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The Age – "Rainbow Children" by Peter Munro

September 6, 2007 Leave a comment


When a daddy and a daddy love each other very much … More gays and lesbians are becoming parents, despite the obstacles in their way. Peter Munro reports.

NEXT month Rodney Cruise will become a father for the second time without having had sex with a woman. By then, it will be nine months since his first child, Ethan, was born to a surrogate in the United States, and Cruise and partner Jeff Chiang together cut the umbilical cord. They flew home to Melbourne as a family when Ethan was 11 days old, and three days later Cruise successfully donated his sperm to a lesbian couple who are close friends of theirs and who are now expecting their first child in four weeks.

Cruise, 41, a patent attorney, came out as gay when he was 13, but it is his new role as a father that attracts attention. “We both wanted to be parents and didn’t see our sexuality as being a bar to that; it just complicated things,” he says.

They used a surrogacy agency in California at a total cost of about $150,000, including flights and accommodation and $35,000 for their surrogate Kelly, from Ohio. They plan to return to the US before Christmas to conceive another child by surrogacy.

That child will be Cruise’s third, one of a growing number of babies born of gay and lesbian parents. Victorian families with same-sex de facto partners and at least one child aged 18 or under grew by more than a third in the five years to the 2006 census. Across Australia, there were almost 2400 families with at least one gay or lesbian parent, a jump of about 26 per cent.

If anything, these figures grossly underestimate actual numbers of gay and lesbian families, many of which are not comfortable publicly divulging details of their sexuality. But they offer a good guide to the increasingly pink face of Australian families. The most startling jump in Victoria was in gay families with preschool children, with the number of declared same-sex families with children aged four or under more than doubling to 167.

Dr John McBain, director of Melbourne IVF and head of reproductive services at Royal Women’s Hospital, says there is a growing acceptance of same-sex families in the wider community. “I think the public is much more tolerant now of lesbian couples becoming parents,” he says. “People are far more aware that lesbian couples are loving couples in relationships as stable as heterosexual ones and that they make good parents.”

Shifting public perceptions have also favoured single women wanting to start a family. Surveys show that from 1993 to 2000, the number of people who approved of the use of donor sperm to help single women conceive more than doubled to 38 per cent. Almost a third supported the use of donor sperm by gay couples, compared with only 7 per cent in 1993.

Both groups of women have sought to start families through the Royal Women’s sperm storage bank, where sperm from known donors is screened for communicable diseases and frozen before it is available for self-insemination. Three months ago, the screening facility celebrated its first birth from one of the 15 women to have used the service, McBain says.

Seven years ago, McBain successfully challenged Victoria’s infertility laws on behalf of a 38-year-old animal shelter worker from Box Hill South, who had tried for eight years to conceive but was refused donor sperm because she was single. The 2000 Federal Court decision, upheld on appeal to the High Court, stripped out the requirement that women must be either married or in a solid de facto relationship to access assisted reproductive technology.

But such treatment is still limited in Victoria and South Australia, alone among the states and territories, to women who are medically infertile — effectively barring both lesbian and single women who function fine but don’t plan to test out their fertility with the opposite sex.

Lori, 34, and Libby, 32, a lesbian couple in western Victoria, are among a growing number of women who have had to cross the border to make a baby. In November, they will travel to Albury for their second shot at donor insemination for Libby, a horse midwife, at a clinic that is so busy it has closed its waiting list. Each attempt costs about $1500, not including the cost and inconvenience of having to stay interstate for several nights.

Lori, a part-time teacher at a Catholic primary school, who prefers not to reveal her surname, has a 10-year-old daughter from a former heterosexual relationship. She says that gays and lesbians, like the wider community, have become more accepting of parenthood.

“When I came out eight, nine years ago, there wasn’t a lot of support for lesbian mums. It was more like, ‘Why would you have a kid when you are gay?’ And I found it really hard to fight against that stereotype,” she says. “Now there are a lot more women who are saying that in a few years’ time they would like to have a kid.”

The couple have also advertised online for a donor, who they want to play an “uncle” role with limited contact, on Maybe Baby, one of several social groups for “rainbow families” — a mixture of homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals and transgenders. They have had responses from a gay male who has previously donated sperm to two lesbian couples and a heterosexual man who says he would like to help.

