Saturday, August 9, 2014

This Fairy's Tale. By Henry Amador

There were many things in life I thought I would be..
As a young child the World seemed so BIG and possible.
There never appeared to be a limitation on what I could be, what I could do.

I don't really know when the dreams begin to drift away.
When did they go from filling my spirit with such intensity and joy to becoming distant memories that somehow started to feel so silly, so un-real?

When does the sense of endless possibility turn to the feeling that certain keys to certain doors are simply out of reach?

Ah...I wish I had that answer but I don't.

At this moment while I write these words I am far better served by pondering over the things in life I thought I would never be.

I never thought I would be an openly Gay Man.
I was born into an extremely conservative Roman Catholic Family, coming out was one of the most terrifying events of my life. I am so happy and grateful that for some, not for all, coming out in today's world can be a bit softer and more supporting.
Again I say not for all as there is still so much work that needs to be done to assure that all our young LGBTQ brothers and sisters find peace in their skins. Walking past my fears is still one of the most couragous things I have done and also one of the most important and truth affirming events in my life.

I never thought I would be an openly Married Gay Man.
I met my Husband in 2005, and we took our vows of marriage in October of 2009 in Boston surrounded by 30 of the most important people in our lives. We felt the warmth of grand-parents and mothers and uncles and brothers and best of friends.
We were pioneers, walking hand in hand into a brand new adventure. Choosing marriage was not exactly common at that time and even the Reverend that joined us stated that just because a law changes does not mean that hearts always follow.
If the World had stopped spinning, as I said my "I do," I could not have imagined feeling anymore complete and joy-ful as I did at that very moment. But, I was wrong, there was more joy, joy beyond belief still to come.

I never thought I would be an Openly Married Gay Father.
My Husband and I created a world in which all things felt possible. Marrigae naturally re-arranges your life, certain friends evaporate into the distance and new friends and opportunities find ways to replace them. We lived in a very red state that not only did not recognize our marriage but would certainly not make it easy for us to become parents. Yet fatherhood beckoned to us with an intensity that could not be denied.
Like any thing that we hold as true and real and unquestionable, the universe moves heavens and mountains to bring those things forth. We met a girl....She was pregnant...It was to be a boy....we hired an attorney....we prayed.

In October of 2011 our Son was born and my Husband and I became the first Same Sex Couple to JOINTLY adopt a child in Broward County, Florida. The Judge congratulated us on our courage and let us know that what we had accomplished that day had not only made the three of us a family, but it had also paved the way for others like us to make their dreams come true.
I never thought I would do that.

I never thought I would be an Openly Married Gay Dad, Activist for GLBT Rights and for Family Equality.
Shortly after my son's birth I founded DADsquared It began as a simple FB page to find other dads like us, and quickly grew into one of the largest online communities for gay fathers and fathers to be. We offer resources, advise and frienship for all who find themselves on the journey to Fatherhood.
The Website was recently launched and we have already helped many men and women hold their new sons and daughters in their arms for the first time. We have also introduced families that have connected and created relationships that not only nurture the parents but also show the children that they are not alone, that there are other families just like theirs.
I never thought I would do that.

As we continue to grow our community, It is my sincere belief that by
sharing our stories,
by sharing our experiences,
by extending our hands and welcoming all our brothers and sisters into the fold we will be forever changing the world we live in.
The very same world our children, and theirs to come, will happily, safetly and equally call home.

The DADsquared motto is that we are "Changing the World One Family at a Time," and I have no doubt that we are.
Now I really never thought I would do that.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Aspirations, by DADsquared's contributing writer Joey Spinelli

Many years ago, I met a young guy in his 30’s who seemed to be very nice, driven to make something of himself, and had a way with charming the people he would meet.  We became friends and have been friends every since.  He eventually opened up to me and his story was just amazing.  For argument sake, lets call this guy Ryan. 

Ryan, was a very handsome guy, blonde hair, blue eyes, athletic build and he looked like the All American Man.  The guy that lived next door.  The one that every dad wants his daughter to date and marry.  But, Ryan had a secret.  Well, maybe not a secret but at least a story to tell.  He was gay, but that wasn’t the story or at least it wasn’t a secret.  We were best friends so I already knew that.  No, the story was, that for 10 years, he was part of a group that I will refer to as “Aspire”.   Aspire is a group that “helps” gay men who don’t want to be gay anymore.  According to Ryan, this was a pretty large group of men for the chapter that he belonged to in his city.  Not only was he part of Aspire, he was a motivational speaker.  He would travel from city to city and stand at a podium with an auditorium full of people, mostly men, and start giving his “Inspirational Speeches”.  So, as he is telling me this stuff, I start imagining things in my head.  I mean, what do you say at a podium about yourself and your journey from a man with homosexual tendencies to the celibate man you are today?  How do you convince other men that this path is the right one?  Do you say “Bros, you too can masturbate your way to happiness with our support system and our guidance instead of fantasizing about that guy at your gym?”  It didn’t make any sense to me.  Ryan would get very upset when I say stuff like this because to him, it was very serious.  Even though he was past that in this point in his life, he still had vivid memories of doing this.  Ok. Lets just say, for arguments sake that you could get through to these men in the audience.  What would you say to them?  Well, Ryan told me what he would say.  It started out with him standing at the podium, holding his fist up and shouting out “Gentleman, Masculinity is under attack!!!”  Then he would go on to talk about the evils of homosexuality and how it preys on straight men.  He would then talk about how Aspire would help those men via scripture to uphold the biblical view of sexuality by preaching Christian Fellowship, disciplineship, counseling and offering support groups.  Then, at the end of the speech, men would come up and meet Ryan, shake his hand, ask how they could be part of Aspire and he would give them his card with his phone number on it and sign them up.  

