Why Israeli gays opt for U.S. surrogate births

By Evan Pondel – MinnPost.com, 4.21.10

TEL AVIV, Israel — At an age when most people are welcoming their first grandchildren into the world, Avishay Greenfield, 59, gets little sleep as a father of twin babies.

For Greenfield, it is a dream come true after waiting several decades to have children with his partner. But this later-in-life scenario isn’t only a function of family dynamics and finances. In the last several years, the coming of age for gay rights in Israel has encouraged a growing number of same-sex couples, including Greenfield and his partner, to consider surrogacy as an option for having children.

Yet despite the country’s reputation as a world leader in reproductive technology, surrogacy is illegal for same-sex couples. A recently failed appeal challenging surrogacy laws serves as another setback for the gay community in Israel, forcing many couples to seek costly alternatives abroad.

“It is a basic human instinct and deep emotional need to want children,” said Greenfield, who found a surrogate in the United States to give birth to his twins seven months ago. “It is absurd that we can’t do this in our own country and must spend a lot of money to have children elsewhere.”

The number of Israeli gay couples who have worked with U.S.-based agencies is unknown, but surrogate births to same-sex Israeli couples are expected to double this year at Circle Surrogacy, a Boston-based group that helped Greenfield find a surrogate. Israeli gay couples who worked with Circle in 2009 gave birth to 18 children.

The average cost for U.S. surrogacy services: $100,000 to $180,000, a price range that motivates many couples to seek out less expensive alternatives in other countries, including India and Ukraine. But it is significantly easier for Israelis to have children in the U.S. because of the countries’ close diplomatic ties. Couples in search of surrogates in India and other places can hit a snag when trying to establish Israeli citizenship for their babies.

Finding the right surrogate is no easy feat, either. In fact, surrogacy has never been a popular option for Israelis because of the strict laws governing who can be a surrogate. Depending on religious beliefs, the rules are so cumbersome that surrogacy falls out of favor for many couples. For example, some religious leaders say that the birth mother must be single and Jewish to ensure the baby is Jewish. Same goes for the egg donor. The pendulum swings the other way, as some religious leaders say it is not necessary to have a Jewish birth mother.

“Right now, the rabbinic opinion weighs toward the genetic mother as being the legal mother,” said Rabbi Edward Reichman, a medical doctor and professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “But it is hard to set legal precedents for surrogacy because these things didn’t exist in prior centuries.” In general, though, the concept of surrogacy for same sex couples is frowned upon by religious Jews.

“There is still ignorance and lack of acceptance among sectors of [Israeli] society,” said Irit Rosenblum, founder and executive director of New Family Organization in Tel Aviv. Approximately 50 percent of the Israeli population feels that same-sex couples are just as good at parenting as heterosexual couples, according to Rosenblum.

Procreation has a special meaning in Israel. “People in Israel, religious and secular, tend to take the biblical commandment, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ seriously,” Rosenblum said. “Having children is deeply rooted in Jewish culture and is a strong Jewish value. Israel is a very family and children-oriented society, and people respect parenting and family.”

There is a subtle likeness to Greenfield in one of his twins. He and his partner each fertilized an egg that was then carried by the same surrogate.

The challenge was finding a surrogate who was aligned with the values Greenfield envisioned for the birth mother of his children. The search began by riffling through dozens upon dozens of profiles. Eye color, height, education, religious beliefs and geographic locations were presented as if items on a menu.

Greenfield and Caspi eventually found a match in an unexpected place — Texas.

The surrogate and her husband were former military and Christian. “But when we met them, we knew immediately that they were the right fit,” Greenfield said. “They share the same values and are truly an extension of our family.”

The process from finding a surrogate to the birth was about year, but establishing Israeli citizenship for a child born in the U.S. posed other challenges. After a child is born to a surrogate, parents must submit documents to Israel with DNA proof of parenthood. At the same time, the surrogate mother has to legally withdraw from parenthood, but only if a social worker appointed by the court attests that the circumstances justify the withdrawal. And finally, a conversion to Judaism may be performed to ensure the Jewishness of the newborn.

Greenfield said the process is emotionally draining, especially when family and friends are so far away. Of course, the biggest deterrent is cost. Health care in Israel is covered by the government for all citizens whether it is a routine check up or fertility treatments. That’s not the case for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender couples who want to have children.

A court decision in 2005 granted lesbian couples the right to adopt a child born to the other partner by artificial insemination, and while it was a milestone event for a population that dreamed of parenthood, it fell short of entitling same sex couples to surrogacy rights.

Etai Pinkas, a gay rights activist and the youngest city councilman in Tel Aviv, was denied access to the Israeli surrogacy program last year. He recently appealed to the Supreme Court, but was told by a representative a couple of weeks ago that the surrogacy law does not apply to same sex couples. Pinkas and his partner are now in the process of appealing to the Kinneset to redefine surrogacy laws. “This is pure discrimination that same sex parenthood is not supported by the state of Israel,” said Pinkas, who is also searching for surrogacy options outside the country. “I’m hoping to set a precedent here. We just want to have kids.”

