Gay Surrogacy Conference Heads to San Francisco
Gay couples and individuals seeking to be parents will be able to learn about the international surrogacy market and speak with more than 30 experts at a daylong conference this weekend in San Francisco.
The March 15 conference, which is expected to bring out 100 potential gay and lesbian parents, will cover selecting the right surrogacy clinic and egg donors, financial options and decisions, pitfalls of surrogacy, legal issues, international surrogacy, new surrogacy options in Mexico and Thailand, and more.
San Francisco is the second conference hosted by Families Through Surrogacy, an Australian-based organization that is less than a year old.
Launched nine months ago by Sam Everingham, global director of events and content of Families Through Surrogacy, the organization hosted its first conference in Windsor, United Kingdom earlier this month. It will return to Australia for its third conference in May before heading to Washington, D.C. in September.
"We had seen such a huge need from families in Australia for support in their journeys during surrogacy either at home or overseas," said Everingham, 46, who is director of Stethoscope Market Research, a marketing health care research company, and is an advocate for surrogate families.
About four years ago he founded Surrogacy Australia. The organization attracted upward of 200 people interested in building their families through reproductive technologies, particularly surrogacy, at the conferences it hosted.
Everingham, who is gay, went to India with his partner of 11 years, Philip Copeland, 42, to have their two daughters, who are now 2 years old. He noticed that the surrogacy community operates mostly online and through social media, he said. There wasn't much face-to-face with prospective parents and experts in the field to discuss issues and successes. There also wasn't a way for people to advocate and lobby for accountability and tougher regulations at home or abroad.
It only made sense to him to take the organization international to the U.S. and U.K., he said.
"We realized that everyone engaging in surrogacy around the world were just accessing information online and they were often getting burnt by unethical operators," said Everingham.
"We had seen a lot of grief from families who had honestly gone through some hard times getting there to have a kid," said Everingham. "We realized that lots of people needed some sort of objective advice and support from families who had done this already."
Saturday's conference is estimated to have cost nearly $40,000 to produce, according to Everingham.
This is the second conference locally focused on creating LGBT families. In 2008, more than 100 potential LGBT parents crowded the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio at the American Fertility Association's Family Matters conference's gay track.
Six years later, not much has changed in the reproductive technology world, particularly when it comes to surrogacy.
After that groundbreaking conference, pockets of intended LGBT parents, particularly coupled and single gay men, have come together informally to share their stories and help each other navigate the often complex and expensive landscape of creating a family using reproductive technologies, such as surrogacy.
In the U.S. and in many Western countries surrogacy can easily cost anywhere from an estimated $80,000 to $125,000 compared to an estimated $40,000 or slightly more in India, Mexico, Nepal, Thailand, and Ukraine, according to experts.
Unlike the issue of high cost in the U.S., the issue in Australia and the U.K. is the lack of surrogates, said Everingham.
Wild New World
Experts call the reproductive technology industry, which includes surrogacy, the "wild west" where rules and regulations aren't standardized, making it a risky proposition. Even in the U.S. - particularly in California and Oregon - where there are more laws and procedures in place to hold clinics and individuals accountable if anything does go wrong, it is still far from perfect.
The quest to become a parent becomes even more perilous for gay male couples. Not all countries have embraced same-sex families. Some countries, like Russia and most recently India, are closing their doors to the lucrative gay surrogacy market.
In India alone, surrogacy in general is projected to become a $2.3 billion industry, according to experts.
Yet, once a very popular destination for gay couples seeking surrogates, India began to prevent single and gay couples from becoming parents with the introduction in 2010 of the Assisted Reproductive Technologies Regulation Bill, which restricted surrogacy to heterosexual couples. The bill was sent to the law ministry in 2011 where it has remained.
Then in January, the Indian Home Ministry dealt a second blow to the LGBT community when it issued a new rule that effectively banned foreign gay couples and individuals of any sexual orientation or gender identity from surrogacy. The new rule limited foreign surrogacy to only opposite sex married couples for a minimum of two years.
The ministry's rule came a month after India's Supreme Court reinstated the country's colonial-era anti-sodomy law. That decision was upheld by a second panel of Supreme Court judges in January.
Adding to shifting country laws toward international adoption and surrogacy is the problem of clinics closing down. Planet Hospital, for instance, suddenly dissolved its surrogacy practice and is facing an involuntary bankruptcy petition, leaving many intending parents - including gays - in various stages of planning their families in a bind.
Two of Planet Hospital's former surrogacy division employees have now launched new surrogacy businesses. Catherine A. Moscarello co-founded IP Conceptions LLC with her husband and business partner, Joseph Adams. Geoff Moss co-founded Surrogacy Beyond Borders with Lilly Frost.
The risks involved by going abroad is why John Chally, 64, co-founder of Northwest Surrogacy Center, which opened its San Francisco office March 1 and will be presenting at the San Francisco conference, isn't interested in entering the international surrogacy market.
"I have some strong feelings about Mexico. I've lived in India and those are not places where I would want to have my child born," said Chally, a Bay Area native who has operated his surrogacy practice in Portland, Oregon for 20 years.
He advocates for domestic surrogacy and the reliability and the protections that provides for all parties involved.
What It Takes to Have a Family
Because of the complicated surrogacy landscape, Everingham decided to take on the challenge of creating a network of consumers and professionals to develop best practices and ways for surrogacy consumers to advocate for better regulation in the international surrogacy market.
"We find a lot of families, couples in the U.S., are very keen to have children. If they can't afford it in California or elsewhere they will travel," said Everingham. "It's amazing the risks people will take to have a family.
"We went through hell to have our kids. It was worth it in the end," he added.
The Families Through Surrogacy conference takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Fort Mason Conference Center, 2 Marina Boulevard. Tickets are $55-$85. Register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/families-through-surrogacy-san-francisco-conference-tickets-9138153463. For more information, visit http://www.familiesthrusurrogacy.com/global-conferences/us-conference