News

World's First Sperm Bank Opens for HIV Positive Donors

Sperm Positive, started by three non-profits in New Zealand, hopes to end stigma surrounding HIV and parenthood

"Our donors have so much to give," say the promotional materials of a new sperm bank. "But they can't give you HIV."

The new sperm bank, Sperm Positive, launched on World Aids Day this year by three non-profits as a way to fight stigma surrounding HIV and parenthood. For years, scientists have known that those living with an undetectable level of HIV in their blood thanks to antiretroviral treatments can't transmit the virus through sex or childbirth. Yet discrimination and stigma persists.

The sperm bank exists online only, but will connect donors and those seeking donations with fertility banks once a connection is made on their site. Sperm Positive was started by three New Zealand non-profits — Body Positive, the New Zealand Aids Foundation and Positive Women Inc. — who hope the project will help disseminate science-backed education and information about HIV and parenthood.

Already, three HIV positive men have signed up to serve as donors, including Damien Rule-Neal who spoke to the NZ Herald about his reasons for getting involved in the project. "I want people to know life doesn't stop after being diagnosed with HIV and that it is safe to have children if you're on treatment," he told the Herald. "I've experienced a lot of stigma living with HIV, both at work and in my personal life that has come from people being misinformed about the virus."

We applaud the effort all around! To read more about our own efforts to end the stigma surround HIV and parenthood, check out our recent round-up of family profiles, resources, and expert advice that celebrate the experience of gay dads living with HIV here.

Change the World

9 Stories That Celebrate the Experience of Gay Fathers Living with HIV

This World AIDS Day, we dug into our archives to find 9 stories that bring awareness to and celebrate the experience of gay dads living with HIV

December 1st is World AIDS Day — a day to unite in our collective fight to end the epidemic, remember those we've lost, and bring much needed attention and money to support those who continue to live with HIV and AIDS. For us at Gays With Kids, it's also a time to lift up and celebrate the experiences of fathers, so many of who never thought they'd see the day where they would be able to start families.

Towards that end, we've rounded up nine stories, family features and articles from our archives that celebrate the experience of gay fathers living with HIV — the struggles, triumphs and everything in between.

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Change the World

Gay Couple Adopt HIV+ Baby Passed Over by 10 Other Families

Married Argentinian couple Damian Pighin and Ariel Vijarra opened their home to a 28-day-old baby when others wouldn't

A couple weeks ago, we brought you a touching story about a gay single dad who adopted a young girl with Down's syndrome who had been passed over by 20 other families.

Well, we're beginning to sense a heartwarming trend among gay men and their openness to kids who might be a little bit different. Recently, an HIV positive baby in Argentina named Olivia was adopted by a gay couple, Damian Pighin and Ariel Vijarra, when she was only 28 days old. The baby had reportedly been rejected by 10 other families who refused to adopt her because of her status.

According to Newsweek, one of the dads told local media: "As soon as I saw her, I felt she was part of my life. The connection was immediate. We held her in our arms, we gave her the bottle and she looked at us with her eyes wide open, without crying."

The couple is no stranger to helping "hard to place" kids find homes. They created a nonprofit organization called Acunar Familias, or "Cradle Families," which helps other couples adopt unwanted children.

Many in the LGBTQ community have faced rejection of their own, so it should come as little surprise that queer parents will provide loving homes when others won't — we guarantee this won't the last story of its kind you'll read. But for now, check out more details on Newsweek.

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One Surrogate's Experience Carrying Twins for Gay and HIV+ Intended Parents

Checking the "yes" box to serve as a surrogate in the Special Program for Assisted Reproduction (SPAR) program, she says, was one of the most rewarding decisions she's ever made

Photo credit: Cassandra Photo

In partnership with Circle Surrogacy. Written by a Circle surrogate who carried twins for an international gay couple in the SPAR program.

The word serendipity is such a magical word, and one that's rarely used. But so far, it's the best word I can think of to describe my surrogacy experience, carrying twins for a gay HIV positive couple in the SPAR program.

