Adoptee Rights 101: Class Bastard and how to recognize a genuine adoptee rights bill
Yes, my blog has been quiet here for a bit, for a number of reasons, some of which I hope to write to a bit later on. In the mean time, I’ve obviously got a massive backlog of things to write, some of which I will get to, others, I may not.
That said, watching much of what has been going on in adoptionland as of late, particularly after the disastrous passage of the Illinois bill, over and over again falsely portrayed as “Adoptee rights legislation,” it’s become increasingly clear that many people, particularly those new to the field (though even more sadly, some of those who are not) are unable to tell the difference between a genuine piece of adoption rights restoration based legislation and damaging or co-optive fake adoptee related legislation.
So I’m going to pull out to sort of the big picture basics here for a moment.
A short note on terminology.
I’m writing from an adoptee perspective in this, primarily to other adopted people and specifically those interested in the field of adoptee rights. Which is somewhat distinct from search and reunion in that rights based work comes down to a class of people’s relationship to the state and the law.
Obviously though, Families of so called “origin” are also affected in that they too are barred access to their child’s original birth certificate (OBC) as well as frequently other forms of documents pertaining to themselves, such as their personal health records from their birthing hospital stays, in ways that non-adopted children’s parents are not.
In the below I’m going to attempt to make some space for that reality by using terminology like “the full class of people denied access.”
Hopefully all readers will understand my goal of inclusivity, even as I focus a bit.
Going further than many, I would actually prefer to see full equity restored to all, including our families and that the state end the practice of records falsification and confiscation altogether, but again, that’s another post for another day.
As no state has done that to date, I can offer no existing examples thereof.
There is at least one state that demands documented Adoptee consent prior to contact for Parents, which I find repugnant; every bit as repugnant as Mothers or Fathers being asked to provide documented consent prior to contact for their children. Both are a fundamental subversion of the constitutional right to free association.
The below deals narrowly with adopted people as a class in the United States as well as our inequitable relationship to the state, and what recourse has been sought, and achieved or settled for to date.
A snapshot of the current landscape, where activist demands must be directed, and criteria for those seeking to correct the injustices.
First, let’s talk about what genuine adoptee rights based legislation in relation to OBC access must ultimately look like, and what it aims to do.
By way of a starting point, I wrote a very simple post portraying the basic lack of equality adopted people face back in 2007, The “joke’s” on us- Bastard access to our own records.
In the broadest possible sense, real adoptee rights bills, ballot measures, or even legal cases must have as their ultimate aim enshrining within law as close an approximation of equal status to adopted people as non-adopted people enjoy.
We seek equality.
This demand has inherent to it, an acknowledgement that the current status of adopted people under law in relation to OBC access, in all but the few states we have worked to pry open, and the two states, Alaska and Kansas that never sealed records, is NOT EQUAL to that of non-adopted people.
Non-adopted people pay a state mandated fee and receive a copy of a state held authentic record of an actual historical event, their birth certificates.
Adopted people as a class of people born in a particular state, in all but Kansas and Alaska, and now Oregon, New Hampshire, Alabama, and Maine are denied theirs. They pay the same fee, yet receive a state tampered with or amended birth certificate, some of which posit physical impossibilities, with key pieces of information removed, tampered with, or replaced with alternates. In short, adoptees are given a state sanctioned lie.
There are other states with conditional access, or partial access that amount to OBCs for a lucky few, with all others left behind.
In these conditional access states the class of adopted people born in the state is subdivided yet further. We receive not merely unequal treatment to our non-adopteed peers, we additionally endure inequitable treatment in relation to even other adoptees from the same state.
As our treatment under law is different to non-adopted people, we seek to remedy that through what avenues are open to us. In order to do so, we must first recognize to whom our grievance must be directed.
Our issue is at its core, not an interpersonal matter, such as in adoption reunion, but a matter between those barred access and the STATE. Thus it is from the state itself we must seek redress.
