The Forgotten Voice in the Adoption Debate

Dawn Stefanowicz and children like her are the most important voices in the debate over same-sex adoption.

And yet the voices of adult children raised by homosexuals are rarely heard.

Stefanowicz recently testified about her life with her biological father before a Massachusetts legislative committee in support of a marriage protection amendment. The amendment, which lawmakers will address May 10, would allow voters to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Stefanowicz, with her husband and children, spoke with Register correspondent Gail Besse April 20 in a phone interview from her residence.

Why did you travel to Boston to speak on this issue?

I’m speaking as a child who was not allowed to talk about what it’s like to grow up in a same-sex household. I loved my dad, and cared about his partners who have died of AIDS, so I can’t be politically correct. I have to speak up when legislation will inevitably put children at risk physically and psychologically.

What was your childhood like?

My mother was seriously ill. I grew up with my homosexual father in Toronto. I was exposed to the “gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgendered” subcultures and explicit sexual practices. Even when my father was in what looked liked monogamous relationships, he continued cruising for anonymous sex, so I was at high risk of exposure to contagious STDs. Alcohol, drugs, gay bars and parties were common.

Why doesn’t the public hear from more people in your situation?

It’s an extremely sensitive subject. It took me until I was in my late 20s to begin to deal with it. I haven’t met another adult child who didn’t love their parent, and often they won’t come forward until that parent has died. Sometimes the adult child won’t talk because they fear either hurting other family members or retribution from their own families.

What are your feelings toward your dad?

I came to deeply love and compassionately understand him before he died in 1991, sharing his life regrets with me. As a child, he had been sexually and physically abused by older males. He suffered from depression, anger, suicidal tendencies and sexual compulsions.

Do any incidents stick in your mind that you feel comfortable sharing?

We went to vacation spots that weren’t typical family places. One was a gay nude beach at Hanlan’s Point, Toronto, which often was raided by police, but now it’s legally “clothing optional.” By age 10, I was exposed to a sex shop and a gay cruising area. The boundaries between private and public sex were broken. There was cross-dressing, and gender-neutral aspects. I grew up feeling very confused about my own sexuality.

How did you feel in these situations? What went through your mind?

It ripped me up on the inside, but I was not allowed to talk about it. As a little girl, I couldn’t understand why these men were walking around unclothed and partnering off.

These experiences did not teach me respect for morality, authority, marriage or paternal love. Youth and good looks were stressed. People were treated like disposable commodities. I often felt abandoned as my dad would go off to be with his partners for days.

How did it affect your later life?

I felt worthless, as my dad could not show affection or affirmation to females. I vowed never to have children. I was 19 when I began questioning women’s roles.

It’s important that a little girl sees her gender valued. Little boys need to see how their father relates to their mother. If they don’t, they grow up with the wrong understanding of women.

What led to your healing and change of mind?

There was no manual on how to survive. My emotional well-being was low. I had to face the painful secrets and the fact I was unwillingly forced to tolerate diverse sexuality. I went into therapy. My healing encompassed accepting reality and offering forgiveness. My faith — I’m a Christian — played a huge part in this, as I wouldn’t be alive without it.

When and why did you go public?

First I shared my experiences on television. In 2004 I testified at the Canadian Senate of Legal and Constitutional Affairs against “sexual orientation” being added to hate crime law. I’ve testified about how legislation impacts children. Currently, I’m in the editing stages of my autobiography.

Because of new reproductive technology, same-sex adoption and situations like mine, more children will be traumatized. Kids are cut off from at least one biological parent and often from an extended family. It’s very lonely for them, and if their parent identifies with the gay political agenda, there’s pressure on the child to accept this. People who are struggling with their sexuality need the freedom to seek healing.

Do you know others in the same situation?

Yes, I know at least 15 others. My first conversation with another adult child was lengthy. We talk about what we witnessed and how sitcoms and the media paint this issue in such unreal ways. Our experiences traumatized us long-term, and yet the general public gets watered-down pabulum fed to them from many gay activists who don’t want you to know the unsavory details of the lifestyle.

What is an example of the public being naïve?

Take the undefined term “sexual orientation.” People might think it simply means someone who acts out same-sex attraction. But the term does not distinguish between the individual feelings of attraction to a particular person or object, or the individual’s sexual behavior or preferences. So a person practicing pansexuality, which is diverse sexuality, like exhibitionism or sado-masochism, could not be discriminated against even when children are involved if “sexual orientation” is a protected category. Adoption agencies can be forced to hand over children into experimental relationships or face discrimination charges.

What kind of reaction do you get speaking in Canada?

Our freedom of speech and religion are severely hampered. Television, radio and newspapers in Canada are monitored so nothing critical of homosexuality is allowed. In the United States you still have some freedom of speech, but enforcing political correctness is one way to lose it: no more debate.

Are there support groups?

No. There are many good faith-based support groups for people trying to deal with same-sex attraction, but not for children who’ve grown up in these households.

I’ve met other adult children who were angry that no one stepped in to help them. Gay parents bring their children to gay pride parades, which are not televised because they’re so sexual. Think about living in that situation all year long.

What can relatives and friends do to help?

For me, visiting other family members and friends’ houses demonstrating listening, boundaries and gender complementarity helped.

What more can faith-based groups do?

They should become more politically astute — give policymakers the facts — protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman. If Americans do not stop same-sex “marriage,” what happened to Canadians will happen in America. You’ll lose the freedom to address sexuality with moral and religious vigor.

I can’t imagine that anyone would willingly place a child in these subcultures. The people of Massachusetts and in the United States shouldn’t be bullied by a small group of activists asking for special rights that will trump children’s best interests.

Gail Besse writes from

Hull, Massachusetts.