Monthly Archives: January 2018

Increasing LGBTQ family visibility & support for our diverse communities

This past weekend, the 2nd Annual LGBTQI+ Family Formation Symposium was held in Santa Rosa, California, where Our Family Coalition Executive Director Renata Moreira delivered the keynote address.

The family formation symposium was hosted by North Bay LGBTQI Families, a parent-led, volunteer-led organization aimed at serving and supporting LGBTQI families in Sonoma County. Their impact, however, reaches far beyond the North Bay.

It was a welcome invitation to participate at this year’s symposium and a message Executive Director Renata Moreira made clear to all in attendance: “We are thrilled to be supporting LGBTQ parent leadership on the ground in Sonoma county and hope to see many more groups popping up across the state to continue increasing LGBTQ family visibility & support for our diverse communities.” Event organizer Leslie Wiser described what it meant to her in moving terms: “The Symposium was the culmination of a 3-month labor of love by 5 committed Sonoma County parents to build community in a rural and isolated area. We wanted to streamline the information needed in the family formation process, raise awareness of the hoops we have to jump through to build and protect our families, amplify the voices of QTPOC and their families, and bring issues of justice, diversity, and school safety to North Bay parents, educators and administrators. It was a smashing success for the 2nd year in a row. Ana Flores-Tindall, Zahyra Garcia, Sara Flores, Emily Gaines and I look forward to continue to uplift the voices of the most oppressed in our queer community of families at our next annual events – the Sonoma County Queer Family Campout and Pride Parade March the first weekend in June.”

The symposium was split into three blocks, Build, Protect, and Advocate: panel discussions and information surrounded topics such as family formation options for prospective parents or existing families wanting to expand; legal considerations for both existing and prospective families; and advocacy to create safe and welcoming schools for our children and LGBTQ youth.

Education Director Tarah Fleming led a workshop during the all-day symposium outlining practical ways local schools can foster a more inclusive classroom environment and school community. With recent wins for the State of California in the implementation of the FAIR Ed Act, enacting change in school curricula is an essential step in creating safer, more inclusive schools and changing the climate in which our children learn and grow.

Moving into the second year of the Trump administration’s leadership and oftentimes, wanton abuse of power, as an organization at the forefront of LGBTQ family equity and justice, Our Family Coalition understands the ever-pressing urgency in advocacy, education and support for our communities, both locally and nationally. With recent findings showing a drop in LGBTQ acceptance across the States, it is imperative that we continue to create and foster extant LGTBQ community organizations, especially in areas where accessibility to resources and support are harder to come by. Thanks to the hard work of the folks in Sonoma, Napa, Marin, and Solano counties, that is changing. One symposium and one family at a time.

 

OFC Condemns Trump Administration’s License to Discriminate

Our Family Coalition joins the many reproductive rights, LGBTQ, and civil rights groups in strongly condemning the Trump Administration’s new “Conscience and Religious Freedom” division in the U.S. Department Health and Human Services, announced yesterday.

Directing federal resources to provide additional protections for health care providers “who refuse to perform, accommodate, or assist with certain health care services on religious or moral grounds” is a de facto license to discriminate, plain and simple.

Debates about medical ethics and freedom of conscience refusals have been around long before this administration. But according to the American Medical Association’s own Principles of Medical Ethics, the medical profession has never undermined physicians’ right to “choose whom to serve and whom to associate with, excepting emergencies.”  However:

conscientious objection must be tempered by the statements of principle 8; which states when caring for a patient, physicians must regard the interests of the patient as “paramount;” and principle 9 which states that physicians shall support access to medical care for all peoples.

And over ten years ago, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Ethics made clear:

In an emergency in which referral is not possible or might negatively affect a patient’s physical or mental health, providers have an obligation to provide medically indicated and requested care regardless of the providers moral objections.1

The establishment clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment also makes it clear: the federal government has no business in the religion business. Neither in prohibiting the free exercise of it, nor in elevating one in particular.  

We’ve already seen the impact on LGBTQ families of this federally promoted religious conservatism. In their brief to the Supreme Court case on the Makepiece Cakeshop last October, our colleagues at Family Equality Council shared testimony from a lesbian couple in Texas, who faced denial of service from a pediatric dentist, in spite of their two-year-old crying and bleeding from a knocked-out front tooth after a fall:

H.C. recounts: “I was at work at the time. When my wife and daughter arrived at the dentist’s office, he asked my wife ‘who is the real mother?’ … My wife … explained that M.C. has two mothers. The dentist told my wife that ‘a child cannot have two mothers’ and said that he would only see the biological mother (me) of our daughter with a birth certificate as proof. My wife called me sobbing, and told me, ‘They want the real mom to be here. You have to come and bring M.C.’s birth certificate before they will treat her.’ I was shocked. … We were blindsided by this whole encounter.

