Sunday, January 6, 2019

"This is what a family looks like."

  Jay was worried he wouldn’t be fed. He was in trouble at school. He was sick a lot.

  And he was only 5 years old.

  Before he met Chelsey and Bailey Glassco, Jay (not his real name) had never lived with a foster family longer than 90 days. But the Glasscos, who were shunned by their tight-knit Southern, Christian communities when they came out, have what they call “a soft spot” for foster kids.

  “We’ve said from the very beginning that whatever is best for him is what we want,” Chelsey told Katherine Webb-Hehn for Scalawag.

  With the Glasscos as his foster moms, Jay made friends at school and got down to just one medication a day. He made As and Bs in class. After three months with the Glasscos, he started asking if he could stay for good.

  They decided to adopt him. But it was a process fraught with uncertainty and anxiety, especially for a same-sex couple in Alabama.

  Ever since Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed HB24 into law in May 2017, it’s been legal for private, religious-affiliated adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples. And despite adoption proceedings typically being a formality, the Glasscos’ adoption proceeding would take place in front of a probate judge who refused to issue a single marriage license in his county after Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

  On the day of the adoption proceeding, the Glasscos entered the rural courthouse with Jay and two friends from church. Nerves were on edge.

  Then the delays began. The 1 p.m. hearing was pushed back an hour, and then almost two hours. The hearing finally began just after 4 p.m. Before long, Chelsey texted Webb-Hehn that she thought the judge was concerned about approving the couple’s adoption out of fear of his name being linked to it.

  Jay, now 6, had already spent nearly half of his life – 1,000 days – in foster care. Now the couple was worried he would remain there.

  “There’s a huge swath of people who think we’re past same-sex rights, who think there’s nothing left to fight for,” said the Glasscos’ friend Amy to Webb-Hehn. “That’s just not true if you live in rural places.”

  The Glasscos were with the judge for more than an hour. When they finally left, it was with Jay Glassco, their legally adopted son.

  They celebrated their victory with ice cream, but it was a muted celebration.

  “I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t personal,” Chelsey told Webb-Hehn. “It wasn’t my wife and I he was taking issue with. That’s what I tell myself to keep from getting angry. This was bigger than us. He was trying to look out for himself, his family, his career. Does it make it OK? Does it make me happy about it? No, but I wanted to leave with my son being adopted.”

  “I’m not as cool-tempered as Chelsey,” Bailey said. “I was thinking: How am I going to explain to my child that this thing I’ve been waiting for is not going to happen because someone’s afraid?”

  In the end, it did happen. But the Glasscos’ happy ending, the capstone on a story that we highlighted not long after they began fostering Jay, underscores another issue.

  There are currently 6,000 children in the state’s foster system, according to the Alabama Department of Human Services — more than there are families to foster them. Alabama needs qualified foster parents like the Glasscos.

  Back on the ice cream parlor’s front porch, Bailey took a deep breath and let out a sigh. “It seemed like in [the judge’s] face he had this moment where he was looking at us,” she told Webb-Hehn, “and he was looking at [Jay], and he was looking at us … and he had this moment when it was like: Oh, this is a family. This is what a family looks like.”

  We couldn’t agree more.

  This article was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

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