I remember one time in particular when we had some beers and I asked him how they offered support to these men.  Here is what he told me.  And please, if you are drinking any type of beverage, put it down before you read this.  Ryan starts out by saying that many of the men had girlfriends and some were even married.  Presumably their wives/girlfriends knew they were all “recovering homosexuals”.  One of the things that his Aspire chapter would do as a group was to get all of the members together and do a retreat sort of thing, where they all would pack up their tents and hiking gear and head up into the mountains or the woods for however many days and disappear in order to be on a commune with god and nature.   Well, that sounds great, right?  People do this all the time.  Even if you are not a Christian, you are getting away with a group of people to be one with the planet, to be in tune with nature.  How can that be of any harm?  Well, here is the catch.  There were no women in the retreat, just the straight men that were all “recovering gays”. Oh Yeah, it gets better. 

So Ryan is explaining this to me and of course I refrain from judgment because you know me, I don’t jump to conclusions, right?  Ok, ok, this is too good to keep quiet about.  So Ryan talks about how they all get up into the woods and set up their tents, and break out their bibles and start bonding with each other.  There is food on the barbeque, a few beers, stories of their girlfriends and wives and kids.  It all goes well.   This is bro-mance at its best. Then, someone looks at their watch and says, “Well look at the time, lets hit the sleeping bags and get a good nights sleep.”  Ok, that’s how I imagined it but really, the night slowly starts winding down and everyone eventually finds themselves going back to their tents to get some sleep.  Now, if you were communing with nature and were a recovering homosexual, wouldn’t you make sure you had a tent all to yourself?  You would think so, right?  Wrong.  These were group tents that held 4 or more people.  As Ryan tells the story, and this is where you better put your drink down folks, he says “The guys would all turn in for the night and at some point, some of them would fall”.  So I say, “Wait, I don’t understand. They were unrolling their sleeping bags and they fell over some of the other guys?”  Ryan says, “No, no, they would fall, you know, from grace”.  I am still sitting there looking at him with a blank stare.  What the hell does that mean?  They fell from grace?  I thought there were no women there?  Ryan can tell I'm lost.  He says, “Bro, some of the guys slept with each other”.  Then it hits me.  I get it.  I let out this long gasp and I may have even reached for my pearls.  Then, I do the only thing I can do after a story like that, I fall to the floor, grab my gut because it hurts so much and I start laughing so hard, my beer comes out of my nose and I am choking. I may have even peed a little bit.  Ryan gets pissed and starts saying “Bro, BRO!! It’s not funny.  This is not a joke”.  OMG, it sooooo is funny. I started yelling, “This is one of the funniest things I have ever heard.  I mean think about all of this.  You have a group of “Ex Gay” men working together to be straight and not have those gay urges which are woven into their very fabric.  You go to their city, dress up in a suit with your all handsome, All American looks, stand in front of them at a podium and basically come out as gay and a gay sex addict.  They rush up to meet you, you give them your card with your phone number on it and then you take them all into the woods where nobody can get to them.  You set them all up in tents with other guys, in the very dark of night and then you expect them to go to sleep quietly and respectfully?  Really?  And then you are surprised because some of them “Fall”?  I continue yelling back at Ryan, “Of course they fell,….right on top of each other.  You have men in a tent in the woods with nothing but the darkness and you expect them not to have sex?  They are men, they can’t go to sleep without at least jerking off.  Men will screw sheep if nobody is around!  And, four horny gay guys all worked up at the same time is not a recipe for spiritual redemption.  Why would a group of recovering addicts put these poor guys in this situation to start with?  Would you invite a group of alcoholics on a retreat and surround them with alcohol bottles and glasses of ice next to their sleeping bags?  Of course they fell.  Aspire put them in a position where they had to fail.  Tents in the woods?  Holy Crap!  Was there a disco ball and Donna Summers music playing in Tent 5?  Was Saturday night Barbra Streisand Night on Lido Deck? “ And that was the end of my rant. 

Ryan was livid and yelling “Don’t make a joke about this, this isn’t funny”.  “No”, I said, “It is funny”.  But he was right.  The more I thought about it, the less funny it was.  Sure the idea of these guys doing this was funny, but this group that Ryan was a part of, and these retreats that Ryan put together to “Help” these guys were not helping them at all.  Imagine that you turned to this group for help, left your wife and kids for the weekend to try and get some penance for your guilty urges after being told they are sinful and you are going to hell, and then having sex with these other guys who are all in the same situation you are in.  By the time you got home and back to your family, would you feel better about yourself.  Hell no.  I was entertained at first, but then I became very, very upset. This group was not helping anyone, they were actually hurting these men.  And, they were using Christianity to lure these guys in.  While the men in this group were very serious about their spiritual believes, they were also a group of gay men.  It was part of who they were.  You cant “pray” it away.  You can’t masturbate yourself to heterosexuality.  And you certainly cant expect men like this who want to be like every other guy in their church to act like every other guy by having them share tents.  This is cruel and terrible treatment of these men.  They needed professional therapy from someone who could explain to them that this is who they are, its not going away and they could choose to be celibate if that’s what they want but they are never going to be straight men that desire women.  It’s not going to happen. 

That was many, many years ago.  Ryan and I are still very close.  When we talk about this now, he realizes how absurd that whole program was.  So, whatever happened to Aspire?  Well, they shut their doors and issued a wide-ranging apology to the gay community for "years of undue judgment by the organization”.  They never cured anyone they tried to “Help”.  All they did was make the guys that were in their group feel worse about themselves.

