Holly Wagg is no stranger to reforming Ottawa’s queer community.
Wagg and her wife, Julia Alarie are the founders of Camp Ten Oaks, the Outaouais-based one-of-a-kind summer camp for children of queer families.
Wagg only recently stepped away from the camp project. Accustomed to interviews, she speaks briskly over the phone, acknowledging that Ten Oaks fills a need. But she take little credit for the successful summer camp, which has created a safe, accepting space for children of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community since 2004.
Two years ago the unassuming activist couple moved onto a new, more personal project. They wanted a family of their own and envisioned adopting, their initial thoughts: a girl, maybe eight years old.
“We wanted one, age 8. We were quite young to do this.” Wagg laughs, “But somehow we ended up with two, age 9 and 11.”
Wagg’s story is becoming increasingly common. Ottawa’s Children’s Aid Society, has been actively recruiting queer couples and individuals over the past few years. According to Andre Fontaine of CAS, 35 of the 96 children adopted through the agency in 2008 were to members of the queer community.
Wagg’s own transition from lesbian couple to lesbian-couple-with-kids was a thrilling and challenging emotional rollercoaster.
“Once the kids moved in we decided that I had to take parental leave from my job to be with them. That’s a big deal. All of a sudden your job — which defines you — is gone, and you have these kids but you don’t really know them! You have to deal with all these things and you don’t know what are normal kid things, what are adoptive kid issues and what’s gay specific. You simply don’t know which way is up.”
Though Wagg and Alarie fumbled along on love and instinct, they found it difficult at times. Still it wasn’t until another woman was struggling with the same challenges and pushing Wagg to start a support group that the idea took root.
“I was reluctant to move into another big project, but there was such a need. CAS promises post-adoption support, but it’s just not there. So you have these kids with unique needs, they’re older and they have histories. And on top of that, it’s a totally different experience for same-sex couples. There needed to be a support network that is specifically meeting their needs.”
Wagg got involved through the Adoption Council of Canada, forming a support group with funding that Wagg jokes, “covers the coffee and cookies.”
Under the moniker: Post-adoption Support Group for LGBTQ Parents and Parents-to-be, the group first met in February, where they discussed the group’s goals. These include a welcome wagon information basket, a mentorship program, and outreach and information for prospective parents. The larger ongoing project will be to advocate for queer sensitivity and education for adoption workers within the system.
“We are and will be completely parent driven. In a sense we’re creating our own community of queer adoptive families. We really enjoy the two hours of conversation each month to discuss all those sensitive parenting issues.”
Wagg laughs, “Sometimes we just need to talk about our own transitions, like going from gay activism to soccer and art classes!”