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Comcast, Out and Equal host forum on adoption
by Liz Baudler

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About 40 people from various organizations attended Comcast's Out and Equal's event, "Ever Thought About Adoption?," on May 16 at 901 W. Weed St, as part of Out and Equal's Citywide Pride Programming.

"We host programs like this that we believe will benefit our LGBTQ employees/OUT members," said Sean Janda-Forner, the co-lead of OUT@Comcast, the company's LGBTQ ERG. "As a service to the community at large, when we can, we include external LGBTQ organizations and members of LGBTQ ERGs from other companies so that they can benefit from our programs as well."

Janda added that the event, about a year and a half in the making, would ideally give attendees, especially LGBTQ ones, an idea of every side of the process.

Comcast Senior Director of Disability and Absence Scott Daniels introduced a panel of Comcast employees plus an adoption professional as being about the expectations, perceptions, myths that might come along with adoption. Daniels also mentioned that Comcast had wanted to change the culture for new parents, including the presumption of gender neutrality. Comcast benefits now include 12 weeks of paid parental leave for employees of any gender, and reimbursement for up to $10,000 of adoption related expenses.

"Those four little people have made everything worthwhile," said Comcast employee Violet Digiovanni, who has adopted four children from foster care, the latter two after her husband unexpectedly passed away.

Janda-Forner, who also took part in the panel, remembered feeling like he and his husband didn't know where to go to start the process and being concerned about how stereotypes about gay men might play into both adoption itself and his future child's potential experiences.

"We had no idea what to expect," said Janda-Forner. "Being a gay couple, how will other people react?"

Janda-Forner and his husband adopted their son back in 2012, about a month after he started at Comcast. He remembered feeling supported by his management at the time: when the opportunity to adopt suddenly arose, his manager immediately gave him two weeks paid leave.

Comcast's Jonathan Huber, adopted at birth, described his adoptive parents as "the most loving parents a child could ask for." In what he called a "talk show moment," Huber was able to reconnect with his birth mother and her family in his 30s. "I have two sets of parents that love me," Huber said, adding that he never felt different because of being adopted.

Janda-Forner invited Jane Turner, Executive Director of the Illinois Adoption Center, to the panel, as IAC was the agency that helped his family adopted. While Turner helped define different adoption options, she was very open about the "enormous variety" of possibilities when it came to adoption, including timeframe and cost. Turner defined timeframe possibilities as "quickly to never" and cost from "nothing to $60,000." Adopting through foster care and DFCS, Turner explained, adoptive parents may even get a subsidy, where private and international adoptions may cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. Yet Turner also added that there are resources for those looking to adopt. "I don't want anyone to say it's too expensive," she said.

Turner said she likes to know the vision prospective families have for their adoption, and she outlined common misconceptions people have about their ability to be adoptive parents, including being single, gay, having student loans, renting vs. owning, on antidepressants, or being in an unmarried couple.

"Most of the barriers are not valid," Turner said, and added that in fact, in the last years, three birth mothers specifically requested same-sex male couples as potential adoptive families, so they could, as Turner put it, "be the only mom."

Both Digiovanni and Janda-Forner described the home visit stage of adoption as "scary," and fraught with potential judgement by outsiders. Janda-Forner also recalled the anxiety he felt between the time his son was born and his adoption was finalized.

"Get ready for an emotional roller-coaster," Janda-Forner said—but, he added, the emotions are not necessarily bad.

And Turner had words for the anxious prospective adoptive parent. "Never feel like you're doing it by yourself," she said.

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