Talking About Adoptee Rights To Legislators or Anyone Else

My Cliff Notes of What I Say by Request Part 1

ARC adoptee rights boothI have the honor of serving time in the Adoptee Rights Coalition’s Exhibit booth every year at the National Council of State Legislator’s Annual Conference every year.  During those three days, I talk nonstop adoption to various state legislators about the need for supporting or introducing legation that would restore the adult adoptees access to original birth certificates.

With so many pending adoptee rights bills this year and so many opportunities, I was asked to share my spiel.

Now it might sound daunting – speaking to various state legislators – but really, what I have learned over the years is that they are just regular people, too. And really, we are just having a conversation. I know, going in, that I probably know more about the issue and more about their current states laws than they do and so I am just sharing  it with them, the truth. It’s simple. It’s logical and there is no need to get anxious about it.  I had really no idea what I was doing either when I first started out. The phrase “fake it ’til you make it” comes into play here.

It’s just a Conversation About Adoptee Rights

The thing is; I’m not a super woman. I don’t have better speaking skills than the rest of the world. I don’t do anything spectacular. I just talk to people about adoption and most specifically adoptee rights; a lot. These same conversations and discussions can easily be adaptable to speaking to ANYONE about adoptee rights; Congressmen, shop clerks, your neighbors, your mother, newspaper reporters… get the idea? Don’t be so worried about saying it “wrong”. These conversations are only wrong are if you DON’T say or DO anything.

And if I don’t know something I say that but I tell them that I can find out and will let them know.

“You know, I don’t have those numbers, but I can get them. Can I get your email address and I’ll send that to you.”

So what do I say?

First off, it’s how to say it.

I always smile. Pretty much nonstop. Like my face hurts from smiling, unless the senator or assembly person is talking, then I look at them with my “very intense listening” face. I look into their eyes a lot. I laugh and joke. I find that especially with the older (male) legislators, they respond best with an occasion touch of the arm. Yes, it’s often almost quite flirty. What can I say? I will pimp myself out for adoptee rights. I make sure I look nice, respectable and business like. I wear lipstick and cover(most) of my tattoos.

I also do not ever ever get angry. I do not argue. I do not debate. Oh, I counter point for sure, but again, always with a smile. If one happens to say something really ignorant or hurtful or just plain stupid (and yes, that does happen) I still smile and try to get around that.  I will say things in that lobby booth that I will probably never ever say in real life and sound like I actually mean it.

If Mr. Senator tells me that his son just adopted a baby from China, I smile and say, “Oh, how wonderful for them and you! I bet she’s a little doll.”

If another tells me about his friend who adopted and the birthmother was just an awful drug addict who cared nothing about the child, I make tsk-tsk noises and shake my head with disgust often followed up with “Well, thank goodness, she’s better off now!”

And if I hear an story about a reunion gone bad and how so and so wishes they never had searched, I say “Yes, well that does happen sometimes, but at least, now, they know. They had that chance and hopefully got their medical records? At least they had the choice, the opportunity.”

No Anger, Just Adoptee Rights Education

The thing is, I do not position myself to be here to oppose them. I am there to educate and help them.  I make it clear that I am on their side and really want THEM to be successful in their districts sponsoring or supporting important state legislation.

I do NOT go into any attacks on the adoption industry when I am talking about adoptee rights. I do not talk about the coercion of mothers. I do not talk about profits, unenforceable contact agreements and the carrot of open adoption UNLESS these issues tie in to adoptee rights. I, personally, do not really tread into my own story either. It’s NOT about my loss or grief, it’s about adoptee rights.  If they ask me why I do this work, I explain that I did relinquish my son at age 19 and have since found him and we have a happy reunion, but MY choice denied HIM his CIVIL rights and THIS is what I can do to fix that because it is unfair.

So again, what do I say?

First the issue needs to be stated:

“We are here to talk about Adoptee rights. Did you know that your state, XXX, currently has legislation in effect that discriminates against adult adopted people?”

Yes, it helps to know the state laws in that particular state, and I can guarantee that MOST legislators will be less informed about the particular states than you are.

Now, some might be aware of past efforts and will say so:

“Oh I heard about that. I think we had something go through a few years ago.”

This is because there have been a great many efforts in the past decade in the various states, so if the legislator has been around for a while the issue might ring a bell.  Now, some don’t know adoptee rights from baby safe haven law ( or some other adoption “reform”) and  it gets them confused. If they don’t know about the right to access an original birth certificate, then that gets stated.

“Hmmm. I think  that might be another area of adoption? ( quizzical face)  I believe that bill might have been to make adoptions easier? ( or whatever)  Adoptee rights legislation is at the other end; (gestures with hands.. I’m Italian. Talking with my hands is unavoidable) when the adoptees grows up. Once they are adults, the current state laws continues to treat them as children just because they were adopted! It’s a crazy outdated law and  that’s why we’re here. They have got to be changed ( looking just amused and shocked by the atrocity of this old ass bill).”

Now if said legislator really is familiar with the issue, now is a good time to ask outright;

“Did you support it when it came though?”

If they say yes, then you ask “What held it up?” Then listen. Here is a chance to get an insider’s view of what happens and what the holdup was. What didn’t work on the last attempt at legislative reform? Ask what can be done to help to help it go through next time. Yes, seriously pump for information. It’s a potential gold mine!

If they say that they did not support the bill, then look surprised that they would do something so illogical and ask why not “What where your concerns?  Can you share with me why you felt it was not beneficial legislation? I’d really like to help you feel better about and answer any questions so when it does come around again, we can count on your support.”

Again, listen. No argument, just listen. I’ll get to rebuttals to their beliefs.

Now inevitably, there will be someone who just has no clue what the hell “Adoptee Rights bills” means and  needs an quick primer on the issue and I’ll get to that in part II.

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Claudia Corrigan DArcy

About Claudia Corrigan DArcy

Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. Blogging since 2005, her website Musings of the Lame has become a much needed road map for many mothers who relinquished, adoptees who long to be heard, and adoptive parents who seek understanding. She is also an activist and avid supporter of Adoptee Rights and fights for nationwide birth certificate access for all adoptees with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Besides here on Musings of the Lame, her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, BlogHer, Divine Caroline, Adoption Today Magazine, Adoption Constellation Magazine, Adopt-a-tude.com, Lost Mothers, Grown in my Heart, Adoption Voice Magazine, and many others. She has been interviewed by Dan Rather, Montel Williams and appeared on Huffington Post regarding adoption as well as presented at various adoption conferences, other radio and print interviews over the years. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, Rye, children, and various pets.
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One Response to Talking About Adoptee Rights To Legislators or Anyone Else

  1. Kat - Open Adoption AdopteeKat Stanley says:

    Thank you for writing this, Claudia. I appreciate hearing what has worked in the past so I know how to word my language. For me, each time I speak to a legislator, each one seems to be stuck on a different issue such as medical info or abortion or “birth mother” privacy so it seems like I end up discussing these side issues. The words adoptee “civil right” seems to go in one ear and out the other. This ends up being frustrating so the reminder to not debate and spend more time listening is perfect. Thank you again!

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