There are some things I'm proud of in my state. Well, actually, currently about the only thing that comes to mind is the fact that our state had an effectively 19 year ban on offshore drilling, though it was set aside in April 2009 by our State House. Our Governor, who has an interesting history of flip-flopping (more on that later) has been equivocal on the point but was recently advocating for it since he is running against Marco Rubio, who masterfully said only a few days ago that "offshore drilling is done safely all over the world". Anyway, I consider the offshore drilling ban to be a political no-brainer at this point. Like you'd be committing political hara-kiri to advocate for it while oil washes up on the Panhandle beaches. But there goes Marco... He's brave, that man. Or bought and paid for. Whatever you will...
There are other issues, highly politicized issues, in my state that I'd also consider a no-brainer and of which I am the very opposite of proud. Chief among them at present is the issue of gay adoption. My state, Florida, is the only state in the United States that specifically bans gays from adopting children. The legislation banning gays from adopting has been in place since 1977 and grew out of the ever lovely Anita Bryant "I Hate Gays" campaign that was so touchingly called "Save Our Children".
As any frequent reader of my blog knows, my stance is that homosexuality has been very convincingly linked to genetics on the basis of brain studies. Telling someone that they can't adopt and be good parents because they're gay makes about as much sense to me as saying you can't be a good parent because you have blue eyes or black skin or too much body hair. But there are still plenty of people out there who think otherwise, or at least appear to think otherwise. Or maybe, just maybe, they're paid to think otherwise, because really I don't know how else you can spin these two facts:
1) Bill McCollum, our State Attorney General, paid $120,000 of our tax-payer dollars to a so-called expert witness, anti-gay activist George Rekers, a purported child psychologist and Baptist minister, to testify at the evidentiary hearing against the advisability of permitting Martin Gill to adopt his two sons. George Alan Rekers is one of the most prominent anti-gay activists in America. Mr. Rekers and his organization, National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), believe in conversion therapy. That's where you convert a homosexual to a heterosexual. I liken it to putting brown contact lenses on a blue-eyed person and standing them in front of a mirror and shouting "See! Now you've got brown eyes the way you should!" and giving lots of incentive for the person to nod in agreement and try as hard as they can to feel brown-eyed. Rekers's testimony was not sufficient to convince Judge Cindy Lederman that Mr. Gill should not adopt his two sons, who had been with him since 2004. She said that the ban was unconstitutional and thus Mr. Gill and his sons were briefly at ease until the Florida Department of Children and Families appealed her ruling. Mr. Gill's case was heard before the Third District Court of Appeals in Florida in August of 2009.
2) This May, the Miami New Times offered up a very interesting little piece about Mr. Rekers, about whom Attorney General Bill McCollum reportedly wrote: (The State has) "been unable to identify any (witness) who would be available for this case, Gill, et al vs. the State of Florida." (Well, as more than a few people have pointed out, there might be a reason that they had trouble finding witnesses for this case to testify against gays adopting. Like no creditable person would give such testimony. Rekers was actually castigated by an Arkansas judge in 2004 for giving expert witness testimony that was little more than personal opinion rather than scientifically-based. Arkansas is a state that has now even banned any merely co-habiting adults from fostering children. They are so very gay friendly, but even they wouldn't have him.) Anyway, this little gem of investigative reporting turned up the fact that
after his brown contacts fell off in a weak moment and Reker felt very blue-eyed... Oh I'm sorry... I got lost there for a minute... Well, Miami New Times reported that Rekers was attempting to convert "Lucien" aka Jo-Vanni Roman during a nice trip to London and Madrid. Rekers and Roman got introduced through Rentboy.com (be prepared if you click on that link... Rekers must have suffered so in finding, after two pages of scrolling, the one Rentboy that needed to be 'saved' the mostest.) Jo-Vanni didn't get saved. But he did give an interesting interview to Joe.My.Blog, queerty.com, unzipped and a bunch of others. The Miami New Times noted in this article that Mr. Rekers is himself an adoptive parent. His adopted son is now an adult but wouldn't comment to the New Times reporters. (Please slap me because of what I wonder about with respect to the younger Mr. Rekers after looking at the New Times images of Jo-Vanni, okay?)
Now the whole point of this is that Mr. Rekers, who gives personally biased and unscientific testimony was paid $120,000 by the State of Florida for his "work" (I'm really having problems with that concept there) on the Gill trial. And while I really don't care if Rekers is gay himself and just incredibly and possibly delusionally hypocritical, that he pays for sex or at the very least sexual massages (read the article and interviews folks) from young men, I do care that my tax payer money went toward that $120K. You know why? The Road to Independence funding for a child who "ages out" of foster care in my state was just slashed back down to an abysmal $892 a month. Let me see.... Average cost of rent in Miami-Dade, $700, and average cost of electrical... Oh.... geee..... Hmmmmmmmm. And how about some math? Even at that totally meager level of funding, how many foster children's stipends would Rekers' compensation be in federally mandated (Road to Independence) RTI terms?