Even though the state rejected Pinkas’ appeal, the state agreed that his petition is wake-up call for Israel to re-examine the concept of family, parenthood and human dignity.

Einat Wilf, a Labor member of the Knesset, said the Israeli government is in the process of reviewing fertility laws. When asked whether the country would consider loosening such laws to increase fertility rates for Israelis, Wilf said the laws are focused on improving access to healthcare not boosting demographics.

John Weltman, president and founder of Circle Surrogacy, said the very culture of Israel bodes well for surrogacy. “Family values are strong in this country,” said Weltman, who was a commercial litigator before founding Circle in 1995. “But no matter where people are from, surrogacy shouldn’t be perceived as just a process for those who want to have kids. It is about doing the most intimate thing in the world with a total stranger who will change your life forever.”

Weltman began focusing Circle’s attention on Israel after meeting Ron Poole-Dayan, an Israeli who moved to the U.S. to have children. Dayan said it was absurd a decade ago to think Israeli same-sex couples would even consider having children. “But there has been a critical mass of Israeli gay couples who have accumulated enough wealth,” said Dayan, who has 9-year-old twins. “I do not think gay couples are attempting to fit into Israeli society. It’s more of a genuine shared appreciation of the joys of having a family.”

Troubling questions surround surrogate-born children in India

April 26, 2010
Rick Westhead
ANAND, INDIA—Like all new parents, the Canadian couple was ecstatic about taking home their new children — twins born in one of India’s roughly 350 fertility clinics.

The Canadians, both doctors, had paid a woman in India to carry their fertilized eggs to term. The going rate for a surrogate mother is close to $7,000, a windfall in a country where many labourers earn $1 a day.

The couple headed to the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi for travel documents. That’s where the legal and ethical complications of their case exploded.

Surrogacy is still uncharted territory for Canadian officials here. Even though medical officials in the Canadians’ home province urged that the paperwork be fast-tracked, High Commission officials ordered DNA tests, said a Western diplomat familiar with the doctors’ case.

The babies, the tests showed, were not related to the Canadian couple — or to the birth mother. They were the product of fertilized eggs from a different, unknown couple.

The Canadians left India broken-hearted. The twins may well spend their childhood in one of this country’s thousands of orphanages.

It’s one part of a fast-growing, multimillion-dollar commercial surrogacy business that churns out babies for hundreds of Europeans and North Americans each year.

India is now trying establish order in the “rent-a-womb” industry. The India Council of Medical Research is advising the government on new legislation that could be introduced this year to replace the country’s current surrogacy guidelines, which do not have the force of law.

Among other things, the legislation would prevent gay and lesbians from hiring surrogates, mirroring India’s legal ban on gay marriage.

“We are following the law of the land,” says Dr. R.S. Sharma, a deputy director general at the ICMR in New Delhi.

Couples would be required to buy temporary health and life insurance for surrogates, and surrogates would get more say in negotiating their fee, Sharma says.

Surrogate child-bearing would also only be allowed after foreign couples obtain documents from their embassies promising surrogate-born babies would be granted citizenship in their genetic parents’ home countries.

That may not fly with Canada.

Currently, the Canadian High Commission grants travel documents to children born via surrogacy. But the Department of Foreign Affairs is worried about potential cases in which surrogate mothers say they were exploited or threatened or who demand the return of children in Canada.

Canadian officials were rebuffed when they asked India whether it would be possible to treat surrogate cases as adoptions, whereby the children would first get an Indian birth certificate.

It’s a perplexing problem: What to do with a baby with two sets of parents and arguably two nationalities?

Anand , a hardscrabble city of 130,000 with narrow, dusty streets in the western Indian state of Gujarat, is widely regarded as the unofficial capital of India’s surrogate business.

On a side street near the main bazaar is the Akanksha Infertility Clinic. In 2007, medical director Dr. Nanya Patel was profiled on TV by Oprah Winfrey, making her the face of the industry.

Since 2003, surrogates hired by Patel have delivered 225 babies. Her clinic has 53 current cases. The price tag for Westerners typically exceeds $20,000.

Patel, a middle-aged woman with flowing black hair, says she ensures surrogates aren’t exploited. Women must be between 25 and 40. They must not have had more than two children of their own. They can’t donate their eggs — pre-fertilized eggs must be used — to limit potential emotional attachment between the birth mother and child.

Counsellors visit applicants at home to ensure their husbands are supportive. The women are tested for tuberculosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and HIV/AIDS. Each woman is allowed a maximum of three surrogate pregnancies.

Patel says she provides free health care for surrogates well after they deliver, and she pays legal costs for women who want to use their fees to buy homes in their own name, not that of their husband — a rarity, particularly in rural India.

It’s an effective sales pitch. An average of three women show up each day hoping to be hired as surrogates.