And what about those guys that were all part of Ryan’s Aspire chapter so many years ago?   Ryan will occasionally get a phone call from one of them that are in town on a business trip and they will ask him if he has time to meet them for a beer.  He usually says no.  He will sometimes look them up on Facebook to see how they are doing and of course they are pictured with their wife and kids but they would really like to meet with Ryan.  Personally, I say he should meet up with these guys when they call so he can share his own personal coming out and how well he has transformed into a strong, successful gay dad, But, I always tell him “If you do decide to meet up with one of these guys for a beer to catch up, do yourself a favor and leave your sleeping bag at home.”   

"Who am I? That’s simple. I am a gay parent that’s treated like a second class citizen and I am done taking it. 
Every day I am in the battlefields, in my kid’s school, PTA meetings, swim team, birthday parties with
other parents and I am forcing people to meet me.

Every day I stand right next to them and even if it’s just in my mind, I say “ Look at me will you! I am a gay man, right in front of you. 
I have a partner of 8 years and a 6r old boy. 
My kid is in your kid’s class and will be for the next 11 years. 

I am not going away so now would be as good a time as any to accept me and everything that comes with me."
Joe also blogs at 1 regular joe

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

That Damn Gay Kiss! by DADsquared's Henry Amador

This photo of our family was used in a campaign about a year ago which highlighted the the gay kiss.
The photo campaign used the phrase "Your parents kiss in public and so do mine."

Seems pretty simple right?
Some may wonder why the need?
What's the big deal?

Well lets fast forward a year to this, soon to be infamous, photo and ask the same questions.

Not so simple anymore is it?
With all the real historical and social implications of the first openly gay athlete being drafted into the NFL,
what topped all the headlines was THE KISS!

It's time to take a look at why the gay, man with man, kiss is such a difficult hurdle to jump.
Why do so many Americans still feel the need to bury their heads in the sand and act as if they should be "protected" from witnessing this simple, natural and loving gesture?

As I write this article there are legal cases being heard and filed in nearly every state in this country fighting bans and legislation that make this kiss so much more than just a show of emotion.
This kiss is a sign of victory, it is a declaration of existence regardless of the cost.
The cost, my dear friends, has been astronomical.
The fight to exist openly and honestly has cost lives and I do not just mean historically, I mean now, as you read this.

There are lands that kill people for these types of declarations.
The exact types of simple shows of affection that our heterosexual brothers and sisters take for granted and exhibit without thought, without calculation and without fear.
Whenever and however they choose.

My husband and I live in a conservative state.
I travel monthly on business and on each of my returns he and my son pick me up at the airport.
As my boy runs to me each month I snatch him up in a big bundle of love and hugs and always kiss my husband, on the lips, they are my world and a week away is difficult.

I  emphazise on the lips because there are times when I have to take pause for a brief second just before that kiss to be sure that we are safe, to be sure that my son will not have to be witness to his family facing something ugly because of that kiss.

My pause is not imagined, it s based on facts and realities that plague the LGBTQ community daily.
I would not be a good father if I was not knowledgable of these things and conversly I would not be a good father if I allowed those fears to stop me from expressing my love and showing my son that love is meant to be expressed.

Do you see the irony?

Kissing my husband, Michael kissing his boyfriend, given the right opportunity and the right witnesses can cause such an uproar, create such fear and controversy, yet our right to engage in this kiss is as natural and undeniable as the air we breathe it is as subtle and inate in us as it is in every living being, including in those that find it the most horrific.

I have no choice but to flow forward.
My family and I are riding high on the road to equality and must continue to be ourselves.
We must continue to show our love for the sake of our child and for the sake of our relationship.
We must continue to express our love whether it be in the form of a hug, the holding of hands or a kiss.
We must continue to share our love, not simply in the safety of our home but especially outside of it where we will change minds and hearts by simply being seen, felt and understood.

One day someone will say to our son "I love how open and comfortable you are expressing love and affection,"
and he will reply, "Thanks, I get that from my dads."

Henry Amador is a husband, father, writer and life coach.
Henry founded DADsquared where he continues to provide love, support and resources to gay fathers and those on the road to fatherhood.
He lives in North Carolina with his happy tribe and hopes to grow old on the family farm with rolling hills, many children, grandchildren and a strong internet connection.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The "M" Word.. One Gay Dad's take on Mother's Day.

Mother's Day  is right around the corner.
Our third since our son was born.

As any writer will tell you, especially a gay dad blogger, this day gives birth (pun intended) to many articles about how our types of families navigating this event.
And let me tell you, that there are countless scenarios playing out all over this great big world of ours, this is just humbly.. mine.

Our family has a closed adoption.
Our son's birth-mother has no contact except for a yearly school picture that we send her and the occasional letter that she writes to him.
All neatly and safely confined within the 3" x 5 1/2" x 14 3/4" po box that we contractually agreed to provide her with.

We feel good about that, it works for us, for now.
Each year we add her little hand drawn notes to a file folder that contains everything we know about her.

I do not know what the future holds for our boy in regards to his birth-mother.
I have no way of knowing what he will face at the end of that journey when and if he chooses to pursue it.

Will she be a healthy and happy person?
Will she meet his expectations?
Will she add to his adult life or cause a tear in his heart?
Honestly I wonder if she will even still be on this Earth when he reaches out?

I can't answer those questions, although with every protective bone in my body I wish that I could.