$120,000/$892 = 134 RTI Payments
Wow, 134 RTI monthly payments for aged out foster youth. But the real shocker is that Attorney Bill McCollum got himself another expert witness (no, really, this one even admitted some gay people might be okay under special circumstances) and what with all the money spent on making sure that gay people can't adopt children they've had in their care for years, the total McCollum outlay for the Gill case alone is reportedly $383,000. For those not fast on the arithmetic that is 429 RTI payments for a youth who aged out of foster care. Or, considering an average of $545/month board rate per average foster child, with only 85% funding for that child's adoption subsidy (surely you don't think the State of Florida will pay you the same amount to take care of a child permanently as they will for a child in foster care right? Why, there's that $15 a month allowance they're paying in that $545 after all!) we have:
$383,000/$463 = 827 months of Adoption Subsidy
That comes out to 69 yearlong adoption subsidies (and that's the rate for an older child, not an infant). And Mr. Rekers' take from the Gill case alone comes to 259 months of adoption subsidy for an older, healthy child, or 21.6 years of adoption subsidy. Why split that amount in half and they would easily have covered the entire subsidy for Mr. Gill's two sons until they turn 18. They have virtually spent their entire adoption subsidy budget for "John" and "James" on fighting Mr. Gill's efforts to adopt, paying for an expert witness who rails against gays but rents them for European trips.
(Another wrinkle is that our Governor, now that he's running for the US Senate as an Independent, has recently realized that he's not in favor of the ban. This after nearly four years of silence on the issue and during which time his Attorney General at least $383,000 on enforcing the ban. He was never openly in favor of the gay adoption ban but he was certainly quiet about it while he was a running for elected office as a Republican...)
So as you can see from all the date stamps on these articles, this story broke back in May. I've stewed on it for quite some time. I really don't care if Mr. Rekers is secretly and self-loathingly gay. I don't care if he hires Rentboys from now until the end of time (2012???) as long as he treats them decently and pays them what he's supposed to. But I have to say that it really irks me that he's off partying hardy with Jo-Vanni when I'm pretty much envisioning that Martin Gill and his partner were home with their sons at the time, probably wondering if the State of Florida would take their children away. Because let me describe to you what "John" and "James" were like when they first arrived into Mr. Gill's foster home.
Both children had been severely neglected. From the Wikipedia article, In re: Gill - (When the two boys) "arrived at the home of Martin Gill and his partner, 4-month old James had an ear infection, 4-year old John was dressed in dirty, ill-fitting clothing and both had a severe case of ringworm. John wouldn't speak, couldn't hold a pencil and hadn't seen a book before. John and James were only supposed to be with Martin temporarily, but plans for them to live with relatives fell through."
Both children have thrived in the Gill home. (Case Managers and Guardians ad Litem testify to these facts in high profile adoption cases like these.) What did the State of Florida in all its wisdom do? Well, my research shows that in July 2006 the State terminated Mr. Gill's status as the boys' parent because he's gay. (Mind you, the Gill home is the only home that "James" has ever known...) He might be really awesome at rehabilitating extremely damaged and neglected children but he's gay, and we don't want any of that. Mr. Gill sued the state of Florida and won. Although we are still, after ten months, waiting to see what little tricks the Third District Court of Appeals can use to support the State's adoption ban.
Mr. Gill and his partner are not the only couple who have challenged the adoption ban. Vanessa Alenier and Melanie Leon also pursued and won the right to adopt Ms. Alenier's relative and now son, Ethan. Of course, the State of Florida has also challenged their adoption, which is now to be reviewed by the Third District Court of Appeals. Wayne LaRue Smith of Key West is a bit luckier. His battle is finally won. Mr. Smith, an attorney, fought to adopt his sons for ten years and at the cost of several hundred thousand dollars of his own money. After a federal appellate court in Atlanta found that Florida's law was unconstitutional, the State of Florida gave up on trying to overturn Mr. Smith's adoption of his sons. (The State of Florida had been fighting to avoid paying the adoption subsidy for Mr. Smith's children but recently lost that battle.) I have no idea how much the state spent on the Smith legal battle. What I do know is that I'll never forget two statements from these parents:
When interviewed by the New York Times shortly before his federal appellate battle, Mr. Smith was quoted as saying:
''Nobody wants to adopt a 6-year-old with developmental problems who is biracial,'' he said, bitterness tinged with hope.
He paused, because he had been too sweeping.
''I do,'' he said.
Wayne LaRue Smith, right, with his sons and his partner, Dan Skahen.
(Image Credit: Tom Oosterhoudt)
And then there is Ms. Alenier, who examined that pesky question on the form she was filling out to adopt her son Ethan: (from the Miami Herald)
"... the application included a simple question.
Are you gay?
Alenier, 34, said she did not want to begin her journey as a parent with a lie. So she told the truth..."
Ethan, Melanie and Vanessa
(Image Credit: Barbara Fernandez)
Not every family has the wherewithal that Wayne LaRue Smith has. Not every family has the commitment that Martin Gill and his partner; Wayne LaRue and his partner; and Vanessa Alenier and hers have to offer a child. Not everyone is as truthful as they are either.
George Rekers certainly hasn't been.
The State of Florida has probably spent easily a million dollars trying to keep these fine people from adopting the children they love. And that's money that is taken away from the 19,000+ children in foster care in our state. And taken from the pool of funds to pay to adoptive parents who change lives, one child at a time.
It's realizations like these that make me ashamed to be living in this state... And that is no lie.