But some reports suggest Patel’s surrogates are “cloistered” and exploited by the doctor and western couples alike — an accusation that has dogged the surrogacy business for years.

“It’s ridiculous,” says Patel with a flash of anger, shifting a stack of patient files to offer a better view of an autographed photo of Oprah on her desk.

“Commercial surrogacy is illegal in many European countries, so couples there go to the U.S. to have babies,” she says. “Show me the stories saying American women are being exploited by Europeans. It’s only because we are Indians that this is an issue.”

Last year, Patel bought a building that had housed a local tax office and converted it to a dormitory. The walls, painted pink, are mostly bare. A poster of Jesus is tacked up in one bedroom. Women who stay here eat twice a day and frequently get eggs and milk — luxuries in India.

A group of eight surrogates sits inside, chatting under a ceiling fan and watching TV.

Manissa Makwan is seven months pregnant and is preparing for her baby shower, when her baby’s genetic parents and the clinic would present her with gifts, complementing her fee of 300,000 rupees ($6,750 Canadian.).

A year ago, Makwan’s husband, a day labourer who made about $1 a day, died of cancer and left her to raise their three daughters, now 16, 12 and 7.

“No one offered any help. There was nothing,” the 33-year-old from the Gujarati village of Bhardur says in an interview conducted without Patel’s staff.

Makwan plans to use the money she makes from this baby to buy a new home. Next year she’d like to have another surrogate child.

“Some people used to comment when they saw me first pregnant, saying ‘look at her’ but I don’t care,” Makwan says. “This is helping my girls.”

Another woman, Panash, 30, says she used money from her first surrogacy last year to renovate her family’s home. “This is not money we could ever hope to make otherwise,” she says smiling, smoothing her yellow sari over a slightly swelling belly.

A few feet away, past the brick wall that surrounds the dormitory, a group of woman work in 44C heat, stacking bricks on their heads to carry to a work site.

“This is not bad,” Panash says.

Not every surrogacy, of course, has a happy ending.

In 2008, police broke up a ring involving doctors, nurses and hospitals that had performed an estimated 500 illegal organ transplants for rich foreigners and Indians. Most of the donors were poor labourers who were sometimes forced at gunpoint to surrender their organs.

Critics allege surrogates are similarly mistreated.

In a case that prompted India to start tightening its surrogacy rules, a Japanese couple paid a surrogate in 2008 to carry their child, conceived with the husband’s sperm and an anonymous donor’s egg. The Japanese couple divorced before the girl was born; the ex-wife decided she no longer wanted the child, but her ex-husband did. Indian law stipulates a mother must be present if a baby is to obtain a passport.

In another case, Germany refused to give passports to twins borne by an Indian surrogate for a German couple because German law uses the nationality of the birth mother as grounds for granting citizenship to children.

“All you have right now is a contract between foreign parents and the surrogate that’s drafted by the clinic,” says the diplomat who described the Canadian case. “When you are talking about granting citizenship and moving an infant overseas to a new country, it’s not enough.”

The Times of India reported on April 12 that due to demand for surrogates some clinics are trolling for women in the slums of Mumbai, the setting of the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

“Of course we don’t do that,” says Dr. Sudhir Ajja, founder of Surrogacyindia.com, who runs a fertility clinic in Mumbai. Many slum residents are undocumented and clinics “wouldn’t invest in a woman and implant someone’s fertilized egg when we don’t know who they really are or where they live.”

Yet the surrogacy business is more competitive than ever. The number of fertility facilities has tripled since 2005, and some doctors may look to cut prices to attract business. Hiring women from slums would be one way to do that, a fertility doctor in New Delhi concedes.

“As long as there is no law, anything can be done.”

Sitting in an exam room in a Mumbai fertility clinic, Aruna Rohit Mehra, 28, explains how carrying a child for a U.S. couple will help her family move to a better neighbourhood. She runs a nursery for eight local kids and her husband works as a manager in a tire factory. Together they make a respectable $2,000 a month.

“We have a 10-year-old girl and we want the best for her,” Mehra says. “I’d like her to go to college one day but we don’t have the money. If I carry two babies for another couple, we can pay for that. I don’t think anyone who says I’m being exploited understands that. I’m not ashamed of this. I may not be paid what a woman in the U.S. is paid, but it’s better than what I make now. A lot better.”

Sen. Harry Reid’s Immigration Proposal Includes Gay Families

By Carlos Santoscoy
Published: April 30, 2010

An immigration reform “framework” proposed Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and fellow Democrats includes gay families. The inclusion is likely to anger social conservatives and major immigration allies.

Included in the “framework” are key provisions of the Uniting American Families Act. The legislation was previously offered as a standalone bill by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont in the Senate and Representative Jerrold Nadler in the House.

The measure would allow gay Americans to sponsor an immigrant partner for citizenship.

