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Adoption in Ontario

LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

I ntro d u c tio n

R e s e arc h Fi n di n gs

The groundwork for access to adoption for LGBTQ people in Ontario was laid by a 1995 Charter challenge, in which four lesbian couples successfully challenged the heterosexual definition of “spouse,” enabling same-sex second parent adoptions. At this time, some Children’s Aid Societies (e.g., the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto) developed policy to support same-sex adoption. However, it was not until 2000 that the provincial Child and Family Services Act was revised to allow two adults to jointly apply to adopt an unrelated child. Though this amendment did not explicitly refer to the sexual orientation of adoptive parents, in a memo released the same day, the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) informed all practicing adoption agencies/individuals that the memo should be read to include same-sex adoption. While bisexual, transgender, transsexual and Two-spirit applicants were not explicitly mentioned by the MCSS, it is assumed that they are included under the provision which allows any two people to adopt.

Part A: Policies and Procedures of Adoption Agencies related to LGBTQ applicants

The goal of our research was to examine whether this legislative change has translated into increased access to adoption for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) people. The research project had two parts:


LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

Part A: A  survey of adoption agencies in Ontario about their policies and procedures related to LGBTQ applicants. Part B: Interviews with 43 LGBTQ people from across Ontario who had completed, or were in the process of completing, an adoption.

Part A of the project involved surveying the 97 public, private and international agencies licensed to handle adoption in Ontario about their policies and procedures related to LGBTQ adoption. A total of 44 (45%) of the 97 agencies contacted responded to the survey. Of these, the majority (33 or 75%) were public agencies. Agencies were asked questions such as: • Do you have a policy about LGBTQ adoption? • Does your agency accept applications from openly LGBTQ people? • Have you made placements to openly LGBTQ people in the last two years? • Have you/your agency participated in any outreach or partnership activities with LGBTQ communities? Overall, the majority of agencies reported accepting applications from LGBTQ people. Reported acceptance of applications was highest for lesbian and gay applicants, and somewhat lower for trans, Two-Spirit, and bisexual applicants. Nearly half of respondents had made at least one LGBTQ placement in the past two years. Approximately 2% of the total placements reported were to LGBTQ families (3% for public agencies). No differences were found between public and private agencies in their support for LGBTQ adoption. International agencies had the lowest support levels. However, they face challenges in their ability to support an LGBTQ adoptive parent, since no country except the U.S. will currently allow adoption to an openly LGBTQ person. Religious and culturally-affiliated agencies were less likely to accept LGBTQ applicants and place children with them than agencies with no affiliation. Agencies in major urban centres had higher levels of overall support than those in smaller communities.


LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

Overall, support for LGBTQ adoption is on the rise in Ontario. However, lesbian and gay people are more supported than bisexual and trans people. There are also challenges in ensuring that LGBTQ people with religious/cultural affiliations have access to adoption through these agencies and in ensuring consistent experiences across all parts of Ontario.


Part B: The Experiences of LGBTQ Adoptive Parents

During the interviews, people were asked to tell the story of their adoption process and were asked about the barriers and supports they experienced. The sample of participants was predominantly white, and lesbian or gay. There were few participants who identified as transgender, and no transsexual or Two-spirit participants. The interviews were analyzed according to negative and positive experiences. Most of the positive stories about the adoption process came from lesbian and gay participants, while the negative experiences occurred for lesbian, gay, bisexual and the few transgender participants.

Workers were particularly helpful when they were able to communicate with lesbian and gay prospective parents in ways that made them feel supported and welcomed. Some participants appreciated when workers helped them think about possible challenges they might face as lesbian and gay adoptive parents.

Addressing Heterosexism

Positive/Supportive Experiences

Where prospective parents encountered heterosexism at an agency level (e.g., in forms), they felt supported by workers who acknowledged, apologized for, and supported them through these barriers.

Feeling Supported

Many of the lesbian and gay participants felt that, overall, they were supported by their adoption workers.

“[The workers] said, ‘I knew right away when I met you that you’d be good parents.’ They actually said it.”

In some cases, the agency explicitly stated its support for adoption by lesbian and gay people. These statements were valued as they helped to ease the anxiety of prospective adoptive parents about potential homonegativity or heterosexism in the adoption process.


“There were some things that she touched on as far as problems that you might see in the future…have you thought about what is going to happen when your son is in school, your daughter’s in school and somebody starts making fun of them because they have two moms? Things of that nature, more to make sure that you’ve already thought about these things than saying this is going to be definitely a problem for you.”

