Meet the Guests
Kaley is a proud second generation genderqueer queerspawn from North Carolina. Raised in Charlotte, Kaley was brought to America by two loving mothers when they were 6 months old from Lima, Peru. Kaley has a large amount of pride in their queerspawn identity and has been organizing in their local communities since 2009 with an emphasis on support for youth in queer families. Kaley graduated summa cum laude in 2013 with a degree in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and completed a Nonprofit Management certificate program at Duke University in 2014. Thanks to the merger of COLAGE and Family Equality Council in 2019, Kaley transferred over to the Family Equality Council team with 8 years of experience organizing Queerspawn, 3 years of COLAGE institutional knowledge, a grounding in social justice and equity, and an eagerness to continue supporting youth and adult children in LGBTQ+ families.
Weston entered the foster care system at age 14 when his biological parents neglected him for identifying as gay. After hospitalizations, shelters and foster home placements, he found his forever family with his two dads and six siblings. Now Weston is a LGBTQ youth advocate for foster care youth. He was a member of the Youth Speak Out Team, which works to raise awareness of the experiences of foster youth and the challenges they face. Weston worked on a Bill of Rights for Foster Care Youth and in the summer of 2017, the bill was passed and signed by the Governor of Missouri. Weston is a former Youth Ambassador for the Human Rights Campaign, where he shared his voice and experiences, raising awareness for LGBTQ issues that youth across the country are facing every day. Recently he was awarded the FosterClub Outstanding Young Leader Award for his continuous work advocating for foster care youth in the LGBTQ community.
“Why We Shouldn’t Call Adoptees ‘Lucky’” by Tony Hynes
Weston speaking at 2018 Time to Thrive LGBTQ Youth Conference
Emily: Before we start, just a heads up that there is prevention of suicide in this episode right around minute 3:20 to 3:30 and again at 14:30 to about 14:40 you can skip ahead at those times and miss any reference. Here's the episode. November is National Adoption Month. Joining me today to share their personal journeys and to really have this episode move deeper into conversation about adoption and foster care are two adopted queerspawn Weston and Kaley. I'm going to get us started with the question that starts off every episode - who is in your family and how was it formed?
Kaley: Thank you so much. It's interesting. I always think of my family story as having multiple parts. The first part is definitely how my two moms met. So I have two lesbian moms, their names are Cathy and Joanne, and they're wonderful. They met in a very stereotypical lesbian way. They met on the softball field. And a little while after that, I was adopted. So like you mentioned Emily, I was adopted from Lima, Peru when I was six months old. They started their family that way. And then three years later they adopted my younger brother at eight-months-old from Guatemala. So that's the meat of my story. And now I've continued that. So recently I married my long time best friend and partner Sam and she's actually another person who has a bisexual mom. So she's in the community. And just to define it in case folks don't know, queerspawn and COLAGE (I'll use those synonymously) that just means it's an identity term that some people have and they've taken on to identify their specific placement in the families. It's a term that means someone who has or had one or more LGBTQ+ parent or caregiver. So she is also a COLAGEr. So currently I have three queer parents technically in my life and then a slew of queer aunties who also love and care for me and they've cared for me and my family, especially after the recent passing of my brother, Joseph. So coming up on November 5th, we'll be four years, since he died by suicide. So he's still a part of my family. We honor and cherish him. My family has many different parts, so many different layers.
Weston: My family consists of my two dads and my six adopted siblings...16 years I was in a residential facility, in a very rural community and trying to find an affirming placement. And so he found one with his two best friends. I was supposed to be placed with them and they were in the process of moving. So I was with my dads now as opposed to just only be with them for like two weeks or so. And the transition of moving in with the lesbian couple that I was supposed to be placed with. And then I went for a weekend visit and realized that this is where I really was meant to be. I mean, I fit in so well. Through my journey and being in foster care, I never found such a connection with the family where I felt like I was biologically their own. And so it's very interesting that my dad worked for an agency that kind of led me to be his son.
Emily: That's great. I love that. This is a question for both of you that I love to ask folks, what are some of your favorite things to do as a family?