“Today’s inclusive framework is an historic step forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender binational families,” Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a group that lobbies on behalf of binational gay and lesbian couples, said in a statement.

The UAFA has already proven controversial.

When Democrats attempted to tuck the measure inside California Representative Michael Honda’s reform effort last summer, social conservatives cried foul. And the action drove one major partner to withdraw its support from the House version.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a major ally in securing immigration reform, called inclusion of the gay provisions “contrary” to its position on marriage.

“[Including the gay provisions in the immigration bill] would erode the institution of marriage and family by according marriage like benefits to same-sex relationships, a position that is contrary to the very nature of marriage, which pre-dates the church and the state,” the bishops wrote in a letter to Rep. Honda withdrawing their support for his bill.

Speaking to POLITICO, the Reverend Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, another reform ally, called inclusion of the UAFA a “slap in the face to those of us who have fought for years for immigration reform.”

Openly gay Congressman Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, is already on record as disagreeing with the strategy.

“You got two very tough issues – the rights of same-sex couples and immigration,” Frank told the Washington Blade. “You put them in the same bill, and it becomes impossible. We just don’t have the votes for it.”

Tiven said her group would lobby for inclusion of the UAFA’s provisions.

“We will fight to ensure that the Uniting American Families Act is an indelible part of the immigration reform bill,” she said.

Senate panel rejects gay adoption expansion

By Bill Barrow, The Times-Picayune
April 27, 2010, 12:55PM

Lengthy and passionate testimony in the Senate Judiciary A Committee today ended with a 3-1 party line rejection of a measure that would have expanded gay adoption in Louisiana.

Senate Bill 129, which ended up as a combination of two measures by Sens. Ed Murray and J.P. Morrell, would have allowed unmarried couples to jointly adopt and allow an existing parent to petition a court to add a second adult as a legal parent. The bill would have applied regardless of the adoptive parents’ sexual orientation, but the debate centered on the rights of gay parents and their children.

Louisiana law restricts adoption to married couples or single individuals, meaning gay couples or unmarried heterosexual couples can adopt but must choose which adult has parental rights.
arnie_fielkow.JPGThe Times-PicayuneNew Orleans City Councilman Arnie Fielkow

The debate pitted the Forum for Equality, a gay rights advocacy group, the American Civil Liberties Union and other adoptive parents, including New Orleans City Council President Arnie Fielkow, against a long list of primarily religious interests: the Louisiana Family Forum, the Conference of Catholic Bishops and representatives of Louisiana Southern Baptists.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office also registered the governor’s opposition to the bill, though no one from the administration testified.

Kelly Bryson of New Orleans asked lawmakers to approve the bill so that she and her partner, Erika Knott, can “complete our family.” Bryson and Knott gained custody of a Louisiana foster child, William, before Hurricane Katrina. Knott adopted the boy in Louisiana. With the couple living in Maryland immediately after the storm, Bryson successfully petitioned for a second parent adoption. Knott has since adopted, again in Louisiana, William’s biological brother Jeremy.

Bryson told senators the she “dreads the conversation when Jeremy asks why William has two parents and he doesn’t.” And she noted that she has no legal relationship with Jeremy, meaning she cannot make health decisions for him and that he has no dependent inheritance rights should she die. “He is entitled to both of his parents,” she said.

Fielkow, who with his wife adopted two Ukranian-born girls, said, “We talk about family values a lot in this country. To me, family values is not putting up more barriers to adoption; it is encouraging adoption.”

John Yeats, representing the Louisiana Baptist Convention, said that the bill was a back-door attempt to enshrine gay unions. He warned lawmakers that “if we allow marriage to become a homosexual institution” society would lose words like “husband” and “wife” to designations like “partner” and “unmarried couple.”

The Rev. Louis Husser of Crossgate Church in Robert said, “This bill is nothing more than social experimentation using our children as guinea pigs.”

Morrell angrily chastised some of the opponents for their testimony, particularly references to news accounts of a gay father who sexually abused one of his children. Morrell reminded senators that former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican accused of advances on minor House pages, “had a 100 percent voting record with the parent group of the group pushing this bill.”

Sens. Don Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, Jack Donahue, R-Covington and Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, voted against the measure. Murray was the lone “yes” vote. Only Murray and Claitor asked questions during the hearing. Chairwoman Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, did not vote. Democrats Rob Marionneaux of Livonia and Nick Gautreaux of Abbeville skipped the meeting.

Afterward, Bryson said, “I’m obviously disappointed, but we’re going to keep trying. I’m going to try to get this done before my sons are old enough to know this fight is happening.”

Our story: A gay couple, torn apart by DOMA

By GLAD.org
04.19.2010 7:00am EDT

Niles and Thiago da Silva met on a Sunday morning in 2002 at the Quincy Center T stop just outside of Boston.

They struck up a conversation, had a lot to talk about, and agreed to get coffee together in Boston. Coffee turned into lunch, lunch turned into a hike, a hike turned into more coffee, which turned into dinner. They were engaged six months later and legally married in Massachusetts in 2004.