Although my wife and I … expected we might face discrimination at some point in our lives …, we never expected to face discrimination from a medical provider—especially from someone taking care of our child. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for this.”

Something similar happened in Michigan. And these are just two cases of many.  Our colleagues at Lambda Legal have outlined the legal problems and social impact  this new division will cause, and outline its roots in the Trump Administration’s abuse of arguments on behalf of “religious freedom,” which it has used to justify attacks on LGBTQ people and women since its first month in power.

Religious freedom means a lot of things to a lot of people. So, evidently, does democracy. If the past several years in American politics have shown us anything, it’s that these fundamentals are more vulnerable than we may ever have thought. Our communities, our children, and indeed our love of these basic tenets demands that if we cherish them, we have to fight vigilantly for them. Our Family Coalition is here, side by side with our communities and allies, to do so.

Join us!  By submitting a post for this blog or our newsletter, or getting on our Speakers’ Bureau, or coming with us to Sacramento to speak with legislators, or coming to volunteer at any of our dozens of monthly community events. Together, we will ensure that the bright spirit of our democracy remains undimmed, for the whole of the extended American family.

 

 1. Both the American Medical Association statement and theAmerican College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Ethics statement can be found in Felipe Vizcarrondo, MD, MA, FCP’s “Freedom of Conscience Revisited,” in the March 2016 American College of Pediatricians Issues in Medical Ethics.

“You’ll get there together”: Jimmie and Marco’s Surrogacy Journey

Over the cooing sounds of their three-month-old baby, we recently spoke with new dads Jimmie and Marco Chavez-Lopéz. Their journey to fatherhood has included two very consequential visits to the Men Having Babies/ OFC Surrogacy Conference and Expo, now in its 5th year and taking place this upcoming weekend, January 13th and 14th, at San Francisco’s Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel in the Union Square area. The speed of their journey went from moderate – they’d known each other for ten years before beginning to build their family – to high speed, as of last year’s Surrogacy Conference and Expo. Read on for more…


Polly Pagenhart, Our Family Coalition: How long was this journey, from having the twinkling of the idea in your head – like “Oh, we can do this, we’re gonna be dads!” – to now, when your baby is in your arms and you’re launched into fatherhood?

Marco and Jimmie Chavez-Lopez with baby Marisela.

Marco and Jimmie Chavez-Lopez with baby MariElisa.

Marco Chavez-Lopéz: I think it was about 18 months. But the fun thing that I like to tell people about this wonderful conference is that we went to the first one years back, in 2014. It was very overwhelming and not at all what we were expecting. We didn’t hear the word baby a lot, and it was like sticker shock, terminology shock.

Jimmie Chavez-Lopéz: We were getting married that year, so it was really just to get baseline information. And then we skipped 2015 and went 2016, and it was during that conference that we organically met our surrogate.

OFC: Wow, at the conference? That’s wonderful.

Jimmie: I think what was really different about the 2016 conference for us was that we were able to hear stories. For us, being able to listen to multiple surrogates giving their descriptions of their experience was very different. Jokingly I said I would love to work with (one we were listening to) – and ultimately we chatted, and that’s kind of how it worked out.

I think at that point just after that conference is when we decided, “We’re doing it now!”

Marco: And along the lines of going to that second conference: we were more ready. We had gone through finally getting married, and major things in our life that we needed to get through, and we were like, “The conference is back, let’s return.” It was a different feel, a different set-up. We heard a lot of engaging stories and at that point we were like, “There are so many different ways to create a family. Look at all these choices. Look at all these options.”

The break-out sessions were great. This time we were much more organized, and had a much more structured look at what we wanted to get out of this conference. And because we met our surrogate and listened to her story, and just by chance that worked out, we seemed to really be lucky through our entire journey.

Starting off with meeting our surrogate and just by chance creating a relationship with her – whether or not we ended up being on that journey together, she was a great resource from the beginning.  She was going to help us get there no matter what –  if it was her or someone else. So we really lucked out.

Jimmie: Just going into contract and identifying an egg donor, that went really fast as well. We had met Dr. Bankowski of Oregon Reproductive Medicine (ORM) also at the conference. We had already taken a look into the the different clinics that were going to be there and some clinics that weren’t; looked at their success rates and estimated costs, so for us we were determining if we were willing to pay a little bit more for a higher success rate, knowing that it’s possible, that one way or the other, we might not get pregnant right away.

Ely, our baby MariElisa, actually, was (conceived on) the first transfer.

So in January we met our surrogate; I think we were in contract officially around April or May, and then we were pregnant the next January. Our embryo transfer was actually the same weekend as the conference. We got pregnant exactly one year later. It gives me all the tingles.

This little nugget was definitely meant to be ours.

OFC: Did you feel that right away, when she was in your arms?

