Recent wins for LGBTQ families

March arrived like the proverbial lion with a wave of good news for LGBTQ families.

LGBTQ Families

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a bill Feb. 19 expanding the state’s paid family leave law in a number of ways, including by expanding the definition of “family” to include chosen families and expanding the definition of “parent” to include foster parents and those who become parents via gestational surrogacy.

“New Jersey is now the first state in the nation to offer paid family leave that is inclusive of all families,” according to the Center for American Progress. 

A bill also passed the New York Assembly Judiciary Committee Feb. 27 that would more effectively protect families created through assisted reproductive technologies. The Child-Parent Security Act would legalize gestational surrogacy in the state and simplify the procedure for securing the legal rights of non-biological parents. It has yet to pass the full Assembly and Senate, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has expressed his support.

And in Virginia, the General Assembly on Feb. 22 passed an update to its surrogacy laws that will now give same-sex couples and single parents the same rights as different-sex couples. The legislation, known as Jacob’s Law, is named after the son of two dads who had to fight for their rights to him after he was born with the help of a surrogate. A Virginia court had refused to recognize their Wisconsin surrogate contract, precipitating a long legal battle.

On the federal level, Judge John F. Walter of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Feb. 21 recognized the birthright citizenship of Ethan Dvash-Banks, the son of U.S.-citizen Andrew Dvash-Banks and his Israeli husband Elad Dvash-Banks. Two-year-old Ethan was previously denied recognition of his citizenship—even though his twin brother was granted it.

That means that at least one other family, that of U.S. citizen Allison Blixt and her spouse Stefania Zaccari, an Italian citizen, must continue to fight for their children’s right to be U.S. citizens. Like the Dvash-Banks’, they married abroad while the Defense of Marriage Act was still in effect, and then had two sons, Lucas and Massi. The U.S. State Department refused to recognize their marriage and said that Massi was Allison’s son because she had given birth to him, but Lucas, who was carried by Stefania, was not. It thus has refused to recognize Lucas’ citizenship. The Dvash-Banks victory is thus a step forward, but not the end of the story.

Washington Blade by Dana Rudolph, March 18, 2019

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How ‘Real America’ Became Queer America

The Trump administration may be busy waging culture wars. But in the heartland, it’s never been a better time to be L.G.B.T.

This may seem like a strange time to feel optimistic about the future of L.G.B.T. rights in America. But as a queer transgender woman who has spent most of her adult life in red states, hopeful is exactly how I feel.

In July 2017 — the same month that President Trump announced on Twitter that he would ban transgender troops — I left on a six-week-long road trip across the red states. I wanted to understand what motivated L.G.B.T. people to stay in the heartland at a time when some progressives were still pondering escaping to Canada.

What I learned on the way from Utah to Georgia only reaffirmed what I have come to believe over the past decade: Attitudes toward L.G.B.T. people are changing rapidly in conservative states, and no one inside the Beltway can stop it. This country’s bright queer future is already here, hiding where too few of us care to travel.

From a bird’s-eye perspective, it may not seem that life has changed for L.G.B.T. Americans in so-called flyover country. State laws prohibiting discrimination against them remain elusive in red states — although Utah notably passed one in 2015. But in their absence, midsize cities have become pockets of L.G.B.T. acceptance.

In the West, cities including Boise, Idaho; Salt Lake CityBozeman, Mont.; and Laramie, Wyo., have passed L.G.B.T.-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in the past decade. Below the Mason-Dixon line, the list of cities with such laws includes Atlanta and New Orleans; Birmingham, Ala.; and Jackson, Miss. L.G.B.T. Texans have had to fend off all manner of horrific state-level bills, but if they live in Austin, Dallas, Plano or Fort Worth, they have solid local laws on their side. And Midwestern hubs like St. Louis and Omaha likewise offer L.G.B.T. protections.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national L.G.B.T. advocacy organization, is downright cheerful about this trend at a time when queer optimism feels in short supply. In the its 2018 Municipal Equality Index, the group’s president, Chad Griffin, wrote
that “while cynical politicians in Washington, D.C., attempt to roll back our hard-fought progress, many local leaders are championing equality in big cities and small towns from coast to coast.”

