When William Sherr and his partner’s teenage son, Jared, was in kindergarten, his classmates just didn’t understand his drawing of his family. With two stick figure daddies and no mommy to be found on the page, the other 5-year-olds were confused.
“I remember my son being very adamant in school that [his siblings] had two dads; they didn’t have a mother,” Sherr, a former kindergarten teacher himself, said. “A lot of kids back then were very confused by that.”
However, times have changed and now his daughter, 7, has a very different experience. Her classmates are unphased that she has two daddies, and that other kids have two mommies, one parent, or a mommy and a daddy.
“It just shows the culture is getting more open and understanding it… it’s interesting to watch the evolution of acceptance of gay families,” he said.
Sherr is a board member on the Family Equality Council, based in Boston, and this is a welcome change for the agency. A voice for LGBT parents who want to expand their families through adoption, the council has gone to federal and state governments to pass adoption laws and to have same-sex relationships be recognized, promote safer school, access to healthcare, equality opportunities in the workplace and much more.
On the federal level, the council is working with 90 other agencies to promote the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would remove laws that ban LGBT adoption.
“Family Equality is our voice,” said Gabriel Blau, executive director. “This is the organization that works to ensure that my family can live with dignity and safety.”
Blau and his husband, Dylan, adopted their 6-year-old son, Elijah, as a newborn in Illinois. Living in New York, they experienced a smooth adoption as both states allow gay couples to adopt.
“It was the best, most incredible, most important moment of our lives,” he said.
Florida, Mississippi and Utah explicitly outlaw gay individuals or couples from adopting, while the rest of the 47 states have different variations differing legal opinions,, according to the Liberty Counsel. Some states allow gay adoption while others allow one person to adopt as a single parent while denying second-parent adoption for gay couples.
Still, for Sherr and his partner, Dr. Estevan Garcia, a pediatrician, adoption didn’t come easily. They adopted Jared while living in Texas under Garcia’s name, but state law wouldn’t allow Sherr to be listed as the a second parent on the birth certificate.
“I was a nanny in a way,” Sherr said. “It was difficult and it was hard for people in Texas to understand that he wasn’t going to be my son.”
It wasn’t until they moved to Washington state that he was legally recognized as his father.
Since then, the two have adopted another boy, Miles, 11, and the “princess” of the family, 7-year-old Bette. Garcia grew up with four adopted siblings, so the two were eager to give other children homes. It was in Washington that they also were convinced to help even more by fostering high-risk children. Altogether, the couple have fostered 20 children, all infants except for a 4-year-old and a second grader.
“There are plenty of kids who need homes,” Sherr said. “We were always very well liked by the foster care system, and so we never really faced any discrimination in that sense.”
Besides working at the legislative level, the Family Equality Council works directly with families. A new initiative has been working with families in the South, particularly Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. At the end of the year, a new, free clinic will be opening in Mississippi to help LGBT families.
Also, the council has partnered with Living in Limbo to create a documentary film, “State or Union,” to chronicle the struggles of lesbian families adopting.
With more states providing some sort of protection or laws in favor of gay adoption than not, the tides are changing for gay families. Culturally the change is evident; take for instance the hit television show “Modern Family” featuring a gay couple with an adopted daughter as a part of the main cast.
Mitchell, a high-strung lawyer, and Cameron, a free-spirited lover of musical theater and sports, adopt a baby from Vietnam and go through the motions of parenthood — searching madly for her missing stuffed rabbit, convincing her the Tooth Fairy didn’t mean to give her 100 dollars, and taking time for a date night.
“It shows a glimpse into life as a gay family, and it kind of shows that we’re all the same,” Sherr said. “There’s funny moments and there’s serious moments and we’re more similar than not.”
Domestically, there are hundreds of thousands of children waiting for someone to adopt them and the more rights gay couples are given, the more homes that can be given to children. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, as of November 2013, over 300 thousand children were in foster care and 100 thousand plus were waiting to be adopted.
“[I hope] the kids in foster care that are sitting there, looking for a forever home, are going to be able to go to a forever home no matter what the family dynamic or make up looks like,” Sherr said.
Visit FamilyEquality.org to learn more about the Family Equality Council