Means Happy

David and Josh started a family – read their story

David and Josh met in New York City in 1997. In the subsequent 20 years, they have navigated moving to Florida, becoming fathers to two sets of twins, and getting married.

I caught up with David to reflect on some of their milestones in creating a family.

You’ve written that you first began your blog to share with family and friends photos and updates about your journey to be parents and the arrival of your children. Why has the blog grown into something beyond that?

I started sharing on our family blog and on social media for a wider audience because I wanted our family to give inspiration and hope for other same-sex couples hoping to become parents someday, and to serve as another example to everyone of the beautiful diversity that exists within the LGBTQ community.

The overall response has been positive, but of course there have been negative comments from conservatives on social media.

I sometimes engage – to correct misconceptions about families with same-sex parents or about surrogacy. Some have said that children need to be raised by a mother and father, but the overwhelming consensus of social science research is that children raised by same-sex couples do just fine. Others have asserted that surrogacy is always exploitative of women who act as surrogates. While bad surrogacy practices do exist in parts of the world, I believe that carefully regulated surrogacy done right can be a good thing for all parties involved – surrogates, intended parents, and children.

Given your years of experience with surrogacy, and your willingness to share your journey publicly, you must get a lot of questions from same-sex couples wanting to be parents?

Many of the questions I get from same-sex couples are about how we navigated the complex process of surrogacy, twice.

Our first surrogacy process was done in California with the guidance of an agency that specialised in LGBTQ clientele. Our first experience in surrogacy really helped us steer clear of riskier situations when seeking to do surrogacy overseas in India. Unfortunately, India and other nations have since banned surrogacy, and questions of citizenship at birth have arisen in other places where surrogacy is still practised. As a result, I can’t recommend compensated surrogacy arrangements outside of the US at this time. Altruistic surrogacy – where the surrogate is not given significant monetary compensation for her service – does take place in Canada, the UK, and Australia.

Others have asked many variations of a question, out of genuine curiosity or tinged with moral judgement – Why did we choose to have our children through surrogacy instead of adopting?

The short answer is that at the time we were ready to have children, adoption by gay people was prohibited in Florida, where we live. The law banning adoption by gay people in Florida was enforced until 2010 and wasn’t officially taken off the books until 2015, after all our children were already born.

The long answer – for others perhaps not satisfied with this response – is that adoption is not as easy and simple as people may think. Adoption happens in many different ways and can often be as arduous and ethically complicated as surrogacy. We have deep respect for people who foster or adopt children truly in need of loving homes because of negligence or abuse. But adoption wasn’t the best path to parenthood for us, much like surrogacy isn’t the best way for others.

In the US, is it becoming more difficult for same-sex couples to become parents?

Whether by adoption or through surrogacy, I think becoming parents remains difficult for same-sex couples in the US. Court cases and legal changes have made adoption by gay people possible in all 50 states, but discrimination in selection and placement still exists in many rural areas of the country.

Costs associated with compensated surrogacy in the US are high, because fees are paid to surrogates, lawyers, doctors, egg donors, and usually also an agency. The total costs put this out of reach for many same-sex couples in the US.

In the UK, at the moment, we’re currently grappling with a debate about whether young children should learn at school about LGBTQ people and same-sex parented families. How have your children navigated talking about having gay fathers?

Schools gradually prepare children to be adult members of their community. Not teaching children about LGBTQ members that exist in their community does these kids a disservice. This can be particularly problematic for kids and teens struggling with their own gender and orientation issues because it is erasure of positive role models – many of whom have made lasting and significant contributions to our society and culture.

I think many of the people who express concern over inclusion of age-appropriate LGBTQ material in school curricula are coming from the perspective of being a straight parent, assuming that their kids are cis-gender and heterosexual. They ignore that families like ours exist, that some of their classmates may come from households headed by two moms or two dads, and that their own kids may turn out to be LGBTQ themselves. That these people might be close-minded toward their own children makes it all the more important that these young people have safe environments in schools to express themselves as they come of age.

For our own kids, we have both attended all parent teacher conferences together – the teachers have all been aware of our family structure and generally take care not to make kids feel left out in any way. Honestly, I think most teachers have been delighted to work with two involved parents for their student – regardless of our gender. From other parents, the reception varies a bit more. I sometimes wonder if the iciness I sense from some is related to homophobia, but our two sets of twins have so many friends that I don’t really have time to worry too much about it.

You’re politically active. Do you have any concerns that there might be attempts in the US to roll back some of the equality gains that you’ve benefited from over the last 20 years?

I do have concerns about the political currents in the US. Since the Supreme Court decision in 2015 granted marriage equality nationwide, and since the election of 2016, there have been reactionary moves by conservatives to protect discrimination against LGBTQ people under the guise of religious freedom. This includes faith-based adoption agencies turning away LGBTQ couples.

I’m particularly alarmed by attempts to limit the rights and protections of transgender people to work, serve in the military, or even just use a public restroom. Transgender people are some of the most vulnerable members of our LGBTQ community, and I feel that these efforts by conservatives have been facilitated by too many lesbian and gay people resting on the laurels of marriage equality, and willing to leave our transgender brothers and sisters behind.

If a same-sex couple were thinking about exploring how they might include children in their family, what advice or guidance would you give them?

My advice to gay and lesbian couples and singles that may hope to be parents someday is to remain hopeful and follow your heart. Paths to parenthood for LGBTQ people – like co-parenting, foster care, adoption and assisted reproduction through IVF and surrogacy – are wildly different and can be very daunting. But there are actually lots of resources on social media and other parts of the internet to help you make the best family building choices for you, and to remind you that you are not alone.

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