The Growth and Development of an LGBT Family Group

After getting started in 2002 as a support organization for same-sex couples looking to start families, the Midwest Alternative Family Alliance (MAFA) has evolved into a social and educational group for couples raising families and even becoming empty-nesters.

Lynn Barnett, the group’s director of education, said, “MAFA originally started as an organization that educated and advocated around gay and lesbian issues in foster care and adoption. That’s why we started this. And over the years, we’ve gotten more social because the need was there.”

MAFA president Michael Hadley said, “We’re for the most part a social organization, I would say, and the focus of the past 10 years or so as an organization has been primarily to draw families together throughout the Kansas City area. We have spring and fall picnics, outings and get-togethers for parents that are informal, cocktail parties that we have expanded to include discussions about the challenges of being LGBT parents.”

Now MAFA has two events in March – a legal workshop and a concert to which the group contributed.

MAFA helped to organize a workshop on March 7 at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center that focused on the rules and laws regarding same-sex marriage, taxes, benefits, divorce, adoption and estate planning. (Attorney Aaron House was another organizer — and a speaker — for this workshop; you can read more about him in the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce spotlight on page 16 of Camp’s March issue.)

When interviewed before the March 7 seminar, Hadley said, “This is something more topical, more formal in terms of bringing a panel of experts to the table … where they can share their research and information about the different phases of family life. It will have topics that will start with things like the status of marriage and divorce on both sides of the state line; marriage vs. civil unions vs. domestic partnerships; pre-marital agreements.”

Hadley and Barnet said another topic of interest would be second-parent adoption. In most situations, only one parent was able to sign the adoption papers and the second parent would have to fill out additional paperwork after the initial adoption.

The seminar also was timely because of the approaching April 15 tax deadline. Both Hadley and Barnett said the changing landscape of same-sex marriages, whether performed in Kansas, Missouri or another state, will affect joint filings of state and federal taxes.

Surrogacy is another topic that the workshop addressed, Hadley said. “My partner … was one of the first people to attend a seminar that Lynn and her team put together, around 2004-2005. I can tell you that there was an extreme lack of information on the Internet or anywhere for him, or anyone, to start on that path and for him to have a group to go to and get information. That was really the catalyst for him to embark on the journey of family and getting our son through surrogacy. I think there are still a lot of questions, and just in our MAFA mailbox, there are still many questions from people asking, ‘what are the first steps that I can take?’ And here at this seminar, they will get their questions answered from the experts.”

Hadley and his husband, Mike Sullivan, have a 9-year-old son, and Barnett has a 19-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter.

Barnett said the rules for international adoptions have changed dramatically over the years. She worked with local adoption expert Nancy Simons Bean, of Adoption & Counseling Services for Families, to adopt both of her children.

“I adopted my oldest child from China and the youngest from Cambodia,” said Barnett.

She was living with her partner at the time, but was only allowed to adopt as a single parent, she said. When they went to adopt their second child, the rules had already changed.

“Two weeks later, I got a phone call from Nancy Bean, and she said, ‘Got to find another country’ because China had closed down adoptions to all single females.”

Barnett said Bean has been a great resource for LGBT families.

“She’s probably written hundreds of home studies of gays and lesbians. Nancy’s name always comes up as the person to write it,” she said. “Now there are several people who do home studies, including Nancy, but in the early years, she was one of the only people to do home studies for LGBT families. Cathy Hiersteiner joined us around 2002-2003. … [Bean> and I, along with several other social workers, started MAFA because we wanted to advocate and educate around gay and lesbian adoption and foster care, because at the time, in 1998, gays and lesbians could not adopt or foster in Missouri.”

MAFA is also partnering with the Heartland Men’s Chorus on the March 28-29 “Modern Families” concert. HMC has been interviewing MAFA families, and there will be a large contingent from the group attending the Sunday performance. For tickets, visit Modern Families.

“We are partnering with them on a survey that went out to MAFA families, and my understanding is that MAFA families did provide a strong response to that,” Hadley said. “They’ve also invited Nancy Bean to have a panel of LGBT families prior to both concerts and we’ll be involved in that as well.”
Upcoming MAFA social events
April 25 – Family Day at Deanna Rose Farmstead
June – Spring Picnic
Sept. 20 – Fall Picnic at English Landing Park
MAFA communicates to its members primarily through emails and doesn’t do a lot of outside publicity, mainly to protect their families and children from any possible harassment. Even when they host picnics for families, they have police on the premises for security.
For information on these events and joining MAFA, visit KC Mafa or their Facebook page, KC MAFA.

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