Kaley: And I love that question, Emily. I think for our family, we have some pretty unique family traditions. So one of our traditions is for people's birthday we make muffins as the first thing. The tradition is that you're supposed to wake up to muffins and a candle. And then another family tradition we have is every Tuesday (thankfully I live close to my family) we have taco Tuesday, so we meet up at a restaurant and we all have dinner together, but consists of my family and then also my queer aunties, which is wonderful. So we all meet once a week and just check in and see how everyone's doing and, and update each other. Another favorite family tradition, that started about eight years ago is Family Week. So that is actually where I met my current spouse. Family Week, hands down is, in case you don't know, it's the largest annual gathering of LGBTQ+ families in the world. It is a wonderful week and I planned my whole year around it. Thankfully I work for COLAGE and now it really is my job to do that. But before that it was a tradition that we did every single year. My parents were actually able to join me one year, which was wonderful, but I joined as an adult and it's just been life changing of gathering of other adult and also youth queerspawn. It's about 2000 of us. So it's just phenomenal.
Weston: Yes. So it was really cool, when I was placed with my dads, they read my file, and we really connected through cheerleading. One of my dads was a cheerleader at Penn State, where I also go and I also used to cheer here as well. I don't know if I would say I necessarily led my dad back into the cheer world, since he was out of it for so long. But with me expressing such a passion for cheerleading, he decided to go back in the cheer industry and actually opened up his own gym. And so I have six siblings and we all were also on different cheer teams, on different age levels. Cheerleading has really united our family with my dad owning a cheerleading gym. That's my dad's craft and something he's so passionate about and it's really cool that we are all able to have the same skills and the same mindset to be a part of that passion that he has had for himself.
Emily: That's a very talented family. That's really cool. So you both have two very different adoption stories. Is there more about international private adoption or foster care and adoption that you'd like to share? Just a big open question.
Weston: Yes. So for me identifying as LGBTQ within the foster care system, I found that placements lack the knowledge or the understanding on how to care for or to provide any kinds of resources or any kind of understanding for someone who identified as LGBTQ and as well as someone who was a person of color. And so I had a hard time navigating who to reach out to and ways to get the sense of resources and to understand myself as I was going into this journey of discovering who I was. As well as just not being able to find affirming or accepting placements and identifying as LGBTQ. I think at times they feared that I would change the different children in the home to become gay or a sense of this whole like predatorial aspect as well. And so they really feared me, I believe in, although I was also black as well or I identify as biracial. So, I think that was another factor that dampened in me finding a placement.
Kaley: Wow. Thank you so much for sharing. Yeah, Emily, you are very correct. We have very different adoption stories and I think for me, I was adopted as a baby internationally. Tony Hynes is doing some great work and in a recent podcast that he helped moderate, he said something that I really, really love and that helped expand my understanding in talking to other adoptees too - the idea that ethical adoption is an option. So thinking about when folks are prospective parents looking for an adoption agency, really finding one that, number one supports them as a queer couple or a queer family or queer person. I know that was a struggle for my family and trying to adopt me. They were denied at the home study because my mom had a quote unquote roommate and they could see right through that. And so she really had to fight to work with that adoption agency to even adopt in the first place. But finding an adoption agency that also really supports the birth family and the birth mother as much as the adoptive family. I think that recent podcast episode with Tony, that was just wonderful and great to hear because I've heard a lot of stories from other adoptees, especially international adoptees where there's little to no information about the birth family, the birth mother, and there's questionable ethics with that of did they actually know what was happening? Do they know the outcome? Did they choose that as an option? So even having a choice in the matter I think is really important as opposed to having an agency that just caters to the prospective or adoptive parent or parents. I think that is something that is really important to me as I move forward in these adoption circles and in the advocacy work.
Emily: Yeah. Thank you both. Well Kaley, you actually alluded to this, so maybe you could expand a little bit more. You talked about Family Week as one space that you access with LGBTQ families. But have you both engaged in spaces for other adopted people or adopted queer spawn in particular? Why are those spaces important to you?
