To Sperm or Not to Sperm by Brian Andersen – October 31, 2014

ivfI wouldn’t say I’m ugly. But I’m certainly not Instagram bathroom underwear selfie hot either. Nowhere near that, actually. I’m what people of my generation would refer to as an “Average Joe,” or as the youth of today charmingly call “Basic.” And I’m OK with my basicness. Or, I thought I was.

Being gay and being average-looking was always a struggle. I longed to be something more in the appearance department. I wished I could be the sexy lead singer of a boy band and not the one unattractive guy who made the other band members look 30 times hotter in comparison. I have never experienced being cruised, never been picked up at a bar (or rest stop), nor asked out on a date. I have always been the pursuer. The hunter. I’ve never experienced the joys of being the huntee.

It’s taken much of my life, but in last few years I’ve come to accept and embrace my plainness. I like to think I make up for this lack of eye-popping sexiness by having something of a humorous wit and sparkling personality. At least my feeble attempts at humor have always been enough to keep my easy-on-the-eyes husband interested these past 14 years. That’s all that really matters.

But last year as my husband and I began the surrogacy process, my old, banished self-consciousness bubbled horribly back up from my psyche. As my hubby and I talked about collecting our sperm to create a child I suddenly wasn’t so sure I wanted to pass along my DNA to a child.

Honestly, I just didn’t want a child of mine to suffer and struggle with body issues and inferiority complexes like I had. I wanted more for my kid.

Before you rage at me in the comments section, I will say that I realize that looks aren’t everything. For folks like me it’s a battle to remember that mantra when you’re being rejected for the three hundred millionth time. (Give or a take few hundred.) Rejection was — and still is — a daily part of my life. So I regularly remind myself that personality, heart, and a person’s soul are the true mark of a human being’s beauty, not smoldering eyes and a six-pack.

I know, the exterior is a façade; yet, the reality is that appearances do matter. As much as I wish it didn’t, as much as we preach it doesn’t, ultimately how a person looks impacts our lives deeply.

Attractive people have benefits and opportunities given them that regular folks like myself just don’t. Job opportunities, dating opportunities, free drinks at Starbucks — I’ve witnessed it firsthand. On numerous occasions. Attractive people are rarely openly dismissed outright at a moments glance. Whereas people like myself often have to fight to be noticed and welcomed.

So as my husband and I talked about the surrogacy process, I decided that I was happy to let him be the sole sperm donor. He’s a very handsome, lovely person with a fantastic personality, and his child would be gorgeous. That is, until my husband metaphorically slapped some sense into me.

He wisely argued that my DNA was far too important to the process of child-making to not be a part of the mix. Not just because he wanted me to be included in the exciting process but also just to hedge our bets. After all, there are no guarantees in surrogacy. We didn’t know if my husband had crummy spunk that wouldn’t lend itself to creating a child. We needed my baby batter to double our chances. So I relented and contributed my donation.

And funny enough, once we both fertilized the eggs we received from our donor and waited to see if any would become viable and grow into a fetus, I realized that I was being a complete and total idiot.


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When Gay Men Want to Be Biological Dads

Gay City News – By Paul Schindler – October 30, 2014

New York finished a more than respectable sixth place in terms of states giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry, but for gay men who wish to be the biological father to their child, the primary route to doing so — relying on a surrogate mother to carry their child to birth — remains closed to them here at home.

In fact, across the 50 states, New York and New Jersey are among the five most legally restrictive for gay men — or anyone else — taking advantage of the advances in reproductive technology that surrogacy offers.

For the past 15 years, though, Men Having Babies, a New York-based nonprofit group, has worked with gay men here and elsewhere to assist them as they navigate the journey to fatherhood through surrogacy, largely out of state. During that time, demand for surrogacy services has grown dramatically among gay men, but the number of providers of such services that work with the LGBT community has exploded. The result is that costs have come down significantly and access to information and resources has improved.

Men Having Babies is a big part of that changed landscape.

On November 2, the group holds its 10th annual conference and expo, bringing together experts on surrogacy and LGBT families as well as roughly three-dozen service providers, including surrogacy and fertility clinics and attorneys who specialize in family law.

According to Anthony Brown, Men Having Babies’ board chair, the November 2 conference, which will be held at JCC Manhattan, is the largest event in an ongoing schedule of monthly meetings and workshops the group offers in New York for prospective “intended parents” — a legal term of art for the two parents who, in the best case, will be listed on a child’s birth certificate under the terms of a surrogacy contract and the applicable state law.

