Social Media :
Episode 99 Transcript

Ep 99 Transcript | Bringing Equality to Reproduction with Dr. Mark P. Leondires

Eloise Drane
Dr. Mark P. Leondires

Welcome to Fertility Cafe, the home for every conversation exploring alternative family building through IVF, surrogacy, egg, sperm, and embryo donation. Our host Eloise Drane, alternates episodes between educational shows covering specific topics and guest narratives for further insight. For a mastery understanding and confidence in all things alternative family, subscribe to Fertility Cafe.

Eloise Drane 00:28
Hey there, Welcome to Episode 99 of Fertility Cafe!

Eloise Drane 00:33
Today, we’re diving deep into a crucial topic: Bringing Equality to Reproduction for LGBTQ+ people. In this episode, we’ll be exploring the unique path to parenthood for members of the LGBTQ+ community, discussing hurdles, possibilities, and advancements in reproductive healthcare. Our goal is to encourage a wider discussion about fair and equal opportunities for everyone to access fertility treatments and services.

Eloise Drane 01:03
Guiding us on this journey is our guest, Dr. Mark Leondires, the founder of Illume Fertility. In 2012 his personal and professional experience led him to create Gay Parents To Be, a leading family-building resource for the LGBTQ+ community. Dr. L resides in Connecticut with his family.

Eloise Drane 01:28
Dr. L. Thank you so much for being here with me today.

Dr. Mark Leondires 01:32
Thank you, Eloise, great to be here. Happy to be here. And this is an important topic.

Eloise Drane 01:37
It is, it is absolutely. You know, the path to parenthood often presents unique hurdles for LGBTQ individuals and couples. Can you elaborate on some of these challenges, especially in the context of reproductive health care?

Dr. Mark Leondires 01:52
Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s really, there’s, there’s lots of layers to this, I think the first layer is that, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you pretty much almost always need help and guidance from multiple different layers, just to have a family. And not everybody understands what you need. And you’re not actually welcome every place across the country. And lastly, I think that one thing that people don’t realize is that as a member of the community, you have to keep coming out over and over again, to your providers, to everybody who wants to help you. And that’s something that was hard when we did it, we have to just keep doing it, explaining that our family to be, and our relationships and who you are, are just a little bit different. Doesn’t change who we are as people, what we can achieve. And you know, our desire for children is really no different than anybody else’s. Just starting off with that, it’s pretty hard to take that first step into a fertility office as a infertile couple, or person. And it’s even harder for a member of the community to do that, because they have to navigate; Am I going to be accepted? Is somebody going to ask me if I, you know, I’m somebody who identifies as a cisgender female with a cisgender female partner? Is somebody going to ask me about my husband? Am I going to have to explain that? And I think that we have to remember that moving into any fertility office, there are so many people that touched your chart, and having all those people having a degree of competency across the LGBTQ+ rainbow is so important.

Eloise Drane 03:43
Yeah. Can you elaborate about coming out over and over again?

Dr. Mark Leondires 03:48
So, if I go to my pediatricians office, with my child, they might ask about their mom. And I have to say, well, my kids have two dads. And at this point, my kids will say, you know, I don’t have a mom, right? But that just means that provider, that person didn’t get an opportunity to peek at my chart beforehand, or my chart wasn’t tagged properly. In our office, we have worked hard to make our electronic medical record color code, different patient types. So, we have same sex couples, single parents to be, heterosexual couples or opposite sex couples, all kinds of color coded within the EMR so something pops up special, before you walk in the room for that practice, before you walk in the room with that patient, and you know, having those layers and you know, allowing everybody in your office to make a mistake and just roll through it is important. I think that the vast majority of people want to take good care of everybody, whether it’s somebody at the front desk, whether it’s your medical system drawing blood, whether it’s your financial advocate counseling them, and the ability to understand that if you address someone, maybe how they don’t want to be addressed, or if you make a mistake and ask about their, their husband when they don’t have one, that saying, well, you know, I’m sorry, I made that mistake, I understand and respect that this is difficult for you, and I’ll strive not to do it again. And that’s gonna go a long way.

Eloise Drane 05:22
And truly what you need in the practice to really feel welcome.

