WATCH: Parenting group wants more HIV positive people to consider becoming parents
A British group for LGBT parents and allies has launched a campaign to raise awareness around HIV positive parenting.
P3 was launched three years ago in the city of London. It offers support for gay and lesbian people who have children or who are thinking of starting a family.
For World AIDS Day, it’s launched a video to raise awareness about HIV positive parents. The short film includes HIV positive people who are planning on starting a family and some who already have kids.
The future dad
One of those to feature in the film is Michael Newtown, the Chief Operating Officer of P3.
Newton, 31, was raised in a small village in Wales, but moved to London after completing university in 2010. He’s a Senior Account Manager for a technology company.
Diagnosed HIV positive in October 2012, he says he is very open about his HIV positive status, including co-workers and family. He is currently single.
Coming from a big family himself, he says he’s always wanted to be a dad. He has never seen his HIV status to be a barrier to that. At the moment, he’s looking at the options that are available to him, but would like to become a parent within the next 3-5 years.
‘I’m looking at the adoption route, so it’s really about finding out how I go about things.’
‘HIV shouldn’t be a reason to feel like you’re not allowed’
‘Over the last year, through my work with P3, I’ve realized how hard it is for people who don’t have HIV. There’s a stigma around homosexuality in general when it comes to adoption, but when you add that additional level of HIV, it becomes more of a stigma… “What if you get sick, or if this happens, or that happens? What about your medication?”
‘All that should be a non-issue at the end of the day. Everyone can get sick. Many people take medication for different things. I take two pills a day and it’s not an issue.’
Although he sees no reason why he shouldn’t become a parent, he says not all his HIV positive friends feel the same. Many have simply written off the idea of parenthood, assuming they’d be turned down for adoption or could not biologically have children.
‘That’s why we decided to do this campaign, to show people, “Look, you can do this.”. Whether you go down the adoption route, or surrogacy, or IVF, or sperm washing – there are so many different options. HIV shouldn’t be a reason to feel like you’re not allowed or it’s not possible.’
Sperm washing and adoption
‘Sperm washing’ is a process by wish sperm cells are removed from semen, washed (treated to remove viruses or bacteria), and then used for in vitro fertilization.
A spokesperson for leading fertility center, London Women’s Clinic, told GSN it had, ‘Treated a number of patients with HIV – both male and female. The clinic is supportive of people who are HIV positive having their own biological offspring after receiving an opinion from their consultant virologist.’
However, sperm washing and IVF treatment can be costly, or may not be an option for everyone. Because of this, many gay men instead choose adoption.
One of those to already explore this route is Gary (not his real name), who lives in Northern England.
Gary is 33. He has been with his partner for the past seven years and they married in June. He found out he was HIV positive after going for a routine sexual health check-up when he met his other half. His partner is negative.
‘You have to be very transparent’
With modern medication, HIV positive people are expected to lead a normal lifespan if they adhere to treatment.
Gary never thought that being HIV positive would be a problem to adopting, but this assumption was thrown into doubt by the first adoption agency they approached.
Reaching out first to their local authority, he says its staff were ‘flustered’ by his HIV status and were unsure how to deal with it.
Agencies will turn down prospective adoptive parents if they have serious health conditions that may curtail their ability to parent, or which could significantly increase their chances of suffering ill health or death during child’s childhood.
‘Quite rightly, during the adoption process, you have to be very transparent,’ says Gary. ‘So I mentioned [my status] and the very first adoption agency we approached basically got scared away the moment I mentioned HIV.’
‘You understand when someone else is uncomfortable’
Gary chooses his words carefully, saying the agency didn’t illegally discriminate against him and his partner, but ‘they just didn’t quite understand what I meant.’
Did they outright say that his HIV status was a problem?
‘No, but in the way that someone with HIV is accustomed to, you understand when someone else is uncomfortable. They just didn’t quite understand how they were going to fill in their paperwork. I think they’d never knowingly come across it before and didn’t know how to move it forward.’
Did they ask the wrong sort of questions about your health?
‘That’s the thing. They didn’t ask any questions. When I tried to offer up my opinion or my knowledge from living with the virus myself, and everything I know, they just seemed quite flustered.’
‘Pockets of ignorance around HIV do still exist in the adoption and fostering sector’
Tor Docherty, Chief Executive with UK-based LGBT adoption and fostering network New Family Social says such attitudes are not unheard of.
‘Pockets of ignorance around HIV do still exist in the adoption and fostering sector.
‘Anecdotally our members report this occurring most often among social workers who are responsible for the child who has an adoption placement order, rather than those who steer LGBT people through the process. This is possibly because children’s social workers have less frequent direct contact with LGBT people or people living with HIV.
‘Unfortunately it only takes one misinformed member of the team to ruin an adopter or foster carer’s experience of the process.’
‘I’m not going to hide it’
Gary says he generally avoids confrontation and doesn’t see it as his job to educate people – outside of close friends and family. Instead, on the recommendation of others, he and his partner approached another local authority close to where they live. It turned out to be ‘fantastic.’
‘They completely understood. They got a check-up from my consultant and the GP to say that I’m on meds and will around for the long term and there’s no affect to my lifespan, etc. Basically, they were great.’
Gary and his partner adopted their child 18 months ago. Although Gary is open to family and friends about his status, and appeared on a TV documentary shortly after being diagnosed to talk about it, he wishes to remain anonymous now to protect his child’s identity.
He says he hasn’t talked to his child yet about his status, but only because the boy’s only six years old.
‘He’s not of the age where it’s come up on the radar yet. Our first year was focused on making him comfortable and teaching him about modern families. We’ve been quite lucky with the school that he’s in. There’s quite a good mix of different family groups – single parents, two mums, two dads – so that was what our first year was about, making sure he was comfortable.
‘My health, I’m not going to hide it. It’s something everybody knows, so when he’s of the age, we’ll certainly tell him.’
‘There are absolutely no barriers whatsoever’
He says being HIV should have no practical impact on his ability to be a good parent. However, he does have concerns about stigma towards the virus.
‘It’s something we’re expecting to come up at some point,’ he says. ‘If people are inclined to judge me – a same-sex couple, HIV and adopting – traditionalists might find various things to comment on. So we’re highly expecting it, but I think we’ll deal with it and we’ll be fine.’
What advice would he offer to any HIV positive guys who have discounted the possibility of being a dad?
‘Firstly, make sure you’re healthy and look after yourself. If you can comfortably say that you’re around for the long-term, there are absolutely no barriers whatsoever.
‘Be aware that you need to be transparent. If you’re someone who has previously hidden it, now is the time to work out how you’re going to share it. You do have to sit in front of a panel of people who are going to question your medical records, not in a nasty way, but – as you would expect – in the right way, so they can understand it.
‘Also, in the future, you absolutely want to be transparent with the kids. If you’re OK with that, then there are no barriers whatsoever, and you should never feel it’s going to affect your ability to parent in any way.’