When Sarah Koehler came out about 15 years ago, she ached for the pieces of her future that might go missing.
“I thought I’d never get married, never have kids. I went through an active grieving process,” she said.
But as Koehler got older and fell in love with “the cutest girl in the whole world,” she realized that her aspirations were still within reach. Now she is 32, happily married – and thrilled to be on a path to parenthood.
A survey out Wednesday reaffirms Koehler’s reality: LGBTQ families are on the cusp of dramatic growth, and millennials are leading the way.
One of the key findings from the survey by the Family Equality Council shows that 63 percent of LGBTQ millennials, those 18-35, are considering expanding their families by becoming first-time parents or by having more children.
And 48 percent of LGBTQ millennials plan to grow their families, compared with 55 percent of non-LGBTQ millennials, a narrow gap.
The survey shows that “right now, family building is just as much a possibility for the LGBTQ community as those who are non-LGBTQ,” said Amanda Hopping-Winn, chief program officer for the council, which advocates for LGBTQ families. “It’s a logical next step in their life course.”
The methods have also changed: 63 percent of LGBTQ people planning families expect to use reproductive technology, foster care or adoption services – a shift from older generations who relied on intercourse.
After marriage equality was secured in a 2015 Supreme Court ruling, advocates believed there would be a spike in the number of LGBTQ families in the U.S. “Anecdotally we were hearing more and more young people are considering parenthood,” Hopping-Winn said.
The survey – the first of its kind in that it covers a wider spectrum of the LGBTQ community, including people who are transgender, bisexual, even potentially single parents – bolsters those beliefs. Coupled with data from a 2018 Gallup Poll that showed 4.5 percent of American adults identify as LGBTQ and 8.1 percent of millennials, the results forecast “a dramatic growth in the number of LGBTQ-headed families in the coming years,” said the Rev. Stan Sloan, Family Equality Council CEO.
“For too many generations now, the dream of having children and forming a family was one that too many of us have felt we had to trade off in exchange for coming out of the closet,” he said. Now, “we see that for a generation of young LGBTQ people, this trade-off is no longer necessarily in place.”
One of the reasons Koehler says she fell for Marissa Rosenblum was that Rosenblum was “very family-oriented.” The New York City couple, who married in 2014, knew children were always in the cards. “Five years ago we were on the cutting edge of gays getting married. Now we are on the cutting edge of LGBTQ couples wanting to have kids,” Koehler said.
The couple are using a fertility treatment known as IUI – artificial insemination – and Rosenblum, now 35, will carry the child. They soon encountered a formidable challenge, however: Despite having what they thought was good health care coverage, their insurance company basically told them “we need six months of sperm bank receipts.”
They are paying out of pocket for the first six months for every doctor’s visit and every procedure – “thousands of dollars a month” – before insurance kicks in, Koehler said.
Couples have to pay out of pocket “because they don’t meet the definition of infertility,” said Dr. Mark Leondires, founder and medical director of Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut.
He estimates that for a lesbian couple it would cost $20,000 to $30,000 just to get pregnant; for a male couple, that amount could jump into six figures.
Despite the hurdles, Leondires said, the survey is “eye-opening” and documents the number of young people he sees pursuing parenthood. “It is really empowering. They are not scared, they are happy, and they feel safe. They are unabashed about the fact that they want to have kids.”
Dan Steinberg, 34, and Robert Calabretta, 30, of Long Island just married in December. They are enthusiastic about becoming first-time parents and are pursuing surrogacy and adoption.
The couple recognize the parenting price tag could be hefty, but they are undaunted. “We always envisioned ourselves having a loving family,” Steinberg said. How many kids? “More than one.”
Starting a family feels like the natural thing to do, Steinberg said. They have friends who are teachers and see plenty of gay parents in classrooms. “It is a lot easier; society has accepted it,” he said.
Bias still a barrier
Where LGBTQ people live often dictates the barriers they could face.
In 2014, Charise Walker and partner Erica of Lawton, Oklahoma – who “have so much love to give” – explored parenting options, Walker said. They knew the landscape in their state would not be friendly to a same-sex couple on adoption or foster care.
The couple went to an in-vitro fertilization clinic in Oklahoma City thinking it might be more inclusive, Walker said. “We were greeted happily, up until the point that they thought we were family members or sisters. But I remember saying I want to clarify: ‘This is my partner.’ Then it all went downhill.”
The nurse and doctor told them, “This is something we cannot do here.”
The experience was devastating, Walker said: “There was some hurt to get over.”
Challenges still loom large. Last spring, Oklahoma approved legislation that allows state-licensed child welfare agencies to cite religious beliefs for not placing children in LGBTQ homes. But the couple, now both 32, remain committed to starting a family.
They are again looking at options from sperm donors to adoptions as well as traveling out of state. “We both feel very strongly that we have the love and support for a child,” Walker said.
‘Never, ever give up’
Kim Bergman and wife Natalie of Culver City, California, both 55, see family building in 2019 in a different light. The couple had their first daughter when they were 32 and the second when they were 35.
The resources for prospective LGBTQ parents at the time were almost non-existent, said Bergman, a licensed psychologist who has specialized in LGBTQ parenting. “My OB had no idea what it would take. There was no internet, no Google, no social media. Many doctors wouldn’t help lesbians or didn’t think lesbians should be parents.”
So the couple took matters into their own hands, relying on “a lesbian underground.”
They did “home inseminations” with the help of a doctor and nurse friend. Bergman recalls picking up sperm from a sperm bank that came in a tube and had been frozen in a nitrogen tank and placing it in the front seat of her car, secured by a seat belt, then thawing it in a teacup of warm water. They lit candles, played romantic music – and began the process.
“We had doctors who we liked and respected. And they said: ‘Go get knocked up. It’s much faster,’’’ she said. Now, medical technology is “better for everyone.”
Bergman is impressed by the number of millennials who want to follow the trajectory of marriage and families. “When you decide to become a parent, it is a compelling and unrelenting need and wish,” she said.
Her advice to young LGBTQ millennials passionate about having kids: “Do your research and due diligence. But never, ever give up.”