May is National Foster Care Month, and this year, the organizers have announced that they are especially welcoming of same-sex prospective foster parents.
In 2005, the Montrose Counseling Center announced a program to help same-sex couples who wish to become foster parents to GLBT and questioning youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. In announcing the program, Ann J. Robison, the center’s executive director, stated, “Up until now, Houston GLBTQ youth had very limited options, such as couch hopping at friends’ homes, staying at a faith-based residential shelter for youth, or living on the streets. Our first step, obviously, is to identify GLBT and GLBT-affirming adults who are interested in becoming foster parents to these youth, provide them with training on GLBTQ youth issues and culture, and then through a collaboration with a couple of licensed foster care agencies, we will refer GLBTQ youth up to the age of 18 for placement.”
Sean Reilly is one of those in the GLBT community who has stepped forward in response to the center’s call for “GLBT-affirming adults.” Reilly, who serves on the board of the Montrose Counseling Center, and his partner, Charlie Finch, say they are ready to take on parenthood. When they first merged their lives four years ago, Finch and Reilly had each expressed a desire to one day rear a family. Now they are certain that they want to do it together.
“We are a stable, loving and fortunate couple, and both want to start a family,” says Reilly. “We have talked about it since we first started dating, and we are at a point in our lives where we are ready. We believe that we have a lot of love and want to have children to share our lives with.”
Both men grew up in supportive families and now want to be there for someone who has not been as fortunate as they have. They are convinced that being gay is a plus in creating an environment of acceptance and unconditional love.
“Growing up gay is tough,” Reilly says. “We both used to wonder how nice it would have been to have someone earlier on in our lives that could have told us that there is nothing wrong with me as a person, that our feelings were natural and nothing to be ashamed of, and how to manage society’s pressures in a healthy way. We would like the opportunity to be there for someone like we would have wanted for ourselves.”
Though conservative forces in Texas continue their pressure to ban gay and lesbian couples from adoption, Reilly says they are determined to find a way to raise a family and make a difference. “Everything worthwhile has its challenges,” he states. “There are several success stories, some are close friends of ours.”
Reilly and Finch are good friends with a lesbian couple, one of whom has conceived and given birth to two children; the other has adopted the children. They also know a gay couple who adopted through an agency that works with gay couples, and another gay couple of their acquaintance have gone the route of surrogacy. Finch and Reilly are encouraged by these examples.
“I am confident that we will get there; it is just a matter of the way we get there,” says Reilly.
Matt Kruger and Steve Riley, another gay couple committed to parenthood, have been foster parents to two young brothers, one 3 1/2 years old, the other 21 months. “We are still doing ‘foster to adopt,’ which basically means we are their foster parents until parental rights are terminated and the adoption phase can being,” Riley says. “There is a court hearing in about two weeks that may determine the future direction. We are still working with Spaulding For Children; they are a very gay-friendly adoption and foster care agency.”
Like Reilly and Finch, both Kruger and Riley are successful professionals. Riley is an engineer at NASA and Kruger manages a Kohl’s store. The advice they have for GLBT prospective foster or adoptive parents is no different than the advice they would offer any couple preparing to take children into their home.
“Be realistic about the process,” Riley says. “Children change your life 100 percent. I know for us that was quite eye-opening, although overall enjoyable. Know that the things you used to enjoy without kids may not be possible with kids. It totally transforms your lives. Know what you are comfortable with from a child’s standpoint. For instance, are you comfortable with physical, mental, and/or emotional issues that some of the kids in CPS [Child Protective Services] care may have? Most of all, realize that having kids is possible, even in Texas, even though you are GLBT. There are so many couples doing it successfully!”
Riley adds that the waiting has been the most difficult part of the foster care-adoption process. “The unknown—waiting to see what happens with the birth family’s rights so that we can proceed with adoption—is the worst. We are going on 12 months with the kids now, and still do not have closure.”
Even with that frustration, Riley and Kruger encourage other gay, lesbian, and transgender people who want to become parents to pursue that dream. Parenthood is possible, even for same-sex couples.
“I think the one misconception out there is that adoption costs a tremendous amount of money,” adds Riley, who is a volunteer facilitator with HATCH, the support group for GLBT and questioning youth. “It doesn’t have to. There are different types of adoptions, and going the CPS route has low/no cost and high benefits, with the drawback being not too much say in the children or the issues they may have. Private adoption of course costs a lot, and the children are more ‘guaranteed’ in terms of children available for adoption, but anyone can go to an agency that deals with the state and have kids as soon as just a few months later for pretty much nothing out of pocket. Matt and I were prepared to have to spend a lot of money and were shocked to find out it was going to be basically free—and the health care, college, and other benefits included were just amazing.”
Natasha Avey reported on sports teams in the community in our March issue.
If you are interested in considering becoming a foster-care or adoptive parent, here are a few information resources:
Equality Texas (for state legislative updates), www.equalitytexas.org
Houston Gay & Lesbian Parents, www.hglp.org
Human Rights Campaign Family Project, www.hrc.org
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Parent & Family Program, www.thetaskforce.org
National Foster Care Month, www.fostercaremonth.org