Colloquium Discusses LGBTQ Adoption Law

Speakers Eleanora Beck, Bruce Suttmeier, and Elias Williamson '20 at the E&D Colloquium. Photo by Hanna Merzbach.

This year’s E&D Colloquium series concluded on Feb. 20 with a final lecture centering on LGBTQ identity and how it relates to family and adoption law. Entitled “Journey of Identity and the Law (Portlandia meets Italia),” the event welcomed student and faculty speakers, as well as visiting speakers, to provide their diverse perspectives.

The event was organized by Eleonora Beck, James W. Rogers Professor of Music and Director of Musicology, who spoke on her struggles with Italian adoption law for same-sex couples.

“This year I wanted to be very inclusive in terms of the type of colloquia we were doing, making sure they really dealt with contemporary issues,” Beck said.

Beck has two children: a son that’s her biological child and a daughter that her wife gave birth to. She and her wife adopted each other’s children in 2003 to ensure the unity of their family. The adoptions were recognized in the Multnomah County Circuit Court by Judge Nan Waller, who also spoke at the colloquium.

While the adoption process in the U.S. was relatively seamless, Beck’s family was not met with the same ease when she was on sabbatical in Bologna, Italy in 2013.

“Like every professor, I need to go on sabbatical to do my research,” Beck said. “I needed to do my research in Italy and to take my family to Italy. I am an Italian citizen, but when I tried to get my children their visas, they told me that I couldn’t get their visas or their citizenship because they have two moms on their birth certificates.”

Beck was soon able to get citizenship for her biological son, however, it was five years before her daughter got hers. With the help of Italian Attorney Claudio Pezzi, who also presented at the colloquium, Beck brought her case to several Italian courts: the Italian Court of Minors, an Appellate Court and, finally, the Italian Supreme Court. Since Italy, by law, has to accept U.S. foreign judgments, the courts finally recognized the adoption and awarded Beck’s daughter citizenship in September of last year.

Beck was motivated to pursue the case, not just to gain citizenship for her daughter, but to set a precedent in Italian adoption law.

“We wanted to do this because every case that goes through the Italian courts helps other Italian families,” Beck said. “Italy only has civil unions (for LGBTQ people), not marriages.”

In an effort to tie her experience to the Lewis & Clark community, Beck invited Elias Williamson ’20 to show a music video they made and speak about their experience in the LGBTQ community.

“What the law had a problem with, essentially, is our LGBTQ identity,” Beck said. “I wanted Elias (Williamson) to start off with the idea that we are LGBTQ people that are trying to get equal rights for all of us and it’s a journey.”

In inviting Williamson, Beck hoped to put students front and center. This is the first year students have presented in the E&D colloquium series.

Williamson’s video addresses the mental health treatment of LGBTQ people and how it relates to the binary understanding of gender, rooted in colonialism. They spoke on how legislation is put in place in order to “make trans-ness out to be a disability.”

“It’s basically taking the larger legislative ideas that are going to be touched on by other presenters and keying it into my personal experience,” Williamson said prior to the event.

Williamson hoped that offering his perspective would help first-year LGBTQ students feel heard and better represented in the LC community. They also hoped to educate those who aren’t familiar with the complexities of gender identity.

“I think it’s really important for people to start thinking about gender identity and social politics in the context of colonialism and in the context of law because everything is very interrelated,” they said.

Beck also invited Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Janet Steverson to speak on adoption and family law, which she teaches at the LC Law School. Steverson spoke on the history of adoption law and the many restrictions that go along with it.

Steverson argued that, oftentimes, the interests of societies are put above those of the child.

“My whole thing is that if we actually start focusing on the child and what their needs are and who can best meet those needs, a lot of those restrictions would go by the wayside,” Steverson said. “For me, the interest of the child is paramount.”

Steverson applied this logic to Beck’s case.

“(The Italian courts) said that they were doing it for the protection of the children, but they never gave any evidence to show that a child that was in a same-sex home was any worse off than a child in a heterosexual home,” she said. “So, when you dig below the surface, it really wasn’t in the interest of the child that they were protecting. It was again the community norms and community values and traditions.”

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Suttmeier, who opened the event, has also taken a personal interest in Beck’s case. As a gay man, he said he feels responsible for making life easier for the next LGBTQ generation and helping ensure they have fell legal rights.

Suttmeier saw the topics of LGBTQ identity fitting perfectly with the aims of the E&D curriculum.

“At its best, E&D pushes students to think hard about big, complex questions and the issues around LGBTQ rights are a fantastic venue for such exploration,” he said. “E&D is about approaching these ridiculously complex topics, and reading, thinking and discussing so you see more of the connections, understand more of the history and grasp more of that complexity.”

First-year students enjoyed the mix of speakers and their different perspectives.

“I liked having someone who was my age and a student go first to give more of a younger, contemporary point of view of what it’s like,” Olivia Olson ’22 said.

The colloquium posed a unique opportunity for students to hear about both national and international law.

“I thought it was really interesting with the legal aspect of things because I’m interested in law, so it was really great to hear from lawyers about the state of things as they are now legally in the U.S. and in Italy and how things have been historically and implications for the future,” Morgan Heithcock ’22 said.

Students also applauded the colloquium for including Beck’s narrative.

“I think that it was really nice there was that whole personal aspect to this one, and that you could feel for Nora and the struggle she went through with her kids,” Yitzchak Luster ’22 said. “I think this is probably the best (colloquium) that they’ve done.”

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