They are not alone in pursuing parenthood online. On one website, a 30-something, non-smoking gay couple want to be co-parents and a 31-year-old lesbian with a nine-year-old son is on the lookout for a donor who is extremely fit, healthy and handsome. A gay couple in Perth want a woman to carry their child. And on the Queensland coast, a male bisexual wants to assist a single woman or lesbian couple, promising to help pay for the child’s rearing.

Other websites include forums with hints on DIY insemination, including the tip that women should avoid hot baths before and after they insert the syringe, and another on what name children should call their gay parents — Mum and Mumma? Dad and Pop?

The Rainbow Families Council, which was established last September, gives gay and lesbian parents the chance to meet offline as well. Felicity Marlowe, who co-ordinates the council’s Love Makes a Family campaign for legal reform, says the growing visibility of same-sex parents has made more gays and lesbians consider having their own children. “Sometimes you think every second person who is queer is having a child,” she says.

“We are seeing lots more requests from child-care centres and primary schools to look at how they can become more inclusive in their policies and their curriculum, because they are seeing more families with two mums or two dads.”

Schools in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs are particularly inclusive of the children of gay and lesbian families, she says. That might mean simply stocking library books that include same-sex parents among their characters or amending standard letters home to refer to parent/parent rather than mother/father.

It is a long way from the day in 2004 when then acting Prime Minister John Anderson publicly criticised the ABC for a Play School episode showing a young child visiting the zoo with her two mums. The Federal Government is yet to change its tune, with Prime Minister John Howard maintaining this year that having a mother and a father gave children “the best opportunity in life”.

Some sectors of the Australian public also maintain that children need a mother and father, preferably married. A spokeswoman for the Australian Family Association says: “Children need an involved, on the ground, in the house, father and mother. They don’t need other mothers, adopted mothers or other fathers.”

DISCRIMINATION was among the topics discussed at a symposium on same-sex parents for medical practitioners, healthcare workers and researchers at the University of Melbourne in June.

Dr Ruth McNair, a general practitioner specialising in lesbian and women’s health and a senior lecturer in the department of general practice at the university, says prejudice remains a potent issue for many same-sex parents. Men in particular face some opposition both from among the general public and from within the gay community, where they might be tagged with the derogatory term “breeders”.

“They are often faced with comments that lesbians would have got 20 years ago,” McNair says. “Comments like, ‘Why are you selling out to the mainstream, why don’t you just continue the gay lifestyle’.”

Such catcalls are gradually fading, though, says McNair, who is on maternity leave with her four-month-old son, Samuel, whom she parents with her lesbian partner. “There has been a huge change in the community in the past 20 years. If you look at the (Sydney) Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, the first group are always the Dykes on Bikes, but the second group is now mums with prams.”

In one sense, the debate has moved on, from discussions on the concept of gay and lesbian parents to a focus on their children as they grow older. A US study last year found that the adolescent offspring of same-sex parents did not differ from the children of heterosexual couplings in self-esteem, peer relationships, school adjustment, drug use or sexual experience. The only significant difference was that the teenagers of same-sex parents coped better with prejudice and bullying.

But in another sense, the debate has stayed the same. The Australian Family Association still argues that “there is bucketloads of research” showing that children need a mother and father.

This is despite the findings of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s final report into assisted reproductive technology and adoption, which was tabled in Parliament in June. The commission made 130 recommendations for updating Victoria’s infertility laws, including that people seeking to undergo treatment or to adopt must not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation or be excluded on the grounds that they have no partner.

The commission also recommended that Victoria scrap its “clinical infertility” bar to treatment in favour of a simple test of whether a woman, in her circumstances, is unlikely to become pregnant by any other means. Attorney-General Rob Hulls, who has sat on the report for several months, has promised to respond before the end of the year.

Cruise and Chiang first told the story of Ethan’s birth to The Age in April and on the same day they were stopped in the street by a woman who thanked them for showing that her own gay son might one day give her a grandchild. “When I was young, I always wanted to be a parent but I couldn’t see how it could happen. Now there is a sense within the gay community than we can have it too and why should we be denied it,” Cruise says.