Dr. Mark Leondires 05:26
Yeah, the other thing I thought about recently is that, you know, the new rainbow flag we have also has different colors of the rainbow ranging all the way to black, and it also now has a intersect circle in it. And for me, you know, LGBTQ+ competence is just competence to serve everyone, members of indigenous communities, members of the BIPOC community, members of the LGBTQ+ community, because we all come at this from a different place. But we’re all coming into this like predominantly ethnocentric Caucasian office. That is, yeah, that is set on a heteronormative base. Yes, Yes. Yes. You know, it’s fascinating to think about like, so, somewhere within our Judeo Christian culture that we live in here in the United States, there was this kind of exclusion of a third gender, where people are asexual or so on. But, you know, within Hinduism, within Native American culture within Polynesian culture, there’s more colors to our human rainbow. The vitriol and strife within our country right now, over, you know, LGBTQ+, transphobia, BIPOC, and so on, just strikes a chord with me that we are not binary. No. We are not, two colors. We are just bell shaped curve of humanity. Yeah. And it’s been shown, shown, and shown and time and time again, sometimes the people who deny that the most are the people who are on the fringes of that because they’re afraid. Yes. But I do think, you know, welcoming practices understand that, that it’s a big step for every patient to walk through the door. And they have to take steps at every part of their practice to just improve their competency and take good care of people.

Eloise Drane 07:27
Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. And it’s so funny, you say that, because I have never put that correlation together. Of, you know, now, especially with the rainbow and how, just, it literally truly is a rainbow and having all of the, you know, individuals and people of all colors of the rainbow under there. And just realizing, I mean, obviously, I’m a black woman and the discrimination and the things that I’ve experienced in my life, which, you know, people look at, well, it’s different, you know, that’s LGBTQ so they have different and, and it’s just like, well, discrimination is discrimination is discrimination period.

Dr. Mark Leondires 08:10
Yeah. I mean, I liked I’ve tried to remove, you know, the term racism from my vernacular. It’s bias, right? There’s a lot of bias within different cultures. You know, there’s bias within our culture, there’s bias within Chinese culture. I think as human beings, we’re kind of prone to bias. But bring this all the way back in, I mean, when, I’m on the diversity and inclusion task force for the ASRM. And I’ll tell you a very like, I guess the word would be humbling moment for you, for me as I was on a Zoom with probably 30 to 40 panels, right? And I was the only white man on there.

Eloise Drane 08:56
I think I was on there that day.

Dr. Mark Leondires 08:58
You might have been. And for me, I understand that I was there as an LGBTQ+ person, right? You know, it’s easy for me to fit into our you know, heteronormative white male world, right? Yeah. But in that room, I was the outlier. Yeah. Yeah. And it really drove home this feeling of, of, what it feels like, to walk into a place and immediately notice there’s nobody there like you and.

Eloise Drane 09:32
Oh, I know. I mean, because within this industry, I’ve been in it for 23 years. And I am telling you on more than both hands, how many times I have walked in a room, within our industry, that I have been the sole person of color in that room, sole person. And it is, I can no longer say it’s uncomfortable because I am very comfortable in my skin. So, I’m not going to allow it to be uncomfortable. But when you look around and you start seeing, and it’s just like, oh my god, we still have so much work to do. Yeah. Yeah.

So, okay, my next question. Significant strides have been made in reproductive technology in recent years. Which of these advancements do you believe are particularly beneficial for LGBTQ+ individuals and couples?

Dr. Mark Leondires 10:25
Well, I think that moving towards more acceptance of using donated sperm, donated eggs, and removing anonymity from that process is so important to our community. So, for the majority of infertility patients, whether they have a low sperm count or diminished ovarian reserve or premature ovarian failure, if they need a donor, they are grieving the loss of a genetic connection. But for members of my community, we’re happy that somebody’s willing to help us conceive. We need donated sperm, or donated eggs to help us become a family. And we want to meet those people, and we want to embrace those people. And we know that our children might want to know more in the future. So, we want a way for future contact. We have to like conceive of the fact that our kids have half siblings out there, that might help them complete a better understanding of who they are. So, taking the stigma away from donor conception, which is actively happening in and across reproductive medicine, is a, is a big step for our community. And that openness, to have people meet each other, and, you know, have legal agreements moving forward for the child at the age of majority, and things like that, I think is a tremendous opportunity for our children, our children to be, more complete as they grew up.

