All you need is love: Inclusivity helps foster kids find forever homes

Phoenix residents Scott Bowerman, left, and Wesley Fuller, right, adopted their children, Eli and Hana in 2012. (Submitted photo)

Recognizing National Pride Month goes beyond parades as the LGBTQ+ community is celebrated for fostering and adopting children in need of families.

With a plus added to the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual and queer, denoting inclusion of all those identifying under the queer category, the population is far from what can be defined as “queer,” noted as strange, odd, or traditionally an informal, offensive reference to homosexuals.

Rather, those recently interviewed by Independent Newsmedia agreed that despite looming, negative stigmas about the LGBTQ+ community, the segmented group reinforces the notion of inclusion with a welcoming nature despite gender and/or sexual differences from the general populous.

Many addressed the benefits of the LGBTQ+ community having the opportunity to adopt and foster children who long for a loving, stable environment. In recent years, the number of children needing homes outside of living in their biological parents’ homes has gone down, with the help of the LGBTQ+ community being allowed to foster and adopt through accepting agencies.

Compared to 2015 with approximately 19,000 kids in state remand here in Arizona, the number has reduced to about 14,500, according to Keryn Shipman, who oversees the Arizona’s Children Association’s annual “Dancing for Arizona’s Children.”

The event, which attracts regular attendees and has a waiting list of interested dancers, not only raises awareness for acceptance in same-sex adoptions but raises much-needed funds to support worthwhile efforts of placing children in safe, loving homes.

“Not all agencies that do foster care licensing have the same outlook when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community,” Ms. Shipman said.

She noted the Arizona’s Children Association is one of a few agencies that actively recruits in the LGBTQ+ community and that the agency recognizes the importance of placing children in loving environments regardless of the makeup of the family structure.

“We welcome them with open arms,” said Ms. Shipman, describing some of the individuals who open their “homes and hearts” to the children.

This year, she said the affair, likened to Dancing with the Stars, is planned for Dec. 6 at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. She mentioned Phoenix couple Scott Bowerman, 47, and Wesley Fuller, 33, who adopted a pair of siblings in 2012.

“Wesley Fuller and Scott Bowerman and their kids are part of the dancing lineup,” Ms. Shipman said. “They are a great couple in making a difference.”

The LGBTQ+ community has significantly helped to reduce the number of children awaiting foster homes and adoption. (Submitted photo)

All you need is love

Messrs. Bowerman and Fuller were originally told by an organization they would have difficulty adopting because many families would not choose a gay couple.

“A child needs a loving and safe environment,” Mr. Bowerman said. “So, if one person, or two people of the same sex can provide that, I don’t see what the issue is.”

What began in 2010 as an interest in fostering for Messrs. Bowerman and Fuller led to the adoption of two biological siblings and a forever family in November 2012. For three years, they fought to keep Eli together with his sister Hana — and were successful.

“Our journey was a lot of ups and downs for sure,” Mr. Bowerman told Independent Newsmedia. “Lots of court visits and uncertainties but worth the effort to help out children in need.”

The couple, who initially considered surrogacy when they wanted to start a family, researched other options and decided to adopt although the process was not easy for them.

“We knew there were risks involved, primarily falling in love with a child that could be reunited, but we chose to start the journey because it was apparent that there was such a need,” Mr. Bowerman said. “At the time there were over 12,000 kids in the system.”

As of January, that number has risen to about 14,500, according to the Arizona Department of Child Safety. Back in 2012, the state did not recognize gay marriage. In turn, only one of either Messrs. Bowerman or Fuller could legally adopt their children.

After the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 declared states have no right to limit marriage to one man and one woman, the couple’s marriage was recognized in Arizona, which led them to completing a step-parent adoption to adopt Eli and Hana together.

(File photo)

The legalese love language

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte continues a fight for LGBTQ+ equality within city limits and the bounds of the great state of Arizona.

“Nearly half the states in America have explicit laws protecting citizens from discrimination due to gender identity or sexual orientation. Arizona is not one of those states; therefore, LBGTQ+ people are not protected from employment or housing/public accommodations discrimination,” she said.

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte at the 2018 Experience Scottsdale Annual Report event. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“This makes it more challenging for members of the LGBTQ community to foster or adopt children even though federal rules do protect their rights to adopt. Currently, various faith-based organizations have turned to religious freedom bills to discriminate against LBGTQ+ people who want to adopt.”

