This National Adoption Month, meet Rosemary Caldwell Llewellyn! Rosemary and her twin brother Robbie were adopted from Peru at six months old. Their adoption was the first second-parent adoption by a gay male couple in the city of Los Angeles. Now a professional social worker, Rosemary reflects on her experiences growing up in a trans-racial adoptive family, her identity, and how her parents supported her through the years.
Meet the Guest:
Rosemary Caldwell Llewellyn is the adopted daughter of two loving fathers. She was born in Lima, Peru with her twin brother, Robbie. Together, at six weeks of age, they were adopted and flown to the United States. Rosemary’s adoption was the first second parent adoption by a gay male couple in the city of Los Angeles.
Rosemary is a proud social worker. She currently serves as the Program Director of the LOFT at Silverado Beverly Place, a memory care community in the heart of Los Angeles. She is passionate about making the world a better place for LGBT families everywhere and has served on the Board of Directors of Family Equality Council for over 3 years.
As part of its commitment to family inclusivity, JOHNSON’S® is proud to stand by Family Equality Council’s National Adoption Month campaign in support of happy, healthy babies and all the families that love them.
Emily M.: Welcome to Outspoken Voices, a podcast by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer parents, people with LGBTQ parents, future parents, and everyone else who is part of our family journeys. I'm your host, Emily McGranachan, and I am the Director of Family Engagement with Family Equality Council. November is National Adoption Month. So today my guest is Rosie Caldwell Llewellyn. Rosie is the adopted daughter of two loving fathers. She was born in Lima, Peru with her twin brother, Robbie together at six weeks of age they were adopted and flown to the United States. Rosie's adoption was the first second parent adoption by a gay male couple in the city of Los Angeles. Today, Rosie is a proud social worker. She currently serves as the program director of the loft at Silverado Beverly Place, a memory care community in the heart of LA. She is passionate about making the world a better place for LGBTQ families everywhere and has served on the board of directors of Family Equality Council for a little over three years now. Now Rosie and I, we actually go back many years and we first met at Family Week in Provincetown and that was the first Family Week I ever attended, way back in 2003. So welcome Rosie.
Emily M.: I know we already covered this a little bit in my introduction of you, but I ask all of the guests to start us off with, who is in your family and how was it formed?
Rosie C-L.: As you mentioned, I was adopted from Lima, Peru when I was six weeks old. My family is comprised of myself, my twin brother, Robbie and my two fathers, Rich and Chris. Both my dads are white. One of my father's is Irish and the other is Cajun. And my brother and I are both Hispanic. I'm from Peru. Yeah, that's my family.
Emily M.: When talking with fellow people who have LGBTQ parents, there often are formative moments when we have some sort of realization that our family is special or unique or treated differently than other families. Do you have any formative memories of, of understanding or realizing that either you were in a LGBTQ family and that your family was multiracial?
Rosie C-L.: Thinking about multiracial. One thing I just thinking about that comes to my mind is cultural day. So we had elementary school cultural day where students are expected to bring food or wear clothing from their heritage, their culture. And I was always questioning well, do I bring Peruvian food, do I bring Irish food or Cajun food? There were times when I decided to bring the traditional Irish dish or soda bread or something like that, and another student in the class brought a similar dish. And they just sort of questioned me, well, are you really Irish? You don't look Irish. My parents are very white and I am very Hispanic, so I don't look like a typical Irish person. So I get where that would come from. But there was always just a moment where I was like, well, what do I bring? It kind of underscored the multi-culti aspect of my family and my family makeup. I think it was in part my understanding of what my culture was and then not really embracing it at home anyways.
Emily M.: I know I certainly did where people would give me confused looks or questioned me when I would try to just explain that I had two moms. Did you also experience much push back from peers or other adults? Maybe even when you would say that you had two dads or was LA maybe a place that got it on a different level than where I was in Massachusetts?
Rosie C-L.: Well, in elementary school I'll say that I was very open. I'd have play dates and everyone knew my parents because they'd come in to serve hot lunch. But back in middle school, I do remember feeling very fearful people would find out that I had two dads. I think up to that point, I was never ashamed, again in elementary school I was always open about making family and really didn't think twice about it. But I will say, I think as I grew up, I became exposed to more stories about discrimination against the LGBTQ community and particularly by various religious groups. My family grew up Episcopalian. I went to church and every Sunday. I sang in the choir. So I chose to go to an all-girls Catholic school. And the summer before I went to middle school, I had heard about a friend of mine who had had their rainbow flag burned by a religious group. And so I was just completely terrified that people would not accept me because of that fear. I only allowed one of my dads to come to a typical father-daughter picnic or a mother-daughter luncheon we had at school. They were okay with that, but during middle school it was a particularly difficult time for me because I think I was dealing with all these mixed emotions of feelings of guilt and shame because, on one hand I felt so strongly the love for my family and my LGBTQ community that I grew up in, and on the other hand feeling the need to hide just because I was scared of what others might think or how other might act.
