Monthly Archives: May 2014

Groundbreaking Law Would Make It Easier For LGBT Couples To Start A Family

Gay couple Jeffrey Parsons (R) and Chris

Jeffrey Parsons and Chris Hietikko pose with their son Henry Hietikko-Parsons in the garden of their house. Henry was conceived by the couple via artificial insemination and a surrogate mother. | EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images

When Judy Appel and her partner of 22 years, Alison Bernstein, wanted to have children, the state of California didn’t make it easy.

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Judy Appel, Alison Bernstein, and their children

Bernstein gave birth to their son using an anonymous sperm donor. But in order for Appel to gain legal custody of her child, she had to go through lengthy, complicated and costly measures to adopt him, which included allowing authorities into the family’s home multiple times for evaluations.

“It was really invasive,” Appel told The Huffington Post of the process. “They came into our home and studied it. It’s this extra legal hoop that, just by its nature, sends the message that our family isn’t equal.”

Appel and Bernstein’s son is now 16 years old, and much has changed in California since then. Gay marriage is now recognized under state law, and the adoption process for non-biological children of LGBT couples has become more streamlined. But certain counties in the state still require home visits as part of the adoption process. And if a same-sex couple with children moved to a state that didn’t recognize their marriage, the parents’ legal custody could be in jeopardy had no formal adoption taken place beforehand.

“In California, there’s the presumption that my wife is the parent of my child,” Appel said. “But elsewhere, that puts us at risk. What if a kid ends up in the hospital and one of the parents couldn’t visit?”

A new California bill aims to protect children from ending up in this kind of situation. Authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and dubbed the Modern Family Act, the first-of-its kind legislation would make adopting easier for LGBT couples in the state who want to start a family, providing legal protections from the moment formal planning begins. The measure would also benefit straight couples and single parents looking to conceive through alternative methods such as in vitro fertilization, sperm donation and surrogacy.

“The science behind having families has advanced more quickly than the laws,” Ammiano told HuffPost in a statement. “This bill is just an attempt to catch up with the realities and help these couples enjoy their modern families.”

themeasureThe measure, which passed the California Assembly by an overwhelming 60-2 majority earlier this week and now faces a vote in the state Senate before heading to the governor’s desk, includes multiple components. First, it would streamline the adoption process for same-sex parents, waiving typically required legal fees (which can range anywhere from $700 to thousands of dollars, according to Ammiano’s office) and protecting the family’s privacy by disallowing home visits and other invasive procedures.

“It will especially help for lower-income families in these situations,” Appel, who serves as the executive director of Our Family Coalition, a San Francisco-based advocacy group that supports LGBT parents and their families, noted. “This would provide security for kids across all economic levels.”

The bill would also apply to couples and individuals using what’s called a “known donor” to achieve pregnancy — in other words, using the sperm or egg of someone with whom they have a relationship, rather than an anonymous donor. Not only would the legislation require that all parties involved sign a statement of parental intention before any medical procedure take place, but it would also require would-be families using alternative reproduction technologies to explore their health insurance options in advance.

Alice Crisci, a government affairs liaison with California Cryobank, the country’s largest sperm donation bank, explained that using a known donor can sometimes lead to complicated legal situations. A donor or surrogate might seek custody of the child after he or she is born, for example, or the intended parents might go after the donor for child support. The Modern Family Act would eliminate any ambiguities at the onset.

“A lot of people use known donors because they want the donor to have a relationship with their child,” she said. “It’s really important that the law is as protective to all parties as possible.”

Crisci added that when legal issues arise after the fact, cases put pressure on California’s already-bloated family court system and impose significant financial burdens on everyone involved. “You can go broke defending your right to be a parent,” she said. “And it’s leaving the children vulnerable.”

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Renata Moreira, Lori Bilella, and their dog Pete

Renata Moreira, the policy and communications director at Our Family Coalition, married her wife, Lori Bilella, in San Francisco last year following the overturn of Prop 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. She and Bilella hope to start a family in the near future using Bilella’s egg and a known sperm donor. Moreira will then carry the pregnancy herself so that, as she explained to HuffPost, she and her wife both have the opportunity to bond emotionally with their unborn child.

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“The Modern Family Act will directly protect my intention to parent the child I will subsequently carry,” she said in a statement of support for the bill, adding to HuffPost that the legislation would “reduce the need for any future litigation in case something goes awry.”

Appel is quick to point out that the legislation reflects society’s evolving definition of what constitutes a family. “We’re in an age in which people create their families in different ways. This act allows for clear understandings going in, so we can create a loving environment for our kids,” she said. “It’s not to protect our rights, but to protect the security of our children.”