When I "found" my father later in life I had luckily formed a strong and comfortable relationship with myself, one that allowed me to accept whatever I found without damaging my own identity.

I pray that our son will be able to be as prepared for his discoveries.

I was not adopted but my father left us when I was one year old.
I would not see him or hear his voice for 24 years.
Those years were full of wonder, not always, not constantly, but at times.

The peaks were full of questions about him,
full of creative speculation,
imaginative exploration.

The valleys were still and void of him.
I was busy having a beautiful childhood and safe in the arms of my protectors, my loved ones, my family.

I hope that we have the insight to guide him over those dangerous peaks and hold him lovingly and completely during our times in the valleys.

Yesterday we went to story time at our local library.
I should have realized what the theme would be but It just never crossed my mind.
Mother's Day.

For a moment I questioned staying, my boy is already playing with the word mommy as most toddlers do.
We have all the discussions about family types.
He knows that he has two daddies,
that Maddie has two mommies,
that Felix has one mommy and no daddy and so on and so forth.

Did I want to sit through 3 stories about families that did not in any way shape or form reflect ours?
Honestly the answer was no,
but did I want to run away from that fact either?
Again no.

We sat and listen to a story about Clifford's Mommy,
and a baby bird looking for his,
and yet another about a mommies love and cuddles and hugs.

All the while my son laughed and listened along as he sat comfortably in my lap and reached back and stroked my beard, he loves to do that.

When story time was over we made sweet little hand prints on a pre-printed poem as a gift for mommy.

He carried his little work of art out with joy and pride and told me exactly where at home I had to place it.

He never once asked about mommies,
he did however ask all day when his papa was coming home so he could show him his hand print.

I just heard someone say that they tell their adopted child that she has a birth-mother but not a mommy and that made some sense to me, perhaps we will use that explanation one day, who knows.
We are still a work in progress.

I'm guessing that how we continue to handle that one day in May is just the beginning of how we help him climb those peaks I was referring to right?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Gay Culture Shock... by Joey Spinelli

When I was growing up as a young boy in Brooklyn, NY, I knew that I was different than many of my friends.  But, being a male I was fairly certain there were some things that I was never going to have to worry about in my life.  And, being a gay male, I thought for sure some of these things were never going to come to pass.  Well, I was wrong.  Below is a list of things that I never expected to deal with in my lifetime.

  1. Getting Married.   Well, I thought it was pretty safe to say that I was never going to have to worry about getting married in my lifetime.  Gay = No Marriage. Then, I remember when the very first state allowed gay marriage, My partner said “Should we go to Massachusetts and get married?  I said  “Hey, don’t worry, I will marry you as soon as they allow gay marriage in Minnesota”.  I thought for sure that was pretty safe, well, on July 13th of this year, after almost 10 years of being together, we are getting married.  In Minnesota of all places.  I swear sometimes he stays with me just to prove that I was wrong.  Never say never gentlemen.

  1. Changing my last name.  Ok, no guy at all ever thinks about this. I felt pretty sure up until this year that I was going to have the same name my whole life.  I am sure ladies grow up knowing that one day they will most likely change their last name to their husbands.  But, men never, ever, consider this.  There is no reason to because when men get married, the woman changes her last name.  That's the tradition.  Well, again, as I am getting closer to my wedding date, I am getting ready to say goodbye to my last name.  We have a son and we all want to have one last name from that point on so I will be changing my last name to my partners.  It just sounds weird to say that but the reality is, we discussed this many times and I am not tied to my last name in any way.  My last name just reminds me of my dad and just like I decided with him, it’s time to get rid of it.

  1. Raising a child.   When you say a “child”, you mean a dog, right?  No. Many gay men are in this position now.  We struggle, come out and then learn our lives are all about ourselves.  The gym, happy hour and our gay friends are our entire world.  Until you get the opportunity to raise a child.  Gay men are notorious for standing out in a crowd. Being different from their heterosexual counterparts.  Then, a child comes along and guess what?  You are the same as every other parent and every other couple with kids.  Your Shiba Inu that you treated as a child and said to all your friends with kids, “My pups are my kids”?  That’s over.  My dog is now a dog.  I still treat her with love and I love her just as much, but she’s a dog, not my child.  She’s much easier to figure out, a lot less messier and doesn’t negotiate every single thing with me until I am red in the face.  But, I digress…

  1. Other Peoples Kids.  When you are a gay parent, you are just going to wind up doing play dates with other peoples kids.  Your life revolves around the needs of your kid and between school, sports and other activities; your kid will make friends.  It’s inevitable that with your incredible fashion sense and your snappy, witty personality, that you will be one of the popular “Moms” in your kid’s circle and their kids will want to play with your kids.  I love having play dates with the kids but when you are a young gay male, you are totally anti everything to do with kids.  They are just not something you ever want to deal with.  But, once you are a gay parent, your kid is your life and his life includes his friends.  Soon, all your kids friends will be leaving your home memorizing words like “Mid Century Modern”.

  1. Living paycheck to paycheck.  Huh?  What’s that?  Ok, not sure if we really live from one paycheck to the next, but there sure was a lot of extra money with both mine and my partners income before the kid arrived and one of us had to be a stay at home dad.  I hear all the time that kids cost money, and its true.  They don’t cost me so much with education expenses but with swimming at $100.00 a month, baseball $100.00 for the season, after school learning program at $110.00 a month, etc, etc, it all adds up.  Add to that only one income because one of you wanted to stay home to get your kid to school and all these activities and living gets pretty tight.  All that extra money you have when you are a young single gay man or a young gay couple without a child should go into a bank account immediately in the event that you ever have a child.  Save, save, save!  Otherwise, you will have a home, two BMW’s lots of polo shirts in kids and adult sized an you will be asking yourself “Do we really need to spend money on a new couch or can we live with the old one?”  I know, it’s scary but its true.