“We knew from the beginning that we were soulmates,” says Thiago. “We both found something in the other person that was special and different from any other person we had dated in the past.”

Now, struggling to find a way to stay together before Thiago’s visa expires next year, it is one of the only things in their lives that is still certain.

Originally from New Mexico, Niles moved to Boston ten years ago to take a job in finance. Around the same time, Thiago came to the city from Brazil to learn English. He fell in love with the city and with Niles and decided to build a life here.

The federal government helps keep binational families together by letting U.S. citizens sponsor non-citizen spouses for a marriage-based “green card,” which gives immigrant spouses permanent resident status. Green card holders aren’t U.S. citizens, but can get a Social Security number, can work, and can get a driver’s license.

But Niles can’t sponsor Thiago for a green card any more than he could a stranger walking down the street. Because of DOMA the federal government sees them as strangers—not as a married couple together for nearly a decade. A green card simply isn’t an option for them. To stay together when Thiago’s visa expires next year they may be forced to leave the country.

“If we were an opposite-sex couple Thiago could apply for a green card as my legal spouse—which he is. But in the eyes of the federal government he is no one to me,” says Niles. “It makes me feel like my country doesn’t really care about me.”

DOMA is a costly and dangerous double standard for Niles and Thiago—costly because in leaving the country they will leave behind the stability of Niles’ job. And dangerous because they will also be forced to leave behind the security of the health insurance they both receive through Niles’ employer. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in his early 20s, Thiago needs careful medical supervision and daily care. Twice he has had to spend up to three weeks in the hospital for medical problems related to his MS. Paying for this care is only possible because of Niles’ job and his health insurance.

“We know we will get through this because we love each other and because we have support from our families and friends,” says Niles. “We understand each other and we share our lives and dreams together. But more and more our lives and dreams are at the mercy of DOMA.”

GLAD is currently challenging Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in court. They also seek to educate legislators, the media, and the general public about the harm DOMA causes same-sex couples and their families. To that end, GLAD is asking couples, and individuals who have lost a same-sex spouse, to submit stories about their relationships and the negative impact that DOMA has on their lives.

Finding a Gay-Friendly Campus

April 8, 2010
New York Times

The scene was similar to one that plays out thousands of times a year in gyms and auditoriums around the country: a college fair. The folding tables, the school banners, the admissions officers with a student representative or two, and the brochures and tchotchkes laid out. The only thing that might have made this one appear out of the ordinary was the preponderance of handouts with rainbow designs, and the fact that the fair was being held at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in Greenwich Village. This college fair, and several like it around the country, was devoted to recruiting gay students.

“Actually going out and recruiting a gay student — that’s a very new thing for colleges,” says Shane L. Windmeyer, the co-founder of Campus Pride, a national organization that promotes safe college environments for gay students and sponsored the event.

While Ivy League schools are often represented, the fairs also attract lesser-known institutions like Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Scott A. McIntyre, associate director of admissions there, says that his university attends some 500 fairs each year, and that including one for gay students made sense.

“The more I can help my institution be open to diversity of all different kinds,” he says, “it’s just going to make us a stronger university, and it’s going to make our student body be more robust.”

All this is good news for the young gay applicant. Of course, being gay does not lend an advantage, and the embrace is not universal inside admissions offices, and out. While much of the stigma of homosexuality may have eased over the years, harassment and even violence are still real concerns around campus — Matthew Shepard, after all, was an undergraduate.

Students are looking for colleges where they will feel comfortable and safe, Mr. Windmeyer says. Also, he says, “straight students who have gay family members want to find a campus that is welcoming,” so, for example, two moms can show up for parents weekend without a ripple. “They don’t want to pick a college that’s not going to be accepting of people they love.”

Although many young people say they do not feel the anguish about coming out that has burdened past generations, the fact is that adolescence is a time of strong pressures to conform, and being different in any way can cause intense inner turmoil.

Life’s conflicts can make for compelling narratives — the stuff of memorable college essays. And students are working the story of their sexuality into their admissions essays. “Students are finding out that not only are they not being discriminated against for revealing their orientation in their applications, it may be an extra,” says Rachel Pepper, a co-author of “The Gay and Lesbian Guide to College Life.”

As with all essays, the value is in what you actually say. Being spurred to found an organization or join one could show the positive attitude and leadership abilities that colleges look for, Ms. Pepper says. “Students who are out in high school and are comfortable enough to put this in their essay are probably leaders.”

Another reason for a student to be up front about sexual orientation: scholarships and other financial help have emerged from such groups as the Point Foundation, the League Foundation at AT&T, and Colage (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere).

The University of Pennsylvania made waves this year when the online publication Inside Higher Ed reported on the university’s new outreach policy: applicants whose essay identifies them as gay are put in touch with gay students and organizations on campus. Eric J. Furda, the dean of admissions, told the publication that it was doing for gay applicants what it has long done for other groups. “We are speaking to students on the areas they are most interested in,” he says.

