Change the World

New York: It's Time to Legalize Ethical Surrogacy

New York, one of only three states to prohibit compensated surrogacy, is faltering on a bill to legalize the practice in the state

With the Democratic takeover of the State Senate in the 2018 elections, legislators in New York have been busy passing any number of long-held progressive priorities, from a sweeping package of bills strengthening rent regulations to others aimed at expanding and protecting voting access in the state. But as the legislative season comes to a close, another initiative, which looked all but assured to pass just a couple months ago, now stands in limbo: the legalization of gestational surrogacy via the Child-Parent Security Act.

New York is just one of three states that doesn't already permit surrogacy in some form, but we are closer than ever before to finally legalizing this important family-building option for LGBTQ people and those who struggle with infertility. The Child-Parent Security Act has passed the State Senate, and Governor Cuomo has promised to sign it. But the legislation is now stalled in the State Assembly, where a number of legislator and advocates have unfortunately spoken out against it. Assemblywoman Deborah Glick has called the practice "pregnancy for a fee" and the "commodification of women." Gloria Steinem likened the practice to allowing "profiteering from body invasion."

But State Senator Brad Hoylman, the bill's sponsor and himself a gay father of two via surrogacy, is nonetheless pressing ahead. "My two beautiful daughters were born through gestational surrogacy," he wrote via Twitter. "They are everything to me. Every family in NY, whether LGBTQ or struggling with infertility, should have the same opportunity."

We at Gays With Kids couldn't agree more, which is why we've brought you countless stories of gay dads, like Senator Hoylman, who have realized their dream of fatherhood through the incredible medical advancements of the last several decades that make surrogacy possible.

But even more importantly: we've brought you the stories of surrogates themselves — a perspective so often left out of the morality debate surrounding surrogacy — who help illuminate the incredible and diverse set of reasons women decide to become surrogates. The joy many of these women take in helping others realize their dream of parenthood via surrogacy is truly palpable, and couldn't sound more different from the alarmist and coercive reality painted by surrogacy's critics.

Here are just a few of their voices:

  • Shelly Marsh, told us of the urge she felt after becoming a mother herself to help others who can't start families as easily. She subsequently worked with two separate gay couples to do exactly that. "My girls are my life," she told us of her decision to become a surrogate. "If I have the ability to share that love with someone else, that is what I wanted to do."
  • Heather Manojlovic told us about some of the reasons she enjoyed working to make fatherhood a reality for gay intended parents. "The fact that I was able to help someone that may have had to overcome a lot of adversity during his lifetime to fulfill a dream meant so much to me," she wrote.

  • Another surrogate we profiled told us about the experience of working with an HIV positive man, a population of people who once thought biological fatherhood would never be in their future, become a dad through the Special Program for Assisted Reproduction (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," she wrote. "It felt even more gratifying for me to be able to be the person who helped make their dreams come true."

To be clear: surrogacy does indeed raise any number of moral and ethical issues that should absolutely be discussed before legalizing it. Abroad, surrogacy is often left unregulated, which creates a system that does in fact take advantage of women and their families who serve as surrogates. And let's face it: surrogacy is expensive, meaning this form of family creation is far too often available to just a privileged few.

But rather than ban the practice completely, why not work to improve these shortcomings?

Many efforts are underway to help tackle surrogacy's hefty price tag. The non-profit organization Men Having Babies has been fighting for years to offset the considerable costs associated with surrogacy for gay men. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is currently vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President, has suggested insurance companies be required to cover some parts of the process, such as IVF treatments, for LGBTQ couples and others who can't get pregnant independently. And an increasing number of corporations, like Target, are offering benefits to their employees to cover some aspects of surrogacy's costs.

Senator Hoylman has also taken steps to shore up protections for surrogates by including a "Surrogates' Bill of Rights," the first of its kind in the country, as part of the legislation. Under the bill, surrogates will have guaranteed access to legal advice and extended medical benefits. By passing this legislation, New York will finally catch up to the 47 other states that already permit gestational surrogacy in some form, allowing LGBTQ people and others impacted by infertility to realize their dream of parenthood in the state they call home. But we will also have the opportunity to do something arguably more important — set the national standard for the ethical practice of surrogacy.