Emily M.: You have your unique experiences, but they're happening simultaneously to your twin brother. Did you see your brother responding or reacting any differently?
Rosie C-L.: My brother and I went to separate middle schools and he was actually completely the opposite. He never had a problem sharing about his family. He was always open and just an open book. I think it would have been a different story if you were both in the same school and one had a different feeling of openness about their family than the other. But fortunately it kind of worked for me. I had been going to Family Week in Provincetown for a long time, but during eighth grade, we all had to write a book about our lives or something meaningful as our graduation project. And I wrote about Family Week and I shared about my family and my adoption story. That was really my coming out and moment. No one said anything negative, to my surprise. And people were actually quite surprised on one hand, but not because of my family makeup or other theories that I had. It was more so, well, how come you never told us this is a really cool thing about you. That was a really good experience for me to find out that I was wrong in my assumptions and judging others. I think I further down the line, I realized that one of my values is authenticity and it was a good opportunity for me to be authentic in my relationships, to share my whole self with others. From there I pretty much switched and become an open book about my family with others.
Emily M.: For anybody who's listening that maybe is not familiar, how would you describe Family Week in Provincetown, MA?
Rosie C-L.: So family week is a week in Provincetown, Massachusetts and it's a space for LGBTQ families to come together. For me it was just really about feeling like I was like anyone else and meeting families from all different areas of the country. I will say that I was fortunate, living in Los Angeles, to have known other families before Family Week, but it was a good space for me to be to just meet other people from around the country.
Emily M.: Coming to Family Week for many years and now also being part of the board of directors with Family Equality Council, LGBTQ families and family spaces certainly seem very important to you. So what do spaces and organizations like Family Equality Council and COLAGE (which is an organization by and for people with LGBTQ parents that is also organizing family week), what do these spaces mean to you?
Rosie C-L.: It's an important for me to be in a space where you're feeling like you're like everyone else and people can really relate to the experience that you've had growing up. Being able to not just be around people that are like you, but also speak more in depth about the challenges or the difficulties experienced. I think it's important because you have the supportive people who you feel like get it and understand. And I think that was impactful for me growing up.
Emily M.: Yeah. I remember my first year at family week and I was 13 and this was the first time I met anybody else who had an LGBTQ parents. So it was quite the overwhelming week for me, but it was just magical. When the teens then broke out one of our workshops, we broke out into smaller groups - people who had parents who had been in a different-sex relationship and had divorces/separated and a parent came out, a group of people who were adopted or being fostered, and there was a group for people who were born through donor insemination or surrogacy. I remember the divorced parents group being the largest group of teens and then donor insemination/surrogacy and foster care/adoption, you know were sort of split pretty equally. It was really powerful for me to be in those even smaller identity groups. Did you ever experienced anything like that being in a space or a group or workshop for people with LGBTQ parents who were also adopted?
Rosie C-L.: Yes. There were even people that I met that were adopted from Peru and that was a particularly powerful experience for me because I hadn't met anyone from Peru before. Feeling that sense of identity with others was important. And I think even just seeing people that looked like me was a good and impactful experience.
Emily M.: Do have memories of things that helped equip you to tell your adoption story and to talk to others about your family?
Rosie C-L.: In terms of conversations about my family, I know my parents were always open to having those conversations. I don't remember ever a time when they sat me down and said, you know, this is our family. I think we always grew up surrounded by different books about children who came in different shapes and sizes and families. From an early age, I just knew that there were so many different unique families out there in regards to multicultural families. Again, they never sat me down and said you're Peruvian or you're brown and we aren't. But they surrounded me with just different types of movies and books about different families. I know they also attended parent groups for parents with children of color. And I think the school of thought back then was that you really shouldn't pound in to children the fact that you're brown and they are not. It was thought that could actually be upsetting to children to really underline or underscore this to them because they kind of grow up thinking that they're not different from their parents. So that was intentional and the way in which we discussed race.
Emily M.: Did that change that over time as you got older? Did any of those conversations change? Today the more common thinking is this is conversations that families should have been home. I've heard foster care professionals giving some of those recommendations for people who are considering a trans-racial adoption.
Rosie C-L.: I always felt open to go to my parents and have conversations if I needed to. It wasn't something I ever really felt the need to come and talk to them about much. But growing up it becomes a little different, especially when you're in college and you're away from your parents. Even in high school they'd attend various performances and whatnot. So they were always sort of part of me. But I thought about race and my identity as a Peruvian Latina woman much more when I was outside of the home.