And this progress includes transgender people. According to the group’s data, over 180 cities and counties in states whose electoral votes went to Mr. Trump in 2016 now protect employees not just on the basis of sexual orientation but gender identity as well.

On my road trip through what is ostensibly Trump country, I met many L.G.B.T. people who saw no need to flee their conservative home states for the coastal safe havens of generations past, thanks to local progress.

In Utah, I made arts and crafts with transgender and gender-nonconforming teenagers, most of whom belong to Mormon families. Over coffee in the Rio Grande Valley, a nonbinary friend told me that the region’s L.G.B.T. people remain as hardy as the prickly pear cactuses of South Texas. And in an Indiana town where everyone knows everyone, a transgender woman in her 50s told me how much things have changed in her area since she first came out over the course of the 2000s.

by Samantha Allen, New York Times, March 14, 2019

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Gay Dads and Stigmas

A new study finds that families with gay dads still face discrimination and stigma, especially in states and settings that offer fewer legal and social protections.

LGBTQ families

Public acceptance for gay marriage in America has grown since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions in 2013. By May 2015, a Gallup poll reported that 60 percent of Americans approved of gay marriage.

Despite that shift in attitudes, though, a recent Tufts study found that gay fathers still feel the brunt of stigma, experiences that the researchers linked to states with fewer legal and social protections for gays and their families.  

The study, a collaboration between Ellen Pinderhughes, professor of child study and human development at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, and Ellen Perrin, professor of pediatrics emerita at the School of Medicine, analyzed survey responses from 732 men in forty-seven states, revealing how social contexts shape personal experiences of stigmatization. It was published last month in the journal Pediatrics.

“The key takeaway is that states’ legal protections do matter,” Pinderhughes said. “In states that provide more protections, the dads are experiencing less stigma.”

Pinderhughes said the most striking finding was that about 63 percent of respondents reported that they had experienced stigma based on being a gay father in at least one aspect of their lives. Half also reported that they had avoided situations out of fear of stigma in the past year. Forty percent of those who attempted to adopt a child said they faced barriers on their pathway to fatherhood.

More than 30 percent reported stigma in religious environments, and about one-fourth reported experiencing stigma in the past year from family members, neighbors, gay friends, and/or service providers such as waiters, service providers, and salespeople.

These encounters in settings “that are traditionally expected to be sources of support and nurturing is particularly troubling,” reported the researchers. “It is important for pediatricians caring for these families to help families understand and cope successfully with potentially stigmatizing experiences.”

To understand the influence of the social environment on responses, the Tufts researches used equality ratings that reflect each state’s lawsfor protection of LGBT families. They also used rankings of religious groups based on the explicit beliefs of each group regarding homosexuality and marriage equality.  

Among fathers who identified with a particular religion, the likelihood of having experienced stigma in a religious context was directly associated with the tolerance ranking of the religious group with which they affiliated. Almost one-third of respondents affiliated with a religious community had avoided such contexts in anticipation of stigma.

Pinderhughes said that the research also has implications on how to support gay fathers and their children. Increasing evidence, she said, links feeling stigmatized “with reduced well-being of children and adults,” including psychiatric problems.

Potentially harmful to families and children, stigma must be recognized and called out, she said. “We all have biases, and we must own them,” she said. And if one feels stigmatized, “you must resist it and learn how to arm yourself and your children against it.”

The Big Picture for Families

Pinderhughes and Perrin have been working together for more than ten years on their shared interest in sexual minority parents.

by Laura Ferguson, tufts.now.edu, March 11, 2019

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H.I.V. Is Reported Cured in a Second Patient, a Milestone in the Global AIDS Epidemic

Scientists have long tried to duplicate the procedure that led to the first long-term remission 12 years ago. With the so-called London patient, they seem to have succeeded.

For just the second time since the global epidemic began, a patient appears to have been cured of infection with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

The news comes nearly 12 years to the day after the first patient known to be cured, a feat that researchers have long tried, and failed, to duplicate. The surprise success now confirms that a cure for H.I.V. infection is possible, if difficult, researchers said.

Timothy Ray Brown was the first person cured of AIDS.