If you live in New York State, please take a second to send a message to your representative asking them to support the bill.

Gay Dad Life

Most Fathers Experience "Dad Shaming," Says Study

52% of dads with kids ages 0-13 say they experience some form of criticism from their partners, family, friends and even complete strangers

Just in time for Father's Day, The T.C. Mott Children's Hospital in Michigan released a new national poll of 713 fathers that found a majority experience some form of criticisms as new parents. While we have long known new mothers are subjected to criticism, less studies have focused on the experiences of dads.

About half of fathers (52%) say they have been criticized about their parenting style or choices. The common source of criticism is the child's other parent (44%), though the report didn't explore if this finding was equally true for LGBTQ couples. Grandparents (24%) and the father's own friends (9%) were also common sources of criticism. Dads even reported receiving criticism about their parenting from strangers in public places or online (10%), as well as professionals like teachers or health care providers (5%).

Among some of the findings:

  • 67% of dads say they were criticized for how they discipline their child
  • 43% are criticized for their children's diet and nutrition
  • 32% are criticized for not paying attention to their children
  • 32% are criticized for being too rough with their kids

"Over one quarter of fathers in this Mott Poll noted that criticism made them feel less confident in their parenting, and 1 in 5 fathers said that criticism made them want to be less involved as a parent," the report says. "In short, too much disparagement can cause fathers to be demoralized about their parental role. This is unfortunate for both father and child, and those tempted to criticize fathers should be wary of this potential consequence."

Read the whole report here.

Change the World

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Puts Parents at Forefront of "LGBTQ Rights Agenda"

The New York Senator, currently vying for the Democratic nomination for President, has released detail policy proposals in recent months to protect LGBTQ parents and children

Just in time for Pride month, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is currently vying for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020, released her LGBTQ policy platform via a post on Medium. While most Democrats in the 2020 have given at least lip service to supporting LGBTQ rights (which itself is a remarkable feat, particularly when compared to the Democratic field in 2008), Senator Gillibrand's platform is detailed in scope, including a primary focus on the needs of LGBTQ parents and their kids.

The New York Senator starts by saying she would shore up protections for marriage equality. "I was proud to be one of the first senators to support marriage equality," she writes. "As president ... I would also move to permanently codify marriage equality as the law of the land and ensure that Obergefell v. Hodges can never be overturned."

She goes on to note that marriage is "just the beginning." In a similar post on Medium, issued in May of this year, Gillibrand released her "Family Bill of Rights." In that policy platform, Gillibrand says she'll fight for the right of every person to "give birth or adopt a child, regardless of your income or sexual orientation." She would seek to shore up legal protections through the passage of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would prohibit taxpayer-funded adoption and child welfare agencies from discriminating against LGBTQ foster or adoptive families. But she would also move to require insurance companies to cover fertility treatments like IVF for "families, including LGBTQ couples, who can't get pregnant independently."

Lastly, she would require "hospitals in every state offer a gender-neutral parental form to ensure that both members of a same-sex couple can secure their parental rights from the day their child is born. You shouldn't have to adopt your own child just because of your gender."

We look forward to covering the detailed LGBTQ policy agendas of other 2020 contenders as they become available.

Change the World

ACLU Sues Trump Administration Over Plans to Discriminate Against LGBTQ Adoptive Families

Ahead of the Trump administration's planned rule to allow discrimination against LGBTQ adoptive parents on the basis of religion, the ACLU announced a lawsuit

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

The Department of Health and Human Services recently hinted that it is preparing to issue a rule that would allow state-funded child welfare agencies to legally discriminate against same-sex couples. The rule would apply nationwide, depriving some of the over 440,000 children currently in the foster care system in the United States the opportunity to find loving homes with LGBTQ parents.

Fortunately, the ACLU quickly announced plans to sue, even before the policy has been officially released. A statement by Leslie Cooper, Deputy Director, ACLU LGBT & HIV Project said, "We're not waiting for the Trump administration to drop this rule, which would go against long-standing best practices supported by every major child welfare organization and former foster youth." The legal rights organization is also suing South Carolina, Cooper said, based on a similar state-based effort to allow discrimination against local LGBTQ parents on the basis of religious objections.

