Change the World

New Web Series Finds Humanity and Humor in the Foster Care System

Emmy-nominated director Nicole Opper has just released a new docuseries called The F Word that explores her efforts, along with her wife Kristan, to navigate the foster-adopt system in the Bay Area. The series provides an in-depth look into the foster-adopt process that is deeply personal, educational, and funny. We caught up with Opper to learn how she managed to strike this difficult balance with such a sensitive subject, how things are going in her foster-adopt journey, and her plans for Season 2. (Watch the first episode at the end of this article, and then contribute to Opper's crowdfunding campaign here if you want to see another Season of this important work!)


Gays With Kids: Tell us a bit more about The F Word. What can viewers expect?

Nicole Opper: The F Word is a short form docuseries that is incredibly personal and a little bit comedic. It follows the experience that my wife and I have had adopting a child from foster care. We started filming a year and a half ago and the entire process, from making a decision to form a family in this way up until a placement was made was about two years. We wanted to pull back the curtain a little bit about what adopting from foster care looks like. When we started the process we couldn't find a lot of resources that were really brutally honest about what this looks like, and what kids often go through before they come to your home. There were some good books and articles, but nothing in terms of a documentary that took a close look at the process.

GWK: Your series manages to do something incredible difficult while tackling such a sensitive subject: be funny. How did you strike that balance?

NO: From beginning we said, okay, this will be unwatchable if we only focus on the elements of foster care that the mainstream media focuses on, which is trauma. So wanted to get as far away from that as possible, while also taking care not to sugar coat anything or twist the story. But the humor also just cam every naturally. The foster care system is just such a bizarre, bureaucratic world. It made us laugh at every turn. You don't see this in the series, but in the beginning we had these required training courses every Saturday. You read from this binder, and it's this terrible route educational experience. It's pretty terrible. But there was this one woman in our class who fell asleep immediately each time class started. And she snored really loudly. No one woke her up or encouraged her to go take a walk or have a cup of coffee. It was just so emblematic of the strange bizarre world we were getting ourselves into. We also ended up hiring an animator right away who did all these funky homemade animations of us with bobbleheads to not only bring moments of levity, but also help bring us into certain situations that we couldn't film. Like when I go to a family fair, which are these odds schmooze-fests that are like speed dating with social workers where you go from table to table and talk about why they should pick you. I couldn't film there. But it was such a necessary part of the story in my mind. So we animated those parts.

GWK: How much did you know about the foster care system before you set out on this process?

NO: I wasn't eager to go in front of the camera, but when we started thinking about adopting from foster care and looking around for stories that reflected that experience, we couldn't find any. But we were obviously going to have complete access to our own process which I could document and share as a resource. I also did a lot of research. I knew that a lot of the kids came from trauma, and that you only wind up in the foster care system if you are a victim of abuse, neglect or abandonment. But I also learned about how racist and classist the system can be. For example, a lot of research suggests that it's not that there aren't plenty of people of color interested in adopting kids from foster care, it's just that they aren't really interested in working with a historically racist and classist system. So instead you see a lot of informal kinship adoption with communities of color. But the idea of being finger printed through the formal foster care system can be a red flag for a lot of black people dealing with racial profiling. These are some elements we're hoping to explore a lot more of in season 2.

GWK: What has the feedback been so far to the series?

NO: There are six episodes in the season, we're just now getting started on season two. The response has been surprisingly overwhelming. People feel so strong about this subject, and those familiar with it can see themselves in it. The goal for me as a documentary filmmaker is to make it relatable and accessible to an audience. And I've been blown away by the comments. People are just really eager to find out what happens next. And they're excited for us to get a kid. It's just really interesting for me since this was such a personal film.


GWK: How has your experience been as a same-sex couple within the foster care system. Do you think it differs from the experience of heterosexual couples?