When the State in turn offers adopted people anything less than full equality to their non-adopted peers in relation to access to their state held documents, it deflects attention from the core issue, equality. In offering its various substitutes for full equality, the state seeks to maintain power and control.
It is the role of genuine adoptee rights activists then, to name but a few,
- to understand their status as part of a broader class of people (see below) refusing to leave others behind
- to maintain clear and single minded focus on the genuine goal, that of equity, and educate others along the way
- reject offered substitutions, distractions, or attempts to divide and conquer that maintain state control and deflect from the goal of equality
- clearly identify who genuinely holds power and what their conflicts of interest are
- and settle for nothing less than full equality for all those denied access in an inequitable manner.
To clarify that first point, core to the function of genuine adoptee rights activists is to understand the reality of how unequal treatment under law affects a classes of people.
This is not merely some personal or individual problem for which they seek merely some form of personal solution, but rather each of us are situated within a broader class of people who receive unequal treatment under law and thus any attempt to correct that wrong, must be applied across the full class of people denied access.
This adoptee rights work is grounded within a broader framework, internationally, of human rights, identity rights, and civil rights.
Genuine adoptee rights activists are not asking mere state granted privileges, which states can give or take at whim. but demand equal treatment under law.
Inherent to that is the concept that sealed records and state falsified records were a harm perpetrated against classes of people, and that this injustice of inequitable treatment under law must be rectified.
Examples of genuine adoptee rights efforts
Oregon’s Measure 58 was the first genuine and successful restoration of full access for all a state’s adopted people to their Original Birth Certificates.
I’d ask readers please explore the Measure 58 Timeline as an archival reource for more detail as I am only going to briefly touch on an overview here.
It began as a statewide ballot measure. Voters had a straightforward yes or no decision.
A “Yes” vote would restore access, a “No” would maintain the sealed records system.
The complete text of the proposed law was as follows:
Upon receipt of a written application to the State Registrar, any adopted person 21 years of age and older born in the state of Oregon shall be issued a certified copy of his/her unaltered, original, and unamended certificate of birth in the custody of the state registrar, with procedures, filing fees, and waiting periods identical to those imposed upon non-adopted citizens of the State of Oregon pursuant to ORS 432.120 and 432.146. Contains no exceptions.
Voters approved the measure in November 1998 by a 57% “yes” vote.
Before it could go into effect, it went through several court challenges.
In July of 1999 the Governor added an amendment to Measure 58, a so called voluntary “Contact Preference Form” that had no force of law behind it. (* see Ron’s comment below)
July 12, 1999
Governor Kitzhaber signed into law today HB 3194, an amendment to Measure 58 to provide for a voluntary “Contact Preference Form” to be attached to the original birth certicate.
The bill leaves untouched the rights of adoptees and respects the spirit of Measure 58 while alleviating concerns about its “fairness”. It is unamimously supported by supporters as well as opponents of Measure 58.
While the amendment has no legal affect on actual access, I, personally have never been happy with the precedent it set and how what is voluntary today could in other states or at other times be changed. (See my piece Maine restores rights, records access, but once again, adds an odious “contact preference” form for further discussion of the issues raised by such.)
It is also deeply concerning in that it was added later, not inherent to the way the bill was crafted, and not voted upon by the voters of Oregon, yet today, many people confuse such and assume it was inherent to what the voters passed when Adoptee Rights activists and Oregon voters had no say in the matter.
Despite a long slow wind through the courts as attempt after attempt to to stop or at least stall it from going into effect , the effort to regain our rights thankfully would not die.
Tragically, however, while waiting for it to go into effect, Curtis Endicott, an Oregon born adoptee rights activist did.
September 13, 1999
Adoptee Rights Spokesman Dies Waiting for Measure to Take Effect. Curtis Endicott died of a lifelong, undiagnosed lung ailment on Saturday, September 11th at age 51, while waiting for Oregon’s successful Adoptee Rights Initiative (Measure 58) to take effect.
Stalling tactics by our opposition can have very personal consequences, and must be understood for what they are, a fundamental interference with the human rights of adopted people and our families.
