Actions Speak Louder than Words: The Evan B. Donaldson Strikes Out on HuffPo

Wednesday (January 12) the Huffington Post published a blog, A Civil Right: Adoptees Have a Right to Access Their Own Birth Certificates by Adam Pertman, director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. In it, Mr. Pertman calls for the restoration of the right of adoptees to their own original birth certificates.


Or does he?

Only after 3 1/2 paragraphs, in which Mr. Pertman discusses slavery, suffrage and DADT, does he get around to adoptees (not bastards) and our obcs. To the casual reader, with little or no background on deformist history, the piece may make a good read. Unfortunately it isn’t.

Mr. Pertman simply continues the Donaldson’s spurious claim to support obc access for all, while it happily works for passage of bills that restrict access for some, leaving classes of bastards behind to float in a black hole. For instance, last year Mr. Pertman delivered eloquent testimony before a New Jersey House committee hearing declaring the right of all adoptees, without restriction, to their original birth certificates Unfortunately, he was testifying in support of A1406, a deform bill that contains disclosure and contact vetoes (even worse, used interchangeably; that is, a poor bastard with a contact veto slapped on her will be unable to obtain her obc). That bill also seals by default the records of all individuals dumped under the state’s “safe haven” law, despite the fact that most of them were babies born in hospitals to identified parents and are what quaintly used to be called “boarder babies,” left behind at hospitals for any number of reasons, often related to serious health problems.

While Mr. Pertman in his original HuffPo blog is unclear if he supports compromise, he unfuzzies his beliefs in later comments after being taken to task by a brigade of Bastard Nationals and friends including BN co-founder Shea Grimm, Ron Morgan, Sabina Kneisly, Lori Jeske, Deni Castellucci, Erik Smith, Maureen Flatley and myself who are quite familiar with the Donaldson’s questionable actions regarding adoptee rights. Mr. Pertman writes (my emphasis):

Alas. Shoul­d we always fight to get what’s right for everyone? Unequivoca­lly — and with all our might. When proponents of the status quo will only accede to language giving 95 percent what they deserve, however, the question is this: Should we accept the compromise as progress and then stand united to get the rest or, instead, should we reject it in the name of purity and expend our energy criticizin­g each other as sellouts?”


and in a clear attempt to co-opt an earlier comment by Flatley, who didn’t say what he claims she said:

I’d like to start today by thanking those of you who questioned my “something or nothing” explanatio­n of compromise access legislatio­n when it comes to a vote (we obviously should fight mightily for “clean” bills until that point); my intent came through to most readers, but obviously not to everyone, so clearly my wording could have been better. Maureen Flatley’s “now or later” constructi­on is more accurate and on-point, and I’m grateful for it. We should take the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” now as an important step, for instance, and we should work hard to get full equality later — though not much later, please. That was the reality (and still is) in the quest for full equality for people of color in our country, too, and it likely will be ours in the adoption realm — though, again, it’s incumbent on us to go back and finish the job everywhere there have been compromise­s that left anyone behind. We all share the same dream. I hope, today, we can acknowledg­e that much.

One more of those clarifications and Mr. Pertman will find himself in a deeper hole than the Left Behinds. Let’s hope he doesn’t run into them down there.

As of this writing, over 850 comments have been posted to Mr. Pertman’s blog. I’ve posted over 50 comments myself, and others have posted more.

My first post was written quickly and divided in 2 parts due to space limitations. Part 2 posted within a few minutes. Part 1 was deep-sixed upon receipt. Cully Ray found it, but to the best of my knowledge, no one else did, and it does not appear on my personal HuffPo Activity page. Likewise, Joanne Wolf Small’s comment appeared momentarily (I saw it!) and has disappeared into Arianna’s ether.

At the moment I don’t intend to blog much more about Mr. Pertman’s blog here, but I wanted you to read the comments HuffPo doesn’t want you to read. The whole of my half-dropped comments are here, followed by Joanne’s lost post, published here with her consent.