NO: We live in the Bay Area bubble so we never experienced any overt discrimination for being gay. The social workers are pretty used to us by now. But there were a lot of little things, like being asked our coming out story during the home study process. I kept wondering, at what point do they ask straight people when they knew they were straight? It was bizarre that they cared. There were also some moments attending these family fairs in these small towns that are a little bit red. I got a lot of strange looks at those fairs, people would look at me like I was lost. It made a huge difference when my feminine-presenting wife showed up with me, and it suddenly clicked and they understood. There's a lot more to be said for LGBTQ people in other states. In Michigan, it's come out that LGBTQ people have been discriminated against for wanting to adopt from foster care. We have a bunch of states doing this right now—Alabama, Texas, North Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi. It's tempting to think that this would never touch the Bay Area or California. But then again... Prop 8. We forget our history quickly. Progress can reverse in the blink of an eye. We can't ever really stop fighting for these rights. So something we're doing is partnering with a lot of national organizations who are invested in improving the lives of children in foster care. Among these are the Human Rights Campaign, Raise a Child, which is based in LA, Together we Rise, and the Family Equality Council. We're partnering with all these wonderful organizations in order to create impact guides and resources. We also plan to do targeted outreach to communities where the series can have the greatest impact.

GWK: You've mentioned work has already begun on Season 2 of The F Word. What can viewers expect?

We will continuing to follow the developments with our son, whose adoption we finalized on oct 6th. We'll take you through the major milestones of that experience. But for Season 2 we're also trying to move away form our personal story and look more outward at the system, and who's trying to reform it. There's so much great work happening right now. We want to celebrate that while also critiquing a broken system. We'll ask, what are the solutions here? What can we all do to improve the situation for all of these kids? We're going to do a lot more talking to foster youth and former foster youth, judges, lawyers, social workers, getting a better sense of the big picture.

***

Check out episode 1 of The F Word below. You can see all 6 episodes here. I you'd like to contribute to making of Season 2, contribute to this crowdfunding campaign!

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A recently aired episode of ABC's What Would You Do? featured a staged situation in which a gay man comes out to his son in a restaurant in New Jersey. The premise of the show, which features hidden cameras, is to subject unsuspecting people to a certain dilemma, and then gauge their reaction as the drama unfolds.

This latest episode was inspired by a popular op-ed in the Washington Post by a man named Jared Bilski titled "My dad lived a lie. I'm determined my kids won't have to do the same." In the piece, Bilski writes about the regret he feels for his father, who finally came out to him just a few days before he passed away.

Bilski writes in part, "It wasn't death he was afraid of, at least not at that moment. My dad was terrified of how I'd react to hearing he'd been lying all along."

What would passersby in a crowded diner think of a father coming out to his son in a similarly-staged situation? John Quiñones, who hosts the hidden camera show, sought to find out. In the scene, a man, seated next to his wife, tell their son they are getting a divorce because of his sexual orientation. The couple then leave the room, leaving the son alone, pondering this news.

Fortunately, most of the feedback the young man receives from other diners who overhear the conversation are positive.

"You didn't lose him," one diner tells the son. "He is the same person with the same values and the same emotions. Let me tell you, it doesn't matter what age you are, divorce is divorce. It hurts. But these two people don't change. These two people still love you very, very much."

"It's still your dad, man," says another "Accept him for what it is, you know? It's the only thing you can do."

"Being gay, it's not a big deal," says yet another. "It doesn't change the fact that he's your dad."

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Gay Dad Life

This Gay Couple, After Learning an Acquaintance Was Putting Her Baby Up for Adoption, Became First-Time Dads Within Weeks

Tim and Clayton were preparing to become certified as foster parents when they learned, out of the blue, that an acquaintance was pregnant and planning to put her baby up for adoption. Two weeks later, they were dads.

Tim Burri saw Clayton Dobson across the room, in a bar, 6 years ago, and asked him to play a round of pool. Tim says he knows "how cliché that sounds," but it worked. The two Kentucky locals married in June this year, and have their hands full with their beautiful adopted daughter, Kennedy, who turns 1 year old this year on September 12.

