Category Archives: LGBT

Truly Modern Family = Three Parents?

Approaching the stuff of science fiction novels, a January 20 article in UK’s Mail Online by Tamara Cohen reported that a new in vitro Fertilization (IVF) technique could produce embryos within the next two years that are made up of genetic material from three parents.

Graphic from Dawn of the Designer Babies with Three Parents and No Hereditary Diseases by Fiona Macrae, Mail Online, 15 April, 2010.

The article emphasizes that this new approach is meant to help couples conceive without the risk of incurable diseases like muscular dystrophy, but laws in some countries prohibit the use of this technique for ethical reasons.

As a scientist, I find ground-breaking research that can eliminate genetic disease worthy of Nobel consideration. This article reminds me of how we felt when cloning and stem cell research first entered the public consciousness. At first rare and practiced only in controlled settings, these techniques are no longer so mysterious and mystical, but instead something that a good doctor or scientist can learn and do after a few weeks of training. The article rightly focuses on long-term ethical regulation of the technique.

Exactly where is the line and are we even getting close to it? I surely don’t know. We used to call them test-tube babies. We used to think of sex selection as something only done in sci-fi novels, and yet now every fertility specialist in the U.S. has access to these techniques. Right or wrong depends a lot on your point of view. Is it such a leap to think that 30 years from now, we’ll be making TV-ready intellectual super-babies, free of predispositions to diseases and possessing the optimal genetics of Olympic athletes?

Luckily I found this article by Genetic Counselor Allie Janson Hazell from last week, The Myth of the Designer Baby, that made me feel a little better. She, like me, hopes that we’ll never learn to manipulate genes at that level and that even if we do, we won’t actually use the technology in that way.

Of course, knowing how and actually taking the steps are two very different things, but without regulation and the potential for this to become a money-making venture, we can’t be sure some trippy version of this fantasy won’t happen someday.

I’m sure someone out there, as I write this, is working on this as the plot of their new novel. Hmmm, maybe I should be! But how will their novel end?

Let’s hope it ends with the world getting population growth under control, and all the money saved on treatment and management of genetic disease is rerouted toward environmental preservation and restoration. Why not? A girl can dream, right?

 

Parental Rights in Unwed Lesbian Relationships

When it’s still not legal for lesbian women to wed in many states, how can courts decide about their parental rights in a “divorce?”

This Los Angeles Times article, Both Lesbian Moms Have Parental Rights, Florida Court Rules, presents a dramatic family saga, no less disturbing if it were a heterosexual couple.

A lesbian couple fell in love. One womans egg was fertilized by donor sperm and then implanted in the womb of her partner of many years. Because the birth certificate has only one space for “mother,” the birth mother’s name was the only one on the birth certificate, while the biological mother’s name was omitted. Jump to years later when the couple breaks up and are fighting over custody. While the initial Florida court regrettfully sided with the birth mother citing current Florida state law, a state appeals court overturned the ruling on Dec. 23. The article states, “The 5th District Court of Appeal ruled that the U.S. and Florida constitutions trump Florida law and give parenting rights to both women. State law, it added, has not kept up with the times.”

But this situation has long-term implications for the rights of gay and lesbian couples. I am curious to see how this case might set a precident in future decisions.

This situation also has all the makings of a movie-of-the-week. The birth mother had fled with the child to Austrailia without the biological mother’s permission, but has since returned with apparently no legal repercussions.

Who would have thought that all this reproductive freedom we now have access to could be misused so terribly? Of course, we don’t know the circumstances within the couple’s relationship, but we definitely seem to be tromping through a gigantic gray area regarding parental rights in same sex couples. Let’s hope the muddiness is cleared soon.

(illustration courtesy of The Guardian)

A Son and Citizen

This Moveon.org video of Zach Wahls, a young man conceived using anonymous donor sperm and raised by two lesbian moms, speaking to the Iowa State Congress about gay marriage made me cry with pride. He’s well spoken and would make any mother proud.

Amen Zach. Amen.

The Fabulous Susie Bright

Last week at Village Books I had the pleasure of meeting the notorious Susie Bright, famous for her sex-positive parenting, activism in the feminist movement, and long-time editor of Best American Erotica series from 1993-2008.