Eloise Drane 12:09
Yeah. I mean, and as a father of obviously, donor conceived children, can you share the importance of, of them knowing their history? Because I think, you know, obviously, I, I’ve been an egg donor several times and one of my donations was anonymous, and all the other ones were open. But one of the families didn’t share that information with their, with their child for a very long time. And then when they did, obviously, she was upset about it and it was like, well, I think though she has a right to be upset about that. Would you mind elaborating a bit?

Dr. Mark Leondires 12:50
Yeah, I mean, I think that for members of, of the community, we all have to understand that we don’t always know what we don’t know. And that’s why within the American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines, there’s like, a strong recommendation for psycho educational counseling by a qualified experienced mental health professional. So you can understand maybe the things you haven’t thought of, things to think about in choosing a donor, but also things to think about and talking to your child from when they’re in your arms till their adulthood, right? So, take a little sidebar there, it’s so important for our community also have proper counseling by a reproductive attorney, so that both parents whether genetically linked or not, have form full biological, full parental rights in force. But getting back to your question, you know, when we went through our journey, which is not a word I always liked, more like a track, that we were advised that tell frequently and tell often, and practice your story, practice your story when your child is in, in your arms so you’re good at it. Because your child is going to know, if when they ask that question on that one day, if you’re uncomfortable answering it. They’re gonna know that you’re hiding something, or there’s something secret, and they might perceive it as something bad versus you just being not prepared yet. You know, in my household, and I know in many households, because we’ve been kind of talking this talk for a long time is that we talk openly about our children’s donor. What we know, if something comes up, that doesn’t seem to be from myself or my husband, we’re like, well, you know, that might have been from the donor, right? We also talk openly about the fact that they were carried within somebody else’s tummy, right? And they’ve met their gestational carriers. Now, it’s interesting because we’re lucky to have two boys. And I’ve been told that boys just ask less questions, but it doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it. I have some friends that have girls, and their girls are very curious about their donors and that story, and so on. So they spent a lot more time talking about it. But my guys just roll on it. Now granted, they’re, they’re still preteens, and they might want to know more. But I think that we know from adoption models, when young adults and teens find out later that they were adopted, and the people they trusted the most in their life to tell them the truth, didn’t tell this, this essential thing about who they are, they are often angry. And they are more apt to act out maybe in different ways that obviously, their parents didn’t want them to. While if you tell a child, a child version of their truth all along, they’ve known it. And most importantly, I think, to share, and I’ve shared this with my kids, because my five-year-old was told, you know, in preschool, that he must have a mother somewhere, and somebody put them up for adoption. Oh, well then. And explaining to him that not only orange, you put up for adoption, but you know, we got to meet you as the tiniest little embryo. And you were desperately loved and wanted. And there was a whole community of people that helped bring you to life. And we’ve always had you as part of our family, and nobody puts you up for an adoption. And there’s different types of families. So not every family has a mom, not everybody family has a dad, not everybody, every family has two of the same. And, you know, it’s fascinating to think of that 50% of families in the United States are different. Not opposite sex. Yes. Biologically linked. Yes. Families that were taught about in you know, Leave It to Beaver, right? That’s right. There’s 50% of marriages end and adoption. There’s a lot of blended families, different families out there. And you know, and you don’t always even get to pick because maybe somebody’s spouse passed away, right? So, as we move forward in taking care of our children, I think it’s always important to, to understand, you know, within this kind of rainbow theme, there’s different kinds of families, right? One of the hard days as a parent, sometimes in my family is, as we approach Mother’s Day, how is the school going to approach that with our kids? And it’s something that, you know, we as one of the, in our community, we were one of the first gay families with kids there, we kind of chatted with them, and so on. But I actually think it would be nice to have parents day, right? But I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna get that. But what do my kids do on Mother’s Day? They acknowledge their aunts, or their grandmother or things like that. And really, I actually like to focus on the fact that mother and father are really verbs, they are two parents. Just because somebody is genetically linked to you doesn’t mean they’re your mother. Yeah, no. Unless they are doing the work. So, I think as we raise children, whether you’re in a opposite sex heteronormative relationship, or whether you’re a single parent, or whether you’re in a LGBTQ+ relationship, just always having the children understand that there’s, they are loved, they are wanted. And there’s different pathways to have children as part of a family. And however you got your child, tell them a version of the truth, right? That’s right. So it could be that mommy and daddy fell in love, and we exchanged our special cells and you came to life within mommy’s tummy or two boys can’t have a baby. So we needed the help of two different women to help you. But everybody was on the same team. And we got to meet you as a little ball of cells and hold you in your arms when you were when you were born.