In May 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court denied the opponents appeal and Measure 58 was finally allowed to go into effect Tuesday May 30 at 5:01pm, restoring full OBC access to Oregon’s adult adoptees.
Despite the earlier gutted attempt in Tennessee that resulted in it becoming a conditional access state with vetoes (which were offered up by those seeking access themselves, i.e. the first vetoes came not from industry, but from so called “activists” ) Oregon was the first full access for all adult adoptees state that had restored access after having gone through a sealed period.
Adopted people AND their families (see the full page ad in the Oregonian and the release, “Raped Birthmothers Voice Strong Support for Oregon’s Adoptee Rights Measure” as but two very tangible examples) worked together to support Measure 58.
In the aftermath of Oregon, through the efforts of activists and our families, three other states have been pried open:
- Alabama in 2000 (which has a non-binding contact preference form)
- New Hampshire in 2007 (which has a non-binding contact preference form)
- Maine in 2009 (which has a non-binding contact preference form)
It’s important to note that in Maine in particular, there had been earlier attempts at a bill, but when it ceased to be a pure open records bill, the toxic contaminated version was fought down, clearing the way for a real bill to go forward.
It was only by first fighting back a conditional access bill that full access was later achieved.
Adoptee Rights activists who held out for a genuine full access bill took real heat from those who wanted to grab what little they could get in that earlier attempt, but history has shown repeatedly, once a bad bill goes through no one has ever successfully come back to add more access for others later on.
It’s also important to note that after Oregon, once that nonbinding voluntary “contact preference form” had been added to the bill as an amendment by the Governor, every state going forward that has fully opened records has included it as if such were simply normative at this point.
Oregon’s form makes reference to both preferring contact through an intermediary and information filing with the state’s voluntary registry, and voluntarily adding an updated medical history. While such are all voluntary today, they lay groundwork for mechanisms that may not be so voluntary at some future date.
Fake adoptee rights bills and efforts and conditional access states
Some of the many hallmarks of fake adoptee rights efforts often come down to how they treat adopted people as a class.
- If an effort is poised to leave some behind, it’s a fake.
- If it grants some access but what little access it grants comes at the direct expense of access for others, it’s a fake.
- If it focuses on interpersonal relationships rather than the relationship of adopted people as a class to the state, it’s a fake.
- If it doesn’t result in equitable treatment under law for both adopted people to non-adopted people AND for adopted people to one another, it’s a fake.
In many ways, looking any any given piece of legislation, one should evaluate it through the eyes of does this restore equality for adopted people or does it do further harm to (even a subset of) adopted people?
Or to put it far more plainly, would supporting this screw other Bastards out of their human rights?
Let’s spell out some of those substitutions, distractions, and attempts to divide and conquer, naming some of the common tactics of those who surrender grounding adoptee rights in a human/identity/civil rights perspective and instead fall prey to the siren call of conditional access measures:
- efforts grounded in the quest for interpersonal search and reunion
- efforts that utilize a need for family medical histories as a key component
- efforts that insitutionalize reciprocity (you give the state X and in return you get some access, beyond normal fees non-adopted people are also subject to)
- efforts that encompass interpersonal vetoes (access or contact)
- efforts that rely upon or build new state mediated registries
- efforts that create or support confidential intermediaries, doubly so commercialized or out outsourced to third parties CI systems
- efforts that place religious institutions or figures in positions of power over our access or contact
- efforts that reduce adoptee rights down to mere state granted privileges
- efforts wherein the state would grant partial access to a select few, but at the direct expense of others
- efforts that are prospective only (i.e. from this date forward, everyone that came before is screwed)
- efforts that support access and lack of access assigned merely based upon arbitrarily set dates
- efforts that toss some number of adopted people into essentially black holes, with little to no hope of ever gaining access
- efforts that rely upon court orders to open records
- efforts that conflate “voluntary” with “mandatory”
- efforts that would move requirements from the voluntary column to the mandatory column
- efforts that intentionally leave others in the broader adopted class behind
- efforts that would result in redacted portions of people’s birth certificates (i.e. “white out” bills)
- efforts that reinforce or institutionalize our inequality
- efforts that create new state granted privileges over our lives to others
- efforts that trade away human rights for partial access
- efforts that would bar access for a set number of years (99 years in one such instance)
- efforts rooted not in biological reality, but matching purely based upon any number of “this must be it!” notions
- efforts that create in effect, without cause other than their membership in a class of people, preemptive restraining orders on those attempting to exercise their constitutionally protected right to free association
- efforts that criminalize or create civil penalties for the possession of classes of information
Obviously, there are many more, but that’s a starting point.