The investigators are to publish their report on Tuesday in the journal Nature and to present some of the details at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Seattle. 

Publicly, the scientists are describing the case as a long-term remission. In interviews, most experts are calling it a cure, with the caveat that it is hard to know how to define the word when there are only two known instances.

Both milestones resulted from bone-marrow transplants given to infected patients. But the transplants were intended to treat cancer in the patients, not H.I.V.

Bone-marrow transplantation is unlikely to be a realistic treatment option in the near future. Powerful drugs are now available to control H.I.V. infection, while the transplants are risky, with harsh side effects that can last for years. 

But rearming the body with immune cells similarly modified to resist H.I.V. might well succeed as a practical treatment, experts said. 

“This will inspire people that cure is not a dream,” said Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a virologist at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands. “It’s reachable.”

Dr. Wensing is co-leader of IciStem, a consortium of European scientists studying stem cell transplants to treat H.I.V. infection. The consortium is supported by AMFAR, the American AIDS research organization.

By Apoorva Mandavilli , March 4, 2019 – NYTimes.com

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Revolutionary test could make IVF more successful by looking at the DNA a fertilised egg sheds in the lab

A revolutionary DNA test could make IVF more successful, research suggests. 

Problems with a developing baby’s chromosomes – strands of DNA found in every cell – are thought to be the main cause of miscarriages. 

To maximise a woman’s chance of conceiving via IVF, embryos are therefore screened before they are implanted into her womb to check for any chromosomal issues. 

But this involves taking cells from the embryos, which can damage them and increase the risk of a miscarriage.

The research was carried out by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, and led by Dr Catherine Racowsky, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology. 

IVF involves taking a woman’s eggs, which then get mixed with her partner’s, or a donor’s, sperm in a lab. After 16-to-20 hours, they are checked to see if the egg has been fertilised.

The fertilised eggs – or embryos – grow in the lab for six days before the best one or two are transferred into the womb. 

But this can do more harm than good and therefore only tends to be carried out when older women – who are more at risk of chromosomal abnormalities – are undergoing IVF. 

To test whether a safer approach is possible, the researchers analysed 52 embryos from IVF clinics that were no longer needed and had already undergone a biopsy.

These embryos were kept in a petri dish for 24 hours.

The scientists then tested 0.01ml of the surrounding fluid in the dish, as well as the embryos themselves to determine how many chromosomes they contained. 

Results – presented at the Fertility 2019 conference in Birmingham – suggested analysing this fluid produced fewer false positives than traditional methods.

A false positive occurs when a test indicates a problem when the embryo is in fact healthy.

‘This shows DNA in spent culture medium can be reliably amplified and sequenced,’ Dr Catherine Racowsky said at the conference.   

And the new method does not harm the embryo.

Virginia Bolton, consultant embryologist at St Guy’s Hospital – who was not involved in the research – told New Scientist: ‘Trying to refine our mechanisms for choosing the embryo that’s most likely to lead to pregnancy is something that’s been eluding us for ever.

‘This [approach] doesn’t damage the embryo in any way.’ 

Dr Bolton believes this technique is better than others being developed that test for the chemicals an embryo secretes.

She worries these chemicals may become diluted, skewing the results, whereas ‘the DNA is either there or it isn’t’, she said.  

February 13, 2019, thedailymail.co.uk, by Alexandra Thompson

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Twins Were Born to a Gay Couple. Only One Child Was Recognized as a U.S. Citizen, Until Now.

Aiden and Ethan Dvash-Banks are twin brothers who were born minutes apart.

But only one of them was considered to be a United States citizen by the State Department. A federal judge ruled this week that was a mistake.

The twins are the sons of two married gay men, an American citizen and an Israeli citizen. Aiden was conceived using sperm from his American father and Ethan was conceived using sperm from his Israeli father, court records show. A surrogate mother gave birth to the boys in Canada in 2016.

The family sued the State Department for denying Ethan citizenship, drawing attention to a department policy that says that a child born abroad must be biologically related to an American parent to become a citizen. Gay rights activists argued that the policy harms same-sex couples, who often use assisted reproductive technology to have children.