To some admissions officials, Penn was taking risks with students’ privacy. S. Caroline Kerr, the senior assistant director of admissions at Dartmouth, says that sending gay-themed information to students can be delicate. “A lot of them aren’t out to their parents or might have only come out to some friends,” she says. “We’re more concerned about how we approach them with information than I perhaps am with different students. If someone talks about involvement with the gay student alliance in their essay, I’m not adding them to the list.” But Dartmouth is, for the second year, sending information about gay life and organizations to students who specifically request it on forms asking about their interests.

Ms. Kerr says that “I have gotten some raised eyebrows” from alumni, who have been surprised to find that there are special recruiting efforts for gay students and have asked, “Do you mean to tell me you are admitting someone based on this?” She counters: “That is not the case. You’re not admitting anyone based on a single aspect of their candidacy.”

The University of Southern California, too, reaches out to applicants who identify themselves as gay or transgender. Prospective students can have a “Rainbow Floor Overnight Experience” — a night on the gay floor of a residence hall and a day visiting their host’s classes and student organizations.

Derek Pooley, an admissions counselor at the State University of New York at Potsdam, manned a booth at the New York college fair this past fall. “The first person I had come up to me was a drag queen,” he says. “I thought that was fantastic.”

He says, though, that not many in attendance expressed a strong interest in Potsdam, perhaps because it doesn’t have a reputation as a gay haven. Mr. Pooley, who is gay and graduated from there last year, let a lot of people know “I had a great experience; not once did I ever feel uncomfortable there.”

Ms. Pepper has served as program coordinator for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at Yale, which is known for its curriculum on gay issues. She says that while some institutions, including Yale, get reputations as a gay school, “you don’t want to just take any school on its reputation.”

Campus Pride’s Web site serves as a virtual college fair for gay-friendly colleges, and provides a sense of the activities and services geared to various interests. Its “campus climate index” ranks colleges based on programs and policies, including identifying those with strong ones to protect gay students — say, explicitly including them in their declarations against discrimination.

Another clue to an institution’s commitment: whether staff members serve as advisers to gay student groups, and what accommodations are made. Transgender students, Ms. Pepper says, would want to know if the health center provides hormone shots as part of the health plan.

The Princeton Review, which surveys 122,000 students on a variety of topics for its “Best 371 Colleges: 2010 Edition,” has come out with a ranking of colleges where the gay community is “most accepted.” (New York University was No. 1.)

That approach, however, drew criticism from Mr. Windmeyer: asking the overall population whether gays are accepted on campus — “Oh, gay people, I love ’em!” he mocks — “is not the way to assess how gay students feel.” Campus Pride is working on its own survey, which Mr. Windmeyer says he hopes to publish in September.

Mr. McIntyre, the admissions officer from Indianapolis, says that a welcoming environment is only part of what makes a campus right for a prospective gay student. “It’s important that when students are looking for colleges, it’s not, ‘What’s the best college I can get into?’ but ‘What’s the best fit for me?,’” he says.

Mr. McIntyre represented his university at a Campus Pride fair earlier this year at the University of Southern California. He took his 17-year-old son, Anderson, who had come out to him two years ago. Mr. McIntyre says he saw the trip as an opportunity for his son to explore campuses’ attitudes and acceptance.

But Anderson was not so much impressed by whether a college was gay friendly as its focus on his areas of interest. “That’s great,” he told his father, “but do they have photography?”

Judge strikes down adoption ban

Posted on 16 April 2010

Arkansas News Bureau

LITTLE ROCK — A circuit judge today stuck down Arkansas’ ban against unmarried couples adopting or foster-parenting children.

Act 1, passed by voters in 2008, unconstitutionally burdens non-marital relationships and acts of sexual intimacy between adults by forcing them to choose between becoming a parent and having any meaningful type of intimate relationship outside of marriage, Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled in a lawsuit challenging the law.

“It infringes upon the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed to all citizens of Arkansas,” the judge ruled in the lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

The state had argued that children are better off raised in traditional family settings, with married parents, and that the law should be upheld because it protects children from abuse and neglect.

Where’s the gay anti-bullying reform in our schools?

By Dana Rudolph, Keen News Service
04.14.2010 3:30pm EDT
It doesn’t always pay off to have a seat at the table.

Case in point: The Obama administration’s proposal to reform the nation’s educational system includes no specific call for anti-bullying programs in schools, and no mention of protections for students from harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is despite the fact that an openly gay man with considerable experience in combating such bullying heads the Department of Education (DOE) Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.

And it comes despite having a push by the authors of two bills that would give schools strong incentives to enact LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying measures for similar language in any educational reform bill.

Several bullying-related suicides in the past year have brought the issue of school bullying into a prominent media spotlight. Victims in the first three months of 2010 include 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of Massachusetts, 12-year-old Kimberly Linczeski of Michigan, and 13-year-old Jon Carmichael of Texas.