(For more generalized readings pertaining to so called “compromise” legislation, see “Expendables”- the human toll of legislation that “compromises” us away or 73 adoptee’s Compromising On Adoptee Access? The Foot You Shoot May Be Your Own and my extended comment on it as some basic starting points.)
I could, and often have, written in great detail about these, but let me pull out just three examples to expound upon here.
These are aspects that for non-adopted people, the state does not intervene in.
When non-adopted people need aspects of their family medical history for example, they do not go to a state registry to gain information that was essentially extorted from their family members.
When non-adopted people want to make contact with long lost family members, they are not state mandated to go through intermediaries, or pay for the “privilege,” nor submit their personal information to state controlled registries. Nor are they prohibited from making contact merely for being who they are, or growing up how they did.
As our goal is equal treatment under law, adopted people should not support measures that interjects state involvement into these personal matters, rather we should be demanding, the state restore to us the information it confiscated, and allow us to go about our lives unimpeded just as any other non-adopted individual would.
Efforts that focus upon interpersonal matters such as search and reunion or medical information do not result in equitable treatment to non-adopted people.
What they do result in, when such is focused upon in testimony or campaigns is the state attempting to provide mechanisms to “find you your mommy” or “get you some medical information.” Out of such have come state mandated reunion registries, confidential intermediary systems, family medical history registries etc.
Such structures do only further damage and do not result in equity.
The state has used medical history programs to essentially extort personal medical histories out of mothers collecting it and adding it registries, essentially creating an adoption based likely violation HIPAA, and extorting women to either hand over their personal medical histories or face no means by which to gain any hope of ever seeing their child again.
(For more on my objections to the use of the demand for personal medical histories see New Jersey- let A752 die: the conflation of family medical history with authentic restored access, white outs, and preemptive restraining orders among other nightmare senarios)
The creation of state mediated structures
A number of states have created mandatory registries and Confidential Intermediary programs (CI systems) granting power to often outsourced intermediaries over the most intimate aspects of one’s family life.
In some states, Confidential Intermediaries have been granted what amounts to a personal veto power over reunification, serving to keep apart the very people they are allegedly there to serve.
Often CI’s ultimately serve their own interests (financial or otherwise, for example the interests of the religious institution the CI may work for) or the state itself rather than that of the individuals’ cases they process.
(See my posts and others’ brilliant posts linked from within these posts as but two of many examples, Legislation- IL HB 4623 and IL’s Kafka-esque Confidential Intermediary Hell or Catholic Charities offers up another lifetime’s worth of lies and false “reunion”)
Arbitrarily set dates as dictating access of lack thereof
Other conditional access schemes such as prospective legislation (”from this point onward”) or multi-tiered access based upon an arbitrarily agreed upon set of dates are also unacceptable to any genuine adoptee rights activist.
I’ve written extensively about, as but one example, Ohio’s black hole years (which is the group I was cast into) as part of its tri-tiered substitution bill for anything resembling actual adoptee rights.
(See my post Bastard Access- either we all go together or we don’t go at all- “Nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten.” and Activism- Ohio HB as but two of many examples.)
The key point to remember when looking at any conditional access measure is this, once a state passes a bill it’s over for the foreseeable future. You only get that one shot to get it right.
