By Olufemi Akinsitan, Guest Blogger
Adoption and foster parent services are two of Lutheran Social Service National Capital Area’s (LSSNCA’s) core programs. Tom Sommers is chair of Center Global – a DC organization supporting LGBTQ asylum seekers – and recently shared insights as an adoptive-parent and as a leader in the D.C. LGBTQ community. Parenting and supporting asylum seekers are different, yet the commonality is global outreach and experiencing and learning from multiple cultures.
For parents considering international adoption and visiting their infant’s/child’s home country, Tom Sommers urges organizations like LSSNCA to, “prepare parents for the process of picking up their child from the foster parents.”
When Tom and his own father – who served in the Korean War nearly 50 years prior – visited Noah’s foster mom in Seoul for the final visit before taking Noah to the U.S., Tom recalls with cringe-worthy sadness how, “No one prepared me for that in-person moment of taking Noah (age six months) from his foster mother, Mrs. Han. She was crying and I felt like the dominating, ugly American taking Noah from his home and native culture. Noah was too young to realize what was happening. He’s been an amazing gift who, incidentally, barely fussed on the 18+ hour flight to Tokyo, Detroit and finally Cincinnati.”
The months leading up to that momentous day in Seoul were stressful. There was so much unknown about process confirmations and Noah, including his health and infant personality. Tom notes, “I vividly recall the September day when we received Noah’s picture and details. It was a sunny, fall day around the 30th, when the mail arrived with the brown-paper envelope. It was the year 2000, so no social media and limited internet capabilities.”
Tom and his now ex-wife considered international adoption because they had problems conceiving after their biological daughter, who’s now 22, was born in 1997. Fortunately, there was a large community of adoptive parents in Cincinnati, offering support in the international adoption process.
Tom described his experience with the Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio Team in Cincinnati (the agency facilitating the adoption) as “terrific.” Their case worker, Joan, was wonderful and there to answer all questions, even thinking ahead on details not considered. Tom also mentioned the paperwork and lack of transparency as some challenges in the adoption process.
Tom, now based in Washington, D.C., is the chair of Center Global. This organization falls under the DC Center for the LGBTQ Community umbrella and supports the region’s asylum seekers in their quest to attain asylum. “This entails referrals to pro-bono legal advice, healthcare, housing options, and financial support in the form of Metro passes and Giant cards.”
Tom’s experience with adopting Noah internationally and his own coming-out process, led him to seek ways to support D.C.’s asylum seekers. In both cases, there are vast opportunities to educate the populace on cross-national adoptions (the whys/hows/wheres) and likewise for what conditions bring asylum seekers to the U.S. (it’s literally a matter of life and death in the LGBTQ community).
The people Center Global serves come to the U.S. because they’re from nations where it’s illegal to be LGBTQ and can, therefore, be killed or incarcerated for being gay. Even once they’re in D.C., they often cannot be out in their diaspora because those local communities can be similarly homophobic. Fortunately, Center Global offers them a safe, open community.
Meanwhile, Tom reports Noah is “doing well as a sophomore at NC State University.” Noah visited South Korea last summer, when his mom and stepfather took their family on a home-country tour with other adoptive families. Noah enjoyed the tour, the food and particularly liked seeing many other people (South Koreans) who were similar to him in appearance.
*LSSNCA would like to thank Tom for his willingness to be so open about his experience adopting and his life. Adoption can be one of the most wonderful events in life. Whether you’re investigating adoption as an option or have already decided that you want to adopt, LSS/NCA is here to support you. As a licensed adoption agency in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, we provide home study and post-placement visits for domestic and international adoptions for families and individuals within a 50 mile radius of the DC Metro Area.
If you are interested in preparing your home for a child, need someone to conduct home/post-placement studies, or are interested in learning more about the child placement process, please fill out our adoption inquiry form.