She said National Pride Month is essential to elevating Americans’ awareness about the journey of LGBTQ+ citizens, reminding people that the medical and psychiatric communities long ago de-stigmatized homosexuality and that marriage equality is the law of the land.

“National Pride Month also provides families with LBGTQ+ members and advocates of those families with the chance to connect with one another and proudly display their families’ structures and strengths. Inclusivity fuels a healthy society and productive citizens,” she said.

She encouraged the city of Scottsdale to do more to protect its LBGTQ+ citizens and embrace those who wish to foster and adopt, adding that the lack of local protections hurts Scottsdale’s rankings by equality groups.

“Scottsdale scored 65 out of 100 on last year’s Human Rights Campaign Municipality Equality report,” she said, noting the lack of a favorable nondiscrimination policy like that of municipalities such as Flagstaff, Sedona, Tempe, and Tucson, which have protections for its citizens based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

“Scottsdale’s lack of such protections sends an unspoken message that exclusion and discrimination are tolerable and that simply is not acceptable in a city that thrives on revenue generated by tourism, entertainment, and the arts,” Ms. Korte said.

Scott Bowerman, left, and Wesley Fuller, right, with their two adopted children. (Submitted photo)

An open and inclusive society

Child Crisis Arizona CEO Torrie Taj said the organization is known to be inclusive in its foster care program.

“We are teaching people to be open and accepting,” Ms. Taj said. “We want to find a loving home with a parent and/or parents to provide a stable, caring, safe environment for children to grow up in and thrive and have all opportunities that a child should have. And, that includes education and extracurricular activities.”

She said she is proud the agency went through human rights training and received its certification as LGBTQ+ compliant and cognizant of the needs of not only those interested in adopting but of children who identify in the LGBTQ+ population.

“There are also children in the child welfare system in the LGBTQ+ community,” she said, noting the advantages of LGBTQ+ foster parents who can help children going through the same plight.

Katie Hernandez, the adoption and foster care program supervisor at the AzCA, says every child deserves a family no matter who that parent is — as long as they are loving and qualified.

The association does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, leading to about one-third of the adopting parents coming through the organization identifying as a member of the LGBTQ community. The AzCA also works with Equality Arizona and Project Jigsaw, which refers families and couples to the association.

“Gay people look pretty much like everybody else,” said Phoenix resident, George Burson, who participates in a caregiving group focused on supporting those in the LGBTQ+ community taking care of loved ones.

Involved, since the seventies, in what he called the “gay movement” back east, the New York native described the changes that he has witnessed during the years.

Mr. Burson pointed to a common misconception involving LGBTQ+ people adopting children and that many myths are dispelled when someone knows people from that community.

“It’s not like we can turn somebody into being gay or not gay,” Mr. Burson said.

Nate Rhoton, executive director of one.n.ten, stressed the importance of LGBTQ+ children being placed in a home that is LGBTQ+ competent. Adopting and fostering sends a message of acceptance, he said.

“People have to understand the different needs for our population versus the general public,” Mr. Rhoton said, noting medical needs of trans youth.

He said a LGBTQ+ youth group meets 7-8:30 p.m., Wednesdays, at a satellite location in Scottsdale at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus to discuss needs of many youths in the foster care system.

By the numbers

Experts believe there are millions of children in foster care meanwhile misconceptions surrounding the LGBTQ+ community slows the process of putting at-risk children in loving homes.

“We can really make an impact on kids who do not have permanent families,” said Yvette Jackson, assistant executive director of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Arizona.

With approximately 100 million children in foster care waiting to be adopted in the U.S., there is an estimated 2 million LGBTQ+ individuals interested in adoption, Ms. Jackson said.

She said there are so many from the LGBTQ+ community interested in fostering children that if given the opportunity, there would be no need to fill the void of children lacking for families.

Devereux Arizona is among the two organizations in the state to be considered “one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly agencies,” and to have received the Human Rights Campaign All Children All Families Seal of Recognition since 2012.

“We were the first agency in Arizona to accomplish this,” Ms. Jackson said. “We have been committed to serving LGBTQ+ families and youth.”

Notably, the last Sunday in June is recognized as Gay Pride Day. President Bill Clinton named June “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month” on June 2, 2000. June was chosen for LGBT Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which happened at the end of June 1969.

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