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This is a follow-up to a story Scalawag published in January 2018, “Meet the Glasscos: Lesbian foster parents in Bible Belt,” about Alabama’s anti-LGBT adoption law and the same-sex parents fostering and adopting in spite of it. Read that story here.

At 3:30 on a Friday afternoon in July, Chelsey and Bailey Glassco arrive at a courthouse for the final stage of their foster son’s adoption.

This is postcard Alabama: hot-pink crepe myrtles lining the courthouse lawn overlooking a quaint downtown, a train chugging into the piney distance. Inside, the courthouse is nearly empty. A few lingering county employees tackle the remaining tasks of the week, nodding with smiles each time they pass through the rotunda.

A high school English teacher at a private Christian school, Bailey, 29, jokingly describes the scene like some long-winded narrator, telling us this town is “as old as the hills,” waving to a wall of Confederate portraits. “How heartening,” she says, her voice echoing along the tiled floor.

Her wife, Chelsey, 28 and a music and Spanish teacher at the same school, shushes her. “I ought to be worried our first-grader will disrupt court, not you, darling,” Chelsey jokes.

“You oughtn’t worry a’tall, my dear,” Bailey says. During this tit-for-tat, 6-year-old Jay (that’s not his real name), shoots a huge grin to Stacey Waites and Amy Crowe, friends from church the Glasscos call their “adoptive mamas,” or “Mimi” and “Mamaw.” They’re here today in solidarity: to celebrate, or possibly, though no one wants to say it, to comfort.

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No one in this courthouse wanted their name, the name of the town, or the name of the county on record for this story, because even though its landscape is picturesque, and the people are polite, this place isn’t exactly queer friendly.

Together, the five of them are the only family waiting. There’s nothing to disrupt, but I get why Chelsey doesn’t want them to be perceived as a disturbance. I’d venture a guess the Glasscos are the first lesbian couple to be waiting to adopt a child as co-parents here. Same-sex parents could not legally adopt in Alabama before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which required all states to recognize same-sex marriages. I’m having to guess because no one in Alabama tracks same-sex adoption.

No one in this courthouse wanted their name, the name of the town, or the name of the county on record for this story, either, because even though its landscape is picturesque, and the people are polite, this place isn’t exactly queer friendly. The Glasscos asked that I honor the requests for anonymity. They didn’t want to worry about potential retribution. This is one of the counties where the probate judge, who the Glasscos will see today, decided to stop issuing all marriage licenses after Obergefell, a popular loophole across deep-red, rural Alabama for judges who didn’t want to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

In the rotunda across from the Confederate gallery are portraits of the county’s judges: a wall of white, conservative men. One of them will decide Jay’s fate, and that’s why the Glasscos can’t relax.

The proceedings are supposed to be a formality: A few questions, some lines to sign. Still, the possibility remains that the judge might say no, and Jay will remain in the limbo of foster care where he’s been for nearly 1,000 days, nearly half his life. For the past 18 months, he’s lived with Chelsey and Bailey.

Currently, there are 6,000 children in Alabama’s foster system, and not enough families to house them.

The final hearing in the courthouse is a nerve-wracking setting for any foster family, but the Glasscos have good reason to worry. Beyond the county’s anti-LGBTQ history, it’s been legal for private, religious-affiliated adoption agencies in Alabama to discriminate against same-sex couples since May 2017, when Gov. Kay Ivey signed HB24 into law. Alabama is among four other states with similar statutes.

The week before the Glassco’s hearing, on July 12, House Republicans advanced a measure, sponsored by Rep. Robert Alderholt of Alabama, that would have bolstered those laws by protecting the federal funding of agencies that bar same-sex couples on the basis of religion, though that measure was eventually shot down.

