Tips for Gay and Lesbian Parents:
Adopting Across Racial Lines

by Katharine Swan

If you and your partner are considering adoption as a way of becoming parents, don’t forget to discuss the issue of race. Interracial adoption, also known as trans-racial adoption, is when parents adopt a child of a different race and/or culture. Because of a variety of factors, including a rising awareness of the number of ethnic children who need homes, trans-racial adoption is on the rise – particularly in gay and lesbian communities, where adoption is more common. However, adopting inter-racially often introduces unique issues that don’t apply in same-race adoptions.

Bi-Racial Adoption

Inter-racial Adoption: A Common Phenomenon in the GLBT Community

Trans-racial adoption has become increasingly more common over the last sixty years. As more gay and lesbian partners become parents, interracial adoption is also becoming an important dynamic in LGBT communities. Reasons for the rising number of trans-racial adoptions include:

  • Reduced expenses – Because ethnic children are difficult to place, adoption agencies classify them as “special needs,” a label that qualifies the adopting parents for government subsidies. In addition, parents opting for the less expensive method of adopting through state-run agencies are asked to choose from the pool of kids in foster care awaiting adoption, the majority of whom are ethnic.
  • Younger children – It can be very difficult to adopt an infant domestically in the United States. Therefore, many adoptive parents turn to international adoption as their best chance for getting a child under two years of age.
  • Easier to qualify – Many parents find it is easier to qualify for an interracial adoption, particularly when they go through the state agency. Private agencies, many of which specialize in matching up adoptive parents with same-race birth mothers, often have a lower maximum age and a higher minimum income requirement. By the same token, gay and lesbian couples may find that state agencies are more willing to place children with them: There are simply too many children in the state foster care system to turn away good adoptive parents.
  • Shorter waits – A shortage of Caucasian babies, combined with a surplus of ethnic children awaiting adoption, means that couples open to interracial adoption experience shorter waits. While most agencies advise their parents that adoption can take as long as 18 to 24 months, couples who indicate they are open to children of any race often get through the system in under a year.
  • Rising awareness – As society becomes more aware of the need for homes for ethnic children, more parents are choosing to adopt inter-racially out of a desire to provide for needy children.

Is Trans-racial Adoption Right for You and Your Partner?

Deciding whether you should adopt inter-racially is a big decision, and not one that should be taken lightly. You and your partner need to discuss in depth the various issues and challenges you will encounter as parents of a trans-racially adopted child.

Questions to consider before committing to an inter-racial adoption include:

  • What prejudices or stereotypes do we hold? This question takes a lot of introspection and honesty with yourself and your partner. If you are not comfortable opening your lives up to other cultures and interacting with people of other races, you are probably not cut out for raising a child from another culture or race.
  • How will we help our child to combat racism? One of the main arguments against trans-racial adoption is that the parents will be unable to adequately prepare their child to combat racism. One might argue that gays and lesbians are no strangers to prejudice and discrimination, and are therefore equipped to help their children deal with racism; however, you will still need to have an understanding of, and feel comfortable dealing with, the unique issues that arise in race-based discrimination.
  • How will we promote cultural and racial diversity in our child’s life? It is important for children who come from a mixed-race family to encounter the same type of integration in their daily lives. At the same time, parents of inter-racially adopted children need to teach their child about his or her native culture. Some ways to expose your child to acceptance and diversity are explored in the next section.

Practices for Healthy Interracial GLBT Families

Any adoptive parent’s goal is to raise your child just as well as – or maybe even better than – a biological parent would have. As the parent of a child of a different race, this goal takes on a different meaning: You also have to make sure your child gets the same exposure to race and culture as they would have if raised by their biological parents. The best way to do this is to immerse your child in all cultures, with a special emphasis on his or her native culture.

  • Live in diverse neighborhoods. One of the best ways to make racial diversity a part of your child’s life is to be a part of a diverse community. Simply being a part of the LGBT community is not enough – your child needs to also encounter racial diversity on a daily basis.
  • Frequently interact with people of different races and cultures. Part of living in an integrated community is also interacting with people of different races and cultures. Whether at the grocery store or at school, on the playground or at home, the more your child encounters people of different races, the less self-conscious he or she will feel about having an integrated family.
  • Find same-race adults to act as a role model for your child. Your child is bound to have some experiences that only someone of the same race will truly understand. Find same-race mentors for your child who are willing to listen, give advice, and act as a role model when you can’t.
  • Bring your child’s native culture into your home. Try to include your child’s native culture in his or her home life by cooking and eating traditional foods, reading traditional stories, and singing traditional songs.
  • Immerse your child in his or her native culture whenever possible. Cultural events allow your child to learn about his or her native culture and interact with people of the same race. Trips to your child’s native country provide the same experience on a much larger scale.
  • Combat racism in society. From asking friends not to make racist jokes in your presence to advocating non-biased books and toys at your child’s school, there are many ways you can combat racism in your community. Not only does this help to dispel stereotypes and raise awareness, but your child will also grow up secure in the knowledge that you support him or her wholeheartedly.
  • Acknowledge that you can’t be a perfect parent. No parent is perfect, but it’s even more difficult to attain perfection when parenting a child who is a different race than you are. Rather than trying to be everything for your child, admit to your weaknesses and try to find ways to fill in the gaps in his or her cultural upbringing.

Raising an Inter-racially Adopted Child in a GLBT Home

While you can’t change your skin color and your cultural experiences in order to be a better parent, there are many ways to give an inter-racially adopted child a well-rounded upbringing – if you are willing to put in the time and effort. The rising number of transracial adoptions makes it especially important for gay and lesbian parents to consider the potential impact on their lives before trying to adopt.

The good news is that if you are reading this article, you are probably already aware of the issue: Most adoptive parents who decide to adopt inter-racially are by nature sensitive to the special needs of a trans-racial adoption. Just as gay and lesbian parents can successfully raise happy, healthy straight children, so too can trans-racial adoptions produce happy, healthy, and well-adapted children.


Considering Interracial Adoption

14 Ways to Focus on Culture

Caring for Your African American or Biracial Child’s Hair

Transracial Adoption: The Pros and Cons and the Parents’ Perspective

Transracial and Transcultural Adoption

Raising a Child of Another Race

Interracial Adoption: One Couple’s Story

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