  1. All your friends are straight.  Straight People?  I have seen them on TV before but do they really exist?  They sure do.  Remember when you and your gay friends were like the Mean Girls?  You guys hung out every weekend, went to the bars, talked about other people who were ugly or slutty?  Remember when you had a workout partner and the two of you showed up at the gym every day at 530pm to do weights and then you went to Chipotle for a healthy dinner (nothing on their menu is under 1000 calories).  Yeah, that’s all over.  When you have a kid, your friends are your kids’ friends’ parents.  Suddenly, all your gay friends vanish as if a purple cloud encompassed them and they were gone.  Your friends are all straight people with kids now.  They invite you to ski trip weekend, beach weekends in California, game night at their house and if you really hit it off with some of them, you all get a baby sitter on Friday nights once a month so you can still eat at trendy restaurants in your city and have some adult conversation.  Of course, all the adults talk about are their kids. 

Life has definitely changed for me in the 10 years since I was single and without a child to rise.  If you would have told me that I was going to one day be thinking about any of these things, I would have laughed.  But the world is changing.  Not only is it changing but I am the reason its changing.  Every one of us with children and same sex spouses are making a difference.  For those of you that are just coming out or even those of you that are in a committed same sex relationship,  Are you ready for your future?  

"Who am I? That’s simple. I am a gay parent that’s treated like a second class citizen and I am done taking it. 
Every day I am in the battlefields, in my kid’s school, PTA meetings, swim team, birthday parties with
other parents and I am forcing people to meet me.

Every day I stand right next to them and even if it’s just in my mind, I say “ Look at me will you! I am a gay man, right in front of you. 
I have a partner of 8 years and a 6r old boy. 
My kid is in your kid’s class and will be for the next 11 years. 

I am not going away so now would be as good a time as any to accept me and everything that comes with me."
Joe also blogs at 1 regular joe

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cleaning Day. A day in the life... by Joey Spinelli

It’s Friday.  The day of the week I avoid like a Christian Conservative at an Arizona Gay Pride parade.  While I have no problem cleaning my home during the other weekdays, Friday is the day I dread because it’s the day I tackle my son’s room.    Every week, it’s the same process.  First, I get everyone in the house off to school and off to work.  I need to be completely alone for this.   Then, I make sure all the curtains in the house are closed so the neighbors don’t see my crying.  Next, I always leave a note for someone in case I am never heard from again.  This way they know where to look for my body.  After that, I find my ugliest, oldest sweat pants and tee shirt, the kind that I wouldn’t even wear to a laundromat at 3am on a Tuesday night.  This work can get dirty and it’s best to be prepared. Now that I’m ready, the time has come to get started. I approach the door to my kid’s room, kick it open, and dive in.

Wow, it’s a mess.  The only clean thing in his room is the hamper, which has zero pieces of clothing in it.  The clothes are instead scattered all over the floor and on top of things.  I start by picking those up first.  A pair of jeans goes in the hamper, and then a shirt follows.  1 sock and oh, wait, there is a shirt stuck to it with a lollypop.  Lovely.  And what is with the hangers on the floor?  Is it really that hard to put hangers back on the bar after you take your clothes off them? Ok. The clothes and the hangers are all picked up. That wasn’t so bad.  Next, it’s the Imaginex toys.  These are little action figures that come in many sets.  They are all poseable, have cool boats and planes and even a Batmobile for Batman.  Ok, ill put these aside till later for err….further evaluation.  As I start picking up more and more stuff, I grab the nearby light saber to cut through the sea of stuffed animals in my path. There is a hanging basket tree for those stuffed animals so I start picking them up one by one and putting them away.  Back you go Super Grover.  Climb on up Alvin, Theodor and Simon.  All stuffed animals, that means you too Beaker.  Why do we have soo many stuffed animals?  Oh right, because I keep buying them.  He doesn’t really like them, but I do.  Yikes, there is a fly buzzing around me so I quick grab my Modern Parenting magazine from my utility belt and smack that fly out of the air.  I Finally get to do something productive with that useless rag of psychology and advise. I hate that magazine. The kids in that magazine always respond so well to parenting tricks.  Not mine! 

