Saturday, February 27, 2010

A little about me, my cause and how you can help

I’m 40 years old and was born and adopted in the state of Ohio. Growing up, I’d always known I was adopted – my adoptive parents (especially my mother) never made a secret of the fact that I was adopted. I was even read books about adoption at bedtime. In general, I didn’t think it was anything to feel shame about and while I was curious about my birth parents and fantasized about what they might be like, I don’t recall the issue being a defining point of my being.

However, as I entered my 30’s I started to feel quite a bit more interest in the subject. For some reason, I’d always assumed that when and if I decided to learn who my birth parents were, that it would be a comparatively simple matter to resolve. Well, like most adoptees, I was in for a big disappointment. In case you haven’t heard (as I hadn’t), most states in the U.S. (including Ohio) have sealed the birth records of adoptees. I was literally in my late 20’s before I realized my birth certificate was unique. In fact, I’d been issued an “amended” birth certificate which had been cleaned of all identifying information pertaining to my birth name and the names of my birth parents. As I dug deeper, I learned that my original, un-amended birth certificate, while on file within the Ohio State Government, was by law, unavailable to me. Needless to say, this was rather frustrating. I next turned to reunion registries at the state, national and international levels. These didn’t help much with the frustration. About this time, I learned of ALMA. While ALMA is sincerely concerned for adoptees, I didn’t make much headway through them or their “angel searchers” (people who assist adoptees with genealogical research for free). Under ALMA’s guidance, I did approach my adoption agency for additional non-identifying information and did learn quite a bit more about my biological family, though, of course the agency wouldn’t break the law and provide sufficient information to complete my search. In the years since, I tried paid searchers, who did little else than take the pay I provided, and several more angel searchers who failed to make any progress.

A few years ago, I decided that there was a root cause that needed resolution. The laws themselves needed to be changed. I was motivated by a number of efforts I found online including Bastard Nation and the American Adoption Congress. These groups seemed to be fighting to change the laws in their own distinctive ways. After spending some time interacting with the people involved in these efforts, I learned that I was only just getting introduced to a fight that has been waging for decades in state legislatures. It is not unusual to find dedicated people who have been attempting to change the laws, not once or twice, but up to six times over 12 years. Most often their efforts end in defeat. A few shining examples of progress can be found in states like Oregon, but the vast majority of the United States have stubbornly and unjustly kept the birth records of adoptees sealed since WWII.

As I learned that adoption law was the domain of states, I ultimately found that Ohio has one of the strangest set of laws enacted with respect to adoptees. Adoptees born before 1964 have unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. Adoptees born after 1996 can access their birth records if the birth parents didn’t file a denial-of-access form with the state. However, adoptees born between 1964 and 1996 are simply denied all access to their records. The ultimate irony of my search was to learn that the man most directly responsible for the sealing of adoptee birth records in Ohio, William B Norris, had actually testified multiple times before the state assembly that his actions were a mistake and that he never intended to deny adoptees access to their own records. Mr. Norris was a young attorney in the early 1960’s who’d adopted children of his own. He was surprised to learn that his childrens’ birth records were publicly available to anyone and so took it upon himself to champion legislation to seal the records. It was only later when his own adopted children sought the truth of their origins that he realized the unintended consequences of his action. To his credit, Mr. Norris fought to change the law many times before his recent death. His daughter Betsie continues the cause in Ohio today. Her latest effort is Adoption Equity Ohio (, which is attempting to open the last of the sealed records. The current hope is that the rules that apply to the post-1996 adoptees can be retroactively applied to the 1964-1996 adoptees who currently have no recourse.

I am now doing what I can to help Adoption Equity Ohio successfully pass a bill into law that will restore for my fellow Ohio adoptees and I the birthright that has been taken from us: access to our original birth certificates.

Won’t you please help? Most of what will be needed will be people willing to contact members of the Ohio State Assembly to let them know that this legislation MUST get passed into law. You can put your values into action by going to the Adoption Equity Ohio website and filling out the volunteer form. Additionally, you can help by spreading the word and pointing your adoptee and Ohioan friends to the site.

This is a challenging effort that will require the support of many people. However, if you will help spread the word and participate, Adoption Equity Ohio can succeed in correcting an injustice that has stood for far too long.


  1. Off to a good start I see.

    I'm an Ohio Black Hole Bastard as well. (You may want to see my piece about Ohio Black Holers here-

    Glad to see you're looking at Bastard Nation and the Daily Bastardette (Bastardette is also an Ohio Bastard.)

    If you haven't already stumbled across Buckeyes for Equal Access (BEA) you may want to take a couple of minutes going through the myspace page as well-

    Ohio has a long and convoluted history as regards attempts at restoring records access. With the creation of the vetos, the state has created a whole new class of Bastards who are even more left behind.

    Prior to the creation of the vetoes none of the interpersonal promises of 'the kid will never find you' by agencies and the like had the force of Ohio law behind them.

    But now, we have the vetoed class, and their families of origin who due to the change in Ohio law have been promised by the state that the information will not be released- putting pure open records almost out of reach for some number of vetoed Bastards.

    It's a mess with a long history of personal interests behind the legislation.

    Which is not to say we don't fight the injustice (daily!), it's just to say Ohio has some of the worst regulations regarding access in the country.

  2. Thanks for the comment, babylovechild! I read your article on the Ohio situation and it was an excellent account of the sad state of affairs. I'm hoping the grassroots movements will have better luck in the near future with the assistance of social networking technologies that are helping get the word out. Are you aware of celebrities that have been approached to help further the cause? It seems like one good Oprah show on the topic would help immensely.

  3. Thanks, yup, Ohio's a particular knot when it comes to access.

    It has been interesting to see how social networking and online activism has already done so much to shape the conditions we're working in and with.

    Celebrities and Bastard rights, there's a LOT that could be written about that, and the history thereof. Finding even adopted celebrities to speak out and work for our rights can be a very, very mixed bag.

    Personally, I have not found it a useful strategy, in that some of those who attempt to speak to 'our issue' either lack fluency in the field and thus can tend to appear to be 'tripped up' when faced with a question they don't have an answer to, or are approaching this work with their own agendas, not all of which necessarily mesh with some of our visions of ensuring no one gets left behind again.

    I've always found it most successful to work on our own behalf.