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Where To Go From Here: GSA LGBTIQ Panel Recap

12 February 2016

Dr Ruth McNair is a general practitioner with clinical and research interests in same-sex parenting. She was the first to speak at a panel discussion last week on the future of LGBTIQ families, which the Graduate Student Association organised as part of the Midsumma Festival. The first thing McNair said when she took to the microphone confirmed that the panel of four had been having the same conversation my boyfriend and I were having moments earlier.

“We were just debating how many people in the audience might be LGBT,” she said.

“And it’s up for you to discuss later. But we think it’s pretty heavily stacked.”

Jacqui Tomlins, the Deputy Leader of the Australian Equality Party, was another panelist. Last year she launched ‘OUTspoken Families: A Resource Kit for Rainbow Families’, which she crowdfunded with the Rainbow Families Council.

“I remember Ruth and I sitting around the table, ten years ago, twelve years ago, establishing the Rainbow Families Council,” she said, speaking in a clipped English accent.

“And the very different environment it was then.”

“You can see the change in opinion polls, and votes in parliament, and the number of people who are now saying we want marriage equality,” said Senator Penny Wong.

“But for me, how heartwarming it has been, from the birth of our first daughter until now, to see the change in the way people treat us.”

Wong commanded the room when she spoke — the other three panelists were leaning forward and staring at her intently.

“A bloke in work gear came up to me. I thought, ‘oh, here we go’. He said, ‘Senator Wong.’ I was like, ‘oh no. Steel yourself’. Because you kind of think about what’s coming. And he shook my hand and talked about what it was to be a parent.”

“Social change usually takes longer than this,” said McNair.

“And I think this is partly because our families are out there, talking with neighbours and friends, advocating for our own well-being.”

“I think we are over-represented on school councils,” said Tomlins, getting a big laugh and spontaneous clapping from the audience.

“And I think we do that for two reasons,” she continued.

“We do it so we can keep an eye on things — just make sure there’s nothing untoward going on. And I also think we do it because people, then, know us. People in our community know Jac and Sarah and their three kids. So that when the Australian Christian Lobby say it’s all about children, people go, ‘Oh, Jac and Sarah. A nice, ordinary family in many respects. Happy, healthy, mostly well-adjusted kids.’”

“This is one of the reasons, although I’m a reasonably private person — I don’t put the kids into a Women’s Weekly shoot, despite being asked — but I think it’s important for us to be open about who we are and to remind people that we’re not that different,” said Wong.

The event was not only an occasion to celebrate the successes of the LGBTIQ community in the last decade, but also to talk about what changes still needed to happen. The final panelist was Rodney Chiang-Cruise, co-founder of Gay Dads Australia and self-described “big poof”. He is a partner at the law firm Phillips Ormonde Fitzpatrick. He spoke about the legal issues around gay parenting.

“Gay men are starting to find their voice on parenting in the same way that lesbians explored the paths to parenthood 20-plus years ago,” he said.

“The growth area, the biggest area, is surrogacy done overseas, which is, on the whole, commercial surrogacy. And it’s the area where gay men are raising children but without any legal parenting rights or responsibilities in this country.”

Chiang-Cruise and his husband chose surrogacy overseas.

“When we were still in the US, we were the legal parents of our child. The surrogate, Kelly, and her husband, Mike, relinquished parental rights in court. It was an agreed arrangement. We were all very happy with it. It all worked very well. We came back to Australia, we stepped off the plane and immediately our son, Ethan, had no legal parents in Australia. Under Australian law, the legal parents were considered the surrogate and her husband. So if she had come to Australia, technically she could have come in and collected the children because she was the legal parent. She could have hopped on a plane and flown to the US, and promptly got arrested when she exited the plane because she would have been stealing somebody else’s children. That’s the paradox that exists.”

Gay Dads Australia estimates that there are somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 gay male parents in Australia who became parents via surrogacy. That roughly works out to be around 4,000 children.

“This is breaking boundaries here,” said McNair.

“Saying that biological parenting is not the be-all and end-all. We can have families with nobody biologically related, one biologically-related parent, three biologically-related parents…”

She paused. “It’s coming,” she said cheerfully.

Image Credit: Graduate Student Association Facebook Page.