Originally posted on the Huffington Post

Mignon And Elaine’s Story From The Let Love Define Family Series

Originally published on the Huffington Post Gay Voices

foreverfamilyLong before Mignon R. Moore, 43, and Elaine Harley, 44, of Los Angeles considered raising a child, they focused their sights on building another type of family of choice by creating community networks for women of color first in New York and then in California. From their New York home 11 years ago, Mignon and Elaine launched “Persuasion,” a social network for “women of color of every persuasion.” Once they moved west, they established “Chocolate & Wine Upscale Events for Women,” a large and growing social group for lesbian, bisexual and same-gender-loving (SGL) women. The communities they have created have helped them forge friendships with women across the nation.

mignon2As a university professor and the author of Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships and Motherhood Among Black Women, Mignon has studied the unique factors influencing family-building among African American SGL women. Key among them is the fact that black LGBT individuals are less likely than other populations to cut ties with their families and religious communities when they encounter homophobia or outright rejection.

“I think that African American LGBT people work to retain ties with their racial and ethnic communities,” said Mignon. “Though many have found acceptance, some have faced resistance. But when there are issues they disagree with, they try to stick it out and work things through. The racial community acts as a buffer from the racism in society and because of that they are willing to negotiate, argue about and push through disagreements about their sexual orientation. That connection remains critical to their sense of self.”

Fortunately for Mignon and Elaine, their own families have been nothing but supportive. The couple, who have been together since 2002, were legally married in New York in 2012. The legal ceremony was followed by a wedding ceremony on the beaches of Los Cabos, Mexico.

The loving support of their families was much appreciated through the ups and downs of trying to create a family. They had already been involved in raising Elaine’s son from a previous relationship. Now that he was in college, the women looked forward to raising an infant together. After Mignon had tried various assisted reproductive technologies, they still wanted to grow their family with “babies that we could call our own.”

mignon1“We had some friends who became parents through foster-adoption,” said Elaine, a graphic designer who specializes in web design and branding. “Mignon’s own parents adopted children through the foster care system as well, so we had models for successful outcomes that we could draw upon. We did not want to spend thousands of dollars for private adoption when there were children who needed permanent and loving homes who were available in the public care system.”

Working with Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency (SCFFAA), Mignon and Elaine began the process of training and certifying to become foster-adopt parents. Although they were delighted when the first baby was placed with them, they were devastated when distant relatives came forward and were approved to raise the infant. Nevertheless, they got through it together and prepared themselves to be matched with a child who had no other relatives to care for it.

Baby Joi, now 14 months, was placed with them in March 2013 and her biological brother Ryan, now five months, joined the family in January. Mignon and Elaine look forward to making them a permanent part of the Moore-Harley family when their adoptions are finalized this year.

Since becoming foster parents, they have discovered through their social networks the high numbers of African American and Latino LGBT parents who foster to adopt. Those numbers echo findings by The Williams Institute, which has shown that African American lesbians and gay men are more likely to be raising children than their Caucasian counterparts.

Despite the disappointment of the first placement ending, Mignon said the couple has experienced more highs than lows and says the foster-adoption process has been “relatively smooth for us.”

“We have had positive experiences with state agencies,” she said. “Social workers, child advocates and others who work in the child welfare system have learned that sexual orientation is not a determining factor in a family’s ability to provide a loving home for a child or sibling group.”

Mignon praised the services of RaiseAChild.US and its Parent Advocate program, which provides free personalized support to prospective parents through phone calls and emails as they explore the option of fostering and adopting, choosing an agency to work with and moving through the steps of orientation, training, certification and placement.

“There are many LGBT people who have fostered and adopted, and we just didn’t know about it before we started the process,” Mignon said, “but problems can arise when you do not have an LGBT-positive agency like RaiseAChild.US to help. RaiseAChild.US’s Parent Advocate Jason Cook understands that you‘re trying to form your ‘forever family’ so he provides personal assistance to help navigate the bureaucracy. We have referred many families from different areas across the country to RaiseAChild.US and they have been able to talk with Jason and find help.”

Both Joi and Ryan were born before their due dates and faced challenges at birth. Mignon and Elaine are proud of how the babies have flourished while in their care. They take every opportunity to share the joy that their children have brought to them. Mignon currently serves on RaiseAChild.US’s Honorary Advisory Council where she sees opportunities to make a difference for children in foster care.

“We would like other families to know that it is possible to find a child or children to love and raise through the foster care system,” said Mignon. “There are beautiful, kind, wonderful little souls just waiting for the right adult to nurture them and help them reach their full potential as human beings. They are counting on you to come and find them!”

“We also want families to know that the road can be difficult at times, but well worth the hard work,” added Elaine.

“Call Me Mom,” a free brunch event hosted by RaiseAChild.US at Andaz West Hollywood hotel on May 3, will provide information to all women interested in becoming parents through fostering and adoption. The presentation will feature a welcome from a Los Angeles sheriff who is also an adoptive mom through the foster care system, a parent panel and Q&A and an opportunity to meet participating partner agencies. For more information or to RSVP visit www.RaiseAChild.US.

Corinne Lightweaver is the Special Projects Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. RaiseAChild.US works with foster and adoption agencies that have received training in LGBT cultural competence through the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “All Children-All Families” initiative. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,000 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”