“Two kids who have almost identical life experiences and parenting,” said Aaron C. Morris, a lawyer for the family and the executive director of Immigration Equality, a legal advocacy group that worked on the case. “To treat them differently is absurd.”

In a ruling on Thursday, Judge John F. Walter of Federal District Court for the Central District of California said that Ethan should be recognized as a citizen since birth. The judge ruled that federal law does not require a child born to married parents to prove a biological relationship with both parents.

The State Department said in a statement on Friday that it was reviewing the ruling, but did not respond to questions about what it would mean for the policy going forward.

The twins, now 2 years old, were born to Andrew Dvash-Banks, an American citizen, and Elad Dvash-Banks, an Israeli citizen. The couple met in Israel and married in Canada in 2010 before having their sons with the help of assisted reproductive technology, according to their lawsuit.

After the twins were born, their parents went to the United States Consulate in Toronto to certify the children’s American citizenship and get United States passports. But they were told that the twins had to take a DNA test to prove a genetic connection to Andrew, the lawsuit said.

Ethan was denied citizenship because Andrew was not his biological father, according to a copy of a letter from the State Department included in the lawsuit.

by Sarah Mervosh, New York Times, February 22,2019

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Gay parenting ‘boot camp’ moves to Asia to meet growing demand from China


The world’s largest “boot camp” to help gay men become parents will stage its first Asia event next month to address growing demand for surrogates from China and the region, organizers said on Thursday.

Men Having Babies
Men Having Babies Chairman Emeritus, Anthony M. Brown, speaks
at the New York City Gay Parenting Conference.

New York-based non-profit Men Having Babies (MHB) stages events across the world to provide advice and support to all LGBT+ people who want to become parents and plans to stage its first annual Asian event on March 9-10 in Taipei, Taiwan.

“We have been witnessing over the last three years, a growing interest from Asia – mostly Chinese – intended parents coming to the United States for surrogacy,” said Ron Poole-Dayan, founder and executive director at MHB.

Socially conservative attitudes prevail across most of Asia where Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei outlaw sexual relations between men, and Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT+ people.

But changes are happening, with India moving to scrap Section 377 outlawing same-sex relations last year, and Taiwan this week proposing a draft law to allow same-sex marriage.

The issue of lesbian and gay couples having access to medically-assisted reproductive treatments like IVF has stirred political debate recently in several countries.

Many countries, including Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, and Britain, ban for-profit surrogacy, although they allow some form of surrogacy if no payment is involved. In the United States, the legality of surrogacy is determined by each state.

Gay couples are banned from applying for surrogacy in countries such as Nigeria and Russia.

Poole-Dayan, who has 18-year-old twins with his husband, began MHB in 2005 with monthly workshops giving advice to gay men interested in becoming biological parents and now holds about seven conferences a year.

The two-day events, which are held across the United States, Europe, Canada and Israel, have made MHB the largest “boot camp” for gay parenting in the world, said Poole-Dayan.

He said the internet was flooded with people trying to push surrogacy information but it was hard to know where to start so the two-day events involved surrogate mothers and egg donors, doctors, lawyers and local clinic representatives.

“Our conferences are not meant to persuade to become parents … they are meant for people who already want to become parents (and) to make the process more accessible and easier,” Poole-Dayan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“People are starting to realize .. the fact that they’re gay doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be able to have a full life including starting a family and having children.”

Reuters.com, by Michael Taylor, February 21, 2019

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The Right Way to Legalize Surrogacy in New York State


New York State is on the brink of replacing an outdated and prohibitive law that criminalizes the practice of compensated surrogacy, one of only two states that does so.

Legislation to reverse the law has been introduced in both houses of the state Legislature, and Governor Cuomo has demonstrated support for it by including it in his Executive Budget.

As a law professor who focuses on gender equity, I’ve taken great interest in issues related to surrogacy in the United States and abroad. I’ve closely reviewed laws in multiple states as well as internationally and I support New York’s legalization of surrogacy.

When a woman chooses to support a couple or individual by serving as a gestational surrogate (where she is not genetically connected to the child because she did not contribute her egg), I believe she must have the autonomy to do so – provided she is protected by the law to ensure that any power imbalance between her, on the one hand, and the intended parents, surrogacy agencies and doctors, on the other hand, is mitigated.