And nearly two-thirds of middle and high school students report being harassed or assaulted during the past year, according to the most recent report (2005) commissioned by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

LGBT students are particularly vulnerable. A 2007 survey by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found that high school students who identified as LGBT were almost five times more likely to attempt suicide than others. And in two high-profile cases just last year, two children committed suicide after being subjected to bullying based on the perception of other students that they were gay. Both children were 11 years old: Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Massachusetts and Jaheem Herrera of Georgia.

According to GLSEN, the vast majority of LGBT students surveyed (86 percent) said they experience harassment at school because of their sexual orientation, and most (61 percent) said they feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation.

Transgender students face even higher levels of harassment, a 2009 GLSEN study found.

President Obama last month released a 41-page “Blueprint for Reform” of the nation’s educational system –a reform he hopes can begin when Congress reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as “No Child Left Behind.”

The “Blueprint” includes one mention of bullying –in the context of discussing a proposed new “Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students” program to replace the existing “Safe and Drug Free Schools” program. Under the existing program, about $191 million is divided up among the states; but under the new program, schools, districts, and their community-based “partners” can compete for grants to address issues specific to making schools safe and healthy for students. It will require schools to assess needs for safe school program funding through surveys of students, parents, and teachers, among others.

Both the current and proposed incarnations of the safe schools program come under the purview of DOE’s Assistant Deputy Secretary Kevin Jennings. Jennings, head of DOE’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, is a former teacher who co-founded GLSEN to help promote safe and healthy environments in schools for LGBT youth. His appointment in July of last year was both hailed by the LGBT community and criticized by right-wing opponents who claimed he would promote a “homosexual agenda.”

A spokesperson for Jennings said he has a “hectic schedule” and “will not be able to accommodate” a request for an interview “at this time.” The office did not respond to subsequent requests for responses to questions by e-mail.

Spokespeople for GLSEN and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) say they have been among more than 100 groups of all types that have attended open forums sponsored by Jennings’ Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools to discuss the proposed new program. They say they have also offered advice to the office about the program.

Ellen Kahn, director of the HRC Family Project, says the plans for a survey to assess school needs concerning successful, safe, and healthy students will include the physical environment of the school, respect for diversity, wellness, harassment, and more. At one place on the survey, Kahn says, students will be able to indicate whether they are experiencing bullying or harassment based on any of several factors, including sexual orientation and gender.

“There’s a real interest in including all kinds of voices and getting input from experts and a real respect for people who are in the field,” said Kahn.

Two pending House bills, however, want more.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) introduced by Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) last May, seeks to require schools that receive any federal funds to implement and report on anti-bullying programs. The bill, HR 2262, would define bullying as hostile conduct that is directed at a student based on his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, among other attributes.

The Sánchez bill has 101 cosponsors (including four Republicans) and is structured as a set of revisions to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. The Act is a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known as “No Child Left Behind.” No Child Left Behind was the major educational policy implemented by Congress at the behest of President George W. Bush and it is the policy that President Obama’s “Blueprint” seeks to reform.

The second bill currently pending in Congress is the Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA), introduced by openly gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.). HR 4530 seeks to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in any program or activity receiving federal funds. It includes “harassment” in its definition of discrimination and has 82 co-sponsors (including one Republican). A spokesperson for Rep. Polis said the Congressman hopes the bill will also become part of ESEA, but will push for it as a standalone bill if necessary.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) will be introducing a Senate companion bill to SNDA in the coming weeks, his office said.

The provisions of these bills are not mentioned in President Obama’s “Blueprint,” and there is no indication yet as to whether the provisions will be included in the larger educational reform bill that Congress will eventually consider.

Russia Suspends Adoptions by Americans

April 15, 2010
New York Times

MOSCOW — Russia formally announced on Thursday that it would suspend all adoptions of Russian children by Americans, responding to the case of a 7-year-old boy who was sent back to Moscow alone last week by his adoptive mother in Tennessee. The case of the boy, who was named Artyom in Russia before he was adopted last year, has caused widespread anger here, and Russian officials said new regulations had to be put in place before adoptions by Americans could proceed.

The announcement by the Russian Foreign Ministry gave no indication about how long the suspension would last. The State Department in Washington is sending a high-level delegation to Moscow to hold talks on reaching an agreement, and both countries have expressed hope that the matter can be resolved quickly.

“Future adoptions of Russian children by citizens of the United States, which are now suspended, are possible only if such an agreement is reached,” a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Andrei Nesterenko, said at a briefing on Thursday.

Officials at the United States Embassy in Moscow said they had not received official notification of a suspension and were seeking more information from their Russian counterparts.

More than 250 American families have nearly completed the adoption process and were poised to pick up their Russian children, but their cases will not be allowed to conclude until the new rules are approved, Russian officials said.