I came to surrogacy because I have been drawn to help others my whole life. Because of a medical condition, my sister is unable to have her own children. I witnessed first-hand the painful questions young women are asked all too often: "When are you going to have kids?" Hearing my sister reply, "I won't be" helped shape me into who I am today, and my decision to become a surrogate.

I was looking for something exceptional in my surrogacy, but I didn't know exactly what that was. When I applied to be a surrogate, I had never thought of all the different walks of life waiting and hoping for someone to come along and help create a family for them.

Saying "yes" to the Special Program for Assisted Reproduction (SPAR).

During the application process I was asked if I would consider carrying a baby for intended parents in SPAR. I initially checked off the "NO" box; originally, I wasn't interested in working with someone in the SPAR program who was HIV+. Honestly, I did not fully understand what I read about it, and it seemed complicated and frightening. Checking off "No" seemed easier. But I sat there for a moment, trying to open up my mind. I thought to myself, 'What's the harm in checking "Yes" and getting more information?' Becoming a surrogate was going to be the biggest learning experience of my life, and I wanted to be all in! I changed my answer to "Yes," which I now feel was serendipity.

Soon after submitting my application, I received my first intended parent profile almost immediately. I was so excited I could burst! There were names and faces behind all this paperwork—an international gay couple in the SPAR program. Wow!

Their pictures were happy and handsome. At first, I felt a little overwhelmed. For some reason I expected a cookie-cutter heterosexual couple from Iowa or another U.S. state. My husband and I discussed the couple's profile extensively.

I had so much going through my head. What if these intended parents got sick from HIV and were not able to take care of their babies? I wondered what their lives looked like day to day, what medications they were taking, and their overall health. Most of these questions came from my lack of knowledge of HIV, and the advancements that have been made over the past few decades. So I did more research.

My husband and I learned that men in the SPAR program must be actively treating their HIV. My IPs were just as "healthy" as anyone else I could carry for. We also spoke with Dr. Kiessling about the science behind the program, and how it has been made possible that a man can be a bio dad without passing on HIV to the carrier of the baby. Dr. Kiessling explained the process of making all of this possible and safe; she is an expert in her field and has devoted her life to this research and development. With that knowledge, I felt completely comfortable that I was not at risk.

When we Skyped with our intended parents, I never once thought about SPAR or HIV. These two men were intriguing. It came down to the fact that I felt that they should have the same right as anyone else to experience parenthood. Both my husband and I knew they were the right match for us. From then on, I can honestly say joining SPAR became a non-issue for me.

SPAR didn't define the dads, parenthood did.

During my journey, I only shared with my husband and a few close friends of mine that my intended parents were HIV positive. After I first met my intended parents, I really never thought about it. I did not want HIV to define them. I wanted to get to know them as soon-to-be dads. I wanted them to have a surrogacy experience just as anyone else would. This is the most exciting time of their lives and one of the most exciting times of mine! I did not feel like it was my business to share personal information about my IPs to others. No one else goes around introducing people as a medical diagnosis so why should they be treated that way? We just felt joy!

While I never focused on the fact that my IPs were HIV+, I felt more connected to them because they were in the SPAR program. I knew they didn't have the same number of gestational carrier match options that gay men who weren't part of the SPAR program had. It felt even more gratifying for me to be able to be the person who helped make their dreams come true.

Love is love.

I wholeheartedly believe that checking the "Yes" box was a defining moment in my life. I expanded my mind to something so pure and brand new. The concept, however, was one that was very familiar to me: Love is love, and everyone deserves to have their wildest dreams come true. These two men who walked into my life now have two flawless, healthy baby boys and will forever be a family.

I still keep in touch with the dads, and they send me photos and updates of the babies. Even though I carried their babies, I'm the one who is grateful that they came into our lives. I learned so much on my surrogacy journey, and grew as a person, and I have them to thank.

***

If you'd like more information on Circle's SPAR program, please visit our page on SPAR parenting






.

Rick Nadan went into the surrogacy process much like the average hopeful parent: financially prepared, emotionally ready and physically healthy.

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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