NYARC spokesperson Annette O’Connell delivered these statements at the press conference in Albany on January 15, 2020, in which legislators and advocates announced implementation of S3419, New York’s equal rights law for all adult adopted persons. This is also NYARC’s official press release for the event.
Good morning. I am Annette O’Connell. I was born in the Bronx in 1967 and adopted in Rockland County in 1968. I’m also the spokesperson for the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition, otherwise known as NYARC.
I have been an adoptee rights advocate nationally and in New York for the past six years, and I became a spokesperson for NYARC upon its inception in early 2018.
NYARC is completely adoptee-led. It is comprised of allied advocates from New York State and across the country, including The Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York, Adoptee Rights Law Center in Minnesota, one of the founders of NYARC and the mastermind behind all of this, and Bastard Nation, the largest adoptee rights organization in the country. And NYARC could not have had a better strategic partner than Brooke Schreier Ganz, whose leadership on the release of public records in New York through Reclaim the Records has been phenomenal.
On behalf of NYARC and the tens of thousands of adoptees we represent, I’d like to thank Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblyman David Weprin, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Carl Heastie and the supermajority of legislators who voted for passage of this historic piece of legislation. Their staff members and counsel also deserve a great deal of thanks.
Today is truly historic. Advocates have been working on equal rights legislation for adoptees across the country and in New York for over fifty years. New York City adoptee Florence Fisher started this movement in New York in the 1970s, and NYARC is thrilled that she—at age 90—will be able to receive a certified copy of her own original birth certificate.
For more than 80 years, New York adoptees have endured a humiliating, discriminatory, pathologizing, frustrating, and expensive process simply to try to obtain a copy of their own original birth certificates. Today, New York enacts equality in vital records law for all adult adoptees AND their lineal descendants.
New York now joins only NINE other states—Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Rhode Island—which have either always recognized or have recently restored the unrestricted right of an adult adoptee to obtain a copy of their own original birth certificates. It cannot be understated what this law will mean for equal rights legislation in other parts of the country.
New York has also taken the lead on this issue. Forty other states and the District of Columbia must catch up to end their discriminatory laws. Today acknowledges that New York’s experiment in enforcing eternal state secrecy over a person’s own vital record has become unworkable and discriminatory. Adoptees across the country as well as genealogists are now rejoicing.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that—in my 50’s—I would be doing this. Let’s face it: this isn’t normal for a hockey and football mom. However, here I am, and representing NYARC has been one of the greatest, most challenging, and most humbling experiences of my life.
Visiting each of the legislators’ offices, talking with them and their staff, listening to their personal stories about how adoption has affected their lives or the lives of their friends and families has been breathtaking. I have been blessed to always have the support of my husband, Gary, my son Brendan, who is with me here today, and my family and friends. I’ve also had the support of my own representatives, including Senator James Skoufis and Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, as well as every representative from my home county of Rockland and current county of Orange.
I have forced myself to step far outside my comfort zone. I have stood up to talk out loud and proud about an issue that used to be whispered in the dark confines of people’s houses: “Adoption.”
I have had the great pleasure to work alongside activists like Tim Monti-Wohlpart from the American Adoption Congress, Christopher Phillipo, and Jay Hunter as well as my dear friends— Gregory Luce from Adoptee Rights Law Center, Marley Greiner from Bastard Nation, Shawna Hodgson from the Texas Adoptee Rights Coalition, Barbara Fuller, Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, Brooke Schreier Ganz, Suzanne Bachner, and Suzanne’s husband Bob Brader.
The lessons I have learned and the friendships I have made have been life changing. Listening to the legislators speak at committee meetings and during the Senate and Assembly floor votes rocked me to my core and brought me to tears. It offered us all validation. I remember after the Assembly floor vote specifically thanking Assemblymember Deborah Glick and telling her she validated my existence. Her reply is something I will never forget. She said “Oh no sweetheart, you did that on your own.” I anticipate that even more life changing and validating will be the moment I get to hold my own vital record in my hand.
Make no mistake. This is and has always been about equality and doing what’s right for all New York adoptees. New York was able to Get it Right and Make it Equal. Congratulations to every single adult adoptee born or adopted in New York. Today is about you, and today we celebrate EQUALITY!
So happy for Florence. Her book was an inspiration to me.
Michael Mulholland says
I rarely agree with what happens in New York, but.., this time New York got it right…
My wife and I are both adoptees. We have a grandchild with multiple, unexplained birth-defects and have faced many hurdles in our efforts to obtain medical information. By a fortunate accident I found my birth parents (and 11 loving siblings) 42 years ago. I was adopted in Maryland. Without a true “Birth Certificate” it was quite difficult enlisting with the Penna. State Police.
Thru DNA databases, my wife, who was adopted in Pennsylvania 74 years ago, was able to be reunited with 2 siblings and a cousin in the past year.
No success, as yet, in determining the cause of our grandson’s birth defect but we are not done.
Jim Huddelson says
Thank you so much to you and all your fellow advocates for all you have done on behalf of myself and all NYS adoptees. I am a 66 year old adoptee from Ulster county and I had given up hope of ever obtaining my original birth certificate. Thank you also to NYARC and all the other organizations that helped to have this law passed.
Claudia l Wolf Malko says
Annette words cannot thank-you enough for leading the charge for our fight for equality! I thank-you young lady as i move to the next chapter in my own life. I hope your next chapter will lead to all that makes your heart happy as you deserve pure joy! Secrets no more…. let our own information flow like the tears we all have cried! It is a do over of sorts …peace n love Claudia Louise Wolf thanks ya😘
Kim P says
Thank you all for the years of hard work and persistence!
I have learned my story already, but, best believe I sent my request form this morning because I can!
Especially thrilled for the young adoptees that will not have to wonder and wait 50 plus years for their truth. Cheers to you!
Allison aka Jessica Trevino says
Thank you from my heart to all the key stake holders, adoptees and adoption community members for all you have done to restoring equality for our adoption community in NYC through restoring our birth records and information like New Yorkers who are not adoptees . ❤️ This can help all involved to have the same access to records of the 94% non adopted people in the US . I hope other states will sign on or we can propose a class action suit to address all states perhaps ..
Lloyd Janow says
I have waited 50 years to apply for my original birth certificate. My parents never told me i was adopted and they passed away before i found out. A friend of my mothers who grew up with her told me. I was shocked that a perfect stranger knew this.
Finally, i willet my birth certificate and finding out who my biological mother was.
Mike Mulholland says
I am very sorry you had to find out from a virtual stranger… My wife and I were both adopted but always knew we were special. Some folks were afraid to tell their children that they were adopted. From our experience, my in-laws were very insecure and felt that if my wife found her birth family she might abandon her foster family. My father-in-law was so insecure that when I found my birth-parents he went into the lock box and destroyed all the documentation on my wife’s birth family. He was so wrong, but that was the way he felt. We stuck her parents right to the end and it was 30 years later that we found my wife’s biological family.
Please keep an open mind. Your Mom & Dad loved you very much and there reasons for not telling you was most likely out of fear. But to them, you were a very special child and they loved you very much.
Jeanne preslar says
Who does one contact in New York