In all, some 3,000 American families have begun the adoption process, according to the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. Russian officials said they would continue to accept applications and process paperwork from potential adoptive parents.

Russia was the third leading source of adoptive children in the United States in 2009, with 1,586, after China and Ethiopia, officials said. More than 50,000 Russian children have been adopted by United States citizens since 1991, according to the United States Embassy.

Artyom, who was named Justin by his adoptive American mother, arrived in Moscow last week after flying by himself from Washington. He presented the authorities with a note from his adoptive mother in which she said she could no longer handle him.

The mother, Torry Ann Hansen, a registered nurse from Shelbyville, Tenn., said the boy was “violent and has severe psychopathic issues.” She added that she “was lied to and misled by the Russian orphanage workers” about his troubles.

The authorities in the United States are now investigating her conduct.

Russian authorities, who now have custody of the boy, have said he behaves normally and have harshly criticized Ms. Hansen for sending him back.

Cases of children adopted from Russia being harmed in the United States have received intense publicity here. Fourteen Russian children have died of abuse or neglect at their hands of the adoptive American parents since 1996, Russian officials said last year.

Last Friday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, calling Artyom’s case “the last straw” and said he was proposing the suspension.

Corvino: Gay parents and biological bonds

By John Corvino, columnist, 365gay.com
04.09.2010 9:05am EDT

Those who argue that same-sex parenting “deprives” a child of its mother or father sometimes ask, “How would you feel if your mother or father were taken away?”

My answer to that question is, of course, “I’d feel terrible.” But that fact scarcely settles the matter.

I’d feel terrible if anyone close to me were taken away. But that presupposes that the person “taken away” is already a part of my life. It doesn’t follow that their not being present in the first place would “deprive” me.

My grandparents were all an important part of my life, but suppose they had all died before I was born. Would anyone have accused my parents of “depriving” me of grandparents, simply by bringing me into existence? Of course not.

I grant that the cases are not exactly parallel. If my grandparents had died before I was born, my parents could hardly be held responsible for their absence (barring matricide or patricide).

By contrast, the lesbian who visits a sperm bank—just like straight women who visit sperm banks—may consciously intend to raise a child in its biological father’s absence, and thus has some responsibility for that absence (as does the father).

It is this fact that bothers our opponents. In their view, the lesbian and others in this (hypothetical but common) case are conspiring to deprive the child of its biological father. If we care to answer their concerns, we need to address this case.

Before doing so, however, it is worth pointing out several things. First, the objection doesn’t touch those who become parents by adoption. In such cases, opponents might still object that the lesbian is depriving the child of SOME father. But they can’t coherently claim that she is depriving it of ITS OWN father—and that is the objection I wish to focus on here. (Presumably, its own father is no longer in the picture—hence the adoption.)

Second, the objection applies equally to heterosexual women who seek anonymous sperm donors. Most people who use sperm banks are heterosexual, and most gays and lesbians never use sperm banks. So this is not an objection to gay parenting or gay marriage per se.

Third, and related, when applied to same-sex marriage the objection involves a blatant non-sequitur. It is one thing to argue against anonymous sperm donation. It is quite another to use that argument to oppose marriage for gays and lesbians. For even if one accepts the “no sperm banks” argument, it seems unfair to punish those gays and lesbians who do not use them. It is also unfair to punish those children whose parents did use them: such children exist, after all, and forbidding marriage to their parents (i.e. the ones that care for them) makes their lives less stable.

With these caveats in mind, we can return to the question at hand: is the lesbian (or for that matter, the straight woman) who uses an anonymous sperm donor “depriving” the child of its biological father?

The problem with answering this question is that the word “depriving” is so loaded that any response is likely to have unintended (and unpalatable) side effects. Answer “yes,” and you insult the many good mothers who have used anonymous sperm donors and have provided wonderful lives for their resulting children. You also potentially hurt the children, by suggesting to them that they lead “deprived” lives.

Answer “no,” and you seem to ignore the research that says that children do better, on average, with their own biological parents than in other family forms. You also suggest that there’s nothing special about growing up with one’s own biological father.

I for one wouldn’t want to make the latter claim. That’s partly because I am moved by the firsthand stories of people who have grown up not knowing one or more of their biological parents and feel a genuine sense of loss as a result. Their longing is real and should not be lightly dismissed.

But it’s also because I myself feel that there’s something special about the biological bond I have with my parents. The fact that I am literally flesh of their flesh moves me, for reasons that go beyond sentimentality.

The question is whether we can acknowledge this significance without casting aspersions on those whose parent-child bonds are non-biological.

I think we can. To say that the biological bond is special is not to say that it’s the only significant bond, or that those who lack it are deprived of something necessary (much less sufficient) for a strong and healthy parent-child relationship.

More to the point, to say that the biological bond is special is hardly justification for “depriving” an entire group of people of the opportunity to marry.

John Corvino, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and philosophy professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. His column “The Gay Moralist” appears Fridays on 365gay.com.