By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
After Dr. Mark Leondires and his partner had their first child through egg donation and surrogacy, he experienced first-hand all the challenges facing LGBTQ+ parents to be, and he decided to launch Gay Parents To Be – a place for the LGBTQ+ community to start the education process on the road to biological parenting.
How does your background tie into forming Gay Parents To Be program?
I am a reproductive endocrinologist with RMA of Connecticut, and I have been helping people have children for more than 20 years. I believe in a fully inclusive practice for all people, and after experiencing first-hand the challenges facing LGBTQ+ parent to be, I, with the help of others, decided to launch Gay Parents To Be.
Tell us a little bit about Gay Parents To Be?
Gay Parents To Be is an international program serving the LGBTQ+ community offered through RMA of Connecticut. It is the leading resource for high-quality, vetted information for members of the LGBTQ+ community who want to pursue biological family building. We have worked with thousands of members of the LGBTQ+ community. Our goal is for the LGBTQ+ community to feel welcome at our practice. Our commitment to this goal is evidenced by our Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) status, the only stand-alone fertility clinic on the East Coast that has this designation. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation awards HEI status to policies and practices that meet the highest standard of LGBTQ+ inclusion and equity.
You recently hosted a conference in Atlanta – tell us a little bit about what the conference was about?
It was about a pathway to parenthood for same-sex male couples who want to be fathers through egg donation, in vitro fertilization (IVF), and with a surrogate to carry their child. It included over 40 participants, and we were able to bring in egg donors, surrogates, and parents through egg donation and surrogacy to interact with the participants. We are excited to have several couples who are interested in moving forward with their family building pathways after that event.
How has the process of becoming gay parents changed? Has it become easier?
With the passage of marriage equality, the whole community feels safer. There is more quality information available, and there are more fertility offices willing to offer services to the LGBTQ+ community. While there is more acceptance, there are only a handful of companies that offer a fertility benefit for LGBTQ+ persons. Therefore, secondary to financial hurdles, biological family building for lesbian, gay, and transgender people too often remains out of reach.
What are some of the challenges that Gay Parents To Be still face?
There are still places that will not treat LGBTQ+ persons, and there are social stigmata that can alter where someone can live and raise their family. For gay men with no insurance coverage who require IVF, an egg donor, and a surrogate, they often do not have the resources. Appropriate legal representation is necessary for the entire community to assure parental rights and protect their children and families from those who feel they should not exist.
How do you get started on your journey to becoming parents as a gay person?
A parenting pathway for gay people is an intentional pathway. First, there needs to be a decision about whether somebody wants to have a biologically linked child, proceed with adoption, or become a foster parent. If they choose to move forward with a biological pathway, they should then search out a fertility center who is experienced in personalizing their fertility treatment to the unique needs of the LGBTQ+ community. If it is a same-sex male couple, they will need an egg donor to complete an IVF cycle, and a surrogate to carry their child.
What are some of the unexpected challenges when starting a ‘rainbow’ family?
- How hard it is to find the right egg or sperm donor.
- Finding a reproductive attorney who experienced in protecting parental rights for LGBTQ+ parents.
- Realizing that while your colleagues may have insurance for fertility, your family journey will need to be self-funded.
- Not everyone is accepting of your desire and right to be a parent.
Learn more about LGBTQ+ family building at gayparentstobe.com.