:
  • Baby steps are not needed to achieve clean original birth certificate access. It’s been done in Maine. It’s been done in Oregon. IT CAN HAPPEN. But you have to work at it, and if your nice clean bill gets lobotomized, you have to take the higher ground, kill it and start again.
  • Look to your left. Look to your right. One of your brethren in adoption is going to be left behind if you compromise. Ask yourself if you actually want to support a bill that means getting your information at the expense of someone else. And remember, that someone else could easily be you.
  • NOT ONE STATE that has enacted compromise legislation has EVER changed it later to clean birth certificate access. Once you have the compromise you are stuck with it. The politicians consider it a done deal and won’t revisit it. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot for nothing.
  • Compromises in one state bleed over onto others. Legislators ask, if it works for this other state, why shouldn’t we do it that way? It makes it harder to enact clean legislation elsewhere.
  • There are politicians and lobbyists who want you to compromise because it’s a way for them to pay lip service to reform while not actually doing anything. In other words, it’s a ploy to get us to be good little bastards and birth mommies and go away. Post-adoption services exist to make money, period. They do not exist to help you. They do not exist to restore your civil rights. Don’t buy into the rhetoric. Demand clean legislation, each and every time.
  • Adoption records access is not about medical history, search and reunion or anything else. It is about identity. It is about the right to be treated equally. Don’t get caught up in the arguments. Take it back to basics and stay focused.
What to look for in a bad bill:
  • Disclosure vetoes, mandatory intermediaries, sandwiches.
  • Convoluted language or anything that says, “we’ll figure out how to do this later”. If you don’t understand it, it’s probably not clean.
  • Sometimes shell bills are introduced that are replaced at the last minute by compromise bills that no one sees before the committee vote, like the fast one they pulled with Illinois HB 4623 in 2008.
So when you see there’s a new bill up for discussion, for heaven’s sake research it before you rush to support it. Read the bill for yourself. Ask your friends in the adoption community. Find out about the legislative sponsors. Use your head and your common sense. Don’t be a knee-jerk supporter just because it says “records access” on the tin.
For more on compromise legislation:

Adoptees Should Be Able To Explore Their Roots

I made a stray comment on FirstMotherForum which I think deserves expansion. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now:

Regardless of whether “natural” is the right term, non-adopted people are encouraged and even praised for exploring their heredity while adoptees are discouraged or condemned. I also think there is a difference between exploring heredity and making contact. For example, my birth mother has denied contact with me. But, if I had access to my origins, I could still explore my roots, find out where “my people” came from, etc. — all without contacting her or her immediate family. I don’t see why I should be denied that oppportunity just because I happen to be adopted.

When I originally started searching over a decade ago, it wasn’t with starry-eyed ideals of meeting my birth mother. In fact the concept scared the wits out of me. (Still does.) I did, however, want to find out who “my people” are. I wanted to know where I fit into a long chain of ancestors stretching back through time. I also wanted to feel, for the first time, like a “real” person–someone with a past, a background, a history I could point to and say, “This is where I come from.” None of which has anything to do with my birth mother in particular, but everything to do with access to that all-important document: my original birth certificate. Yet, as it stands in closed-records states, adoptees like me are forced to contact our birth mothers to gain that information.
If I had the information on my original birth certificate, I could do a genealogy search. Some people would call that stalking, but if it is, then every single person who has ever made a genealogical inquiry is guilty. I simply want to know if my vague and misleading non-identifying information is accurate. I want to know if I really am part Irish, part German, and part Polish. I want to know if I come from a family of farmers or brickmakers or blacksmiths. I want to take my children to Ireland and walk with them across the hills where my ancestors once walked. How does this, in any way, interfere with my birth mother’s request not to contact her?
Most people don’t understand how debilitating it is sometimes, being adopted. We have no anchor, no roots, no way to ground ourselves to the world around us. We struggle with that even when our adoptions are open and our information freely available, but much more so when our origins are treated like shameful secrets. What a blessing and relief it would be if we could trace our distant ancestry!
Just as I am not the first twig on my family tree, neither are my birth parents. My children and I should not be denied the right to take our places in the lineage of our ancestors. If it gives me closure to stand in a hundred-year-old cemetery and look down upon the graves of my great-great-grandparents, why not? Why should being adopted preclude me from that right?