Eloise Drane 19:01
Yeah. And you teach them, like you said, from young. I mean, I was also a gestational carrier. And I remember for my second pregnancy, my youngest son at the time, I think he was 5 or 6, we went to the grocery store. And obviously, I have this big ol’ belly and a lady was, you know, pushing her cart and she was like, oh, congratulations, you know, how far along are you or what are you having or something to that effect, before I could open my mouth, he says, oh, no, that’s not mommy’s baby. That’s so and so’s baby. Her belly is broken, and my mommy’s belly is not broken so my mummy is caring for her but this baby’s not coming to our house because it’s not our baby. It’s going back to their house, because I don’t want the baby in my house because I’m going to be the youngest. And I’m like, Alright, I think. But I normalized it for him to be that comfortable for him to be able to just totally tell a total stranger all of our business, which I wasn’t expecting him to do that, but for him, it was such a normal thing. To the point now, this boy is now 17 years old and the most common thing, I mean, literally, it is a very common thing and he just sits there, and it doesn’t even flinch when my daughter and I will sit there and talk about periods and vaginas and penises and all kinds of stuff, and he’s just like, oh, god, they’re at it again. Okay, all right. Were other kids, it is such an uncomfortable like, oh, my god, why is your parents are talking about sex? Like, oh, my God, why are your parents like. No, because we’ve normalized it. And that’s the whole thing, that if we do normalize for our children, and not just in this arena, if we normalize, you know, the biases that people are putting out there that this is something that should know, we need to normalize, that everybody should be accepted black, white, green, blue, gay, straight, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. It should be normal. Because just as I was created here, and I was put on this earth, and I have every right to be here, so do you. So does the next person. So you know, you picking and choosing because it doesn’t fit your norm is not because of something wrong with me, is there’s something wrong with you.

Dr. Mark Leondires 21:18
Yeah. I mean, we talked about how to be a member, not of the common, common look within our country might make it fearful to walk into a doctor’s waiting room, there, I think there’s fear on the other side of change. And, you know, I see it as my kind of responsibility to, to make it less fearful, it’s, it’s, you’re gonna be okay. You know, I mean, I think that what’s out there for the children of LGBTQ+ parents, is that they’re doing just as well as everybody else’s kids. In fact, there’s a study that in Denmark that says they’re doing better. The caveat with that is that to become a parent, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community means you have to have resources, you have to be, you’re usually older, you didn’t have an accidental pregnancy, remember, 50% of pregnancies in the United States are accidental, right? And you needed to work with often a doctor’s office. So, by the time you’re having your child, you know, you really want to have a baby, and you went, you went through all those steps to do it. And you might be a little bit older, and more financially secure, right? One of the things that I always like to remind people of when they’re afraid of, let’s say, LGBTQ parents, making LGBTQ+ kids is that we all had straight parents, right? We had straight parents. So, you people are gonna have LGBTQ+ kids. And whether they’re comfortable talking to you about it or not, is just, you know, a function of how welcoming your family is, I mean, how difficult topic is to think about the fact that how many LGBTQ kids are put out on the street by their parents, right? LGBTQ+ and trans in particular, you know, suicide rates, substance abuse rates, and things like that. And, you know, that is just beyond heartbreaking. And that comes from, you know, some of the culture dysfunction that we have, right? But I think like, as we, as people try to look for where to access care, you know, each practice needs to try to do their part, right? So that might be some of the simple things like putting a rainbow flag on your website or on your door and so on. But, you know, you have to be able to follow through on that, right? That’s right. You have to demonstrate that competency, and that’s where competency training comes in, whether it’s through that the Fenway National LGBTQ Educational Foundation, right, or whether it’s through the Open-Door program and Family Equality Council. But you know, choosing a medical practice to walk through the door and often is word of mouth as well.

Eloise Drane 24:15
So, in talking about that, well, then let’s kind of get into the, how does somebody go about finding a practice that is LGBTQ+ friendly?