Emily M.: Actually, it's kind of interesting. I went back to Peru two years ago because I'd never been back and I wanted see what it was like to eat the different types of food and just get that experience for myself. I did a Spanish immersion program. I was with a social work program so I worked with children in shanty towns up in the hills of Peru and it was a really good experience for me. I think it was sort of my own way of getting in touch with my identity. Yeah, it is interesting. I don't feel like when I was younger I always knew that I could seek my parents out if I needed to, but it wasn't something that I really did.
Emily M.: Did you talk to any other adults in your life or peers? Or was it something even that you and your brother ever talked about?
Rosie C-L.: You know, it's interesting with my brother. You should know he's significantly darker skinned than I am. Growing up, he identified much more with peers that were African American. Actually since going back to Peru, I saw the diversity in Peru. Many people, especially on the coastal areas, are Afro-Peruvian. So it makes sense that's sort of where he identified because I would be surprised if we didn't have Afro-Peruvian in our blood. But for him, the conversations with my parents were more around adoption for him. I think his skin color and the fact that our dads were different didn't really phase him. It was more just about wanting to know about his adoption.
Emily M.: Did your parents ever talk about how others might perceive you and your brother or safety tips or anything like that?
Rosie C-L.: So yeah, that's interesting because I think it's definitely in the media more today that people would have those conversations. But for me growing up, I can't recall a time when we did sit down and talk about safety tips or any of that. It just wasn't really a conversation that that came up.
Emily M.: I just wonder how much a factor of where somebody lives has to do with any of that. The nature of where you were living has some sort of impact on how safe or how visible or how important some of those realities were for your family.
Rosie C-L.: I think that's a good point. I'm very fortunate in that where I grew up, it was much more diverse area. And my parents chose schools that had a higher percentage of brown and black kids. So we were able to feel more comfortable and I think that was less of an issue because we were able to blend in more.
Emily M.: Thinking back about those experiences and what you did or didn't really sit down and talk about together, either casually over dinner or having a big moment together as a family - Do you now wish that your family had done that a little bit more?
Rosie C-L.: No, I think the open lines of communication are always important. Actually at Family Week I met people from Peru that were adopted and had two dads. One girl was telling me about some experience which she had at a camp for people that were adopted from Peru. I think that having an experience like that might've been beneficial for me. I think it wasn't so much the fact that I was Latina that separated myself, but I just didn't know what Peru was all about. I think now more the intentional conversations about race might have been more beneficial as well. But again, I felt like the open communication was always important.
Emily M.: So it sounds like eighth grade was a big moment in your turn for increased advocacy. And certainly you've been really involved in speaking out for and with LGBTQ families for a long time. And before joining the Board, you were a member of Family Equality Council's, Outspoken Generation program. Why is speaking out in a more public way important to you?
Rosie C-L.: The Board of Directors had been an amazing experience for me. I've learned so much and I continue to do so every day from other board members. I want to be able to make sure that the same resources that were available to me when I was younger and going to Family Week or events in LA, are available to children living in rural areas in the south. So that's part of the reason I joined. But before that even, it was important to hear from the voices of those who have grown up with LGBTQ parents. It's one thing to talk about the, the issue of LGBTQ marriage, for example, or LGBTQ parents adopting children in foster care from a moral or religious standpoint. But it's another to hear from the voices of those really affected by the issue. So it was kind of wanting to be a voice of reason and speak on behalf of my family.
Emily M.: Yeah. And Outspoken Generation is Family Equality Council's program for people with LGBTQ parents to really try to amplify their voices and their stories in all sorts of different ways. Can you talk about maybe some of the more meaningful times that you spoke out?
Speaker 2: One highlight of being part of Outspoken Generation was going to Vice President Biden's barbecue. We were there to be recognized as youth leaders for LGBTQ rights. We got to thank him for all the support he'd shown to the LGBTQ community. He gave this incredible speech thanking us and that was validating. I think others that were older than myself felt acknowledged. So it was a really memorable experience for me.
Emily M.: Yeah, that sounds so cool. This November is National Adoption Month. From your own experiences, are there any things you would like people who are in adoptive and especially trans-racial adoptive families to know or learn?
Rosie C-L.: Yeah, actually something that I came across during the social media or campaign for National Adoption Month a few years ago. Data suggests LGBTQ parents are four times more likely to be raising adopted children and six times more likely to be raising foster children. And more likely to adopt children of color or children that are older with special needs. It just underscores for me how detrimental it is to have child welfare agencies discriminating against LGBTQ potential adoptive parents in ten states now. I've always said for me, when I adopted child, I want to adopt a child of color from foster care, because of the disproportionate rate that they enter into foster care.
Emily M.: Our families are, as you said, a complete rainbow of identities. Just being around other queer families has so greatly expanded my own understanding of what a family is and what a family can be. When we say love makes a family, it's really incredible to see how big and diverse that can be and what that can really mean for our families. Queer families are the best. Thank you again so much for talking with me Rosie.