Under existing New York law, surrogacy contracts are legally unenforceable and, except for specific minor expenses, a woman who carries her own biological child to term or serves as gestational carrier for another woman’s fertilized egg cannot be compensated for giving up parental rights to the child at birth. Brown, who is a family law attorney, said there are such instances of “altruistic” surrogacy, but it is a risky path for intended parents since their legal rights are not secured until after birth.

Out gay Manhattan Senator Brad Hoylman and Westchester County Assemblymember Amy Paulin, both Democrats, have proposed legislation to open up surrogacy rights to New Yorkers but the measure has not yet advanced in Albany. New Jersey does not have the outright ban New York is burdened by, but its case law poses similar barriers to intended parents.

Hoylman and his husband, David Sigal, have a daughter born through surrogacy, and Brown and his husband, Gary Spino, are fathers to Nicholas, born in 2009 with the help of a gestational surrogate. Brown and Spino, whose sperm was used, worked with an egg donor from Florida and a gestational surrogate who lived in North Carolina — a process that had to be structured to comply with the laws of several states. Brown explained that such gestational surrogacy has become more common than “traditional” surrogacy — in which a woman carries her own biological offspring to term — because most instances of a surrogate rethinking and regretting her decision to surrender parental rights involve those who are the biological mother. He emphasized, however, that he and Spino have worked to keep both women involved in Nicholas’ birth a part of the youngster’s life.

According to Brown, the world has changed considerably even since he and Spino became fathers in 2009 — a story that was captured in a Soledad O’Brien special on CNN and in Gay City News’ LGBT Pride issue cover story. He estimated that the total costs incurred — for surrogacy services, hospital expenses, legal fees, and compensation to the surrogate and the donor, not to mention travel — came to $160,000, though without one extraordinary expense typically not incurred the cost would have been $140,000. With the proliferation of providers serving the market of gay intended parents, he said, that has come down to an average of about $110,000, and Brown has seen some full-service providers offering costs as low as $85,000.

That’s still a big hurdle for many prospective parents, and Men Having Babies works to ease the burden on at least some of them. Brown said the group last year distributed about $600,000 in cash and donated services to nine qualified couples or single parents and made provider discounts worth about $1 million available to another 30.

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New York State Is Lousy for Gay Men Who Want Children

New York Observer – by John Bonazzo – October 30, 2014

It’s the worst nightmare for any father–missing the birth of your child.

But that’s exactly what happened to Anthony Brown and Gary Spino. The couple lives in the West Village, but, since New York state law prohibits surrogate reproduction, they had to conceive their son Nicholas with the help of a surrogate in North Carolina.

“We had a C-section scheduled, but the surrogate’s water broke early,” Mr. Brown told the Observer. “We had to drive nine hours for our son’s birth, and it turns out we were four hours late.”

Overturning New York’s restrictive surrogacy law is one of the main goals of Men Having Babies (MHB), the organization of which Mr. Brown, a family law attorney, is chairman of the board. Though the state was lauded for being one of the first to pass marriage equality, when it comes to family matters the picture is not quite so rosy.

“New York’s family law is more conservative,” Mr. Brown said. “The capacity of the medical field’s advances has outshot lawmakers’ ability to regulate.”

Several members of the board of directors of MHB are in Albany lobbying for passage of the Child Parent Security Act, which would legalize surrogacy in the state.

Aside from advocating legal protections for surrogates, one of the organization’s main functions is to be “a peer support network for biological gay fathers and fathers-to-be,” MHB’s website states.

Mr. Brown knows well how valuable this peer support is–he, like every other board member, started his involvement with the group by attending one of their monthly workshops, which deal with particular aspects of surrogacy.

“We’re all alumni,” Mr. Brown said. “When we came in, the other members answered questions and allayed fears.”

Mr. Brown and the rest of the board will be on hand this Sunday, when 100-150 families are expected to attend the 10th annual Men Having Babies conference at the Manhattan JCC. The event, the largest of its kind on the East Coast, will feature seminars on surrogacy as well as private consultations with providers.

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Utah Supreme Court lifts same-sex adoption stay

By Jennifer Dobner The Salt Lake Tribune – October 23, 2014

The Utah Supreme Court on Thursday lifted a stay which had barred from completion four pending adoptions of children by their same-sex parents.