“At the home study, when the person came, right off the top, she said [sexual orientation] wasn’t going to be a barrier. We didn’t even have to ask, so it wasn’t a big concern for us.”

“They were aware that the material was old and they said they were planning on fixing it--where things said mommy and daddy they were changing to ‘parents’ and stuff like that because they knew it was heterosexist.”

Lesbian or Gay Identity: An Advantage in the Adoption Process Adoption workers experienced in working with lesbian and gay families sometimes emphasized the ways in which lesbian or gay identity could be viewed as a strength in a parent.

“I remember it [the home study] was written up in a way that talked about how because we’ve experienced discrimination, because we’ve experienced being stereotyped that we have those experiences to give to our kids to help them deal with times they’re being stereotyped.”


LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

When adoption workers emphasized the strengths of lesbian and gay parents, it helped to instill confidence and a sense of being supported in prospective parents. While adoption workers in this study did not explicitly recognize these strengths in relation to bisexual or trans parents, the strengths they identified can apply to these adoptive parents as well.

Negative/Unsupportive Experiences Lack of Support Some participants reported negative experiences in the adoption process, mostly in conversations with their adoption workers. Some described feeling a general lack of support, without any explicit homophobic or heterosexist comments made by adoption workers. Occasionally, however, these attitudes were openly stated. For example, one heterosexually-partnered, bisexual-identified couple described how their adoption worker voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage before they had talked about their bisexual identities. This influenced their decision not to come out during the home study process.

“He told us that he was against same-sex marriage… He said something like, ‘Well, maybe I’m a little bit old-fashioned but I’m not quite ready to accept two men or two women as a family’ or something like that.”

On some occasions, adoption workers warned their clients to expect homophobia or heterosexism from others involved in the adoption process (e.g. foster parents, other agencies’ workers, birth parents). In several cases, these expectations were used to discourage LGBTQ people from pursuing private adoption, or to encourage them to change their preferences (e.g., older children, children with special needs, sibling groups) in order to be placed.


“It was very positive as far as our personal interactions with her, not so positive about how successful we were going to be. And so discussions very quickly became about ‘you need to adopt an older child, you need to adopt a child with special needs.’”

LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

Many (though not all) of these negative experiences occurred outside of major city centres. Participants who had worked with more than one adoption agency felt that different regions had different policies and comfort levels around working with LGBTQ prospective parents.

“Certain agencies were welcoming, ‘Come on in, let’s talk’ Other agencies just looked at us, said ‘Need not apply… don’t bother applying. Don’t bother picking up the material.’”

It is important to note that while some agencies did not view LGBTQ people as appropriate adoptive parents, other agencies had never worked with openly LGBTQ people, but were happy to learn. Several participants from small communities had very positive experiences with agencies new to working with LGBTQ people. Gender Role Models Nearly all of the single and same-sex partnered participants were asked by their workers about providing their adopted child with gender role models. This question seemed to be based on the assumption that children need male and female role models to develop normally, implying that families without a male and female parent are in some way deficient compared to two-parent heterosexual families. This question also assumes that there are only two genders, excluding transgender people and others who fall outside of the two-gender model.

“They are very open to and welcoming to same-sex couples, but they’re still very, very tied to the idea that you must have a same gender role model. They really wanted to know what men we have in our lives. It feels like that’s happening without a lot of analysis. What are you asking? Do we just have to have anybody with a penis? Or does it have to be someone really macho so we can train him to be a man? They hadn’t really figured out that gender is a lot more complicated than that, and what exactly are you asking?”


LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

For one participant, the males in her life included a transidentified man. She felt that for the adoption worker, this person was not “male enough” and that it was necessary to have cisgendered or non-trans men in her life to meet this requirement.

“[The worker] said ‘Are there any men in your life?’ I was like, ‘ yeah’ and I mentioned a few. And I said ‘Anthony’ and I don’t even know why I said ‘trans,’ but I think it just came up... Then she said, ‘Are there any other men?’ I think this particular man was not good enough…There needed to be more men, biological men.”

The few trans-identified participants interviewed for this study chose not to disclose their transgender identities in order to avoid the barriers they thought would result. For example, one couple decided not to disclose a partner’s transgender identity because they did not expect the adoption worker to understand it, since the adoption worker was already struggling to understand their identity as a butch-femme couple.


“To the degree that we made her aware [of the trans identity] in any way it was like talking to a brick wall, you know. Remember when we told her ‘Well you know [child] has to make a card for father’s day so she makes it for [trans-identified partner].’ [The worker] just smiled, like ‘oh that’s nice.’”

LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

It is important that adoption workers reflect on the assumptions embedded in their questions about gender role models. Frequently, people unquestioningly assume that men and women offer children fundamentally different things. Yet, if we consider the diversity that exists amongst men and amongst women, it is easy to think of men and women who have a variety of likes, dislikes, preferences, interests and abilities. There are men who dislike hockey and women who love to coach team sports. Each of us offers children different things. It can be helpful to ask yourself the question: “What are the characteristics of a good parent?” And then, “How and why would this differ if I was describing a good mother or a good father?” This exercise can help us identify the assumptions we make about gender and parenting.

Bisexual Adoptive Parents Common myths about bisexuality include that it is not a legitimate and/or stable sexual orientation and that bisexual people have unstable relationships. These myths are widely held, including by many heterosexual and gay/lesbian people. The bisexual participants in this study perceived that in many cases their adoption workers believed these myths and, as a result, some participants chose not to disclose their bisexual identity in the adoption process.

LGBTQ people with fluid sexual and gender identities challenge the concept that cisgendered women and men are the only models of femininity and masculinity. One participant who identified as both lesbian and trans felt that she could bring masculine energy to parenting regardless of her sexual orientation and gender identity.

For example, one single prospective parent was assumed to be lesbian when she mentioned a past female partner, and decided not to correct this assumption because she was apprehensive that her worker would make assumptions that are often made about bisexuality, resulting in a negative impact on her likelihood of adopting.

“We sensed that our worker kept pushing for a male role model and I finally said clearly, ‘I’m probably more masculine than some of the heterosexual men I know.’ That binary terms were just not useful to us. She just took that as information and pondered it for a while... She was quite adamant... she seemed to think that since she was placing the kids in a same-sex couple, they were always going to have... I’m not sure what it was, but feminine energy.”

“They assume that I am a lesbian...I just felt like I would have had to have explained more. Because then you would come across as more promiscuous.”

Another bisexual opposite-sex couple, who were read by their adoption worker as heterosexual, felt subtle pressure to not disclose their bisexuality or past same-sex relationships.


LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

“He had made it clear that he did not want to hear about us being involved with same-sex partners… you got the message that it was best not to discuss that.”

In not disclosing, these participants missed out on the opportunity to have a full discussion of their relationship history with their worker. Bisexual participants who were presumed to be heterosexual were not recognized for the strengths sometimes developed through experiences of discrimination.

What we le ar n ed

 any participants had positive experiences with the M adoption system. Many adoption workers have an understanding of how to work with lesbian and gay adoptive parents. Some adoption workers recognize the potential strengths of lesbian and gay people as adoptive parents. Adoption workers may lack an understanding of bisexual and transgender people and their potential strengths as adoptive parents. People in smaller communities are more likely to encounter workers who are unfamiliar with LGBTQ people. Many adoption workers hold the belief that LGBTQ people need to provide gender role models for their adopted children. Requiring gender role models undermines LGBTQ families.

For Adoption Workers Negative attitudes and beliefs about LGBTQ people are pervasive in Canadian society. We may grow up learning these from our families, peers, schools or religious organizations. A first step in becoming culturally competent is being willing to reflect on our beliefs about LGBTQ people and how these beliefs might impact our interactions with LGBTQ prospective adoptive parents. There are some commonly-held myths about LGBTQ parents that may


LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

impact our thinking about the suitability of LGBTQ people as parents. Here is a list of some common myths and facts that challenge them.

Myth: LGBTQ are sexually maladjusted and likely to sexually and/or emotionally harm children.

Pedophilia is an adult attraction to children. There is no connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. Ninety percent of child abuse is committed by heterosexual men.

Myth: Children raised in LGBTQ homes will develop inappropriate gender identities and behaviours, and may develop a “homosexual” orientation.

Most LGBTQ individuals were raised in heterosexual homes and developed their sexual orientation in a heterosexual environment. Children raised in LGBTQ homes are no more likely to be LGBTQ than anyone else. It is important to note that this myth contains an implicit belief that for a child to be LGBTQ is a negative thing.

Myth: Children raised in LGBTQ homes will be socially stigmatized and subjected to ridicule, teasing, and hostility from their peers.

Children make fun of other children for all kinds of reasons: for being too short or too tall, for being of a particular race or religion, for example. To argue that LGBTQ people should not parent assumes that groups experiencing discrimination should be denied the right to parent because of the impact on their children. This is similar to arguing that people of a particular race or religious group should not be allowed to parent because of the discrimination their children might face.


LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

How can I show an LGBTQ prospective parent that I am supportive of them? LGBTQ people may face discrimination on a regular basis. Sometimes this includes assumptions of heterosexuality or ideas about LGBTQ people as unsuitable parents. This may make LGBTQ people apprehensive about approaching an institution they are unfamiliar with (like an adoption agency) for fear that they will encounter a lack of knowledge and, potentially, discrimination. As an adoption worker, there are things you can say and do that will help an LGBTQ prospective parent know that you are supportive. Here are some examples: • Use words like “partner” instead of husband/wife or boyfriend/ girlfriend (e.g. “Do you have a partner who will be going through the process with you?”). • W hen you begin the home study process, make a statement about your agency’s support for all types of adoptive families, including LGBTQ families. • When you are asking about someone’s past relationships you can say, “If you have had previous relationships, what was the sex or gender of your partner, for example, male, female, trans?”

LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

R e so u rc e List an d R efer en c e s LGBTQ Parenting Network, Sherbourne Health Centre (416) 324-4100 ext. 5219 Rainbow Health Ontario, Sherbourne Health Centre Promising Practices in Adoption and Foster Care: A Comprehensive Guide to Policies and Practices that Welcome, Affirm and Support GLBT Foster and Adoptive Parents (U.S.) Human Rights Campaign Foundation

Creating a welcoming environment in your agency for LGBTQ families In addition to the language used when talking to LGBTQ families, the environment at the agency can send messages that the agency welcomes LGBTQ people. Here are some examples: • Organize staff LGBTQ cultural competency training. • Audit forms to make sure they are not heterosexist or transphobic. • Include pictures of LGBTQ families in promotional material. • E xplicitly recruit LGBTQ people for adoption and fostering. • Include topics in training sessions relevant to LGBTQ families. • Display cues that services are LGBTQ positive. These might include positive space imagery or posters and brochures depicting LGBTQ families.



LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

G los sary Biphobia: A learned fear or dislike of people who are bisexual. Bisexual: One who has significant sexual or romantic attractions to members of any gender and/or sex. Cisgender: A word describing a person who is not transgender. Cissexual: A word describing a person who is not transsexual. Cissexual/Cisgender Privilege: The privilege that nontrans people experience as a result of having their femaleness or maleness deemed authentic, natural, and unquestionable by society at large. This privilege allows non-trans people relative freedom and support to take their sex and gender for granted in ways that trans people cannot. In contrast, trans people are often punished for the ways their gender identity does not match the social expectations of the sex they were assigned at birth. Gay: One who has significant sexual or romantic attractions primarily to members of the same gender or sex. Many lesbians and bisexual people do not feel included by this term.

LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario

Queer: An identity proudly used by some to defy gender or sexual restrictions. Reclaimed derogatory slang. Sometimes used as an umbrella term for sexual and gender minority communities. Not accepted by all, especially some older members of LGBT communities. Transgender or Trans: Umbrella term for anybody who falls outside of traditional gender categories or norms. Not necessarily a desire to be of the “opposite� sex. Transphobia: A learned fear or dislike of people who are transgender or transsexual. Transsexual: A man or woman who feels internally that they are of another sex or gender from that in which they were socialized from birth. Two-Spirit: Refers to the female and male spirits in one individual based on interpretation of Aboriginal languages. It is used to describe individuals who display characteristics of both male and female. Some Aboriginal Peoples saw this as a gift from the Creator, having the privilege to house both male and female spirits in their body.

Heterosexism: The assumption that everyone is and should be heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is the only normal form of sexual expression for mature, responsible human beings. Homophobia: A learned fear or dislike of people who are attracted to, and intimate with, members of the same sex or gender. Lesbian: A girl or woman who has significant sexual or romantic attractions primarily to members of the same gender or sex. Monosexism: The belief that a person can only be attracted to one sex or the other, not both. It does not give people the space to identify as bisexual and makes this sexual orientation invisible.



The research discussed in this booklet comes from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual and Two-Spirit Adoption in Ontario: Policy, Practice & Personal Narratives Project,a partnership between The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the LGBTQ Parenting Network, Sherbourne Health Centre, Toronto, Ontario, with funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council. We would like to thank the participants who gave so generously of their time to share their experiences of the adoption process.

This booklet was developed by the Centre for Addition and Mental Health (CAMH) and the LGBTQ Parenting Network at Sherbourne Health Centre. To download a copy of this booklet, and obtain more information on LGBTQ Parenting, visit the LGBTQ Parenting Connection at To purchase this booklet and to find other resources on LGBT health, visit Rainbow Health Ontario:

LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario  

LGBTQ Adoption in Ontario Booklet Parenting Network Sherbourne Health Centre

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