Preteen lobbies for gay adoption

Armed with stories of his parents and his home, the boy joins activists trying to overturn Florida's ban.

Published March 9, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Michael Gulliford-Green brought a silver-framed family portrait to the state capital Thursday. The 12-year-old from Lutz wanted to show lawmakers his first day with the parents he calls Dad and Daddy.

The seventh-grader skipped classes at Carrollwood Day School for a civics lesson that textbooks don't cover: How to lobby the Legislature to repeal a state law that prohibits adoptions by gays and lesbians.

Michael spoke into microphones at a news conference in the Capitol and met privately with lawmakers. While he didn't change the long odds facing a proposed law to create more families like his in Florida, Michael did make an impression.

"Three years ago, I was adopted by two gay men who are my parents now," he told Rep. Ed Homan, R-Tampa. "I just want to get rid of this ban that was set 30 years ago and affects our family and a whole lot of families."

"I'm glad you came up here," replied Homan, sitting with Michael on a sofa in his Tallahassee office. "It's nice to put a face with a problem."

But Homan stopped short of addressing the politically charged issue, which has not yet been aired in the House. Three weeks ago, a Republican-controlled Senate panel considered the ban but was not persuaded to repeal it. They sidestepped a vote on the bill that would allow gays to adopt foster children in Florida if a judge considers it in the child's best interest.

Florida, Mississippi and Utah are the only states that ban homosexual couples from adopting children. The movement to change Florida's law is an uphill battle, especially in an election year.

More than a dozen gay-rights advocates from Tampa Bay came to the state capital for Thursday's rally. Rep. Faye Culp, R-Tampa, had an emotional story of her own.

As a child, Culp was separated from siblings and sent to live with relatives after the death of her mother. She remembers wanting to be adopted into a permanent home. Now the mother of two sons, one gay and one straight, she believes gays should be able to adopt.

"Children would be a blessing for either one of my boys, because they both would be wonderful parents," Culp said. She supports bills to repeal the gay adoption ban introduced by Rep. Sheri McInvale, R-Orlando, and Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston.

In Florida, gays and lesbians can serve as foster parents. But any hint of a change that could mark a step on the road to legalizing same-sex marriage sounds alarms in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Earlier Thursday, senators recoiled at the slightest possibility of that prospect during debate on a proposal by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to make it easier to add names to home deeds without tax consequences.

"Is this about same-sex union and same-sex marriage?" asked Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview.

Still, Michael did get a handful of lawmakers to hear his story.

On May 30, 2003, he was adopted in New York by Buddy Gulliford, 44, and Jim Green, 35. The men have been together for eight years and had wanted to adopt out of the foster care system.

Michael spent a year with a heterosexual foster family, but he wanted a permanent home. When his biological parents released him for adoption, he posed a question to Gulliford and Green.

"Do you want me?" the boy asked.

Gulliford cried, ducking behind Green.

As they showed Michael their bedroom, the couple shared this conversation about homosexuality: "Love is love, whether it's between a man and a man, or a man and a woman."

Two years ago, they moved to Florida. Michael has his own bedroom in a one-story, gray house with a pool. It sits on a cul-de-sac in a gated subdivision off Lutz-Lake Fern Road.

The household includes three dogs, Brandi, Foxy and Aggie, and two cats, Chewey and Nola. Michael decided to call Gulliford Daddy. Green is Dad.

It was his choice to take their last names.

All afternoon, as he bounced between appointments, he spoke of helping other foster children get adopted like him. A PBS camera crew trailed him for a program on gay adoption nationally.

After all, it's not every day a 12-year-old becomes a lobbyist.

"The only way you can make a difference in this process is if you get involved in it," said Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, after meeting with Michael and other gay rights advocates from Tampa. "These people are proving that a small group of people can make a difference."

But Hasner quickly added that he would listen just as closely to the opposing side.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.