|Mom and Joseph. The picture in his room for him to remember her by.|
I've been thinking about "radical empathy" and that October post lately as I ponder what I can possibly say about the Pennsylvania ACLU's opposition to HB162, a bill that would allow adult adoptees in Pennsylvania access to their original birth certificates. The bill passed the House in December 187-7 (though with a clause included about an adoptee having to have a high school diploma or GED in order to access her birth certificate. What?!) and now goes to the Senate, where it faces intense opposition by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania ACLU. A friend forwarded me the letter that was sent to all members of the House of Representatives by ACLU Legislative Director Andy Hoover back in December, and I have been pondering ever since what I could possibly say in response. What can I say about a letter that ignores the personal stories of so many birth parents and adoptees, including my mom, and then insults them by arguing that "The fairest process in adoption is one that respects the wishes of all parties. Current law accomplishes that"? (My mom is dead, and only by a miracle do I now know and have as part of my life her extended family, so no, no, no, current law does not accomplish that). What to say to an organization that apparently thinks it completely fine that my mom had no rights when it came to knowing her true identity? That would ignore the testimony of thousands upon thousands around the country (and world) to the contrary? After more than a month of reflection, I think the answer, really, is nothing. If nothing that has been said thus far has moved them, then I do not think that they are really listening. And what is needed now is radical listening.
We all know what it feels like when someone really listens to us. And we all know what it feels like when someone doesn't. I've had both experiences when telling my mom's story. Once, a new neighbor, now a good friend, came by my house and noticed a picture on the bulletin board of my mom and her two sisters. She asked about it. I told her a little (there were other people over, and I tend not to go into the whole, complicated story in social situations), but I added, "It's an interesting story. I'll have to tell you some time." The next week, as we sat on the front porch while our kids played on the lawn, she asked for the story, and I told her. I did not get into the politics. I just told her about my mom, and how she had to sit across the desk from some twenty-something social worker who had access to the truth of my mom's life right there, in the filing cabinet at her side, but she couldn't share that truth with my mom, because one phone call, one scared no from her biological mother, meant that she couldn't. My mom had no rights to contact her mother herself. She had no rights to know her family, including her sisters , who wanted to know her.
"I can't imagine how that must have felt," my friend said. I was so grateful to her for listening, for really listening, and hearing the truth of my mom's experience, that I could have cried. When the ACLU is ready (will they ever be ready?) I will be grateful to them too. By listening, they would know that their stance is wrong, and harmful. By listening, they could understand. And by understanding, they could do what is right. For the sake of thousands of adoptees and biological parents in Pennsylvania, I hope that they do, and soon.