“Most parents want to be grandparents one day and we look forward to the day when Ethan, whether gay or straight, becomes a dad as well.”

[Link: Original Article]

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Sociology – "Stigma or respect: lesbian-parented families negotiating school settings" by Lindsay, Jo; Perlesz, Amaryll; Brown, Rhonda; McNair, Ruth;

December 1, 2006 Leave a comment

Qualitative family interviews were conducted with lesbian parented families in Melbourne to explore the dialectic between schools and families. While in many schools family members were stigmatised and burdened by secrecy and fear about their family configuration, there was a significant minority who felt respected and supported in their school environments, finding acceptance socially and within the curriculum. The contextual factors, including location and family formation, are discussed, and opportunities for change are identified.

[Source: Sociology v.40 no.6 Dec 2006: 1059-1077]

Categories: Lesbian, Ruth McNair

The Age – "Rainbow Connection" by Jennifer Cook

Jennifer Cook visits a place where gay mums can share stories and hopes.

THEY’VE trundled down Fitzroy Street in St Kilda before – mums, dads and their children – their numbers growing amid the placards and feather boas. And at this year’s gay Pride march, behind a “Rainbow Playgroup” banner, they received some of the loudest cheers.

It has been almost a decade since Fairplay playgroup in Fairfield was set up, but it has almost iconic status in Melbourne’s gay and lesbian community.

Fairplay secretary Tracey Cocks says it is a place same-sex families come to share their stories and allow their children to see other families like theirs.

“We have become an umbrella organisation for the majority of kids attending gay or lesbian playgroups,” she says. “We now represent playgroups in East Bentleigh, Williamstown, Thornbury, two in Fairfield, a group for gay dads and for single mums.”

Ms Cocks joined the Fairplay group shortly after the birth of her daughter five years ago. “When we first had our daughter we were living in Coburg and I joined a local mothers’ group as well as the Fairplay group,” she said.

“The women in my local mothers’ group were all in their mid-20s, married, with first babies. Although we were very different in terms of our life experiences, they were fantastic.

“When we left that playgroup one of the mums said to me ‘before I met you I really didn’t think lesbians should have children but I realise how wrong I was, so thank you’ – it was very moving.”

Ms Cocks and her partner joined Fairplay to share and discuss their experiences with other same-sex families.

“Some women have conceived using a non-identified donor, some through the Victorian IVF system, others have used donors who have been happy to have their identity released and to have contact with the children,” she says.

“Still others have conceived through a heterosexual or a gay friend. I also know of three cases where a lesbian mum and a gay father are living together raising a child.

“Our family includes two gay dads who have regular contact so our daughter has two mums and two dads, which makes birthdays crazy affairs.”

Ms Cocks recalled her reaction when Prime Minister John Howard said every child was entitled to have a mother and a father. “I thought at the time that he must love us because our daughter has two of each,” she laughed.

“I do remember a child of a single mother at my daughter’s kinder saying it wasn’t fair because my daughter had two dads and she didn’t.”

Ms Cocks says she was concerned about her child facing bullying at school, citing a 2004 Melbourne study by Dr Ruth McNair. It found that just under half of children in years 3 to 6 who had gay parents had been bullied because of their family difference.

“This concerned and saddened me. I think in the inner-city suburbs people are coping quite well with different family types,” she says. “But the reality is that not everyone is financially able to live in the inner city or, like us, send their child to a private school.”

Sam Walsh and her partner Jenny Clark have two daughters, 22-month-old Greta and nine-month-old Hester. They live in Regent, a suburb bordering Preston and Reservoir.

Like Ms Cocks, Ms Walsh went along to the Fairfield playgroup to show her daughters there are other types of families like theirs.

From that playgroup she and some other mums started their own “Rainbow Connection” playgroup at Thornbury, which has 15 families with children ranging from five weeks to four years of age.

“It was really nice to have other children running around calling out ‘mummy’ and ‘mama’,” Ms Walsh says.

She says that she isn’t concerned about her children being bullied because of their parents’ sexuality.

