When navigating the adoption journey, many LGBT couples and individuals turn to Margaret Fleming and Adoption-Link, an individual and agency changing the meaning of "family values," and the face of society, one family at a time.
In 1981 Fleming, a clinical social worker and divorced mother of three adult children, was at a crossroads in her life, deciding between returning to school for a Ph.D. or adopting a child. At 45, she made a decision that shaped the rest of her life, and changed hundreds of others. "I had enough blond, blue-eyed children," said Fleming. "I didn't need any more. I wanted to provide a home to a child that needed me." That child was her biracial son Nathan, now an adult and father to his own adopted, HIV-positive child. Over the years, nine children were adopted by Margaret. Six children currently live with her, including three who are HIV-positive.
Making the personal political, Fleming founded Adoption-Link in 1992 with a mission "geared toward the needs of the African American community" and specializing in "placing African-American, bi-racial and multi-racial newborns." In 2002, Chances by Choice was added. This program works domestically and internationally to place children who are born HIV-positive into adoptive "forever families" ( due to advances in prenatal treatment, few HIV-positive children are now born in the U.S. ) .
Since its inception, Adoption-Link has provided an inclusive resource for LGBT couples.
"We chose Adoption-Link based on their openness to the LGBT community," said John Roark who, with husband Kevin Hicks, brought home baby Nathalie July 29, 2009. The Dayton, Ohio, couple, who have been together for 10 years and got married in Toronto in 2007, began exploring adoption in 2000. They were often greeted with judgmental attitudes. "A lot of doors were closed to us. There were other agencies that responded to queries with statements like 'You need to find God, you don't need a child'," explained John. "Adoption-Link never once stated any negativity. It was a perfect match." The Roark-Hicks family, who maintain a relationship with their daughter's birth mother, is planning a second adoption through Fleming's agency in a few years.
Adoption-Link has never turned down a birth mother and works with the woman to help choose a family that feels right for her child. Over the past 17 years, the agency has placed more than 800 children through the domestic adoption program, about a third into LGBT homes.
Entirely child-centric, Fleming has worked intentionally to alter the traditional adoption paradigm. "They find families for babies, not babies for families," explained Gail Vijuk. "That is what felt good to us about Adoption-Links. That is why we love them." Oak Parkers Gail and Barbara are moms to Gabriel ( 5 ) , Dean ( 2 ) and Henry ( 1 ) . All three boys, adopted through the agency, are African-AmericanDean and Henry from the same birth mother.
All applicants undergo an intensive screening that includes economic capacity, physical and mental health, emotional stability and racial attitudes. Families adopting a child whose racial background is different from their own are required to complete the Bridge Communication Training in transracial adoption.
LGBT and hetero couples who become "forever families" through Adoption-Link share Fleming's attitudes toward multiracial families and cultural commitment to adoption.
"We wanted to be parents, we're not interested in furthering our DNA or having a child that looks like us. We wanted a child that needs a family and we were open to a variety of situations," said Alan Eaks, Daddy to Simon ( 4 ) and Gabriel ( 2½ ) , who came to Alan and his partner, Alberto Senior, from the same birth mother.
"From a value standpoint that is what really connected us to Margaret and Adoption-Links. She is not interested in people who want a certain kind of kid, she is looking for families who are open to the child that is presented to them," said Eaks. This Lakeview family has chosen an ongoing relationship with the boys' biological parents, other siblings and extended family. It is an arrangement that has enriched everyone's life immeasurably, Pappy Alberto explained.
Eaks and Senior have been together for seven years; becoming parents definitely changed the couple's social life. They now spend more time with other parents and children through the LGBT family network at Nettlehorst School, where Simon is in Pre-K. They also share their lives with adoptive parentsboth hetero and queerthrough Adoption-Link social programs. Ties with their own web of siblings and cousins have grown stronger, as they build additional family foundations for Simon and Gabriel.
Gail ( 42 ) and Barbara ( 38 ) Vijuk,have been together since 1995 and put together a "five-year plan" in 1998 that included Gail finishing graduate school, travel for the couple, and children. Gabriel, their eldest, arrived in 2003 "a couple of months ahead of schedule," laughed Gail. In 2005 they traveled to Gail's native Canada to get married.
"Part of the adoption decision was definitely about it being a 'sustainable' choice," said Barbara, who took Gail's last name to simplify things for the children. "I don't talk much about thisI am not judging other people. But I grew up in a family that had adoption in it and my mom was a big adoption advocate. I learned the values from her: the world already has a lot of people in it, let's take care of those that we have. Adoption has always, always been part of my life plan."
On May 14, Adoption-Link will hold its annual benefit, "The Reality of Hope." Further information is at www.adoption-link.org .