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Family, Valued

Same-sex marriages have been valid in Ontario since 2003, but not many people know that it had already been legal for a few years to adopt children together as a gay couple. Following a series of court decisions, Paul Farrell and David Smagata became the first same-sex couple in Canada to jointly adopt a child in 2000, via the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. Since then, more than a hundred LGBT Toronto couples have welcomed children into their homes via adoption—a dream that some had grown up believing would never be realized in their lifetimes.

There are three types of adoption, but only two are available to same-sex couples. International adoption is out, since there are currently no countries in the world that will allow a non-resident same-sex couple to jointly adopt. The remaining options are private adoption, where couples apply to a birth mother and she chooses with whom her child is placed, or public adoption, where the available children have become wards of the province and the biological parents have been stripped of their rights to the child. Adopting publicly through one of Toronto’s Children’s Aid Societies is the most popular non-biological method for LGBT couples—and it’s also free.
The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto is the largest of the public agencies, and has placed approximately seventy-five children with same-sex parents since 2001. Jewish Family & Child Service and Native Child and Family Services are much smaller organizations, but will place kids into qualified homes run by LGBT parents (the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but the Vatican is vehemently opposed to same-sex adoption).

Celebrating family diversity in the windows of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.

If you walk by Toronto CAS headquarters on Isabella Street this month, you’ll notice that the agency heavily campaigns in the LGBT community, and they make no bones about it. “We are open to everyone adopting who can meet the needs of our children,” says spokesperson Catherine Snoddon. “This inclusive approach to the idea of family means that people adopting might not necessarily look like the traditional, nuclear family. Children often need different things—sometimes a child may have had a particular challenge attaching to two parents or to a specific gender.”
Benita Friedlander of Jewish Family & Child agrees. “The foremost important issue is a match that would be in the child’s interest.”
Klaudia Meier is one woman who felt she had strikes against her in her quest to adopt a child. “I’ve always wanted to be a parent, and I’ve always envisioned doing it on my own,” Meier told us. “When you adopt as a single parent, they look particularly hard at your background. I don’t have biological family here in Canada, so for the Children’s Aid, I had to explain how I would create a supportive community—my family here.”
And then, this spring, little Luka was placed in Meier’s home. She’s realistic about the possibility of encountering ignorance as her son grows up. “Since I’m single, a lot of people don’t see that I’m a queer parent, but when Luka starts going to day care or school, it might be an issue.”

Klaudia Meier and Luka; Noah and Shana Malinsky.

Though the process to adopt publicly is the same for anyone, black and black-biracial couples tend to have an advantage since those cultures tend not to traditionally adopt and because there are kids in the system waiting for permanent homes right now. An ethnic and cultural match is an important consideration for placement, and some couples find themselves fast-tracked through the process.
Cory Kirkland and his husband added a son to their family in August. “Being a bi-racial couple definitely helped the process,” he notes. “The Toronto CAS were sending us prospective matches like crazy.”
Differing ethnicities is a consideration for the parents as well. Cultural history and tradition is crucial for the development of a child’s identity, just as identification with the LGBT parenting community may be for the parent. “In our case, we’re two white women raising a black child,” explains Shana Malinsky, who is raising a son with her wife, Kathryn. “That freaks people out more than two lesbians raising a child. There’s still a fear out there, but it’s more ignorance than negativity; a lack of understanding.”
When coming to terms with her sexual identity, Malinsky never really considered that same-sex couples would be able to have children. “I got married to my [male] best friend in high school, because that’s what people did—you get married, you have kids, and if you happen to be a lesbian, perhaps even a divorce later on. When I saw that gay marriage looked like it was going to be a reality, I knew that I would be able to have kids together with a partner.”
Despite the fearmongering traditionally employed by opponents of LGBT adoption, current research does not support claims that children do better with both a male and female parent. “The important thing is having the components of being a good parent and/or the willingness to learn,” says Catherine Snoddon, “irrespective of sexual orientation.”

Cory Kirkland and TJ (supplied photo); detail from a mural in progress on Alexander Place, near Maitland Street.