Jimmie: Yeah, we did. I had never even changed a diaper before until she got here. But I’ve always known that I wanted children. When Marco and I first met, I was like, “I don’t want to scare you away, or ask you to marry me or have kids, but I don’t want to spend time with someone to find out later that kids are absolutely off the table.”

When Marco and I first met, I was like, “I don’t want to scare you away, or ask you to marry me or have kids, but I don’t want to spend time with someone to find out later that kids are absolutely off the table.”

We were together for about nine to ten years before we started officially talking about it. It’s just been wonderful. And we are gearing up to start a second journey, hopefully, later this year. So, we will probably go to the conference!

OFC: What were the things that you were most worried about that turned out the most different? Fears, concerns, natural things you were obsessing would be a problem but actually weren’t? What were your biggest discoveries?

Jimmie: I think for me, there were a couple of things. I thought it was going to take longer to get pregnant. I was afraid that – we are part of the MHB group, and we heard all of these stories, and some of them are heartbreaking to read – yet we had a relatively smooth journey, which I know that we are both really, really thankful for. But I think that getting pregnant on the first transfer –  that was really surprising to me.

Even though we did our research – that’s why we went with ORM, because they had high success rates –  I still thought we were going to be that 0.6% or whatever that’s not successful, and we have to be prepared for that. And I think in my mind I was ready to hear from them, “Oh, well it didn’t take. We’re going to have to do this again.” That we were pregnant just like that was fantastic.

Jimmie and Elly.

Jimmie and Ely.

Marco: While you were asking that question, I was asking myself to come up with three. The first one would be this fear of her not being my biological child: “Will I bond, would she see me as her father?” And she does. She does.

Jimmie: We’re having a moment here already.

(warm laughter all around)

OFC: That was exactly my same fear because I’m in the same boat. Non-bio parent.

Marco: We talked about that a little bit. How do we share in this experience – not once she’s here but even just before – and how do we plan what this process is going to be like? So, one of the things we agreed on was that I was going to hold her first, just to try and find something to help get to that point. And that meant a lot. So, you figure it out.

OFC: Your naming that is so big.  I feel like those of us who have gone on these journeys before our peers have learned things that are so important. I feel very, very similar. That the other (bio) parent and the child would have this deep thing and I would be on the outside waving my arms and crying or something.

Jimmie: Honestly, it’s kind of the reverse fear. Where I’ve been in the middle of the night, just crying, because Marco is a wonderful nurturer and soothes her so much easier than I can –  and I have had such a terrible fear that I’m going to be a horrible parent, that she won’t love me. And by no means is that true. The times where I am not able to comfort her have been really overwhelming for me. She’s amazing and she knows that.

Marco: The second discovery that I think a lot of people can relate to I’m sure is that financial piece – how do you get there? The sticker shock is crazy, and then when you see how many options there are to get there it can be overwhelming. It is overwhelming. That part gets a little scary. When you were asking what kind of things we were fearful of, for sure, the financial piece was scary: the challenge, “How do we make that work?”

Jimmie: We didn’t qualify for any of MHB’s Gay Parenting Assistance Program (G-PAP), nothing at all, so we started our journey with $20,000 and I basically maxed out my credit cards with cash advances. We took out completely separate loans that we’re paying back every month right now. And we would do it all over again. I just wish that there were other options to help people – we were able to make it work, but I think that there are a lot of people who might not be able to make it work because of that.

Marco: I think the third discovery is that place you get to when you finally let go of so many expectations, because you have timelines. You set these arbitrary timelines, like, “We’re going to do this by June, then we’re going to move here by December.” Well, you have to let all of that go, because it’s going to happen organically, all by itself.

You set these arbitrary timelines, like, “We’re going to do this by June, then we’re going to move here by December.” Well, you have to let all of that go, because it’s going to happen organically, all by itself.

And when we had our first bump in the road that delayed us a couple of months, it was a clear reminder to just let things happen the way they’re supposed to.

Jimmie: And that delay ended up with the embryo transfer on the one year anniversary of when we all met! It happened how it was supposed to be; and it’s ok, because we weren’t ready until then. For whatever reason – we don’t understand – but we weren’t ready yet.

OFC: That’s really wise. You don’t know it in the moment, just feels like a bump and very scary. Having the transfer the very same weekend a year later is just really beautiful.

OK last question: If you had the chance to talk to yourselves years ago, what would be the most critical advice you’d want to give yourselves, with the insight you have now that you’re on this side of the journey?

Jimmie: Don’t be so scared of it, and maybe start a little sooner!

Marco: I have two pieces of advice – that letting go piece: it adds a little more anxiety than you’ll ever need. It’ll feel so much better if you just let go of those expectations. And, just trust yourself and your partner: trust that you’re making this decision together, and that you have each other, that your intentions are clear. And you’ll get there together.


The 5th Annual Surrogacy Conference and Expo takes place this weekend, January 13-14, 2018, at the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel, in San Francisco.