PART 1:
Actions speak louder than words. Mr. Pertman and the Donaldson, while they talk a good line, have repeatedly rejected the core principle of adoptee rights–original birth certificate (obc) access for all, by supporting, endorsing and testifying in favor of restrictive legislation that
“permits” some adopted people to receive theirs obcs while leaving others behind to be stigmatized and blacklisted by their own state governments and denying them full citizen
privilege vis a vis obc access. The EBD and their reformist ilk speak out of both sides of their mouths:

Left: adoptees deserve their own obcs.

Right: Except some don’t.

Left: No harm can come from obc access.

Right: “Birthmothers” must be protected from their own offspring; we support disclosure and contact vetoes and other forms of government document censorship through redaction.

Left: No legal promise or guarantee of confidentiality//privacy/ anonymity”birthparents” do not exist.

Right: We must honor promises of confidentiality/privacy/anonymity made to “birthparents.”

Left: no adult/ parent has the right to deny another adult/offspring their own obc.
Right: We support a newly created “special right” of adults/parents to do so.

PART 2
Reformists refuse to develop their own arguments and language. They validate the enemy and regurgitate­ opposition language in their own bad bills/laws (latest examples IL and NJ) that monitor personal relationsh­ips and continue to segregate the adopted from the not-adopte­d. They support government­, bureaucracy­y and interference in our lives, which not only promotes the myth of the dangerous, angry adoptee, but rejects the idea of the autonomous adoptee and self-owner­ship and responsibility.

Worst of all, reformists refuse to ask for what they really want, take what they can get, and screw everybody else. See. Mr. Pertman’s “giving women who placed their children for adoption the ability to officially declare if they do not want to be contacted” which in effect in many bills is a disclosure veto no matter what reformists argue to the contrary. So, while reformists claim they really want everybody to have their obc, we’re willing to let a few slide into the government­’s backhole. That, folks, guts the entire reformist claim of adoptee rights, exposing their game as nothing more than political farce.

The real adoptee rights movement has its own voice and is led by adopted persons, bastardize­d by the state. This is OUR fight. We have nothing to do with policy wonks and do-gooders who make money off of adoption, are interested only in their own organization building. have nothing to lose, and get in the way of the real rights restoration­.”


Joanne Wolf Small:

Mr. Pertman, I say you cannot have it both ways. Either you are for equal rights or you are not. Arguments against adopted adult citizens having direct access to their original birth record are nothing more than rationalizations in defense of discrimination. Needed now is legislation restoring the rights of all adopted people to direct access to a copy of their original birth record. Nothing more, nothing less! Let us not forget beginning in the 1930’s many states abrogated adopted people’s rights. It is 2011. Now those rights are theirs to reclaim. If you cannot or will not support them fully, please step aside.


Actions speak louder than words. Thus far, the mushy words of the Donaldson and associated groups have done little to restore, but done much to hinder the restoration of the RIGHT of obc access. Thanks to these groups, the work begun over ten years ago in Oregon by Bastard Nation and others, has been co-opted, distorted, and turned on its head with a confusing array of deformer sponsored or supported compromises that place these groups smack in the middle of the enemy’s camp. When deformists agree to and promote legislation that acquiesce to enemy claims of “birthparent” anonymity, applaud special made-up “rights” for “birthparents,” legitimize legalized baby dumps they claim to oppose, and kowtow to adoption industry and special interest lobbies, they have more in common with the National Council for Adoption and the ACLU than Bastard Nation, CalOpen, IllinoisOpen and other “purists” who hold the line, reject compromise, and pull bad bills rather than sell out Class Bastard. Once the compromise is in, the game is over and some Bastards are forever abandoned.