Dr. Mark Leondires 24:28
Yeah. I think, for family-building, I think usually the first step is, they know they met another LGBTQ+ person who has a child, and where did you go, right? That is a safe person to ask, right? Now, when you go on the website of medical practice, and if they have a page for LGBTQ+, that’s great, but it’s not just one page, they have to have pages. Because, if you’re a cisgender male, and you want to have a baby, that’s one pathway. If you’re a cisgender, female in a same sex relationship, that’s another pathway. If you’re a trans person, that’s a different pathway. And there’s actually a lot of options depending on who your partner is. So, I think that having that depth of information on there is important. And then, you know, acknowledging the fact that when that person submits their form for an appointment, or make, picks up the phone for an appointment, the person on the other end of the line follows through with the fact that they’re LGBTQ+ competent, and doesn’t think from the sound of their voice that they’re a he or she, right? Doesn’t ask them about their husband or their wife, doesn’t make those assumptions. And you could start every conversation with oh, hi, how do you like to be called? How do you like, how would you like me to talk to you, right? I recently gotten into a discussion with another professional about like, you know, why should I have my pronouns available, and we went down this little rabbit hole, and it ended up with the fact that if you put your pronouns out there, then somebody who might not have pronouns that you expect, when they see that you are showing yours, that gives them the space to share theirs, right? You might take the best care of everybody, black, white, lesbian, gay, trans, and so on, and so on. But that patient might not feel comfortable sharing with you who they really are. If it’s not advertised anywhere, I think part of being an LGBTQ+ practice, is doing the easy work of the rainbow flag and something on your website, and so on, and then doing the hard work, which is training your staff, changing all your forms, and following through with, when we went through our kind of transition to working hard to be fully inclusive. I would ask my patients who were members of the community, did you notice anything in our consent forms that you think you needed to be changed? Is there anything that bothers you, right? And I will fairly, freely admit, sometimes it’s like, it’s hard for me to use, they/their and things like that. And my default is, I try to use somebody’s name. Yeah. But I think that, if you’re looking for a practice, you’re gonna talk to usually somebody else, and find out where they went. And those first few interactions are going to basically, hopefully, make you feel comfortable so that by the time you get past the firewall and get to the doctor, you’re already comfortable, right? I mean, imagine you walk in and you’re seeing the, the medical assistant to get your vital signs done before you see the doctor. And, and they ask you how long you’ve been trying, right? Well, you know what, if I’m a single mom to be, or if I’m a, a, in a same sex female relationship, I can’t try. Mm hmm. So, you know, that’s not the best question. Right. Right. Right, exactly. And I think that, within our REI community, nurses and doctors, I think we’ve always said, oh, you just need a donor. And it is really hard to pick out a donor. And acknowledging how hard it is to pick out a donor is so important. I mean, I don’t know your family-building story, but in most heterosexual relationships, oh, of course, we’re going to try to use genetics from both of us, right? But, you know, if you don’t have that opportunity, then you and your partner, or you and your support person have to make these lifelong decisions for the future of your child. And in some ways, it’s awesome, because you get to screen them, their genetics, their mental health, their family tree, and so on and so, and so, you have the opportunity to kind of move the needle towards help, but it’s a tremendous burden. I mean, myself and one of our social workers that has moved on to a different part of her life, Lisa Schumann, you know, have wrote, have written a book, kind of, you know, Building Your Family. It’s a guide to donor conception, because we’ve had this conversation now hundreds and hundreds of times. But you know, acknowledging that it’s hard to pick out a donor. And you might find a donor that you really love that the genetic counselor says you can’t use. Yep. Then you have to go back to the drawing board.

Eloise Drane 29:36
Yeah. Or, you are from the BIPOC community, and somebody at the fertility clinic, that is through a bank is telling you, well we have two black donors just pick one. When none of them have any kind of characteristics similar to yours. The only thing that they have equal to yours is that you both checked off African American. Yep. And that is a common conversation that I have had many, many, many, many times over the years.

Dr. Mark Leondires 30:08
You are absolutely right. And it’s flows through to lots of different layers in that I think that as a member of, of the, of the BIPOC community, historically, maybe there’s been a distrust of medicine. Of course. There’s been a distrust maybe of what’s going to happen to my genetics, of medical testing, and things like that. So there are less egg donors and sperm donors of color, right? And acknowledging that it’s going to be hard, and you’re gonna have to look harder. It is important, and to reduce, like, an entire race. Yeah. Down to like, well, these are two black donors. Yeah. Is hurtful.