“We don’t really have those concerns because Jen, being a teacher, knows how those issues can be handled,” she says. “Jen is a prep teacher at Moonee Ponds Central primary school and we have friends who have kids at Mill Park primary and both communities have been very accepting.

“Because Jen knows how great the state system can be, we are both keen to send our children to public schools. We like the idea of our kids growing up living near their friends.

“We are just like any other parents, we want to raise well-adjusted kids who, with whatever they have to face in life, they can cope with it.”

Paras Christou and Annie Stephens are parents of 22-month-old Marlow and also members of the Rainbow Connection playgroup.

“I heard about the Rainbow Connection playgroup through friends and called Sam – after talking to her I couldn’t wait to come along. As soon as I walked in the door, it was instantly welcoming and I was really happy I made the effort.”

Ms Christou says she is usually the one answering questions about her family, adding it was great to hear the stories of other women.

“Annie and I agree that we are so comfortable with who we are that we don’t need to make a big fuss – we don’t need to fly a banner,” Ms Christou says.

“We are comfortable to exist in a gay community and also live in a wider community. We know we can provide a home with an abundance of love and security – hopefully for Marlow being a same-sex family won’t be an issue.

“We want him to know that it is OK to be different.”

Inquiries for Fairplay playgroups contact Tracey Cocks on 0427 811 186

[Link: Original Article]

The Australian – "Gays hit by society not mum and dad" by Michael Bachelard

September 9, 2004 Leave a comment

THE main damage to children of lesbian and gayparents or people born of surrogates came not from their parents , but from society’s prejudices.

The Victorian Government’s Law Reform Commission report has found that “overt prejudice” from “politicians, religious leaders, friends and even relatives” was the factor most likely to harm children of unconventional relationships.

University of Melbourne academic Ruth McNair found that families created by artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilisation and surrogacy were, if anything, internally happier than other families.

“Mothers express more warmth toward their child, mothers and fathers are more emotionally involved and interact more with their child … (and) children report less parental criticism than natural or adoptive children.”

In “stark contrast”, the negatives come from outside: people who use donated eggs or sperm, surrogate mothers, who are gay, lesbian or infertile are “all stigmatised”, Dr McNair found.

People in these categories had less support from extended family or society, were less likely to obtain information about self-insemination and were at risk of infection, and their children were subject to bullying and isolation at school.

She also found that children of lesbian or gay parents were no more likely to be homosexual themselves, but they were more likely to experiment with same-sex partners.

The state Law Reform Commission is examining the law surrounding these issues, including whether it should more easily allow women who are not biologically infertile but who are not in heterosexual relationships, access to reproductive technology.

It is also examining whether the children of donor sperm or eggs should be able to identify their biological parents. Dr McNair said secrecy surrounding the identity of donors was “one of the most significant” problems such children faced. Children should be told the truth well before puberty, and given the option of developing a relationship with the donor.

She said gay and lesbian parents tended to be much more open than heterosexual parents.

Categories: Ruth McNair

Sydney Morning Herald – "Adopting the Parent Trap" by Bettina Arndt

Tasmania’s Attorney-General, Judy Jackson. Photo: Bruce Miller

The issue of gay adoption in Tasmania has rekindled debate on whether or not children need a female and a male parent, writes Bettina Arndt.

GAY rights should not include the right to adopt children. That is the message the Tasmanian Government has been hearing since the state’s Attorney-General, Judy Jackson, last year proposed new legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt.

Since then, the Government has found that two-thirds of 400 individual and 900 duplicate submissions sent to the Law Reform Institute’s inquiry opposed the proposal and MPs have been showered with correspondence expressing similar sentiments, and Jackson has backed down. Late in March she announced she may not even legislate on the issue.

Two years ago the Carr Government introduced legislation on adoption reform, but it has not addressed the issue of adoptions by same-sex couples. Ditto in Victoria, where last year 43 acts were amended to include same-sex partners but adoption remained restricted to heterosexuals. Western Australia is the only state that has bitten the bullet, having last year passed legislation legalising gay adoption. The Tasmanian Government understands similar proposals are mooted in South Australia and Queensland.