Here is Shea Grimm response on HuffPo to a New Jersey deformer claiming “they” can come back and pick up the Left Behinds:

.… States that pass vetoes bills never then later pass unconditio­nal bills, and in fact they’d be unlikely to survive a court challenge even if they did. In the Oregon ‘Doe’ case, the state had no veto provisions prior to Measure 58 (unconditi­onal access). Therefore the court could and did determine that there was no establishe­d ‘right to privacy’ or anonymity for birthparen­ts in the law in that state. But once you enact vetoes, you’re essentiall­y codifying that theretofor­e non-existe­nt right with the disclosure veto law itself. People who actually have been working on this issue for years understand this. In states like Ohio, for example, which has a multi-tier­ed veto/acces­s system, reformers understand and are coping with the reality that the only unconditio­nal bill that will likely ever pass judicial muster is a propspecti­ve one, precisely because of the previous veto legislatio­n. Moreover the more veto legislatio­n that passes, the more it’s seen as the desireable status quo. If people would simply reunite around adoptee rights concept after Oregon and Alabama instead of continuing to flog the same veto bills they’d been peddling for decades, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

This isn’t about being a purist. It’s about whether you think adoptees are entitled to the due process and equal protection of the law. If you believe that, you simply cannot support a veto bill because the veto provisions themselves violate those rights.


I’ll be writing more about the enemy within over the coming year.

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9 Replies to “Actions Speak Louder than Words: The Evan B. Donaldson Strikes Out on HuffPo”

  1. Speaking as Queer Bastard, I find Mr. Pertman’s utilization of attempts to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the course of the EBD’s on again off again cooptation of the pure open records stance not merely disgusting, but strangely perfectly apt, in that the “repeal” of DADT as currently being worked on stands to leave behind all Transfolk.

    Anyone who thinks the broader community will come back later to clean up the mess made by passing such ‘partial equality’ measures, well, they’re delusional.

    Be that the Trans community abandoned in the “pragmatic” attempt to “repeal DADT” (for some) or the black-holed Bastards, Pertman and his deformer ilk have no qualms about leaving behind under some false notion of it ‘just being for now/until we come back for you’ deform measures gut all our rights.

    Any serious student of history understands, do-overs in the realm of politics are merely the promises used to temporarily placate those being jettisoned in the name of ‘getting something, anything.’

    Once a bill is passed, legislators take decades before revisiting the mess they’ve made, if ever.

    Speaking as an Ohio Bastard whose human rights were left behind by the Ohio “compromise” bill, I guess you could say I know a thing or two about how this plays out in practical application.

    Once a bad bill passes, it’s only those who held out for full equality in the first place who still care, and still push for the real thing. It’s the Bastard Nations of this world who fight for our rights, not the Adam Pertmans/EBDs.

    Perhaps Mr. Pertman would care to mount a full scale campaign “go back for” those left behind by Illinois’ “compromise” bill?

    Yeah, not so much.

    To the best of my knowledge, they’ve never once expended resources to actually “go back for” anyone.

    Illinois Open, Bastard Nation and other “purists” (to Mr. Pertman’s reasoning) on the other hand, were not merely in the fight, they’re still there, still working in the aftermath.

    Not that they can get legislators to actually listen, as after all, to the legislators’ perspective, they ‘just took care of that.’

    THAT is the real legacy of shoddy bills the likes of which EBD has had a track record of supporting.

    We’ve never once seen any state go back and clean up the mess “compromised” records bills have left in their wake.

    Whatever Pertman’s number or percentage of left-behinds may be in any given state, we’re talking about the basic human rights of individuals being left behind in the name of political expediency.

    As I said on the comment thread, there is no such thing as partial human rights.

    Genuine rights are binary, you either enjoy full equality or you don’t.

  2. BD, I am so glad to see Pertman called on his side-stepping “clarifications.” From the Moms viewpoint, we have constantly taken him and others to task for presuming to speak FOR us and our comments usually wind up blowing on the wind at the South Pole. Keep it up.

  3. Okay, dumb question probably, but very curious. Why do you put “birthparents” in quotes? Do you question the whole concept of a “birthparent”? (What alternate terms would you use for “adoptive parent” as opposed to “birthparent”?)

