Karine Jean-Pierre
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The High Cost of Parenting If You’re LGBT

The High Cost of Parenting If You’re LGBT

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Foster Parenting and Public Adoption

Private-agency adoptions in the U.S. cost $20,000 to $45,000, while intercountry (or international) adoptions can run even higher, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But adopting through the foster care system is, in some places, mostly cost free.

Heron, a lawyer and senior policy analyst at an LGBT think tank, is a bisexual woman partnered with a cisgender man. They live in the “incredibly expensive” Boston area. They first “tried for a womb baby,” but when that didn’t work, “it made sense to think about adopting publicly” because they couldn’t afford to go private.

“A year since our kiddo joined our family, we’ve been able to buy a house with our long-term savings, but only because we did not have adoption fees,” Heron said.

Children who have been in state care often get health insurance, a monthly stipend, and — in some states — free tuition at state colleges and universities. Heron explained, “These incredible benefits have truly allowed us to focus our energy and money on making sure kiddo can grow up as healthy and safe as possible.”

Gay dads Loch and Phillip, who now live in Tennessee but foster-adopted their children in California, chose to foster-parent because Loch had been in foster care himself and Phillip was raised by a missionary on a hospital ship, where he “witnessed great need.”

The couple said going public had unanticipated costs associated with it. “The major cost was time,” noted Loch. “With weeks of training, county and state inspections, interviews, and more.” After a placement, “You have social worker visits, visits with the bio parents — one or both — separate therapy visits — emotional, physical, occupational, educational — numerous doctors’ appointments, and court appearances.” Additionally, as a foster parent, “you don’t have as much flexibility with schedule” and can’t make decisions for the child that a full legal guardian could.

Regardless, Loch calls foster parenting “the best decision we ever made because we now have a beautiful 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.”

The family recently moved to Tennessee largely so their biracial children could be near “their own racially diverse, extended family.” And yet their kids are among the few children of color at their schools. “The kids have come home with more questions about skin color and why they look different from us,” Loch said.

Concerns about race raised financial issues, too. Their daughter’s preschool “has a lot of racial diversity amongst the staff” and a good curriculum, so even though it is “a little more expensive than the average” and “required us to look at our budget,” they feel it’s worth it.

With their son, they assumed he would attend a new school being built near them, but the building was delayed, and it looked like he’d have to move to an unwelcoming school. Homeschooling or private school weren’t options because they “would’ve put an undue strain on us economically.” Luckily, the couple got approval for their son to stay in his current school until the new one is ready. “But being a same-gender household nearly led us to having to restructure our whole financial existence so that our son could go to an open-minded school,” Loch acknowledged.

Divorce and Transphobia

Not all the financial difficulties LGBT parents face come from forming a family: some come from the dissolution of one. Meghan, a transgender woman, went through two divorces that have left her financially challenged. An executive at a software company, she said she is now “living month to month.” She had a child with her first wife, but when she transitioned — in a conservative area of Texas — she lost her family. The costly divorce took seven years to finalize. Meghan provided alimony and child support until their child was 18, and covered college rooming fees.

She and her second spouse had a daughter together via a known donor. The two women separated two years ago, and they are currently going through divorce. They share custody. Meghan is paying approximately $1,500 per month in child support and trying to enact a second-parent adoption, which they hadn’t done earlier. “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can get legally protected today,” she advised. “Plan for the down times and the changes.”

For the second-parent adoption Meghan is paying about $10,000 in legal fees and $1,500 for the home study and background check required in Texas.The cost isn’t just financial, Meghan said, pointing to the stress and invasiveness of the process and the probing questions about her own childhood and being trans.

She worries about the potential for trans discrimination — in court and her life. “That’s one of the hard parts about being trans,” she admits.

Still, Meghan is committed to providing for her daughter and to making things work with her current partner, who has a 5-year-old son. “Whatever we do, it’s about the kids. It’s our sole purpose,” she said.

Before Beginning

The costs of building a family can begin long before it comes together. A transgender bisexual woman, Hannah is not yet a parent, but decided to bank her sperm before going on estrogen, “to protect my reproductive options in the future.” In contrast to those who get paid to donate sperm, the freelance writer, educator, advocate, and comedian who lives in New York has to pay for the costs of banking it herself. “Insurance covered absolutely none of this,” she said.

A certified emergency medical technician (although not employed as one), Hannah was able to find a cryobank that offered half-price discount to “first responders.” Opening the account and getting initial medical testing still cost about $2,000 at the discounted rate. She was charged $125 for each new “deposit.” She stopped after 13 vials. Storage was $500 per year, with discounts for multiple years — she was able to get 10 years for just $1,500. “I hope I will find a partner and stability by 2022, otherwise I will need to re-up my storage,” Hannah noted.

In order to cut up-front costs, she opted out of certain additional testing, but said, “I may have to do some expensive screening of the sperm upon thawing, to even be able to use it.”

There’s also no guarantee of success. She’s been told that “any given vial has about a 25 percent chance of taking” using ICI. As Nicole and Bethany learned, IVF has a higher success rate, but that comes at a price. “I have no idea when I will have a partner and that kind of money,” Hannah said. Nevertheless, “I am a lucky one who had some limited means, and was creative enough to shop around for this discount.”

But, she reflected, “I am not even sure if I will ever be able to afford to actually use [my own sperm]. [But] I am in way better shape than so many other trans people I know.”

Finding a Way

These stories of fiscal challenges and difficult trade-offs are fairly representative of most LGBT families. Single LGBT adults raising children are three times more likely to have incomes near the poverty line compared to non-LGBT ones. Married or partnered couples are twice as likely compared to their straight counterparts, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute. Even those with more assets than the average person may find the costs of starting and raising a family very difficult to manage. The parents here are making it work, but it can be challenging.

“I’ve cut back on a lot,” Meghan said. She drives a used truck with 300,000 miles on it.

While trying to start their family, Katrina noted, “We were so broke, with little support. Tiffany worked countless hours, we hardly went shopping.” She sees an upside to their frugality. “I think this made our relationship even stronger because we focused on our love and togetherness.”

Despite the challenges, Nicole advised other LGBT prospective parents, “Keep searching for options that you can make happen. It is more possible than you think.”

Chris and Chelsea added, “The highs will be high and the lows will be low, but when you look into the eyes of your child for the first time it makes it all worth it!”

DANA RUDOLPH is the founder and publisher of Mombian.com, a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.

Editor’s note: Last names withheld for privacy . *Not his real name.

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