Ok, on to the next thing.  There are papers lying all around the room.  I drag my secret garbage can into the room.  You know, the one I keep outside in the shed that holds all my kids garbage that I can’t let him see me throw away because he wants to keep that stuff forever.  Its all-important papers too like the paper placemat with the spaghetti word scramble from the local Italian restaurant.  There’s the Dum Dum wrappers from every lollypop he ever had.  And of course who can get through being 7yrs old without all those colored drawing from Smalland at IKEA.  Trash, trash, trash.  He won’t even realize that they are gone.  Ok, paper pickup is going well.  Now I’m on to his desk area where he does his homework.  I start to clear off all the junk from his homework area like 30 erasers from the dollar aisle at Target, 2 cheesy roll up wrappers from Taco bell and 3 pencil boxes.  Oh look, I just found my tape dispenser that I have been missing all week.  And there are my post it notes.  In fact, half of my home office is in here.  Why are kids so interested in my home office supplies? They are tools, they aren’t toys!  Ok, IPAD is picked up off the floor and put back on its cradle and charging.  Ill just pick up the earth globe from under the bed and put that back on the desk.  The desk is looking good. I gotta keep moving.  As you know when cleaning a kid’s room, your goal is to put stuff back where it belongs and get to the part where you can see the floor.  Once you see the floor, vacuuming is not far behind and that signifies that you are near the end.  Well I wasn’t far from seeing the floor.  I was feeling good.  I was making progress.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  All of a sudden, I scream.  My foot is in pain and I let out that four-letter word that no parent ever wants to hear themselves say. “LEGO!!!!!!!!”  Why are those little square blocks sooooo painful? Ugh! At times like this I blame my partner, T.  This is all his fault.  If he just worked an extra job or two, I could have domestic help and then I wouldn’t be in this mess.  Now my foot aches from stepping on a strategically placed Lego land mine and I still cant even see the rug yet.  As I start removing the many “empty” plastic bins from the floor that are meant to hold everything in this room, I can see that there are thousands of Legos and other block kits of every size and color scattered everywhere, all existing in some sort of “Bohemian community.”  This would never work in Arizona.  Anyway, that’s my next goal.  I have to put each piece of these building block kits back in their empty bins.  That takes 2hours alone because I cant just put them all in one bin.  I have to sort them all by type and size and color just so they can be dumped out again.  I can’t help it, I need things organized.  The floor is now cleared, the clothes are put away, the bed is…well there is no reason to make a 7yr olds bed.  But the floor is ready for vacuuming.  As I grab my vacuum and triumphantly go back and forth seven times in each row (That’s how many times you have to go over a piece of dirt before it’s all picked up) I basque in knowing that I am close to the end.  I have 30 minutes before I have to go get my boy from school and that’s just enough time to dust, get rid of the garbage pail, put away the vacuum, and open the shades back up.  Whew.  What a day. 

I go get my boy from school, take him to his after school learning program, then to swim team practice and finally we start homework at 6pm.  While we are working on 2nd grade division and square roots, his daddy T gets home.  He walks in the door, says “Who loves ya?” like he always does and gives us all a kiss. Finally, some reinforcements, my day is about to get better.  Thank goodness.  T puts his keys down, goes to the bathroom real quick, opens the fridge to see what snacks are available and then says, “Babe, the dishes are still in the sink from this morning?  What did you do all day?  Ugh.  This is all T’s fault.!

"Who am I? That’s simple. I am a gay parent that’s treated like a second class citizen and I am done taking it. 
Every day I am in the battlefields, in my kid’s school, PTA meetings, swim team, birthday parties with
other parents and I am forcing people to meet me.

Every day I stand right next to them and even if it’s just in my mind, I say “ Look at me will you! I am a gay man, right in front of you. 
I have a partner of 8 years and a 6r old boy. 
My kid is in your kid’s class and will be for the next 11 years. 
I am not going away so now would be as good a time as any to accept me and everything that comes with me."
Joe also blogs at 1 regular joe

Thursday, February 27, 2014

DADsquared discusses Florida Same Sex Surrogacy laws with Family Law Attorney Marla Neufeld.

We recently had the great opportunity to chat with Marla Neufeld, a Florida Family Law Attorney doing some great work for our community.
With Marla’s personal journey with infertility and use of a gestational surrogate, she was able to take her legal background and combine it with her compassion and understanding of the surrogacy process by helping others start a family using the available third party reproductive technologies and adoption laws in Florida. Marla is honored to represent same sex couples,married couples and individuals in Florida seeking to utilize various reproductive technologies.

DADsquared: Can same sex couples use surrogacy in Florida to start a family?

With current advances in reproductive technology coupled with the evolving legal landscape in Florida, surrogacy for same sex couples is permissible and Florida does not prohibit egg or sperm donation for same sex couples. There are additional steps required for same sex couples to ensure parental rights for the biological and non-biological parent. After selecting a surrogate, the same sex couple enters into a Pre Planned Adoption Agreement with the surrogate which is governed by Florida Statute 63.213. This is an agreement in which a surrogate agrees to bear a child and relinquish parental rights to the commissioning couple. Florida law has mandatory requirements of what must be included in this type of agreement to be effective in terminating the surrogate’s parental rights. Upon the birth of the child(ren), the non-biological parent files a Second Parent Adoption (see below) to obtain full parental rights to the child(ren) so that both parents can be placed on the child’s birth certificate. Surrogacy law is state specific and constantly evolving, so please consider your jurisdiction and laws prior to entering into a surrogacy arrangement.
DS: Do same sex couples need to go through an adoption using the surrogacy process in Florida?

Since gestational surrogacy agreements (which allow for automatic parental rights for both parties in the commissioning couple) are currently illegal in Florida for same sex couples, the process in which the non-biological partner obtains full parental rights to the child(ren)
is through the process of Second Parent Adoption once the child(ren) are born via a surrogate. When the child(ren) are born, only the biological parent in a same sex couple will have parental rights and be placed on the birth certificate. Without utilizing a Second Parent Adoption, the non-biological parent in the same sex relationship has no legal rights to the child(ren). The process for Second Parent Adoption, which can take approximately 2-3 months from filing the adoption petition, is similar to a standard adoption which involves filing an adoption petition, fingerprints, background checks, a home study, obtaining the necessary consents to terminate parental rights, a search of the putative father registry to ensure nobody else claims parents' rights to the child, a final adoption hearing and judgment, and ultimately placing both parents on the birth certificate.

DS: Is a contract required for the donation of egg, sperm, or embryos?

