26 January, 2010

Gay couple wants to help Haitian community in times of crisis

by Jorge Reyes

Let's just call one of them Claudio, named after his father. For the last fifteen years Claudio has been in a committed relationship with his partner, also a man who did not want to be mentioned by name due to a pending legal case with the State of Florida. Both, however, have been foster parents for needy children for over 15 years. Most recently they are foster parents to three children, all of whom they have raised since their births. One of the children just turned eight and is now available for adoption, and Claudio and his partner want to adopt him. Unfortunately in the State of Florida, they are unable to adopt because they're both gay.

For Claudio and his partner, not to mention for the three children, this is a family nonetheless; a family based on love and respect. The children haven't known any other parents. Two of them is HIV positive, while the third was born with HIV but he no longer tests positive. When Claudio is at work, his partner stays at home to care for the children. One is a respected medical provider, Claudio is a real estate broker and works mostly from home.

Florida's Department of Children and Families admit that there is a shortage of adoptive parents. Many children, even under the best of circumstances, age out of the foster care system without ever being adopted. While Florida allows gay couples to become foster parents for the short time, it prevents them from adopting children they have formed a family bond with.

Despite their current legal issues, Claudio and his partner are determined to bring some relief to needy children the world over.

One recent afternoon while watching the devastating effect of the Haitian earthquake, Claudio and his partner contacted a local parish to see how they could take care of homeless children. Armed with nothing but their commitment towards the welfare of children everywhere, they were careful what they said to the parish, how they referred to one another. Both were placed on a wait-and-see list. They were asked to call in a week's time.

With the massive catastrophe following Haiti's quake, many families worldwide are taking proactive steps trying to assist the Haitian community by at least fostering on a temporary basis some of the affected children. According to news reports, 15% of Haiti's children were orphaned or abandoned before the earthquake. In Port-Au-Prince alone there were an average of 380,000 orphans. Post earthquake and that number could double or triple. Like other groups of people, the LGBT community responded to this crisis by opening its heart, and wallets. The Rainbow World Fund originally pledged $35,000 in contributions. Thus far they have raised an additional $75,000. (Claudio alone pledged an undisclosed amount of money to a private agency.)

Days after the catastrophe, the archdiocese of Miami suggested a kind of Peter Pan program for Haitian children modeled after a similar 1960's-era airlift that brought more than 14,000 Cuban children from Cuba. This interested Claudio's partner, who is Cuban and was part of that airlift. The proposal has been taken with a great deal of interest by Americans, though the state department seems to be resisting it due to logistical problems.

There are many issues both pro and con for a massive airlift of Haitian children, but if this is necessary then the program should be done carefully, with measured steps, and be of a temporary nature, not a permanent one. After all, it can take years after some natural disaster for parents to locate their children. Therefore it is to everyone's interest to make sure the children do not remain interned in camps indefinitely or until they can be reunified with either their biological parents or families. During this time, though, gay couples like Claudio and his partner should not be turned down by governmental and private agencies solely based on their sexual orientation. For more than three decades, an impressive group of medical and psychological associations have demonstrated that placing children with gay parents does not harm or disadvantage children emotionally or physically.

But don't you worry. Just in case sexual orientation becomes a thorny issue, Claudio and his partner have already consulted with an attorney to get the ball rolling. Whatever bureaucratic hurdles they may find along the way, they're ready to challenge them head-on. They want to help but they also want to be honest about who they are. What they do not want, and won't do, is to do what many gay couples have done in the past, misrepresent themselves to adoption agencies pretending to be heterosexual “single parents.”

It's too early to tell, but what these Haitian children need are established, structured and healthy family surroundings that will help them cope with any post-traumatic trauma. And should the need arise, it would be a shame if certain groups of people are precluded from assisting simply because of their sexual orientation. To do this won't be in the best interest of the child, any child, worldwide.


Anonymous said...

Gay couples have lots of hurdles to overcome before they can overcome cultural patterns of discrimination. I have nothing against gays adopting kids. I feel anyone can be a great foster parent regardless of sexual orientation.

Anonymous said...

Today a Miami judge approved the adoption of a foster child by a lesbian couple, bringing to three the number of adoptions by gay parents since 2008.

Anonymous said...

The courts are beginning to realize that it is not in the best interest of children to prevent gay couples from adopting.

C said...

Well said, Jorge.