Kaley: That has been another of the most life changing things for me. I think personally when I first went to Family Week, I was an adult. I was just starting college. But really I was able to go into a space where there were other adult adoptees that were internationally adopted and were growing up in white queer families, which is so finite and so unique. And that was just wonderful. And that space completely changed my life. And so one thing at Family Week and COLAGE, the organization, something that we do is we create what we call lunch chats or now we call them afternoon discussions. And it really is just a group, a safe space to talk about our experiences. And one of the ones that I love and get so much love and pour so much love into is the one for adoptees. There's also another one that I love, which is for queerspawn of color, but the adopted lunch chat has really just changed my world and that is a great place that I've found support and really, bring my whole self. But not only that, but I get to be the leader that I always wished I had when I was younger. I never had an older queerspawn of color I could look up to you, especially a genderqueer one and say, wow, like that person made it. That person is in the world as an adult, that's somebody that's doing great things. I want to be like that. I never had that and I just want to be able to be a positive influence in the younger generations that are still navigating their own identity and their own adoption story and history.
Weston: I was a part of an organization called Youth Speak Out. It was a group of foster care youth who were sharing their stories. So it kind of really started to me as a sense of a support group where we shared our stories, our experiences, and really thought about how we wanted to change and frame the foster care system based on what we went through. There were a couple of people in this organization that were adopted and other ones and other individuals who are really looking for their forever family. And I really believe that this organization was so empowering just to be able to get a group of different people into the same space and being able to share their stories and feeding off of how we can change the course of such a broken foster care system. So I really think that that was something that I really was able to engage in and being able to be a part of something where I was able to highlight my experiences and being able to really change something. That was very important to me.
Emily: So, Kaley, you had mentioned Tony Hynes. Actually I have a question related to Tony, who is pure excellence. Tony Hynes is an author and activist and a queerspawn, who recently published this really excellent article just this past September called "Why we shouldn't call adoptees 'lucky'". And I just wanna read one quick quote from that because it really I think is a very powerful one. And so he writes, "When we insinuate that an adoptee is lucky, we often invalidate the unique challenges they continue to experience after being adopted and paint adoptive parents as saviors when in fact they are simply parents, good and bad and wonderful and flawed as any parent can be. When we point to adoptees as lucky, we may also fail to look for ways to change systems that contribute to the trauma inducing situations too many children and families experience." I just wanted to read that because I want to just to open up space for your thoughts, your reactions. Does that resonate with you?
Weston: Yeah. So for me, in a way I both agree and I disagree with this. I believe that every individual who enters the foster care system deserves a loving, accepting, affirming family where they can just feel loved, be loved, and just live their authentic life and being able to just be themselves. And on the flip side, I really believe that for me through my experiences and with my two dads and my family, that ultimately I believe that my two dads really saved my life. Because before I was placed with them, I was in a residential facility and ultimately I was on the cusp of wanting to end my life and just thinking about how I didn't want to be living a life that I felt was so meaningless, with not having a sense of any direction, no loving family, feeling alone and in an emergency shelter. So the fact that I was adopted by my two dads really ultimately saved my life in a way that they were able to give me things that I knew I would not have been given. And so for that I'm more than lucky, more than appreciative. And ultimately they've given me a different aspect on what it's like to be a gay, biracial gender fluid person in ultimately a white America.
Kaley: I love that Weston. Thank you so much for sharing. And I think for me, the article by Tony couldn't have come out at a more perfect time. Actually a few days before the article came out, I was recently at my parents' church and I'd grown up there. Back in the day they could go to the airport and the actual terminal and stand at the gate and welcome people as they came back. And so a lot of those folks were there when I came to America and one of those folks said, Oh, it's so good to see you. And, for some reason, felt the need to talk about, how I've come so far and how neglected I was when they first saw me and how lucky I am to have my family. And that kind of just struck me. And then it sat with me for a bit and then that article from Tony came out and I was like, wow, perfect timing. Cause even in my own life I've experienced this and heard people say, Oh, how lucky you are, that lucky narrative. And I just had to stop and say, wow, you know, there's so many nuances to my experience. Yes, I love my family and yes, like every other family we have our struggles, especially with losing Joseph. And you know, luckily for us that brought us closer together. And luckily I have some great parents but also it hasn't always been easy. Being a person of color in a white family has definitely had its own trials and tribulations and I'm thankful for my family, yes. But also there are so many nuances and so many intersections that I had to find on my own for my own identity that my moms aren't able to support with and they're still learning and they're still changing. And I am so thankful for them. But I think in this thought of someone saying how lucky you are, I really appreciated my training through COLAGE and through other folks just saying, wow, this person doesn't really have that much of a clue of like what all the nuances of my life. But you know what? This could be a moment when I get help that person understand more or I don't have to, I don't always have to share my story. And I think that choice is so important for young folks and for adoptees to think about and to know that we have agency to understand when and where we tell our story. And that we don't have to always tell our story to people even if they make false assumptions of us or true assumptions of us. Really that choice and agency is up to us. And I'm thankful that COLAGE helped me understand that I do have a choice to share my story. And so when I hear that, Oh, you're so lucky, I also hear in that so much misunderstandings that people have. And I'm proud that I have a choice to really combat that if I have the energy or not. Just leave it alone and say, okay, thank you. It's great to see you too, which is what I did in that moment and I didn't have to really go into it with this person. I could really just share, you know. Thank you. I hear, you know, in between all of this I'm searching for the golden nuggets in that and the gold nugget is that you're glad to see me today and I can pull from that and not have to share what the nuances in my life and how hard it has also been being an adoptee. So I'm thankful for the choice and I'm thankful for folks that care and I'm very appreciative of Tony and Tony's work around shifting that narrative away from thinking adoptees are lucky always and should be grateful.