Eloise Drane 30:53
But we as professionals also need to take that into consideration, because it’s not just the families that are having to deal with it, is the professionals within our industry, who are uneducated, and who are the ones actually adding fuel to this fire. So, it’s not just on the patients, it also has to be on us as the professionals to take on that responsibility to ensure that we are, you know, just as we are taking that special care for families of the LGBTQ+ community, we need to take that care across all communities. Because it applies across everybody as well. It may not necessarily be because of a gender thing. But there are so many other layers that you have no idea about, that somebody else has experienced. We recently had a call from a family who went to a mental health professional to have their consult, it was intended parents, to have their consult. And the, the psychologist asks the intended father, well, so was your mother obese? And he was like, what does, what does that got to do with anything? And then she asked them another completely irrelevant question. And I know this mental health professional, and I know that if it was a different type of family, that question would have never been asked. You asking somebody about their parents being obese has no relevance, especially when they’re doing donor eggs, has no relevance whatsoever. It sorry, not even donor eggs, donated embryos, has no relevance whatsoever about if his mother is obese or not. Nothing. No. And the same psychologist had also made some comments to another black donor before about her hair. And I don’t think that it was malicious. At all. I know it wasn’t malicious, but it’s the uneducated part of things. Were just as you don’t know, a whole lot about me being a black woman. I don’t know a whole lot about you, of you being a gay man. But I’m willing to learn. Right. There’s the difference.

Dr. Mark Leondires 33:26
So, I think it was 2017 or 18 there was a, it was in, in Fertility and Sterility, they talked about developing competence. And the conclusion was that humility, in what you don’t know, goes a long way in taking care of everybody. So, for me, as a gay man, I can’t walk in the shoes of a lesbian couple. I can’t walk in the shoes of a trans couple, or a single person, who wants to have a family. But I can learn and listen from them. And I can’t imagine the layers of being a person of color, being LGBTQ+, and then identifying as a different gender than you appear and navigating life, right? Yeah. I can’t do that. That’s not who I am. But I can take care of that person and ask them questions and do the best I can. And if I make a mistake, acknowledge it right? That’s right. And I think that, you know, as a practice, I will tell you that we’ve done a really nice job of reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community. And it’s part of it maybe because I’m the medical director, and this is, you know, the part of the tone of the practice, but it’s been hard for us to reach out to the BIPOC community. And it’s taken me awhile just to understand the layers that, I’ll just use this term, Black women struggle when they’re infertile, because there’s this assumption that they’re uber fertile.

Eloise Drane 35:05
Oh, yeah. Because that’s what I was actually told in 1999 when I first applied to be an egg donor, that Black woman didn’t have infertility issues.

Dr. Mark Leondires 35:14
Hispanic woman goes across the board, right? Yeah. And, and those cultural assumptions, when you get down to one person, are no place to provide care. Yeah, absolutely. When I look across the desk, or a Zoom call at my patients, I’m really, I’m trying hard to, to listen, talk less and put myself in their shoes, right? And, you know, rolling this back into serving everybody, right? Comes down to as a practice, as a doctor who’s a leader within your practice, taking the extra time with your staff, to educate, train, and learn from all of our patients.

Eloise Drane 35:59
Yes, definitely. Let’s talk about the initiative Gay Parents To Be, which has been instrumental in supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Can you share the motivation behind starting such a crucial platform?