The issue remains controversial and rightly so, says Jacqueline Prichard, a clinical psychologist working in disability services for the Tasmanian Government. Prichard, with her husband, Jeremy, a PhD student at the University of Tasmania law school, has made a submission challenging the assumption promoted by the commission – that there is good evidence that children fare as well with same-sex parents as they do in other families.

Australians have been told often that research shows these children are thriving. A Sydney University law lecturer, Jenni Millbank, wrote in the Herald early this year: “Nearly three decades of research has consistently yielded the same results: the children of lesbians and gay men are in no way disadvantaged or badly affected.”

During the debate on access for lesbian women to IVF, there were media stories, often quoting Millbank, making the same claim. It is a claim also repeated in family law cases involving gay couples. Chief Justice Alistair Nicholson referred to Millbank when he proclaimed in 1996 that sexual orientation is irrelevant in disputes about children.

Dr Ruth McNair, a Victorian GP and member of the Victorian ministerial advisory committee on gay and lesbian health, has a similar conclusion: “Having looked at the international reviews, it seems children raised by gay and lesbian parents do just as well as children in heterosexual families.”

But the Prichards say the evidence is not there, quoting recent overseas publications which have concluded the research on homosexual parenting is biased, methodologically flawed and inconclusive. “There is insufficient evidence to support the view that children adopted by same-sex parents will not suffer adverse consequences,” the Prichards said in their submission to the Law Reform Institute.

Jeremy Prichard argues that a government has a duty of care towards the children for whom it chooses adoptive parents. “Thus, in a sense, an ‘onus of proof’ lies upon the state to prove these children will experience no adverse consequences by changing the law to allow same-parents to adopt them,” he says. What’s wrong with the research? Well, just about everything, according to the recent analyses quoted by the Prichards. The sample sizes were small, there were not enough controls for confounding variables, missing or inadequate comparison groups, non-random samples and unreliable or invalid measurements.

American researchers Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai, experts in the field of quantitative analysis, evaluated 49 studies on homosexual parenting – studies often used to “prove” that a child is not adversely affected by gay parenting. All 49 studies were found to have at least one major flaw.

Lerner and Nagai, who published their 2001 analysis in a paper entitled No Basis: What the Studies Don’t Tell Us about Same-Sex Parenting, conclude: “The methods used … are so flawed that these studies prove nothing … the studies on which such claims are based are all gravely deficient …Therefore they should not be used in legal cases to make any arguments about homosexual versus heterosexual parenting.”

This conclusion was shared by Professor Lyn Wardle, who criticised the same-sex parenting research in a 1997 article in the University of Illinois Law Review. After examining the use of this research in US legal cases, Wardle argues that until concerns about the current “badly flawed” research are dispelled, “it would not be rational to adopt a public policy endorsing or legitimating homosexual parenting”.

Last year a British sociologist, Patricia Morgan, weighed in with her own analysis, Children as Trophies – Examining the Evidence on Same-Sex Parenting. Morgan criticises the research for often including only very young children, which precludes any possibility of picking up long-term effects. She says many of the children spend their formative years in heterosexual families before the homosexual family is formed, which makes findings difficult to interpret.

The few studies which track children to adulthood are also flawed, according to Morgan. She criticises Fiona Tasker and Susan Golombok’s work published in Growing Up in a Lesbian Family for comparing children of lesbian women who have PhDs with those of poorly educated lone parents and for downplaying negative effects such as teasing by peers.

Morgan says is it is astonishing that “gushing personal testimonies” by lesbian parents should be “reverentially accepted by public bodies, academics and research institutes who would immediately laugh away the use of similar materials as evidence elsewhere”.

Gay lobby groups have responded by pointing out that Lerner and Nagia work for the Marriage Law Project, a legal initiative operated by the Washington-based Catholic University and Morgan’s book is published by a British Christian institute. They use the link to religious organisations to allege that the criticisms stem from conservative anti-gay bigotry.

But charges of bias work both ways. It was a lesbian activist – a University of Virginia researcher, Charlotte J. Patterson – who wrote the policy statement when in 1995 the American Psychological Association came out in support of gay parenting. Other professional organisations followed, with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) last year using this body of research to endorse adoption by gay parents.