Emily: Yeah. One thing that really stuck out to me in the quote was as Tony writes, "...by using that sort of terminology, we paint adoptive parents as saviors when in fact they're simply parents good and bad and wonderful and flawed is any parent can be". Within queerspawn spaces and increasingly outside of them, we're having open conversations about this idea of a poster child syndrome, this feeling that all people with LGBTQ parents must be representing all of our families and all LGBTQ people. And so there is that poster child feeling. You want to be painting your family as perfect and wonderful all the time. And I would really love your thoughts on how some of that poster child pressure was a unique experience for you as adoptees within interracial families, as people of color, and as genderqueer and gender non-binary identifying people as well. Kaley, would you start us, cause I know this is something that is a familiar term for you.
Kaley: 'Poster child' is part of our living language for our community. The Queerspawn Resource Project has done a great job of outlining some of those pieces and definitions. So if folks are interested in learning more, feel free to check out the Queerspawn Resource Project. But yes, poster child syndrome, I can't tell you how many interviews or workshops or even TV shows I've been a part of where people, who are not a part of the community even outside of COLAGE, ask me, can you speak for all adoptees, all youth in LGBTQ families. Like what is the experience? As if there's only one experience. And that has been something that I have done a lot of work to make sure that other youth know that they have a choice in hearing our story or not sharing our story, how and when we should share our story. But also recognizing that as a community we're intersectional. Our identities are multilayered. Our families and stories are multilayered and our families aren't always perfect. We don't always have to conform to this cookie cutter story or idea of who we are. Although it can be very scary and very real for some folks that you have to do that. But the idea that you have a choice of when and where you do that is important.
Kaley: I know growing up for me there was always this concern in the back of my mind, my parents weren't legally married or legally together. They had to jump through some hoops to make sure in case one of my parents, in case something happened to my primary caregiver, making sure that my other mom would have legal custody of me. And I remember as a child having that at the forefront of my mind, the reality that at times I had to think about that and I had to share my story that we were perfect. Oh yes, my family is wonderful because of that fear of being separated from them or the fear of being taken away from my moms. That is something that I had to navigate and I had to code switch with my brother too. Like when we were out and about, sometimes we'd say mom instead of moms, but we would know that we were thinking and saying moms at the same time. So we would use coded language with each other to talk about our family. And try to protect each other. But there was this expectation, especially because I was the only person at my school that I know of that had a queer parent at times, especially in elementary school. And there were many places where I was the only one. And so when I had to speak about my family, it definitely felt like I had to stand up and do like a princess wave and say, yes, my family is wonderful and we're perfect and we're just like you. And I think the beauty of shifting that narrative is saying our families are wonderful and complicated and layered and multi-dimensional and just like other families. We have our things, but what makes us wonderful. Our difference actually is our strength. People should be celebrated for their differences. Not in spite of, but because of.
Weston: So I would like to add that at the end of the day, understanding that no one can control your identity and being able to hone in that your truth is your truth. And at the end of the day no one's perfect, but we're living our lives the best that we can, as authentically as we can as well.
Emily: Totally. So you've, you've each talked a little bit about this, but you know, statistically we know that many LGBTQ plus people are fostering and adopting youth of a different ethnicity than themselves. How have you navigated your identity, found community and even discussed identity as a family?