Dr. Mark Leondires 36:15
Well first of all, I want to thank, you know, my physician partners, administrative partners, everybody within the practice, now 10 plus years ago, for, you know, supporting me, but it came out of the fact that here I was, a reproductive endocrinologist, having helped, you know, 1000s of other families come to life. And then when it came to my own family-building journey, I realized how hard it was. And at that time back in 2010, it was like, where do you start? So there wasn’t a lot of resources about how to start. And the different pathways to parenthood is for our community. So, you know, it was a passion project, and it was supported, you know, across the practice. And at this point in time, I am incredibly proud of the fact that I’ve spoken to people who will never come to my practice, whether it be in Asia, or whether it be in Africa, about how to what the basics, because there’s so much misinformation or disinformation or lack of information out there. So, I think that Gay Parents To Be, it is kind of a place to get people started on, on their, on their own family-building pathway. And, you know, it sprung out of the realization that you know what, I didn’t really know what I didn’t know, once I became the patient. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to choose a donor. I didn’t know that when you match with a gestational carrier, sometimes it’s not a good match. Yep. I didn’t understand the anxiety, you would feel when somebody else is pregnant with your baby and something goes wrong. That you have no control of, and you’re not even there, right? Yep. And it doesn’t go away always once you, once your baby’s born, right? So, you know, for our second child, it took us 6 months to get a birth certificate. Oh, my God. For our first child, I remember this acutely, there was a very unfortunate case in Florida, where one mom of a lesbian couple wasn’t allowed to see her child in the hospital because she wasn’t genetically related. And we were going to Florida to visit my mom, without proper documentation. If something went wrong, our second parent adoption had not been completed, right? And because in different states in this country, there’s different rules, right? Yeah. So, I think that Gay Parents To Be offers, you know, a resource and a place to start. And I’m really proud of it. And I’m proud of the support that the practice has given to us and the community. And, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s kind of awesome. Yeah, we just relaunched a new website, to make it kind of up here to make it more up to date and welcoming. And, and there’s always new content to add, right? Yeah. And, you know, since that time, there’s, there’s a lot more out there for our community to get started. And I’m just so happy about that. I mean, I recently gave a talk somewhere else, and they were they were like, well, you know, said something about the fact well, I, we hope you’re not coming here to steal our business. I’m like, no, please, please, please do, do my work. It’s fine. I mean, in 2021, it was the first time LGBTQ people were included in you know, the, the census, right? So, and fascinatingly, you know, it turned out that 7% of the country identified is LGBTQ+, right? So, 7% of 350 million people is a lot of people, right? Within that, right? Family equality Council completed a survey in 2019 and basically identified, there’s 3.8 million millennials that want to move forward with family-building in the upcoming years, right? So, you know, from a, for the people out there who are running a business, from a business perspective, if you can figure out how to open your doors and welcome the community. This is a community that needs your help. This is a community that sadly, often doesn’t even have insurance.

Eloise Drane 40:38
Yeah, I was just getting ready to say that is, I mean, it is a question that I would, if you don’t mind touching on about insurance coverage, or the lack of insurance coverage for fertility treatments for the LGBTQ+ community, and just even touching on that, because yes, that is a humongous problem across this country.

Dr. Mark Leondires 41:01
Now, I mean, it’s the elephant in the room, right? Yeah. You want to have a baby, you’re sitting next to maybe your coworker has full benefits, and you don’t have any, any you’re paying into the into the same plan. I mean, really, you know, part of the team that works around this, you know, this state of Connecticut just signed a bill removing discriminatory language, the question is, is how to get that through the insurance companies to access care. And to finish my previous statement, for the practice managers and finance people out there, if you can welcome this community, most of these patients are unfortunately going to end up using their savings and paying cash. Yep. To help get their family started. Yep. It’s a good decision to recenter your practice about trying to take care of everybody. Yep. So you know, the, the, I will tell you that I regularly when I do my calls with members of the community, I asked about their insurance. And I’m happy to say a lot of places are now starting to offer, private companies starting to offer inclusive policies. But if they don’t, I will sometimes tell them all, you maybe need to look into working somewhere else. Because everybody from Pepsi, Frito-Lay, to Amazon to Starbucks to a lot of the banks, right, are offering inclusive benefits, never mind Facebook, Google and, and all those big, big tech companies and, and to make it something that human resources knows that you’re leaving, because they don’t offer an inclusive benefit to you. Yeah. And it is, I hesitate you to use this term, it is discriminatory against that individual. Because I mean, this is another thing that I’ve stood up in a public forum to say is like, why would anybody asked to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community? Yeah, like, it’s harder, is not something that we chose. And the only reason why we exist now, let’s say in the past 50 years in the United States is because we’re legally safe. I mean, there are countries in this world right now, where you can be put to death for being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. There are countries that I will not go to with my family, because it is illegal for us to be us, right? So, recognizing the fact that for in the United States for health care entities not to recognize that it is not fair to offer a benefit to one employee and not offered to another based on who they go to sleep with at night and who they love. You know, let’s just be honest, that’s not, that’s not right.

Eloise Drane 43:54
Yeah. No, I couldn’t agree with you more. And it’s funny you say that, that it’s not, obviously, it’s not something you choose. I mean, for many of us, I can easily hide the color of my skin. It’s impossible for me to do that. And you’re talking about different countries that you won’t go to, there are states in this country that we will not step foot in right now. So, you know, unfortunately, there’s so many parallels in so many arenas that a lot of people think these, these communities are all separate and individual in this like, no, no, there’s many parallels here for all of us, regardless of you know, what community you, you attach a label to.