The donation of eggs, sperm and embryos are governed by Florida Statute 742.14. The statute expressly provides that the donor of any egg, sperm or embryo (except as otherwise provided) shall relinquish all maternal or parental rights and obligations with respect to the donation or the resulting child(ren). It is critical that a contract be entered into between the commissioning couple and the donor of the genetic material so the intent of the parties is clear as to the termination of any parental rights as to the donor party. The donation contracts between recipients and the donor specifically detail the parties' obligations and rights with regard to the donation, and cover issues that arise in third party reproductive technology including, but not limited to, parental rights of the commissioning couple and relinquishment of parental rights by the donating party, confidentiality, required medical testing, future communication between the parties, expenses, liability for complications, and the rights of the child(ren).

DS: Can a same sex partner donate egg or sperm to their partner, retain parental rights, and not be viewed as a donor?

In late 2013, the Florida Supreme Court held that the Florida egg, sperm and embryo donation statute (Florida Statute 742.14) was unconstitutional as it only allowed legally married heterosexual couples to retain parental rights to child born resulting from donated genetic material from one party to the other. The case involved a lesbian couple where one woman donated her egg (“biological mother”) to her partner (“birth mother”) to carry the child. Years after the birth of the child, the birth mother refused to give the biological mother parental rights and asserted the biological mother was only a donor of the egg with no parental rights.. Under Florida’s donation statute, since they were not a legally married couple, when the biological mother donated her egg, she was viewed as an egg donor and did not retain any rights to the resulting child. The case, which was a matter of first impression, was argued to the Florida Supreme Court who determined that the donor statute was unconstitutional because it denied the biological mother the right to raise her child. The Florida Supreme Court held, “we conclude that the state would be hard pressed to find a reason why a child would not be better off having two loving parents in her life, regardless of whether those parents are of the same sex, than she would by having only one parent.” This is great news for same-sex couples wishing to utilize assisted reproductive technology to start families in Florida as they are no longer deemed just donors of genetic material if their intent is to retain parental rights to the resulting child. Regardless of the statute, a contract setting forth the parties intentions is strongly recommended when dealing with any reproductive technology law issues.

DS: What should I look for when selecting a surrogate?

All surrogates should be fully informed of the entire surrogacy process and it is important for her to understand that she will have to interrupt her family and work schedules to attend medical appointments and undergo fertility drug protocols and embryo transfer procedures, perhaps multiple times. The surrogate should understand any health risks associated with being a surrogate, including common side effects from the fertility medications and all risks associated with pregnancy. The surrogate’s spouse/significant other should understand these issues as well. It is important that you are on the same page about the difficult issues relating to the pregnancy such as how many embryos to transfer and whether she agrees to termination or selective reduction of the pregnancy if medically necessary. You want to ensure that she leads a healthy, pregnancy friendly lifestyle (i.e. diet, exercise, no drugs/alcohol, no diseases or health conditions that would impact the pregnancy), that she has good support system, that she has had a prior uncomplicated birth, is free of a criminal history, and that you feel in your gut that you can trust her with this important role. The surrogate should be no older than 40 and prior c-sections should be limited. It is helpful to determine that the surrogate has a car so she can go to the numerous appointments and you want to consider her job to see if it is conducive to pregnancy and also to determine her wages as you may be responsible for her net lost wages in the event she is on doctor ordered bed rest during the pregnancy. Surrogates are generally reviewed by a medical doctor, psychologist, and surrogacy agency (if applicable) to help assist with these determinations as to whether she fit to act as a surrogate.

DS: What are the types of costs associated with surrogacy in Florida?

Surrogacy costs vary depending on numerous factors, however, the price for surrogacy can range from $15,000 (friend/family member acting as a surrogate with no compensation, referred as a “compassionate surrogacy”) upward of $150,000. The commissioning couple seeking to use a surrogate are responsible for all of the costs relating to the journey which include (all estimates), but are not limited to, the fertility clinic, obstetrician, and hospital expenses for the surrogate (prices vary), a lawyer for the commissioning couple ($6,000-$10,000) and for the surrogate ($500-$1,000), psychological review of the surrogate and spouse/significant other ($400-$600), surrogacy agency fee ($10,000-$16,000), reasonable living expenses of the surrogate ($200/month), the surrogate’s fee ($20,000-$35,000), health insurance for the surrogate (varies depending on insurance of surrogate, if any), term life insurance policy for the surrogate ($150-$200), and maternity clothes for the surrogate ($800). If a donated egg is required, the costs include the egg donation agency which may include insurance and lawyer fees ($4,500-$10,000) and donor compensation ($5,000-$10,000). There are certain contingent payments that may be due to the surrogate, for example, twins ($4,000), c-section ($1,500), loss of organs ($5,000), surgery on fetus ($500), and net lost wages based on doctor ordered bed rest.

DS: Will a sperm donor have parental rights in a “do it yourself” artificial insemination under Florida law?

Florida’s egg, sperm, and embryo donation statute (Florida Statute 742.14) provides that the donor of egg, sperm, or embryos has no parental rights to the resulting child (unless between a commissioning couple or a preplanned adoption agreement is in place) when using assisted reproductive technology. Florida law defines “assisted reproductive technology”, in part, as procreative procedures which involve the laboratory handling of human eggs or preembryos. A 2002 Florida case found that a woman who wanted to get pregnant in the “usual and customary manner” with a friend for the use of his sperm could not relieve the man who provided his sperm of his parental rights despite an agreement providing otherwise that he was just a sperm donor because the child was created in the “usual and customary way”. The statute did not contemplate impregnation of woman with donated sperm by means of intercourse. In contrast, a 2013 Florida case involved a “do it yourself” artificial insemination using the biological mother’s egg by her same sex partner’s brother’s sperm. In that case, the court found the man who donated his sperm could be deemed a donor with no parental rights because while the procedure was not done in a laboratory, the court held “the statute does not require that the artificial insemination be performed in a clinical setting”. Regardless of the method of conception, it is imperative to consult with an attorney and have the proper contracts in place to specify the parties intentions regarding parental rights and the status of the donor of egg or sperm.