The Trump administration is seeking to roll back protections put in place for LGBTQ adoptive and foster care parents under the Obama administration that made it illegal for an child welfare agency receiving federal funding to refuse to work with same-sex couples.

Read the entire ACLU announcement here. We'll be sure to keep you updated as the story progresses.

Change the World

Republican Utah Lawmaker, and Dad of Two, Comes Out as Gay in Moving Video

Nathan Ivie has many important identities he's proud of: Mormon, Republican, Utahn, father of two... and gay.

In a moving video posted to Facebook, Republican lawmaker Nathan Ivie finally admitted publicly something he's known since the age of 9: he's gay. Ivie, who serves as a County commissioner, is now the first openly gay Republican elected official in the state of Utah. His coming out video has already been viewed more than 25,000 times:

"There's no easy way to say this, I might as well just jump up and say it: I'm gay," Ivie says in the video. "That's my reality and that's what I need to talk to you about today."

In the video, Ivie reveals that he and his wife has separated. He refers to her as his "best friend and supporter," however, and that he is continuing to co-parent their two children with her.

"It's ok to be different, it's ok to live authentically," Ivie says in his video. "You can be gay and a Republican. You need to trust that people will love you for who you really are."

Jackie Biskupski, Salt Lake City's openly lesbian Democratic mayor, praised Ivie via Twitter, writing: "All the best to you, I love how a simple act of love among strangers helped you find your truth and that you are being embraced by family and friends."

Politics

Daughter of Married Gay Couple Who Used Surrogacy Abroad Isn't Citizen, Says U.S. State Department

A decades-old law can be used to discriminate against gay couples who use surrogacy abroad.

James Derek Mize and his husband Jonathan Gregg are both American citizens, but their daughter, born via a surrogate, may not be, at least according to the U.S. State Department.

The New York Times took an in-depth look at this case in a piece that ran in the paper yesterday. While James was born and raised in the U.S, his husband Jonathan was originally born in Britain. That may be enough, according to the State Department, to deny their daughter citizenship.

"We're both Americans; we're married," James told the New York Times. "We just found it really hard to believe that we could have a child that wouldn't be able to be in our country."

According to decades-old immigration law, a child born abroad must have a biological connection to a parent that is a U.S. citizen in order to be eligible to receive citizenship upon birth. Children born via surrogacy are determined to be "out of wedlock," according to the Times report," which then requires a more onerous process to qualify for citizenship, such as demonstrating that a biological parent is not only an American citizen, but has spent at least five years in the country.

The intent of the law, which dates back to the 1950s, was to prevent people from claiming, falsely, that they are the children of U.S. parents. But LGBTQ advocates argue this archaic policy is being used intentionally to discriminates against same-sex couples, who often have to rely on donors, IVF and surrogacy in order to have biologically children, and are thus held to a higher standard.

"This is where our life is. This is where our jobs are," James told the Times. "Our daughter can't be here, but she has no one else to care for her."

Read the whole story here.


Change the World

Tennessee Drops Anti-LGBTQ Adoption Bill Amid Growing Opposition

Amazon, the Tennessee Titans, and Taylor Swift were among those calling on the state to drop an anti-LGBTQ adoption bill

This past week the sponsor of a so-called "religious freedom" bill in the Republican-dominated Tennessee State Senate, which would have permitted state welfare agencies to discriminate against prospective LGBTQ adoptive parents, requested the piece of legislation be pulled, effectively killing it for at least this year.

The bill, which had already been approved the the House, was widely expected to be passed and signed into law, so the sponsor's request surprised many. No explanation was given for the move, thought the Washington Post hints that increasing corporate pressure may have helped play a role. Both Amazon and the Tennessee Titans joined a growing list of companies speaking out against the discriminatory bill.

Taylor Swift, a native of the state who is increasingly wading into the political realm, also joined the fray by donating $113,000 to the Tennessee Equality Project, an advocacy group fighting the bills. In a handwritten note to the group's Executive Director, Swift wrote: "I'm so inspired by the work you do, specifically in organizing the recent petition of Tennessee faith leaders against the 'slate of hate' in our state legislature. I'm so grateful that they're giving all people a place to worship."