Currently, there are 6,000 children in Alabama’s foster system, and not enough families to house them, according to the Alabama Department of Human Services. Eva Kendrick, the Human Rights Campaign State Director for Alabama, says HB24 was especially problematic because LGBTQ minors are more likely to be in the foster system than their hetero or cisgendered peers. LGBTQ couples are four times more likely to raise adopted kids and six times more likely to raise foster children than hetero couples, according to nonpartisan studies, like the 2014 report by the Williams Institute.

As for the Glasscos, they they were denied by a dozen agencies before HB24 passed. The couple feels like the law solidified a long unspoken discrimination.

Now, the Glasscos will find out if a conservative judge deems their family safe for Jay.


Chelsey Glassco waits with her 6-year-old foster son for the final stage of his adoption in a courthouse in rural Alabama.

The hearing is delayed for the third time this afternoon. We’re sitting outside the courthouse at a picnic table, waiting, while Jay explores the garden.

He’s grown a half a foot since I first met him a year earlier when I wrote a story about Chelsey and Bailey: How they’d grown up in tight-knit Christian communities in small Southern towns. How they were excommunicated from their private university, from their families, and from friends when they came out. How they were homeless for a while in their early 20s and have only recently established community by way of putting down new roots with church friends. How the years separated from their families led them to “have a soft spot” for foster kids.

When we met, the Glasscos had just moved into a house on a few acres about an hour away from here. Jay had lived with them for six months and was still on multiple medications for various conditions, the most detrimental being Reactive Attachment Disorder. RAD is common in children raised in orphanages or environments of neglect when self-soothing replaces affection and care of an adult. The result can be lifelong problems with relationships.

Jay was getting into a lot of trouble at school. He was underweight. He was sick often. His skin itched nonstop. He told Chelsey and Bailey he was worried he wouldn’t be fed. He was only 5. “We were continually at the doctor trying to find the right combination [of medicine and therapy],” Chelsey says.

Jay brings us all a rock to examine. He leans into my microphone and says, “Today, I’m going to be a forever Glassco,” then goes back to exploring.

Eventually, they realized that stress was contributing to Jay’s physical and behavioral problems. By the time he came to the Glassco home, he’d cycled through multiple families, living only 90 days in each placement. “So, we took legal action to try and ensure any of those stressors were eliminated. That’s when we saw a lot of drastic changes.”

Today, Jay’s a lot healthier. He’s down to one medication a day. He’s gained 30 pounds. He’s making As and Bs. More importantly, he’s making friends. He’s visibly calmer.

Jay brings us all a rock to examine. He leans into my microphone and says, “Today, I’m going to be a forever Glassco,” then goes back to exploring.

When they signed up to be foster parents, Chelsey and Bailey weren’t sure if they’d foster to adopt or offer a safe respite for a child during a difficult period of transition.

“We’ve said from the very beginning that whatever is best for him is what we want,” Chelsey says. That could have meant reunification with his biological family, or adoption by another family. As Glasscos and Jay bonded, they decided to pursue the arduous process of terminating parental rights in order to adopt.

Bailey and Chelsey Glassco tell their foster son, “Jay,” to ham it up while they wait for the judge.

When I ask if they’re worried, Chelsey shakes her head. “We’ve always kept the faith and kept fighting, doing the best we could to take care of him, love him, and give him a good home.” I want to believe she isn’t worried. I am. Their hearing has already been bumped from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. The parking lot is emptying.

At 4:15 p.m., a county lawyer ushers the Glasscos into a small boardroom alongside their Guardian Ad Litem and a social worker. Everyone sits on one side of a long conference table, waiting for the judge. Everyone’s a little nervous, a little giddy. I’m allowed to take a few pictures before being asked to wait outside.

Another half an hour passes. At 4:48 p.m., I get a text from Chelsey: “Judge is freaking out he is going to end up in the paper and have his name linked to our adoption.” I feel sick. I’m worried my presence as a journalist is going to affect Jay’s life. I can’t imagine how they’re feeling.

Ten minutes pass. Then, 20, then 30.