The proposal the New York Legislature is considering and that Governor Cuomo is advancing, the Child-Parent Security Act, does protect surrogates in many ways. While the bill clarifies the parentage of all children born through third-party reproduction, here I focus only on how it legalizes and regulates gestational surrogacy arrangements.

Protections provided by the bill include: giving the surrogate the sole right to make decisions regarding her own health or that of the fetus or embryo she is carrying; giving the surrogate the sole right to terminate the pregnancy; and ensuring that the surrogate is represented by her own legal counsel. These types of commonsense protections are critical to creating a successful and effective program. If the New York Legislature passed the Child-Parent Security Act, New York’s law would be more protective of women who choose to be surrogates than laws in many other states.

Reexamining current law is long past due as technological advances and changes in acceptance of various family structures have made surrogacy much more commonplace. When lawmakers first implemented a ban on surrogacy in New York in 1992, they did so for several reasons that are less relevant today.

For example, when the restrictive New York law was enacted, there were ethical concerns about what was then nascent medical treatment — in vitro fertilization (IVF). Today, IVF is commonly-accepted as treatment for infertility and is also used in the gestational surrogacy process.

Despite the ban, today New Yorkers do work with surrogates to build families. They are just required to employ surrogates living in other states. This results in legal challenges, risks, and costs for the intended parents, including confusion regarding what laws are applicable to the situation.

GothamGazzette.com, February 21, 2019 by Sital Kalantry

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Lingering flaws – Gendered Holdouts Nixed in NYS Marriage Equality Amendment

State Senate Republicans, after five years of resistance, support legislative fixes to lingering flaws in law

gay estate planning, family estate planning, estate planning NY

Roughly eight years after the passage of marriage equality in New York, the newly progressive State Senate finally overcame Republican obstruction to fix some lingering flaws in that law. 

The updated law, which unanimously sailed through the upper chamber and awaits another easy passage in the State Assembly, wipes out gendered language within the Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law (EPTL) and the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) in order to reflect the intentions of the Marriage Equality Act. 

Spearheaded by out gay Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman, the lingering flaws included provisions to remove “paternal” and “maternal” from the EPTL and SCPA and replace those with the phrases “of one parental side” and “the other parental side.” 

Another section of the EPTL was changed to say “spouses, husbands, or wives,” while the SCPA made similar adjustments by swapping out “the father or mother” with “parents” or “either parent.”

“Marriage equality is the law of the land, and all provisions of the law ought to reflect that,” Holyman told Gay City News in a written statement. “I’m proud to see the Democratic Conference acting to advance the rights of LGBTQ New Yorkers after Senate Republicans blocked this bill for five years.”

The law’s passage was a long time coming for Hoylman. But after six IDC members were dethroned during the September primaries and eight new Democrats snagged Republican seats, the blue wave opened up doors to pass a series of bills that were previously blocked by conservatives to fix these lingering flaws.

by Matt Tracy, GAyCityNews.com, February 15, 2019

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Kansas bill seeks to define same-sex marriage as ‘parody’


Kansas state representatives introduced legislation Wednesday that would define same-sex marriage as “parody marriage” and would prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages or transgender people.

The bill seeks to establish an “elevated marriage” for straight couples, according to the Wichita Eagle.

The legislation would also allow controversial gay “conversion therapy” which seeks to change a gay person’s sexual orientation. Critics of conversion therapy say it is often inhumane and does not work.

Two bills were introduced, one that says same-sex marriages “erode community standards of decency.” It argues that civil rights for gay people are different than civil rights for black people because it claims that there are “no ex-blacks but there are thousands of ex-gays.” 

The measures would also prohibit public schools and libraries from hosting or endorsing “drag queen storytime.”

The legislation has very little chance of becoming law, according to the Eagle. The state’s Democratic governor is supportive of gay marriage and is likely to veto the bill if it passes the state legislature.

In an interview with the Eagle, the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Randy Garber (R) admitted that the language in the legislation is “kind of harsh.”

“Their marriage probably doesn’t affect me — their union or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “But in my opinion, they’re trying to force their beliefs on society.”

BY RACHEL FRAZIN – 02/14/19 – TheHill.com

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