By Sam Everingham
When we moved house nearly four years ago, we soon met the other gay couple in the street – they had brought up two boys in a ‘merged home’ – ex-wife, husband-turned gay and gay partner all under the same roof. For a long time earlier straight relationships had been the commonest means by which gay men found themselves fathers.
From the 1990s, hundreds of hopeful gay men agreed to “donor dad” or co-parent arrangements with single women and lesbian couples here in Australia. Sadly, many of those men found themselves cut out of the lives of the children they had fathered. Many were left yearning for kids of their own.
One of the biggest barriers to accepting my own sexuality as a 23-year-old back in 1990 was the certainty than I’d forfeit the chance to be a dad. A decade later, surrogacy started to be talked about – though it was always associated with celebrities, or uber-expensive US options.
In recent years, I’ve met hundreds of gay guys who have either raised the funds to create a family overseas or found a surrogate here. It turns out there are so many ways to engage in surrogacy.
Take Michael and Jarred. Six years ago, this Brisbane couple found a local surrogate Rachel Kunde who was willing to use her own eggs and womb – what’s called traditional surrogacy – to help them create twin boys Huxley & Elijah, who are now four years old. For Rachel, providing her eggs as well as her tummy comes naturally – she’s since carried for other couples too.
A year after our own girls were born via surrogacy in India I met with the then Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie to convince him that his plan to ban gay men from accessing surrogacy in Queensland was a stupid one. Luckily, he listened.
By then we had moved north from Melbourne to a quiet, conservative suburb of white picket fences, bushland and kids riding their scooters in the neighbouring park. Here we were, reproductive refugees, wondering whether the neighbours would accept us. Although they scratched their heads about what we were doing here, we were immediately welcomed – our new friends secretly proud of their suburb’s newfound diversity.
Dave Taylor and his partner Dean met in college 23 years ago. They’ve lived in Camp Hill for 11 years and have always felt completely accepted by their neighbours. Now they’re busy dads to three daughters – Lilly, and twins Jacinta and Charley, born in 2011 and 2012 respectively (pictured, below).
Having watched as his nieces and nephews grew up, Dave couldn’t help thinking that it would be great to have kids of their own.
“You’d have a visit from the (cousins) and it was always full and lively and things going on and then (they’d leave and) our house would feel a bit empty. It’s just us and the dogs now,” he said.
“We were in a relationship, had careers, travelled, (had built) a house. What we were looking for was something more.
There was no relevant group in Brisbane, but as luck would have it, a Gay Dads group was running a seminar in Melbourne. In September 2010 the pair flew down to gather information and make contacts.
They came away feeling surrogacy in the US offered the most complete solution – given the US had agencies happy to look after gay couples. In contrast, Australian IVF clinics at the time were focusing more on women who couldn’t have children.
But the pair remained nervous about how the children of gay dads ‘turn out’. Luckily Melbourne also had an active Gay Dads group which met regularly for brunch with their kids at a local market. The pair flew down one more time to meet some of these families.
Dave recalled, “It was brilliant because we realised these are beautiful normal articulate kids who are perfectly normal in every way – it just seemed so natural and unforced. There were no obvious social issues going on there and that sealed it for us.”
Meanwhile, compensated surrogacy remains illegal in Australia. To Dave Taylor, laws such as this are outrageous.
“It’s trying to crack a peanut with a sledgehammer. It’s completely out of step with community attitudes,” he said.
“With all the discussions I’ve had with the community they’ve never expressed a view to me that compensated surrogacy is wrong. They’ve been incredibly supportive.
“We could adopt the US surrogacy model. All that’s stopping us from having a good compensated surrogacy system here in Australia is politicians who are generally misreading community sentiment.
“If you listen to the law we’d be a second class citizen but there’s no way we’re going to allow ourselves to be that.
“The best advertisement for change is people getting to know us. Our story magnifies every time our kids go to school. We are just normal regular people.”
The Hotel Pullman in Brisbane will play host to the world’s largest conference on surrogacy on June 4-5, set to attract hundreds of prospective Australian parents.
The US agencies Growing Generations and IARC who helped Dave and Dean create a family will be talking along with 48 other parents, surrogates and professionals from the US, Canada, Australia and South-East Asia at what has become an extraordinary celebration of alternative family-building for prospective parents.
Sam Everingham is an organiser of the Families Through Surrogacy Conference, held in Brisbane next month. For details and tickets click here.