This good news follows Michigan's recent decision to rescind its own "religious freedom" law last month, though eight states currently still permit discrimination against prospective LGBTQ adoptive parents, and a bill is pending in Arkansas that would do the same.

Change the World

These Guys Are Proof: Bisexual Dads Exist!

Far more LGBTQ parents fall into the "B" category than any other. Here are three of their inspiring stories.

A couple months ago, Gays With Kids received the following message via one of our social media channels:

"Hey guys, love what you do. But where are your stories about bi men who are dads? Do they not exist? I get the sense from your page that most queer dads identify as gay. I identify as bi (or pansexual) and want to become a dad one day, but just never see my story represented. Are they just not out there?"We can say with resounding certainly that YES bisexual dads absolutely exist. In fact, of all the letters in our acronym, far more LGBTQ parents fall into the "b" category than any other.

But our reader is certainly right in one respect--we don't hear the stories of bisexual/pansexual dads told nearly often enough. While we occasionally find stories to tell about bi dads, like this great one from earlier this year from a dad who just came out, we otherwise aren't often finding stories of bi dads nearly as easy as we do gay dads. We're sure this is due to any number of reasons--societal pressure to stay closeted from both the straight and LGBTQ communities along with erasure of bisexuality both come to mind.

But it's also because we haven't done the best job reaching out specifically to the bi dad community! We hope to start changing that, starting by bringing you the stories of three bid dads in our community.

(Are you a bi dad? Click here so we can help tell your story and increase exposure for the bi dad community, or drop us a line at dads@gayswithkids.com!)

James Shoemaker, bisexual dad of three, in Alton Illinois

James Shoemaker, who is 65-years-old and lives in Alton, Illinois, says he's known he was bisexual since the age of five. Still he lived what he called a "happily socially heterosexual" life throughout his adolescence, until he had his first same-sex experience in college at the age of 18-years-old.

In his 20s, he began his first same-sex relationship with a man, which lasted about five years. But soon the conversation turned towards children. James wanted his own biological children, something that would have been difficult, particularly at the time, to achieve. He and his boyfriends split, and soon after James met the woman who would become his wife. Since he had previously been in a relationship with a man, and his friends and family were aware of his sexuality, there was no hiding his bisexuality from his wife. There was no hiding my bisexuality from her

"We were both in our 30's, and both wanted kids," James said. "Wo were both kind of desperate to find a partner and she expressed that."

He and his wife proceeded to have three daughters together and lived what he called a fairly "conventional" life. "There was so much societal support [for raising a family] within conventional marriage," he said. "This was new to me, since I came out at age 17, and was used to being "different".

Being in a relationship with a woman, James said, alienated him from much of the LGBTQ activism that began to take hold in the 1980s and 1990s. "I felt I could not act as a representative for gay rights while married to a woman and raising kids with her," he said.

When his youngest daughter turned 18, he and his wife split and, and James began, once again, to date other men. Eventually, he met Paul Mutphy, who he has been dating for four years. Since reentering the world dating another man, he's had to confront, at times, people's misconceptions about his bisexuality. "It's not just gay guys looking for more social acceptance," James said, noting that "Bi rights" has not really caught the public's attention in the same way as "gay rights".

Maxwell Hosford, bi trans dad of one, in Yakima Washington


Maxwell Hosford, who lives in Yakima, Washington, came out as bisexual when he was 13-years-old. "I was still questioning myself," he said "and the term bisexual seemed to fit me."

A year later, when he was 14, Maxwell also came out as trans. "I had heard about Chaz Bono on the radio one morning before school and it got me thinking," he said. "I realized that I wasn't the only one who felt that way and that there was a term for how I've felt."

Though people often conflate sexual orientation and gender identity, Maxwell stressed that he sees his identity as trans and bisexual as perfectly natural. "I see them interacting in a way of fluidity," he said. "Not straight but not gay. Just a feeling of love."

Maxwell described his path to parenthood as a bit of an accident. "I was on testosterone for two years but had a four-week break because i was switching doctors," he said. During that break, Maxwell ended up getting pregnant, and wasn't aware of the pregnancy for several months after. "I just thought my body was just being weird from starting T again," he said. Once he took the test and saw the two pink lines, though he knew his life was about to change forever. He went to Planned Parenthood the very next day.

