This week’s Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family” series installment features two women who have created a national network for women of color and are inspiring further connections and community by sharing their story of adopting through the foster care system.
Long before Mignon R. Moore, 43, and Elaine Harley, 44, of Los Angeles considered raising a child, they focused their sights on building another type of family of choice by creating community networks for women of color first in New York and then in California. From their New York home 11 years ago, Mignon and Elaine launched "Persuasion," a social network for “women of color of every persuasion.” Once they moved west, they established "Chocolate & Wine Upscale Events for Women," a large and growing social group for lesbian, bisexual and same-gender-loving (SGL) women. The communities they have created have helped them forge friendships with women across the nation.
As a university professor and the author of Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships and Motherhood Among Black Women, Mignon has studied the unique factors influencing family-building among African American SGL women. Key among them is the fact that black LGBT individuals are less likely than other populations to cut ties with their families and religious communities when they encounter homophobia or outright rejection.
“I think that African American LGBT people work to retain ties with their racial and ethnic communities,” said Mignon. “Though many have found acceptance, some have faced resistance. But when there are issues they disagree with, they try to stick it out and work things through. The racial community acts as a buffer from the racism in society and because of that they are willing to negotiate, argue about and push through disagreements about their sexual orientation. That connection remains critical to their sense of self.”
Fortunately for Mignon and Elaine, their own families have been nothing but supportive. The couple, who have been together since 2002, were legally married in New York in 2012. The legal ceremony was followed by a wedding ceremony on the beaches of Los Cabos, Mexico.
The loving support of their families was much appreciated through the ups and downs of trying to create a family. They had already been involved in raising Elaine’s son from a previous relationship. Now that he was in college, the women looked forward to raising an infant together. After Mignon had tried various assisted reproductive technologies, they still wanted to grow their family with “babies that we could call our own.”
“We had some friends who became parents through foster-adoption,” said Elaine, a graphic designer who specializes in web design and branding. “Mignon’s own parents adopted children through the foster care system as well, so we had models for successful outcomes that we could draw upon. We did not want to spend thousands of dollars for private adoption when there were children who needed permanent and loving homes who were available in the public care system.”
Working with Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency (SCFFAA), Mignon and Elaine began the process of training and certifying to become foster-adopt parents. Although they were delighted when the first baby was placed with them, they were devastated when distant relatives came forward and were approved to raise the infant. Nevertheless, they got through it together and prepared themselves to be matched with a child who had no other relatives to care for it.
Baby Joi, now 14 months, was placed with them in March 2013 and her biological brother Ryan, now five months, joined the family in January. Mignon and Elaine look forward to making them a permanent part of the Moore-Harley family when their adoptions are finalized this year.
Since becoming foster parents, they have discovered through their social networks the high numbers of African American and Latino LGBT parents who foster to adopt. Those numbers echo findings by The Williams Institute, which has shown that African American lesbians and gay men are more likely to be raising children than their Caucasian counterparts.
Despite the disappointment of the first placement ending, Mignon said the couple has experienced more highs than lows and says the foster-adoption process has been “relatively smooth for us.”
“We have had positive experiences with state agencies,” she said. “Social workers, child advocates and others who work in the child welfare system have learned that sexual orientation is not a determining factor in a family’s ability to provide a loving home for a child or sibling group.”
Mignon praised the services of RaiseAChild.US and its Parent Advocate program, which provides free personalized support to prospective parents through phone calls and emails as they explore the option of fostering and adopting, choosing an agency to work with and moving through the steps of orientation, training, certification and placement.
“There are many LGBT people who have fostered and adopted, and we just didn’t know about it before we started the process,” Mignon said, “but problems can arise when you do not have an LGBT-positive agency like RaiseAChild.US to help. RaiseAChild.US’s Parent Advocate Jason Cook understands that you‘re trying to form your ‘forever family’ so he provides personal assistance to help navigate the bureaucracy. We have referred many families from different areas across the country to RaiseAChild.US and they have been able to talk with Jason and find help.”
Both Joi and Ryan were born before their due dates and faced challenges at birth. Mignon and Elaine are proud of how the babies have flourished while in their care. They take every opportunity to share the joy that their children have brought to them. Mignon currently serves on RaiseAChild.US’s Honorary Advisory Council where she sees opportunities to make a difference for children in foster care.
“We would like other families to know that it is possible to find a child or children to love and raise through the foster care system,” said Mignon. “There are beautiful, kind, wonderful little souls just waiting for the right adult to nurture them and help them reach their full potential as human beings. They are counting on you to come and find them!”
“We also want families to know that the road can be difficult at times, but well worth the hard work,” added Elaine.
“Call Me Mom,” a free brunch event hosted by RaiseAChild.US at Andaz West Hollywood hotel on May 3, will provide information to all women interested in becoming parents through fostering and adoption. The presentation will feature a welcome from a Los Angeles sheriff who is also an adoptive mom through the foster care system, a parent panel and Q&A and an opportunity to meet participating partner agencies. For more information or to RSVP visit www.RaiseAChild.US.
Corinne Lightweaver is the Special Projects Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. RaiseAChild.US works with foster and adoption agencies that have received training in LGBT cultural competence through the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “All Children-All Families” initiative. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,000 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”