No state that has passed conditional access legislation has ever “come back to clean it up later”or increased access further to more adoptees at a later date.
That’s why it was critically important in Maine to hold out for a clean bill.
States like Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, etc. have all had conditional access measures inflicted upon them and have never gone beyond the strictures placed upon them in those bad bills to open access further.
States that create the new found state granted privilege of vetoes are particularly heinous as going forward, even should a state open at some later date, they are now permanently saddled with the vetoed class. These are adoptees barred from gaining their own birth certificates unless and until the veto is removed or found unconstitutional.
Vetoes deserve their own short note in light of recent developments.
“Contact Preference” linguistic creep/evolution into a full on Access Veto
Vetoes have served to be a powerful weapon against adopted people and our rights.
Which may be why this past legislative session in South Dakota, an otherwise clean bill (that had come up to the very brink of passing the year before) got a veto slapped on it in committee by an opponent of the bill.
The South Dakota situation is particularly noteworthy as he didn’t call it the veto amendment that it was. It was insidiously mis-labled a “contact preference form.”
Far from Oregon’s contact preference form without the force of law behind it, South Dakota’s nasty little amendment would have had the force of law to prohibit access to one’s OBC. (Thus it had the actual effect of a veto, never mind what pretty language the author of it wrapped it up in.)
Moral of the story?
It is vital to look at the actual EFFECT the proposed legislation would have rather than assuming that the words you read will have the effect you are familiar with and assume it will have.
In summary, those genuinely concerned with the current status of adoptee rights need to understand the differences between a genuine adoptee rights effort and a fake one.
Embracing the key concept of adopted people making up a (widely diverse!) class, rather than merely a set of individualized interpersonal and psychological needs can provide an important criteria for assessing any given tactic or campaign.
They need to learn how to read legislation not only in terms of understanding its implications for those in class Bastard, but ultimately also for our families and their rights, such as the ability to protect one’s genuine privacy in relation to medical records, something the state is demanding of mothers more and more, and for what the actual effects of said legislation will be, regardless of the terminology that is being utilized.
They need to understand that language can and will be intentionally co-opted, and that many measures calling themselves or more broadly portrayed as “adoptee rights legislation” are all to often nothing more than mere conditional access statutes being put forward in an effort to placate us, and divert us from the genuine goal of restored equality.
Such efforts to thwart our equality are simultaneously pro-active measures intended to maintain control and power.
Those who hold power over others rarely cede it willingly.
Those who advocate for adoptee rights would do well to also note a key difference between the real and the fake, genuine restoration of rights legislation can often be accomplished with minimal verbiage; you get the real thing, just like the non-adopted, no exceptions.
Legislative abominations like Illinois HB 5428 on the other go on for 80 pages, and build or butress many structures that non-adopted people are never subjected to.
Working towards the authentic restoration of adoptees’ rights requires both empathy and compassion, a willingness to take the time to understand what leaving someone behind means to those directly affected, yet that empathy and desire to see access restored must also be chained to a willingness to hold the line.
Anything less that full access restoration for all means the artificial creation of yet more people who are intentionally locked out and barred access.
All the more ironically, those who advocate such half assed measures rarely understand even the precarious position they place themselves in by doing so, for there remains the possibility that they themselves could be the ones to find themselves vetoed, or black holed, trapped forever on a passive registry with no staff or funding to ever change such, or have their access to their own relatives cut off by a state appointed intermediary.
The only way to ensure all gain full access is to work to ensure all gain full access.
There are no shortcuts, no work arounds, no “we’ll get to your rights later”s. All are the hallmarks of failure.
Far too many so called “activists” measure adoptee rights in terms of every individual who gains access becomes a victory, even if those pyrrhic so called “victories” come at the direct expense of the human rights of the Bastard next to them. This is short sighted selfishness, not anything that could be considered political activism.
It’s long past time we recalibrate our measure of what “victory” genuinely means to the victory is not won until all have their full human rights restored.
Speaking as one of those who was shoved down a black hole, it matters.