Kaley: Weston, I'd love to hear from you too about this, cause I think it relates to the poster child as well. But I think for me there are two facets of this with our intersectional identities. For me it's been not only just discovering and celebrating and understanding my own race and ethnicity, but also my own sexuality and my own gender identity as well. The identities are layered and intertwined. And in my discovery of it, and for me specifically around race with my family, my moms are white. It really wasn't until COLAGE that I was able to meet other queerspawn of color with white lesbian moms or even just white parents and really understanding and coming to terms with our own racial identity and our own cultures and connecting and celebrating even our unique culture of being in that multiracial family. But I think there are many different experiences. There's the experience of being a person of color in the United States, an experience of being a person of color in the U S with a queer parent. And then on top of that, being a person of color in the United States with white, queer parents, and thanks to COLAGE and community, I was able to connect with more folks that have that experience. And I think discovering my identity is a lifelong process and I'm thankful I have support from people who really get it, who are in that with me. And walking that with me. And I'd say the same thing for my own gender identity and sexual identity. It's something that is ever changing and ever-growing and my moms are doing a great job, really supportive. They understand that they don't always get it and that there may need to do their own work to understand and support me. And in the larger community, we've had discussions about this now that I'm an adult. When I was growing up they said they thought that they only had the option of raising me in a queer community or raising me in a community of people of color. And they just didn't know that those communities could intersect and co-exist. Just because of their inexperience. And they've really thought about that more. And we've had a lot of discussions about how things, they are where they are and I love my moms for who they are and they understand that there are a lot of things that they don't get or they couldn't never have gotten. And we've really worked to build more anti-racist pieces into our lives and into our work to support each other and our larger community.
Weston: So for a very long time I've really struggled with myself and loving the person I am and being able to embrace myself as authentically as I possibly could and just how I wanted to present myself to the world. And so being adopted by my two dads, one of my dads actually is biracial himself. And when I was first place with him, I would say I mixed or we kind of talked about race a little bit and he was one, he was a person that really helped me understand that being mixed wasn't necessarily the right terminology to use, but being able to talk about being biracial and understanding that I'm not just black and I'm not just white and I'm not just gay, that there's a difference. We understand and being able to identify and being able to really hone in and embrace being a gay, biracial man.
Emily: Yeah. November is National Adoption Month. So any final thoughts to wrap up the episode? Anything that you wanted to share that I didn't get to ask you about yet?
Kaley: I think one thing that I've recently in a panel posed to the audience and to other queerspawn, especially adoptees, to help further push for change and advocacy is, think about who right now in the media represents youth and LGBTQ families or even adult children and LGBTQ+ families. And what do those folks look like and who is missing from that? We don't really have a lot of people to look up to, not a lot of mentors in the media or larger. I know Zach Wahls is out there doing some great work. We also have some other folks like Tony Hynes, which I'm so thankful for, but I'd love to help elevate those stories and really help think about who are we making space for and who is falling through the cracks. You know, a lot of times youth are spoken for or about, and not always given the agency to share their own stories. So just thinking around, especially with adoptees, that we can share and speak their own stories. But also look for more intersectional stories and more intersectional people. Exactly like you're doing Emily. And thank you so much for allowing myself and Weston to share our stories cause I think there are so many wonderful stories to share and also important stories to listen to. Not just always positive stories but just the whole gamut. Listen to youth, listen to adoptees and if there is ever a time when people are making decisions for us, make sure that we're involved in that. We're involved at every step of the way and just take a step back and recognize that if you don't have that identity, if you don't have that experience, just take that pause and get feedback from the community. I think there are many different instances when I've seen a lot of adoptees spoken for and I'd love for that narrative to change.
Weston: Yes, of course. I just really want to say like a lot of individuals in the foster care system are so scared to speak their truth and the fear of what's to come. And ultimately we thrive off of the truth and we thrive off of these experiences to only be able to empower and educate and just being able to uplift everyone else. And I think that that's so important that people who do identify as LGBTQ or identify as being biracial or gender fluid, I feel like they are not as represented as they should be. And so that's what I really wanted to do is kind of share my voice and being able to speak out for individuals who feel like they're not always represented in a space where they should be.