Two years ago when Jane Byers’ son Theo was in Grade five, a student insulted him with a racial slur.
“And what was really interesting,” Byers says, “was the rest of the class all said to this kid, in no uncertain terms, ‘Hey, that’s not cool. And you need to stop. That’s discrimination and you need to stop.’”
Byers was pleased that her son was supported by his classmates. But she was not so sure about the school’s response, which was quite muted.
“Their take on it was, well, I’m sure he didn’t mean it because he [is so young that] he could not possibly be racist.”
She wishes more had been done to follow up, with the class and the student.
Byers says she is well prepared to raise two adopted children of colour because of her experience being marginalized since she came out as gay in the 1990s, when she lived in fear of being beaten up.
“We were familiar with having people throw slurs at us, being gay bashed.”
She said she learned to stand up for herself.
As a result, “Theo [and his twin sister Franny] have two strong parents who are able to see that stuff for what it is and are able to call it out and are not willing to be shrinking violets.”
Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family, published by Caitlin Press this fall, is Nelson poet Byers’ account of coming out, finding love, getting married, and adopting twins as a same sex couple.
The book traces how lessons learned coming out as a young adult have led to her current “windfall of joy and family.”
Byers met her partner Amy Bohigian in a lesbian basketball league in Toronto when she got traded to Bohigian’s team.
They eventually moved to B.C. and decided to start a family through a domestic adoption.
“It was very new that [members of a same-sex couple] could both be listed as parents, and so I would say that systemic discrimination still existed,” Byers says.
Some people in the adoption system were supportive, while others were not.
“We were told that same sex couples were not the ideal family. To place kids with the ideal family was a mom and a dad. And so anything that wasn’t a mom and a dad would take longer to find placements.”
Byers and Bohigian got a phone call one day from a social worker telling them they had forgotten to tick the box about whether they were open to adopting twins.
“We said, ‘Is this a theoretical question?’”
It was not.
Twins of Asian descent, born in Canada 14 months before – Byers’ and Bohigian’s future adopted children – were living in a fundamentalist Christian foster home in the Okanagan.
The adoption system does not require that foster parents agree with the choice of adoption placement, but they try to get their blessing because it’s easier for the kids.
Small Courage includes the dramatic story of a lesbian couple and Christian foster parents, wary of each other, gradually coming to accept each other through multiple visits.
Byers says the foster parents, who initially opposed the adoption because they believe lesbianism is sinful, eventually told them, “You are the best parents for these kids. We’re glad that you’re their parents, and you’re doing a great job with them.”
The two couples, despite their differences, are friends to this day.
Byers says that since adopting Franny and Theo she’s learned “how much racial discrimination there is. The seemingly benign but not benign comments, when we’re walking along with two brown kids, and somebody says, ‘Where are your kids from?’ You know, and the assumption that they couldn’t possibly from be from Canada, because they’re brown, right?”
She says her kids, now 13 years old, are interested in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Their understanding is growing about discrimination in the world. It’s kind of like adoption, it’s an ongoing conversation.
“One of the neat things that’s been happening here in Nelson is that there are more brown people around, and that’s a good thing for them.
“We went to Asia in a few years ago and the kids loved it. They loved seeing the majority of people being brown, and they could see themselves in that, instead of feeling like they were always the minority.”
She says the central theme of the book is that we need to really see each other and be seen.
“If we can see each other fully as human beings, we just may get out of the mess we find ourselves in,” says Byers.
”Our stories need to be told, for the younger generations to know what it was like to come out in the 80s and 90s and for this polarized world to see a journey of love that includes evangelical Christians and a trans-racial adoptive lesbian family finding a lot of common ground.”
There will be a book signing at Touchstones Nelson on Oct. 14 at 7:00 pm. Pre-registration is required by contacting Touchstones in advance.