Equality Arizona campaign aims to unite LGBT families
By Laura Latzko - June 18, 2015
Currently, there are more than 17,000 children and youth in Arizona’s foster care system, according to Equality Arizona.
In an effort to “ensure all children have a better chance of finding a family” the organization whose mission is to achieve and maintain equal, legal rights and protections for the LGBTQ community in Arizona, launched Project Jigsaw May 18.
The project was developed following Gov. Doug Ducey’s veto of legislation in April that would have allowed county attorneys to refuse to help couples seeking to adopt.
“We agree with Governor Ducey that every child in Arizona deserves a loving home,” said Catherine Alonzo, Equality Arizona co-chair, in a May press release. “There are a countless number of prospective parents out there who want to build a family and provide a foundation of success for a child. It’s time for Arizonans to do everything they can to make that a reality.”
According to Kevin Patterson, Project Jigsaw chair and Equality Arizona board member, the campaign will focus on public education and outreach, provide resources to LGBT families as well as anyone involved in the adoption process and connect perspective parents with LGBT-friendly adoption agencies.
The campaign will also advocate for policy changes to ensure that all prospective parents have the opportunity to build a family. Because, according to Equality Arizona, despite the recent executive order from Gov. Ducey, many Arizona adoption agencies still refuse to represent same-sex adoptive couples, and same-sex couples are often considered bottom on the list of homes to be placed with children.
Despite the many puzzle pieces that comprise the project’s mission, Patterson reiterated that it’s the children that are at the heart of the campaign.
The first step, he added, is bringing attention to Arizona’s discriminatory policies.
“We have to create the noise around it and say, ‘These are the policies that are outdated, that don’t fit with our new legislation that supports marriage equality,’” Patterson said. “There’s discrimination in the language. We need to get this changed because at the end of the day, it’s not the parents that suffer, it’s the children.”
For same-sex prospective parents, discrimination can take many forms – from being subjected to additional home studies to the lack of adoption paperwork with same-sex language.
In many cases, Patterson said, this “red tape” and fear of having children taken away down the road is discouraging and can turn prospective parents away. Patterson offers encouragement when addressing these challenges with parents-to-be by focusing on the couples’ desire to begin a family.
“For me, I always bring it back to matters of the heart,” he said. “I bring it back to ‘Why did you choose to do this in the first place?’ I let them know that if they still want to be a parent, where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Patterson and his husband, David Larance-Patterson, began their 18-month adoption process in 2012. And, according to Patterson, that experience has fueled his passion for helping other families.
“David and I we went through [the adoption process] when the law was definitely not on our side and we were able to do it,” he said. “I think that’s hope and proof that it can be done.”
Because he and his husband had limited resources when they embarked on their journey to start a family, and because of all the questions they’ve received from couples in similar situations, Patterson knows a big part of this project will be providing information on where to start and what steps to take.
Another issue that Project Jigsaw will address is the stigma for children in the foster care system.
“The stigma out there is all of these kids in the system are all damaged, have discipline problems, are going to end up right back in the system and are going to cause pain and heartache to you because they’ve been mistreated,” Patterson said.
While every child, and foster or adoption scenario, is different, Patterson said the lack of knowledge can perpetuate this stigma.
“For us, it was the opposite,” he said. “We got two kids that had zero behavior problems and zero education problems, were not violent, were not angry and were not any of the things we prepared for. There are other kids like this in the system, kids that just need a home.”
As Project Jigsaw continues to grow, additional information, including resources for raising young people with health problems or for raising children of different races or ethnic groups, will become available on the website.
“When we adopted, we had to learn a lot of things about raising them,” Patterson said in reference to his two African-American daughters, now ages 5 and 8. “[We had to learn] how to raise girls, how to do their hair, how to care for their skin.”
Throughout the next few months, Equality Arizona will be rolling out resources, telling the stories of local families and building a wider community network by developing partnerships with other organizations, such as medical providers, ministries and youth groups. Eventually, social groups and community events will be incorporated into the campaign, too.
“Our future goal with this whole project is connecting LGBT communities,” Patterson said. “We want to expand families with community leaders, community providers, community politicians, community resources and community events that just promote the wellbeing of all children.”
For more information, visit equalityarizona.org/project-jigsaw or look for Project Jigsaw on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.