    I admit, never thought about the terminology before.

  4. My gut feeling: the overwhelming number of ‘birthmothers’ (for lack of better term) want to be contacted and as usual, they are worried about a few pampered, rich girls who might lose inheritance and/or hubby’s money if someone found out.

    (Yeah I know, that was mean. But I have always thought so.)

    In all my 53 years, I have only heard people (both male and female) profess a deep desire to hear from their children. The only women I ever heard say it would be a disaster were 1) a nun and 2) bigshot important professional lawyer. This makes me think the issue is also about protecting people’s jobs; both thought it would be their downfall professionally, not personally. The lawyer intended to run for office, the nun was a major operator in the homeless movement, etc. (They thought such a disclosure could compromise their work and of course, it probably would.) Could we protect these women from any negative fallout?

    Just some idle thoughts…

    Word verification– ecktrot. Well, of course!

  5. Thanks for your comments, Daisey. I think you are on to something about professional women holding their reps–especially back in the 1960s and early 1970s when they were trying to build careers. The thing is nobody cares now! I know a municourt judge who is happily reunited with her daughter (granted born before a career was really in the offing.) Also, a Washington State Supreme Court judge who is very out.

    The term “birthmother” is very volatile for some, and three is a huge controversy surrounding its use, that takes up a lot of time which, imo, could be put to better use. Some moms like it, others hate it and consider it on the a par with the worse of the worse names. You also run into the problem that birthmother is a term that most people understand for what its supposed to mean (though it’s now become wrongly expanded to mean more than it should. For instance I’ve heard adopters (and that’s another hot word, but one that is considered “proper” in professional literature) who have biological and adoptive children refer to themselves as “birthmother” to their bio kids. ack! What a mess. Words are important, of course, but I try to stay out of the fight.

    I tend to use birthmother, first mother, original mother, biological mother, natural mother rather than mother. When you’re writing about adoption, you often need to differentiate the players. So, I’ve started putting birthmother in “” since some find it insulting (and other’s don’t.) Liberal deform groups almost always use the word birthmother, so when I write about them, I remind them that a lot of mothers find the word insulting, and if I use the word, I put it in quotes. I hooe this makes sense.

  6. It does make sense, and thank you. I now recall one friend of mine back in the day (1973 or 74), did not like the term, and said she “would always be her mother”… she was one of those teenage girls who gave up her baby and then had another one right away, which she kept. She told everyone she would never give up a child again and counseled everyone else not to. Her name was Chris, eventually had several more and ended up very poor and perpetually on AFDC, and I always thought of them as her “penance children”…

    Since this was in Columbus, you will get it: I went to the hospital room to see her after the baby was born and she told me “a rich couple from Upper Arlington” would adopt the baby. (I think I formed my lifelong hatred of the place at that moment.) I also remember we took French class together, and she named the baby a french name from a story in one of our textbooks: Danielle. (In the story, Danielle was always a happy little girl who loved the sunshine.)

    It has always upset me that little Danielle never learned her real name.

    The whole thing was almost as traumatic for me as it was for Chris, but I decided then and there, I could never do it. I knew she would regret it.

    It was such a fucked up situation. In addition, I will always believe it was her step-father’s baby; she didn’t even have a boyfriend.

  7. Hi Daisy,

    The “penance baby”(great term!) is a common phenomenon among mothers who surrendered, either a second kept baby born shortly after the first, or a second baby that ends up being surrendered because the mom was in worse shape than the first time. Luckily for most of us this did not become a pattern as it did for your friend.

    I use “birthmother” and “adoptive mother” to differentiate which mother I am referring to, sometime just “mom” for either when it is clear from the context to whom I refer. To me both are neutral, descriptive terms. Anyone can call themselves anything they wish, and I would not correct them, but the fact that they are offended will not make me change my terminology which is most widely understood in the real world.

    I only use the term “adopter” as an insult, as in “the adopter abused her child.” I consider both adoptive parents and birth parents real parents, in different ways.

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