The action clears the way for the Utah Department of Health to issue birth certificates that list the same-sex parents as the children’s legal parents. It will also restart countless other adoptions that were left in limbo by Utah’s contention that the cases should be on hold until it was clear that gay marriage would be legal in the Beehive state.

“The families involved are obviously relieved and thrilled,” said Laura Milliken Gray, an attorney who represented one of the four families, and who also had six other adoptions in process when the stay was put in place.

The court’s action was not unexpected, she said.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office asked the state’s high court to lift the stay and any pending petitions for extraordinary relief.

Utah’s reversal on the issue came two weeks ago when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ended Utah’s legal battle over the recognition of same-sex marriages and its associated rights, including adoption.

Previously, so-called second parents had no legal rights to their children.

That followed an Oct. 6 move by the U.S. Supreme Court, which let stand appeals court rulings upholding marriage equality in five states, effectively legalizing gay marriage in Utah and 10 other states.

“This rectifies a major injustice,” said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. “Families all over Utah are celebrating having their families united.”

About 26 percent of Utah’s same-sex couples are raising children, data from the University of California, Los Angeles-based Williams Institute shows. In the two weeks since same-sex marriage became legal in Utah, gay couples have rushed to start or finalize adoption petitions, so that their children will have two legal parents and full protections under state law, Gray said.

“I probably have a dozen new families from here to Cedar City,” she said. “They’re hurrying because some families worry that the Legislature is going to try and do something that will once again interfere with their rights.”

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The Building Blocks of a Good Pre-K

WITH the introduction of universal pre-K in New York City, we have created a new entry point into our public school system. This raises a key question: What do we want our children’s first experiences in school to be? What does a good education look like for 4-year-olds?

This summer, Bank Street College of Education led training for 4,000 of New York’s pre-K teachers, including both veterans and hundreds of people who started teaching pre-K for the first time last month. Worried teachers talked about how the pressure to achieve good outcomes on the third-grade state exams has been trickling down to early childhood classrooms in the form of work sheets, skill drills and other developmentally inappropriate methods.

The problem is real, and it is not unique to New York City. Earlier this year, Daphna Bassok and Anna Rorem, educational policy researchers at the University of Virginia, found strong evidence that current kindergarten classrooms rely too heavily on teacher-directed instruction. Their study, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” revealed that the focus on narrow academic skills crowded out time for play, exploration and social interaction. In a 2009 report for the Alliance for Childhood, “Crisis in the Kindergarten,” Edward Miller and Joan Almon reported that kindergarten teachers felt that prescriptive curricular demands and pressure from principals led them to prioritize academic skill-building over play.

This is a false choice. We do not need to pick between play and academic rigor.

While grown-ups recognize that pretending helps children find their way into the world, many adults think of play as separate from formal learning. The reality is quite different. As they play, children develop vital cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. They make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways. Play is also fun and interesting, which makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time. It is so deeply formative for children that it must be at the core of our early childhood curriculum.

What does purposeful play look like? When you step into an exemplary pre-K classroom, you see a room organized by a caring, responsive teacher who understands child development. Activity centers are stocked with materials that invite exploration, fire the imagination, require initiative and prompt collaboration. The room hums.

In the block area, two girls build a bridge, talking to each other about how to make sure it doesn’t collapse and taking care not to bump into the buildings of children next to them. In an area with materials for make-believe, children enact an elaborate family scenario after resolving who will be the mommy, who will be the grandpa and who will be the puppy. Another group peers through a magnifying glass to examine a collection of pine cones and acorns. On the rug, children lie on their stomachs turning the pages of books they have selected, while at the easel a boy dips his brush into red paint and swoops the paint mostly onto his paper.

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What the Latest Marriage Equality Ruling Says About Same-Sex Parents, October 7, 2014

What a week! Same-sex couples can now marry in Idaho and Nevada, adding to the boatload of states that have gained marriage equality in the past few days. Let’s look at what the latest court decision said about children.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that it is unconstitutional to prevent same-sex couples from marrying in Idaho and Nevada. Their decision should soon extend to all of the other states within the circuit that don’t yet have marriage equality — Alaska, Arizona, and Montana.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who wrote the opinion, was not as amusingly acerbic as Judge Richard Posner in the 7th Circuit, but did come up with this zinger, responding to a statement by Idaho Governor Butch Otter:

[Governor Otter] also states … that allowing same-sex marriage will lead opposite-sex couples to abuse alcohol and drugs, engage in extramarital affairs, take on demanding work schedules, and participate in time-consuming hobbies. We seriously doubt that allowing committed same-sex couples to settle down in legally recognized marriages will drive opposite-sex couples to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.

