Tag Archives: Adoptee Advocacy

‘The Art of War’: the essential text for any U.S. adoptee

Sun Tzu, the brilliant Chinese strategist, reportedly born in 554 BC, should be studied and read by every adoptee in the United States who is denied equal treatment under the law and their original birth records. His classic treatise, The Art of War, remains one of the most frequently studied, quoted, and referenced tools in human civilization for anyone who engages in advocacy and, yes, war. 

Everything is there for the adoptee or birth parent seeking his/her records and past and for advocacy groups seeking reform and justice from a system that denies basic justice and equality to millions.

For adoptees who are plagued by insecurity, doubt, and depression about the injustice of discriminatory state adoption laws and historic and unspoken prejudice against illegitimately born people like adoptees, I first recommend drawing from your wisdom and discipline you have gained from your experience. Finding wisdom in books will be meaningless unless you can first put that knowledge into a perspective you have lived yourself.

So Why Sun Tzu and an Ancient Text?

My tweet to adoptees on preparing for long campaigns for equal rights: read Sun Tzu.

Most adoptees will learn that their path to wisdom and later action will eventually require discipline, awareness of one’s adversaries, and adapting successfully from tough experience. Luckily, Sun Tzu provides one of the easiest to access toolkits to guide you as you embark on your journey that only you can make.

If your mind is open to new ideas, Sun Tzu’s timeless observations and tactics allow anyone to become an irresistible force. As Sun Tzu says, “Being unconquerable lies with yourself.”

In my case, I embraced many of these strategies to overcome the country’s discriminatory adoption system and achieve a measure of justice and wisdom, which I describe in my book on my adoption experience. Sun Tzu correctly notes, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.” 

Bittersweet one-year anniversary of winning court order for my original birth certificate

One year ago today, on June 17, 2016, Michigan 3rd Circuit Court Judge Christopher Dingell signed a court order requiring the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to release a copy of my original birth certificate. This decision came more than 27 years after I had found my birth family and knew the names of all my biological kin.

This is what I wrote on June 17, 2016, the day a court order Michigan to give me my original birth certificate: “That’s me on the phone this morning with the Michigan 3rd Circuit Court making the case why an original birth certificate of an adoptee is not a top secret document that should be held under lock and key by a paternalistic state that treats a class of individuals as lesser citizens simply because they were born illegitimately as adoptees. The judge agreed with my points and the facts of the case. Booyah!”

Judge Dingell agreed with facts of my case. Great. We all like to win and see justice prevail.

However, just getting the trial proved almost as frustrating as getting any record from the fanatically-unhelpful MDHHS. (This is the same department that covered up its failings in the Flint lead and water scandal.)

I had to make repeated calls on a weekly basis to get on the court docket. A court date was cancelled without notification or apology.

When the court date came, by phone, the judge’s line of questioning took a bizarre twist, when his questions showed he had more interest in whether my birth father had some abstract legal standing in the matter, not the immorality and openly discriminatory nature of a law that promoted unequal treatment or the denial of a record that should have been given to me nearly three decades earlier, by law.

In fact, the judge took little personal interest in my story at all. What’s more, his out-of-nowhere questions about my birth father had no bearing on my request, as my birth father was dead and more importantly had no legal standing at all in my case. I had already provided the state legal documents in 1989 that should have forced the state to surrender my birth certificate along with other birth records I received.

I will not even begin to discuss the larger historic issue of how paternity issues have historically harmed birth mothers and illegitimate infants throughout history, in often lethal ways, and how the judge’s questions seemed oblivious of historic reality.

The court victory, though satisfying, was another frustrating and also insulting experience that typifies the systemic and discriminatory practices in most U.S. states against U.S. adoptees seeking their equal rights and documents that are theirs by birthright.

No court case should ever had happened, according to at least one approved written statement the MDHHS shared with me after the hearing–see the state’s explanation to question 19 on this summary of the state’s replies to my emailed questions. No official involved in deciding my request for my birth certificate would speak to me on the record, despite repeated attempts to secure interviews with those handling my case.

I wrote a detailed account of my experience on my website, revealing how the state almost certainly broke state law denying my original birth record and enlisted nearly 20 state officials to keep me from having my birth record without any policy rationale or basic human decency. I also alerted more than 20 media outlets about the state’s abuse of power and likely violation of law after I won the court ruling. Only one reporter contacted me, and the newspaper did not write a story.

In the end, the story of an adoptee is essentially the experience of being a bastard–and this came as no shock to me. It is the experience that many adoptees live navigating secretive public health agencies and the courts for many decades of our lives. 

I describe my journey culminating in my court victory in my forthcoming book on my experience seeking justice as a U.S. adoptee. Today, only nine states allow adult U.S. adoptees to access their birth records and, essentially, be treated equally under the law like other Americans in seeking their identity and the most essential identity document humans will own.


Finding kindred spirits in the quest for equal rights

This past week, I made some good connections online. Both happened through my Twitter profile.

Unlike some adoptees, I refuse to identify myself on that platform through my status as being adopted. I do call myself a Detroit native and photographer. That said, I find Twitter to be a great tool to share news leads on progress promoting equality for adoptees who seek to change discriminatory laws that deny adoptees in the United States equal treatment under the U.S. Constitution (14th Amendment) and state laws.

The first connection came with a Minnesota-based attorney named Gregory Luce, who recently launched a website for his Adoptee Rights Law Center. In his own words, Luce writes, “Nationally, however, we will work with lawyers and activists to develop legal strategies to advance adoptee rights, whether through legal briefs and research, support to lawyers on the ground, pro bono representation for adoptees, or coordination of state-by-state legal efforts.”

Luce has published a detailed state-by-state analysis of the state-level and mostly restrictive adoption laws. Anyone who is interested in the larger policy framework that continues to deny civil rights to adoptees should bookmark this page.

It was fun to connect with Darryl McDaniels, fellow adoptee and internationally known rapper, over Twitter about something we both care about.

Luce is not in the business of framing adoption as a wonderful “gift” or trying to be part of the larger and international adoption industrial complex. (That is what I call it in my forthcoming book, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are.) We exchanged a couple of emails. I shared with him my research findings on practices in Michigan, which I have published on my website. I’m glad to know there is an advocate who is using his legal expertise in this overlooked area of discrimination.

My second Twitter connection occurred when I sent a thank-you Tweet to Darryl McDaniels, one of the founders of the path-breaking rap group Run DMC. He had Tweeted support for adoption-records reform legislation in his home state, New York.

McDaniels, like me, is an adoptee. Like me, he found his family. McDaniels also created one of the best portrayals of the American adoption experience in the cover he did with fellow adoptee and singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan of Just Like Me. The video shows McDaniels’ birth and relinquishment in 1964, and what that meant to him and his birth mother.

To my pleasant surprise, McDaniels wrote me back with a nice Tweet that made me smile. That Tweet received more than 1,000 views when I last checked. It is very nice to know that there are strangers out there who are working toward the same goal, but with different tools and with great energy and commitment for the same thing—the right to what is theirs as a birthright: their original birth records.