Gay Adoption of Black Children Raises Concerns

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The number of whites adopting black children is growing, and a rising number of those adoptive parents are gay and lesbian. Some in the black community say putting kids with other family members should be considered first.

TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Pop star Madonna's contested adoption of a 1-year-old boy from Malawi has made headlines. In the U.S., the number of whites adopting black children is growing. A 1994 federal law now forbids racial discrimination in their placement. A rising number of those adopting are gay and lesbian, and not every one in the black community is pleased.

From San Francisco, reporter Nancy Mullane has the story.

(Soundbite of children laughing, talking)

NANCY MULLANE: About half of the 100,000 kids waiting for adoption in this country are African-American. African-American boys wait the longest to find families. Most desired are babies and young kids who haven't been mistreated and don't have disabilities. But when Gregory Stewart and Stillman White decided to adopt, the gay couple checked all the boxes.

Mr. GREGORY STEWART: They had boxes you can check off, you know, boy or girl? We put doesn't matter. You can check off an age range, and we said any age range. In fact, in our comment section, wrote, prefer kids that are hard to place.

MULLANE: The first of their five sons to arrive was 3-year-old Allen. He'd been kicked out of preschool and threw tantrums. A year later, they took in Allen's 19-day-old brother, David. He came with a bottle, one change of clothes and a thick head of black hair. Four months after that, 7-year-old Arthur arrived. He'd been in 14 different homes, including three failed adoptions.

Mr. STEWART: He's been on the caseload for four years. Threatening to run away. He lived up to reputation for about 48 hours, and then was the best big brother his little brother ever had.

MULLANE: Then Stewart and White got yet another call. Would they take in just two more? Another set of brothers. By 2002, all five adoptions were final. The kids call Stewart daddy, White is papa.

Jill Jacobs is executive director of the Oakland-based Family Builders by Adoption. She says the gay community is meeting the needs of foster care kids like no other.

Ms. JILL JACOBS (Executive Director, Family Builders by Adoption): They don't have this Ozzie and Harriet notion of what a family should be and how kids should come, and don't necessarily have a need for newborn babies. And so you kind of have a blank slate. And they walk in the door and we can say, this is what we need. These are the kids we have. Would you? Could you? And they say yes.

MULLANE: Some in the black community say, wait, not so fast with this white-gay-couples-adopting-their-kids thing. For the past 30 years, the National Association of Black Social Workers has condemned transracial adoption as cultural genocide. Other organizations such as Black Administrators in Child Welfare say putting kids with other family members should be considered first.

Unidentified Man #1: You got the card, right?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, I got the card.

MULLANE: At the Top Hat Barber Shop in Oakland, six black men are hanging out. Two say they're okay with gays adopting black children. The rest of the men, including Michael, say no way.

MICHAEL: I'm 1,000 percent against it, whether it's black gay couples or white gay couples raising our children. It doesn't matter. I'm against it. For one thing, it's immoral. It's going against God's plan, for another thing. But other thing, the outcome is going to be disastrous.

MULLANE: Michael certainly isn't alone. Florida law prohibits adoptions by gays. Six more states have laws restricting gay adoption. But even in states like California where gay adoption is legal, there's discrimination. Stewart and White say as a white gay couple raising African-American boys, they've been publicly admonished and harassed by law enforcement more than once. One Halloween:

Mr. STEWART: The sheriff's department comes to the door - and Allen had been with us for just a little while, a couple of months - so the house had children's art all over the walls, toys everywhere. I mean you can…

Mr. STILLMAN WHITE: And Greg is dressed as Jesus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: That was my costume, yeah.

Mr. WHITE: Was his costume.

Mr. STEWART: And they say, yes. It's been reported that you've abducted a child. We're going to have to look to see if there's a child here. And I said, well, our child's here, and he's standing right there. And they're looking around the house and still, you know, asking us questions. Asking the child where's your mommy.

MULLANE: Stewart was recently inducted as the first openly gay senior minister of a progressive church known for its tolerance. He and his partner White say San Francisco's a good place to be a gay parent, yet their five sons face racism and homophobia all the time.

Mr. STEWART: We are struggling right now with the fact that our kids, because of the kid culture here, the school culture, are still being harassed for having two dads. And the bigger issue in San Francisco is having white dads.

Unidentified Child #1: Wait. Does that plus three equal…

MULLANE: So far, there aren't statistics that show how many gays have adopted black children. But one recent study shows that a majority of adoption agencies in the U.S. now accepts applications from gays. About 40 percent of those agencies say they've put kids in permanent homes, which presumably means more African-American children are finding so-called forever families with gay parents.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane in San Francisco.

Unidentified Child #1: Papa…

Mr. WHITE: I'm right here.

Unidentified Child #1: What is two plus six?

Unidentified Child #2: Eight…

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