Reinhardt, like all federal judges who have ruled for marriage equality since June 2013, leaned heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Windsor decision in addressing the states’ argument that marriage should be restricted to different-sex couples because only they can create children, and children do better when raised with a mother and a father:

In extending the benefits of marriage only to people who have the capacity to procreate, while denying those same benefits to people who already have children, Idaho and Nevada materially harm and demean same-sex couples and their children. Denying children resources and stigmatizing their families on this basis is “illogical and unjust.” It is counterproductive, and it is unconstitutional….

To allow same-sex couples to adopt children and then to label their families as second-class because the adoptive parents are of the same sex is cruel as well as unconstitutional. Classifying some families, and especially their children, as of lesser value should be repugnant to all those in this nation who profess to believe in “family values.” In any event, Idaho and Nevada’s asserted preference for opposite-sex parents does not, under heightened scrutiny, come close to justifying unequal treatment on the basis of sexual orientation.

OK, he was a little acerbic:

Defendants’ essential contention is that bans on same-sex marriage promote the welfare of children, by encouraging good parenting in stable opposite-sex families…. Defendants have presented no evidence of any such effect. Indeed, they cannot even explain the manner in which, as they predict, children of opposite-sex couples will be harmed. Their other contentions are equally without merit.

He is clear that married same-sex couples are not the cause of more children being raised outside of marriage:

True, an increasing number of children are now born and raised outside of marriage, a development that may well be undesirable. But that trend began apace well before the advent of same-sex marriage and has been driven by entirely different social and legal developments….

The defendants’ assertion that excluding same-sex couples from marriage will do anything to reverse these trends is utterly unsubstantiated.

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Mother Asks Judge Not To Recognize Late Son’s Marriage To Another Man

by Carlos Santoscoy, October 3, 2014

An Alabama mother has asked a federal judge not to recognize her late son’s marriage to another man.

Paul Hard and Charles David Fancher married in 2011 in Massachusetts.

Roughly 3 months after the wedding, Fancher was killed in a car crash north of Montgomery, which led to a wrongful death case.

Alabama officials have refused to recognize the marriage. Fancher’s death certificate lists him as unmarried.

Hard sued the state, asking a federal judge to force Alabama officials to issue a corrected death certificate for Fancher that lists him as the surviving spouse.

Pat Fancher, Charles Fancher’s mother, intervened in the case and asked the court not to recognize her son’s out-of-state marriage. She is represented by the Christian conservative group Foundation for Moral Law.

“This claim is contrary to Alabama state law,” Ms. Fancher’s attorneys wrote. “It is Defendant Fancher’s opinion that Plaintiff’s requested injunction, if granted, will violate the millennia-old institution of marriage as ordained by God.”

At a news conference in February to announce the lawsuit, Hard said that hospital workers refused to acknowledge his marriage and that he learned of his husband’s passing from a hospital orderly after about a half-hour of inquiries.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which is representing Hard, said at the time that Hard is entitled to proceeds from the wrongful death case.

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Lawsuit: Wrong sperm delivered to lesbian couple

By Meredith Rodriquez, Chicago Tribune – October 1, 2014

A white Ohio woman is suing a Downers Grove-based sperm bank, alleging that the company mistakenly gave her vials from an African-American donor, a fact that she said has made it difficult for her and her same-sex partner to raise their now 2-year-old daughter in an all-white community.

Jennifer Cramblett, of Uniontown, Ohio, alleges in the lawsuit filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court that Midwest Sperm Bank sent her the vials of an African-American donor’s sperm in September 2011 instead of those of a white donor that she and her white partner had ordered.

After searching through pages of comprehensive histories for their top three donors, the lawsuit claims, Cramblett and her domestic partner, Amanda Zinkon, chose donor No. 380, who was also white. Their doctor in Ohio received vials from donor No. 330, who is African-American, the lawsuit said.

Cramblett, 36, learned of the mistake in April 2012, when she was pregnant and ordering more vials so that the couple could have another child with sperm from the same donor, according to the lawsuit. The sperm bank delivered vials from the correct donor in August 2011, but Cramblett later requested more vials, according to the suit.

Cramblett is suing Midwest Sperm Bank for wrongful birth and breach of warranty, citing the emotional and economic losses she has suffered.

An attorney for Midwest Sperm Bank said the company would not comment on pending litigation.

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