Being pregnant while trans, Maxwell said, was an incredible experience. "I was comfortable enough with my gender identity that I didn't have very much dysphoria," he said, though he noted he did face a lot of misgendering from strangers. "But I understood that because I did have a big ole pregnant belly," he said. He was grateful for his medical team who all referred to him according to the correct pronouns.

Soon after, his son Harrison was born. As soon as he held him in his arms, Maxwell said the entire process was worth it. "All the misgendering, all the questions and people misunderstanding doesn't matter once you have that baby in your arms nothing matters but that little bundle of joy."

Three years ago, Maxwell met his current fiancé, Chase Heiserman, via a gay dating app, and the three now live together as a family. He says he couldn't be happier, but he does face some difficulty as a bi trans man within his broader community. "In some peoples eyes my fiancé and I are a straight couple because I'm trans and he's cisgender," he said. Some of the difficulty has even stemmed from other trans men. "I've had some bad comments from other transmen regarding my pregnancy and how it doesn't make me trans," he said, noting he continues to fight the perception that he is not "trans enough" because he chose to carry his own baby.

Through it all, though, Maxwell says becoming a father has been the biggest blessing in his life. "Being able to carry my baby and bond through those nine months was amazing," he said. "I'm breastfeeding, which is hard as I'm trans, and so I'm self conscious of my large breasts now but it's such a bonding experience that it doesn't matter when I see the look of love and the comfort he gets from it."

For other gay, bi and trans men considering fatherhood, Maxwell has this simple piece of advice: "Go for it."

Michael MacDonald, bi dad of two, in Monterery California 

Michael MacDonald, who is 28-years-old and living in Monterey California, says he came out as bisexual over two years ago. He has two daughters, who are four and two-and-a-half years old, that were born while he was married to his ex-wife. "My children are amazing," he said. "They have been so incredibly strong and brave having mom in one house and dad in another."

Both children were fairly young when Michael and his ex separated, so "they didn't really break a deeply ingrained idea of what a family unit is like. They have always just sort of known that mom and dad don't live together."

Co-parenting isn't always easy, Michael said, noting it's "one of the hardest things in the world." He and his ex overcome any potential difficulty, though, by always putting the children first. "As long as they are happy, healthy and loved, that is all that matters," he said. "I'm so fortunate to have such an incredible/pain in the butt partner to help me raise these amazing little girls."

Though the separation was hard on all of them, Michael said it's also been an amazing experience watching his children's resiliency. "I am so proud of the beautiful little people they are," he said. "Their adaptability, courage and love is something really spectacular."

Since the separation, Michael hasn't been in a serious relationship, but he has dated both men and women, something he says has been "absolutely challenging. Not only does he need to overcome all the typical challenges of a newly divorced parent ("Do they like kids? Would they be a good stepparent?") but also the added stresses of being bisexual. "It can sometimes just be a bit too much for some women to handle," he said.

He has been intentional about making sure his children have known, from a young age, that "daddy likes girls and boys," he said. "They have grown up seeing me interact with people I've dated in a romantic way, like hand holding, abd expressing affection, so I think as they get older it's not something that will ever really seem foreign or different to them to see me with a man or woman," he said.

In his dates with other men, Michael says most guys tend to be surprised to learn that he has biological children. "But once I explain that I am bisexual, it's usually much more easily understood," he said. He is more irritated, though, when people question or outright refuse to recognize his bisexuality. "While I understand and have witnessed many guys who use bisexuality as a "stepping stone" of sorts when coming out," he said, it does not mean that "bisexuality is not real or valid."

As a bisexual dad, he also says he can feel isolated at times within the broader parenting community. "It can be a little intimidating feeling like you don't really belong to one side or another," he said. "There's this huge network of gay parents, and, of course straight parents. Being sort of in the middle can sometimes create a feeling of isolation"

The biggest misconception about bisexual dads who have split with their wives, he said, is that sexual orientation isn't always the reason for the separation. "When my ex wife and I separated, while my bisexuality did play a small part in it, it was not the reason we separated," he said. He added that while life might not be perfect, it's good. "My children are happy, healthy, and loved," he said. "That's really what matters the most."

Fatherhood, the gay way

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