Dr. Mark Leondires 44:42
There’s many marginalized people. That’s right. That need, at the very least, you know, our health care establishments to do a better job.

Eloise Drane 44:52
Yes, absolutely. So, my last question for you is, what advice or words of encouragement would you like to share for, you know, really anybody listening starting their journey to parenthood?

Dr. Mark Leondires 45:04
So, if you want to be a parent, you will find a way. And there’s many different roads to parenthood. And the default that we all understand as, as little people are, is going to be men and women, man and woman kind of conceiving. But, you know, there’s biological parenting options for people identify as straight. There’s also donor egg, donor sperm, adoption, foster to adopt. And all those options exist within the LGBTQ+ community as well. Biological parenting options for our community involved are gonna involve using a donor. Occasionally, that donor might be a sibling that allows you and your partner to, you know, share different family trees, but usually it’s going to be a donor separate from you, and if your partner your partner, but if you want to be a parent, it is something that you can get through, it’s going to be more work, you are going to encounter some walls. But you know, in 2023 there are there are organizations and people and practices out there that that are willing to help you scale that wall. Yeah, you have to find them, right. And it’s going to be harder in different parts of the country. And it might mean you need to change where you live or change your job and so on. One of the things that I say is to be a parent is to embrace the future of which you have no control. And if you’re willing to step into that lake, hmm, that arena, and it’s something you want, you know, we will help you get there. Yeah, there’s a bunch of folks out there that are willing to help you get there. And there’s a lot of work to do, though, you know. Yes. If you’re an LGBTQ person, and you’re trying to have a baby, you’re faced with more decisions than anybody in the history of humanity to have a child. So, understand that you need support from mental health professionals, lawyers, doctors, nurses, and your community. But you can get there and we will help you and, and take it step by step, it’s going to take a lot longer than you think it should, you know, it’s usually a 2 to 3 year path to parenthood for our members of the community, because there’s so much to do. But, by the time you get there, you’re gonna be a harden battle warrior, and you’re able to take care of your child you’ve already passed the training, right? That’s right, that’s right, you’re gonna need all of it that you need. So, so take that step, it’s a big step, I think that the desire to be a parent is, is something that most humans want to be. And as little as 50 years ago, if you’re a gay man, you could not be a biological parent, that technology didn’t exist. And you asked about what technology has changed, right? So, the availability of in vitro fertilization, with egg donation, and gestational surrogacy, has allowed the gay male community become parents, biological parents, right? For lesbian couples, it’s allowed them to do what we call reciprocal or shared IVF, where the eggs from one woman can be combined with donor sperm and placed in the uterus of their partner. These are beautiful things that we can do now, thanks to the science of the IVF laboratory. Yeah. So for everybody out there who wants to be a parent, look around in your own community. And if you don’t find the resources, look wider. The resources are out there.

Eloise Drane 48:48
Yeah, they’re definitely out there. Well, Dr. L, thank you so much for being on the show with me today and sharing your experience and just sharing your knowledge. I think that we all can, you know, learn from something, we all can learn something from, from this conversation, regardless of you know, like I said, what label we have on ourselves.

Dr. Mark Leondires 49:11
Yeah, I mean, I encourage everybody to always try to walk in somebody else’s shoes, you know, I promote discourse, I promote discussion with somebody else that doesn’t have your opinion. And then understand that you have to reflect on what they had to say. That’s right. And that we are all humans. In fact, if you look at our DNA, you cannot tell the difference between any of us on any genetic layer, whether it be black, white, gay, straight, and so on. You have to go pretty darn deep. And just because somebody is black, or just because somebody is gay, doesn’t mean they’re actually, in many ways, not a lot like you. That’s right. And who we are is really an amalgam of our genetics and our experiences, and we change. And if you want to serve the community, sometimes you have to, know just take, have the willingness to kind of change the way you look at things.

Eloise Drane 50:11
Perfect Words to end this conversation. So, thank you.

Eloise Drane 50:17
Thank you so much for listening. If you found this episode helpful, please rate Fertility Cafe on your favorite listening platform and share this episode with anyone you think could benefit from hearing it.

Eloise Drane 50:31
Tune in next week for another amazing episode on Fertility Cafe.

Until then, remember, “love has no limits – neither should parenthood.”