When the Glasscos finally exit the room, they’re smiling.

“Let’s get out of here,” Chelsey whispers.

They walk out the doors with their son Jay, officially and forever.


We go to an ice cream shop on the town’s main drag and sit on the porch to talk.

Bailey says Jay thought the hearing room “looked like the Beauty and the Beast library. I thought it looked like a dusty old law room, but I’m glad he found magic in it.”

I smile at Jay, and he says, “Pizza and ice cream in one day,” not so much to me as to himself.

Chelsey looks like she’s trying to keep a good face for her boy, a half-smile, hands crossed in her lap, head down. She looks beat. The “begrudging attitude of the judge and his seeming indignation,”as Bailey put it, re-opened old wounds for Chelsey: gay conversion therapy and being abandoned by her once loving community after she came out at 15. Like protective parents, Amy and Stacey sit on either side of her.

Others who were present for the hearing had confirmed the judge’s discomfort in conversation with me as we left the courthouse. One lawyer suggested the judge wanted to confirm the adoption but was nervous about what might happen if voters knew.

“He had this moment where it was like: Oh, this is a family. This is what a family looks like.”

“I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t personal,” Chelsey says. “It wasn’t my wife and I he was taking issue with. That’s what I tell myself to keep from getting angry. This was bigger than us. He was trying to look out for himself, his family, his career. Does it make it OK? Does it make me happy about it? No, but I wanted to leave with my son being adopted.”

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“I’m not as cool-tempered as Chelsey,” Bailey says. “I was thinking: How am I going to explain to my child that this thing I’ve been waiting for is not going to happen because someone’s afraid?”

We all look at Jay, who’s eating his ice cream and watching a pickup truck haul a pontoon down the two-lane highway.

“There’s a huge swath of people who think we’re past same-sex rights, who think there’s nothing left to fight for,” Amy says. “That’s just not true if you live in rural places.” Stacey nods, adds that the judge used a moment that should have been about Jay’s well-being and made it about the judge’s personal hang-ups, his own fears. They figure he didn’t want his church to know he’d signed off on a lesbian adoption. Stacey wonders what he’d say if he knew they all met in church.

Bailey takes a deep breath and lets out a sigh. “It seemed like in his face he had this moment where he was looking at us,” she says, “and he was looking at [Jay], and he was looking at us, and he was looking [Jay’s] grandmothers, and he had this moment where it was like: Oh, this is a family. This is what a family looks like.”

Newly adopted “Jay” Glassco plays reporter with one of his “grandmothers,” Stacey Waites, a friend from the Glasscos’ progressive church in Birmingham.

The other women nod. There’s a hushed and brief debate on the judge’s own humanity and his power in the community, while a dually truck loudly idles beside the porch, the A/C blasting as the driver waits for his ice cream. I can’t think of anything more Southern I’ve ever witnessed.

Jay’s done letting the grown folks talk. He asks to put on my headphones to hear what it sounds like to be an interviewer.

“Baba, Bailey Glassco, what do you think about Mama?” Jay asks.

“Well, I think she’s awful cute,” Bailey says.

“Do you feel like she’s part of the world?” he asks.

“I feel like she’s part of the world, yeah. She’s a part of our world,” Bailey says. “You got any other cerebral questions you want to ask me? Anything real philosophical and deep?”

I’m reminded of something Chelsey and Bailey told me when we first met, how they wanted to protect Jay from the discrimination they’d experienced, how they didn’t want him to be bullied for having same-sex parents, how thankful they were for their school and church now, where he could just be Jay, where he could figure out what it means to be Jay.

I wonder what questions he’ll have for them in the years to come.

Jay goes to Chelsey, asking how she feels about him, about Bailey, about their family. And she answers, patiently.

What the hell is a Scalawag?

Katherine Webb-Hehn

Katherine Webb-Hehn is a mama, multi-media journalist and artist in Birmingham, Alabama.