DS: What is traditional surrogacy compared to gestational surrogacy?

“Traditional surrogacy” is the process in which the surrogate either undergoes artificial insemination or IVF with sperm from the male or from a sperm donor. The surrogate herself provides the eggs and is therefore genetically related to the child. This is a riskier approach to surrogacy because the surrogate has a genetic relationship to the child and there have been cases where the surrogate has retained parental rights to the child. With “gestational surrogacy”, the surrogate does not have a genetic relationship to the child. With two fathers, donor eggs will be utilized with one or both of the father’s sperm and the resulting embryo(s) are transferred into the surrogate. In this scenario, the surrogate is not biologically related to the child. Options for gestational surrogacy for two fathers include: (1) splitting the donated eggs, fertilizing the eggs with the sperm of each of the fathers separately, and transferring one embryo from each fertilized egg into the surrogate so that if twins are born, each father may be genetically related to one of the children, (2) utilizing a relative’s egg with the donated sperm of the non-relative partner which allows both partners to have a genetic connection to the child, or (3) using one father’s sperm for the first surrogacy and the other father’s sperm for the second surrogacy.
DS: What medical procedures are required for the surrogate?
Once the surrogate is evaluated by the physician, the parties are ready to start medications, and the surrogacy contract is fully executed, the surrogate will require treatment with various hormones. Each fertility clinic prescribes different protocols, however, the general approach is as follows: The surrogate begins with estrogen and progesterone which are administered either orally, by injection, by skin patch and/or vaginally. Also, the surrogate will take Lupron, a subcutaneous injection, given daily starting with synchronization of the cycles until the egg retrieval (if egg donor used). When the uterus of the surrogate is thick enough, the embryo(s) will be transferred into the surrogate's uterus. This procedure typically takes 30 minutes and is done as an outpatient. The commissioning couple are generally allowed in the room during the procedure as long as the surrogate agrees. Following the embryo transfer, the surrogate will be required to lie flat for 15 minutes - 1 hour before going home. For the next 2-3 days rest at home is required. Progesterone injections and estrogen supplementation will be given to the surrogate until the pregnancy test is done, 12-14 days following embryo transfer. Following a positive pregnancy test, hormone support will be continued on the surrogate for several weeks throughout the first trimester as needed. There will be frequent weekly blood tests and ultrasounds during this time period until the surrogate is released to the obstetrician and the pregnancy is treated like a “normal” pregnancy at that point.
DS: What are the general “baby” steps in same sex surrogacy?
After a medical doctor determines that surrogacy is indicated for the commissioning couple (medical clearance is statutorily required in Florida), the general steps in a surrogacy journey are as follows:
1)    The commissioning couple secures a surrogate that has cleared a background check, psychological and medical examination. Commissioning couples may locate a surrogate on their own (i.e. Internet, friends, family) or through the use of a surrogacy agency.
2)   The intended parents start the process of obtaining or confirming health insurance for the surrogate. Many insurance agencies, especially in Florida, are starting to exclude surrogacy from coverage for health insurance benefits.
3) Simultaneous with the selection of a surrogate, the intended parents select the fertility clinic they wish to use to help create the embryos to be transferred into the surrogate. Based on the location of the surrogate, you may need to select a second fertility clinic closer to the surrogate to monitor the surrogate during the surrogacy process.
4)   Before fertility medications can start for the surrogate, the surrogacy contract will be drafted, reviewed, negotiated. This contract details the parties' rights, obligations, intentions and expectations in connection with their third party reproductive technology arrangement, and covers subjects such as parental rights, custody issues, compensation, location of delivery, future communication between the parties, insurance, control over medical decisions during the pregnancy, payment of medical bills, liability for medical complications, and other provisions required by Florida law.
5) Prior to the embryo transfer and throughout the pregnancy, an escrow agent will deliver the money being paid to the surrogate according to the schedule of payments established in the surrogacy contract.
6) The surrogate will continue to see the fertility doctor until around eight (8) - ten (10) weeks of pregnancy when she is released to an obstetrician, to be selected by the commissioning couple. Fertility medication for the surrogate may continue for twelve (12) weeks of pregnancy.
7)   Around the second trimester, the lawyer will coordinate with the risk manager or nurse administrator of the obstetric department of the hospital to ensure that the delivery process will be smooth for the parties. It is important for the hospital staff to understand the surrogacy arrangement so the commissioning couple has full hospital access. Most hospitals formulate a birth plan which includes who has access to the nursery, whether the commissioning couple want a separate room for visitation, and who will have access to the delivery room in the event of a vaginal birth or c-section.
8)    For heterosexual married couples, an expedited confidential action can be filed three days following the birth of the child in order to place both parents’ names on the birth certificate. For same sex couples, once the child is born, a second parent adoption is filed to place the non-biological parent on the birth certificate. This will give full parental rights to the non-biological parent which will be recognized in Florida or any other state.

DS: Marla, I thank you so much for your time and all this great information.
It was my pleasure!

DS: Good luck with your family.
And to you and your readers also!!

Marla is an attorney at Greenspoon Marder's Family Law practice group, a full service Florida law firm, founded in 1981, offering legal services such as family law, real estate, trust and estates, land use, and litigation. Contact Marla for a free consultation at 954-761-2929 or email her here.