While many gay dads-to-be choose their path to fatherhood, adoption picked Tim and Clayton. They had just begun looking into the foster-adopt process when they found out an acquaintance was pregnant and was meeting with a lawyer to put her baby up for adoption. "We went out on a limb," said Tim. "Clayton asked if she would ever consider us to adopt, and she agreed. Within two weeks we had a beautiful newborn baby girl!"

Clayton with baby Kennedy

The besotted new dads named their baby girl Kennedy. "Our lives have changed forever!" shared Clayton.

The dads quickly went from a relatively carefree existence of just the two of them, to spending every minute they have loving and looking out for their little girl. "Before we just hopped in the car and spent an afternoon doing whatever," explained Tim. "Now, we hover over the diaper bag and verbally list off the litany of items we surely over pack to make sure we have planned for every situation, which, in truth, we know there could always be something."

Clayton (left) and Tim (right) with Kennedy

The dads have shared photos with Kennedy's birth mom when she's requested them, usually on special occasions, but unfortunately they have not heard from her in several months. They plan to keep sharing photos when the birth mom requests, and they also want to keep an open and an age appropriate dialogue with Kennedy about where she came from. "We plan on being open and honest about how much we wanted her and her mom loved us and her so much that she wanted us to have her," said Clayton.

After 7 years together, the dads were married on June 16th this year on a beautiful goat farm. Yes, you read that right. "We had a causal cocktail hour in the open air barn, boarded a hay ride to a venue on the property in the woods creekside," explained Clayton. The dads arranged for fishing poles and bait for the kids who attended to be down by the creek so they could fish and have fun after the ceremony. After the ceremony, they all boarded a hayride again for a trip back to the barn where they had a catered dinner, goat-side! "Yes, there were goats in attendance for the kids," said Tim, quickly adding, "Yeah right, more so for me to play with!" Besides the goats, the real guest of honor was Kennedy who got to watch her dads declare their eternal love for one another.

Although there wasn't much waiting time for the fathers after they began their journey to become dads, there was ample waiting time for it become official. The original date for Kennedy's adoption to be finalized had been set for December 2017, but in reality, it took almost a year. Tim believes that much of the hold up can be attributed to their Governor who had "reorganized" the Cabinet, and since then, things took a lot longer to be processed. "We had a fairly new judge with a new staff," explained Tim, "they were struggling with scheduling non-docket items; our attorney had to appear during motion hour to get them to schedule the adoption hearing date."

But finally, on July 9th, 2017, it became official: Clayton, Tim and Kennedy are a forever family of three.

For Kennedy's first birthday they plan on having a unicorn themed birthday party and invite everyone who has been a part of their journey. The dads also plan to have Kennedy's birth date tattooed on the insider of their upper arms.

"We have learned a lot about ourselves as dads," summarized Tim. "I was convinced I had no instincts at all and was going to mess up so badly that her head would inevitably fall off because I held her wrong. How things change and how natural instincts hop into overdrive. I've learned that dang, ya know what? We actually are good at this, we can do this, and we are going to LOVE it."


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"A Perfect Moment": Congrats to Gay Men Whose Families Grew This Month!

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"We finally felt our family was complete when we met him," shared Doug. "Truly a perfect moment."

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"Fatherhood has always been a dream for the both of us," shared Steve. "We're most looking forward to 'moments' with our baby. From brand new experiences... the first smile, the first laugh, seeing a flower for the first time, trying foods from other countries to ultimately showing them how to first and foremost offer love and kindness to others, above all else."

"While there is a infinite amount to look forward to," added Richard, "we so excited to wake up each and every day and everything new that comes along with it."

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"After starting this journey one year ago and sitting in that courtroom with our 6-month-old, it really hit us," explained Bryan. "We were holding it strong together until we were answering questions from the attorney to the judge. At that moment, my husband Joshua started crying which made me cry."

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