Susie was in town reading from her new memoir, Big Sex Little Death, from Seal Press and she did not disappoint. She read two hilarious passages about her early days writing for a radical high school newspaper and later for the first lesbian erotica magazine called On Our Backs. Listening to her reading made me want to go through my entire book and incorporate more humor because Susie’s unique voice made each vignette irresistible.

I must admit that when I attended, I was just going to listen to and meet another memoirist, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I was in the presence of a celebrity who paved the way for lesbian activism and who, in our lifetime, has drastically changed the way people think about sexuality and intimacy.

Susie mentioned that she had children, so I asked her if she ever felt judged by fellow parents because she writes so candidly about her sexuality. She admitted that there had been a few parents of her children’s friends who would not speak with her or allow their children to visit her home, but for the most part, she raised her children in progressive west coast communities. Then she recommended I read one of her previous books, Mommy’s Little Girl: Susie Bright on Sex, Motherhood, Pornography, and Cherry Pie. I can’t wait to get to hear her take on how your sex life influences your children’s future sex life.

While there I purchased two copies of Susie’s Love and Lust: A Sex Journal for my 20-ish nieces. The journal is prompted but also allows for free writing with writing prompts like “Write three sexual confessions about yourself. Make two of them true and one of them a lie.” When I stayed after to ask Susie to sign them, she said that she also had a blog for the journal where you can anonymously post your personal entry. I haven’t figured that out yet, but if anyone knows, please post it here in the comments section.

I was also pleased to discover that Susie has an offering for writers as well: How to Write a Dirty Story: Reading, Writing, and Publishing Erotica. I’ve not yet tried this type of writing, but you never know!

If you get the chance to meet, see, or read the fabulous Susie Bright, jump. It promises to be a wild ride.

Are the Brit’s Ahead of Us?

We don’t see it in the news here, but the UK seems progressive and organized when it comes to their egg and sperm donors.

BioNews reported last week that Natalie Drew and Ashling Phillips, a lesbian couple who have two children by a sperm donor, set up The Gay Family Web Fertility Centre  in Birmingham, England. The clinic is designed to help gay and lesbian people build their family. They were motivated by their experience conceiving their children at a clinic that catered primarily to heterosexuals. British law dictates however that they cannot turn away heterosexual couples.

In addition, a new documentary film, traveling around European indie film festivals, Donor Unknown, is  making headlines. Cameras follow 20-year old JoEllen Marsh as she searches for the sperm donor father she only knows as Donor 150.

Through an online registry that connects donor-conceived children, she manages to track down a half-sister in New York. The New York Times picks up the story, and, over time, 12 more half-siblings emerge across the USA.

Donor Unknown follows JoEllen from her discovery of her siblings, to the moment Jeffrey steps forward to identify himself as Donor 150, to her decision to travel to California to meet him. We also meet the half-siblings spread across the U.S. Danielle in New York, who was not told by her parents that she was donor-conceived till the age of 14, is uncertain of the kind of relationship she could ever sustain with Jeffrey. His decision to let go of anonymity is a step few donors have taken.

This story is fascinating and the closest I’ve seen to my own. From the film web site:

“Linked by their connection to a single sperm donor – 150 – parents and children are creating and navigating a new set of relationships. They are discovering first hand what a close biological connection to a stranger means for themselves and their identity.  What happens next opens up some fascinating questions about nature and nurture, the responsibilities of parenthood, the moral integrity of the cryobanks, and the hazards of genetic inheritance. As the laws on donor anonymity change in some countries, there are fewer sperm donors and there’s a roaring trade in ‘fertility tourism’, for overseas sperm and egg donation….Now they’re living with the unpredictable consequences of their choice. What impact will meeting this stranger – Donor 150 – have on their children? What kinds of relationship can the children build with their biological father? How will letting Donor 150 into their lives affect their relationships as a family? And how will meeting his biological children change Jeffrey’s life?”

So why isn’t this film showing here across the U.S.? Right now its screening in New York, London, and Poland. I’m excited to see it. I’ll be contacting my local indie film theater, The Pickford Film Center, to see if they can get their hands on it. Send a message to YOUR local indie film theater letting them know you’d like to see it as well. This type of story needs to be seen.