The notion that a child deserves a male and a female parent is a view that makes LGBT parents bristle. Cory Kirkland brings up his own experience. “I grew up mostly under the care of a single mother, and I was always provided for. I had a great childhood.”
When asked about role models for her son, Meier is emphatic: “I have a lot of great men in my life, and he gets what he needs from them.”
“Comments slip out when people don’t think about what they are saying,” adds Kirkland. “People ask, ‘Aren’t you worried he will turn out gay?’ or they say, ‘Every child should have a mother.’ When I mentioned that I planned to adopt some day, I even had a co-worker tell me to my face that she had no problem with gay people, but they should never be allowed to adopt because it harms the child.”
It’s a belief that’s more prevalent south of the border where the rhetoric is more pronounced, yet three decades of solid research doesn’t bear it out. Virtually every current credible study has concluded that the ability to parent is irrelevant to the parent’s sexual orientation, and according to the Williams Institute in California, there are already sixty-five thousand American children living with gay adoptive parents (most are biological children of one of the parents), and 3% of foster children in the U.S. are living with same-sex foster parents [PDF].
The increased visibility of LGBT adoption has not only helped dull the edges of controversy, but it has also helped prospective parents consider public adoption as a viable option. In the last four years, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto has seen a 12% increase in placements to LGBT families.
“We believe that every child deserves a permanent, loving family,” says Snoddon. “When children can’t live with their biological parents for whatever reason, finding a new family through adoption becomes paramount. Generally speaking, we have found Toronto’s LGBT community to be very receptive to our need for families and have often found members from this community prepared to match the needs of our children.”
All photos by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.
Marc Lostracco was adopted through the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton, and has an adopted son via the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.


  • http://undefined Gloria

    Great stuff.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Great article Marc.
    Were you able to get any comment from The Native Child and Family Services? AFAIK, non-natives, and I mean FULL blood (with my half-Saulteaux ancestry I’m not even recognized as an aboriginal) cannot adopt native children.
    Do you happen to know if this has changed?

  • Marc Lostracco

    I have another article coming up at some point on the state of the local adoption system in general (not just focusing on same-sex adoption), so I have some questions in with Native Child for that piece. The process for First Nations adoption is a bit different that the usual public method, although there are many Native kids in the system waiting for homes. It also depends on which agency on Ontario you go to for that—you don’t have to use a Toronto agency, though it’s easier, but then more Native kids might be located at a different Ontario agency.
    Send me questions you’d like to have answered about it, and I’ll be sure to ask them for the next article (they have not been easy to pin down for comment). Generally, non-Native people aren’t able to adopt First Nations children, although exceptions have been made, and I don’t believe you have to be “full-blood” to do it, either. The main concern with First Nations adoption is the preservation and context of culture/history, and Native families also tend to form more extended types of families, so the focus for placing children is toward kin, if possible.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Not sure I’d have any direct questions, I think I’ll wait to see what you produce with the piece, sounds very interesting though!
    As someone that spent an accumulative time of years on reserves I do understand the preservation argument, but don’t agree with it at all. The argument would make me much more satisfied if the majority of aboriginals were committed to this so-called preservation but from my experience such is not the case. Children and raising children are a HUGE part of aboriginal culture amongst all tribes. The simple fact that there is a huge amount of aboriginal children in the system, really speaks to this so-called preservation of culture IMHO.
    I just think adoption should be an equal process all around for everyone. LGBT, black, white, red… It really shouldn’t matter as long as you’re able to provide emotional, financial and paternal support to a child in need.
    It’s pretty crazy to think that only a short time ago, people belonging to the LGBT community were not allowed to adopt based solely on their sexual orientation.

  • http://undefined yokes

    Really wonderful article, Marc.
    (I’m adopted as well)

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    Oops missed this:
    >I don’t believe you have to be “full-blood” to do it, either.
    For myself, I am half aboriginal. My partner is as far away from aboriginal as possible. Apparently, THAT’s a problem. If we were both half aboriginal, we’d have a better chance, still slim from what I understand, but much better.

  • Marc Lostracco

    It’s such a tough issue because there are many Native kids in foster homes right now, but there are complicated bureaucratic issues because of their Native heritage. In my opinion, shutting them off from prospective parents is further marginalizing already-marginalized kids, especially since many of them have special needs (like fetal alcohol effects). There are always exceptions made for children of other ethnicities because it’s proven that it’s more important to get a child in a stable, permanent situation as soon as possible, but, as with other issues, Native status comes with disadvantages incurred at the expense of cultural preservation (which, granted, is important).
    On another note, I was speaking on adoption at an event and a transgendered guy came up to me afterwards and said that he wanted kids but didn’t think he would be allowed because he was transgendered—which isn’t true. A lot of people don’t know very much about adoption, and it gets a really bad rap—public adoption in particular.