This has led to heated public brawling over the issue. “The AAP’s policy statement is more of a commitment to disturbing social engineering than one to good policy based on sound research,” said the Physicians Resource Council, demanding that the AAP withdraw its position statement. Citing the “fatal flaws” common to all research in the area, the council proclaimed: “The most one can conclude from the existing data is that more research of better quality is desperately needed. In the absence of conclusive evidence showing that parenting outcomes are the same between same-sex and heterosexual parents, the academy should remain silent.”

Jacqueline Prichard agrees there is not enough evidence for any professional body to reach firm conclusions about the impact on children of growing up in lesbian families. “It is appalling that this research is so often presented as if it proves children are doing well in these families when we just don’t know that. And the negative results which have emerged in the research are usually totally ignored.”

She says she was motivated to get involved in this issue purely by “concern about the misrepresentation of research findings”.

She mentions 1996 research by Dr Sotirios Sarantakos, a Charles Sturt sociology professor (published in the journal Children Australia), which found children of homosexual couples perform less well at school than children with heterosexual parents – a result Sarantakos attributes to the stress of dealing with anti-gay prejudice. “It is difficult to accept that living in a family environment that is condemned by the community, in which homosexuals and their children are subjected to discrimination, disadvantage, negative criticism, humiliation, harassment, embarrassment, exclusion, hostility, injustice and media bashing, offers as good a place to grow as that of heterosexual relationships,” he writes in his recent book Same-Sex Couples.

Sarantakos says that while not all children struggle with these problems, for others the situation is likely to reduce the child’s sociability – as he found when he interviewed children of gay parents about their experiences.

“Yes, I never told anyone about it.. How could I, anyway … tell them my father is a faggot and sleeps with another man. You know how kids are, they hate these kind of things and love to discover such stories to talk about for weeks … I had to pretend and live in a different world when at school,” one son of a gay father told him.

Sarantakos’s research, which compared 58 children of same-sex couples with the same number in matched heterosexual families, found a far higher proportion of children in the same-sex families identified themselves as homosexual or were labelled as such by their parents. He found that result unsurprising because the gay family provides both factors likely to provide the genesis for homosexuality – environment plus genetic make-up.

A review of the literature on this issue by two University of Southern Californian sociologists, Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz, concludes there is evidence supporting Sanantakos’s results but this is often downplayed by researchers for fear that it will increase prejudice against gay parents.

A Tasmania University law professor, Kate Warner, who co-wrote the Law Reform Institute issues paper, responds to criticism alleging bias by pointing out that the initial paper relied on summaries of the research, such as those of Millbank or Patterson, which appeared in refereed journals. “We’ve remedied that, now that we have had longer to look at it,” she says, promising a more inclusive coverage in their final report, due for release on May 19.

Warner says the adoption issue will rarely involve an unrelated gay family adopting a child but rather adoption by the partner of the gay mother or father, sometimes following a planned pregnancy – a situation which simply provides more stability for the family.

In unrelated situations, now that birth mothers have a say in the choice of adoptive family, gays are unlikely to be chosen as evidenced by a submission to the institute by a Tasmanian Centacare adoption social worker, Philippa Chapman: she says that no birth mother has requested her child to be placed with same-sex parents.

But as Jeremy Prichard puts it, the issue is one of principle: “However few the actual numbers, the state must be confident that it has good evidence that change in policy will not endanger the welfare of any children.”

[Link: Original Article]

Family Matters – "Lesbian parenting: issues, strengths and challenges" by McNair, R; Dempsey, D; Wise, S; Perlesz, A

January 1, 2002 Leave a comment

The Lesbian and Gay Families Project is a new study of lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex families. This article focuses on aspects of the data collected from 136 women participants living in Victoria. The issues explored included family formation and methods of conception; reasons for choosing such methods; family structure including roles and responsibilities of the biological and non biological mothers and the biological father; levels of social and professional support; and an exploration of the self perceived strengths of and challenges for lesbian led families. Key findings are presented in each of these areas.

[Link: Original Article]
[Link: Original Article]

Categories: Lesbian, Ruth McNair