  • Marc Lostracco

    You should go to the Adoption Resource Exchange at the Toronto Convention Centre and speak to the agency workers there (many of whom know the available children personally). The event is held in the spring and fall, and you should go to the second day where there aren’t formal presentations, but you can see which kids are available. All the agencies in Ontario are there, and you can get answers from the horse’s mouth on the Native kids that are in the system.
    Though the kids presented at the Adoption Resource Exchange are often the ones who are harder to adopt (because of age, sibling groups, special needs, family-of-origin issues), that’s where I ended up finding my son.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    WOW thanks a lot for that info! :) I had no idea there was such a resource exchange out there.
    My partner and I have often talked about what we’d be willing to do for an adopted child. I think we’d be prepared for a special needs child.
    And kudos to you for opening up your home! I’m sure when you adopted your son it must have been one of the most wonderful days ever! :)

  • Marc Lostracco

    The Adoption Resource Exchange can be pretty bleak, but they also aren’t the only kids in the system. If you are willing to adopt a special needs child, however, they’re available NOW, so if you’re considering it, prepare for the fast-track once you complete your home study and mandatory PRIDE training.
    It should be noted that there are varying levels of special needs, and as a potential adoptive parent, you choose what you can or can’t deal with. And the categorization of “special needs” can be wide-ranging, from something like fetal alcohol effects, abuse, or brain damage to more benign aspects like speech delays, age, or possible indeterminate challenges. Basically, the CAS wouldn’t place a child with a couple that couldn’t support it properly, and you can be very specific with what you’d be willing to take.

  • http://undefined McKingford

    it had already been legal for a few years to adopt children together as a gay couple.
    No thanks to Manchurian candidate, and faux-NDPer – the gutless Bob Rae. Fuck you again, Bob Rae.

  • Cory K

    Yeah I just wanted to add that when we were attending the resource exchange we saw a couple of child at the Native Family Services booth that we applied for and were considered for reason being that they didn’t have Native status. You might want to look into this torontothegreat
    Good luck

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    I just wanted to say that this article has inspired me! I am going to research and attend the resource exchange now.
    Maybe one day I’ll be a proud parent like Marc!
    Marc, have you had any difficulty with the adoption process? What has been your personal experience with the whole thing? Was your son a baby or a bit older?

  • Marc Lostracco

    So great to hear that you’ve been inspired! I think the next Adoption Resource Exchange is in October. As Cory said in response to your column above, the Native Child and Family Services apparently has non-full-status kids as well, so you could very well be a candidate for that.
    Again, I remind you that the ARE is mostly the harder-to-adopt kids and there are loads of sad stories, but the kids are also amazing and their stories will break your heart into a million pieces and you’ll want to take them all home! It should also be noted that costs for the care for special needs children are often covered by the government. And you’ll get a good idea of what you’re willing to take: if you’re considering an HIV+ infant, for example, you obviously have very specific health issues to keep on top of, but these days, these kids can lead pretty normal lives and live until old age.
    As far as my adoption process goes, it was pretty fantastic and simple—although from my parents’ stories of adopting me, I was prepared for all the stuff you do. For example, some people find the home study very intrusive, because they go over all the gory details of your past and current life (drug use, relationship problems, family, your bank account…), but it’s all necessary to properly match a child to you, and, in fact, challenges you’ve been through often make you a better candidate since you may be better equipped to tackle the challenges of parenting!
    My son was not an infant; he was two-and-a-half. He lived in a solid foster home after having a rough start to his life, but he has adjusted to the changes in his life incredibly well and is a ridiculously happy and thriving child. The minor challenges he had when he moved in were totally gone within a few months, and since I have a very solid family support structure, it’s amazing to see what happens when a child is surrounded by love.
    I’d recommend the Canada Adopts web site, including the discussion boards, and you can always get your home study done and take the mandatory PRIDE training course in the meantime (my PRIDE facilitator was Sharon Gollert).
    LGBT parents and parents-to-be can also check out the free parenting groups at the 519 Community Centre, and the LGBTQ Parenting Network run by the Sherbourne Health Centre.

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