Yes, You Still Might Be a Grandparent: On LGBTQ Family Formation
As a parent, there are so many things you want for your children. A good education, a partner that treats them well, a fulfilling job, hobbies that spark their passion… and a family of their own one day (when and if they are really ready). When a parent learns that their child is LGBTQ, their most common fear is that their child won’t become a parent themselves. But more and more LGBTQ people ARE able to form families if they wish, and we hope your child is no different if that is what they choose!
Unfortunately, there are some barriers for LGBTQ people who want to form families of their own: legal, social, financial, and medical. It can be heartbreaking to imagine that your child may not have the choice to one day become a parent—the good news, though, is that the number of LGBTQ parents grows every year. Statewide laws are increasingly trending toward support for LGBTQ parenting and many options exist for family-building within our community.
Here are some ways LGBTQ people are currently able to become parents.
1. Adoption. When a biological connection to a child isn’t paramount, many LGBTQ people choose to adopt. There are thousands of sweet, funny, smart, amazing kids out there who would love to have you as their grandparent. Yes, the prospect of raising a child born into difficult circumstances can seem like a big task—and it is—but it’s also extremely rewarding. If your LGBTQ child chooses to adopt, they are, in many cases, literally saving a life. My two older kids are adopted, and my parents ADORE them. They are extremely proud of our decision to become parents in this way and are known to spoil our kids as much as they possibly can.
2. Fostering. If your child feels open to parenting temporarily, or parenting in a situation that mightbe temporary, becoming a foster parent is a unique and powerful way to forever impact the life of a young person in need of a safe place. Foster grandparents get the experience of spoiling multiple grandchildren, in addition to the incredible experience of knowing that your adult child is making a difference in many lives. While it can be heartbreaking to imagine saying goodbye to a child you’ve grown attached to, you will always know that their life has been made better because of their relationship with you. LGBTQ people make great foster parents—many of us have experienced adversity in our lives, which means we can more easily relate to children in the foster care system and can serve as models for overcoming difficult circumstances.
3. Biologically using sperm donation. If your child has a uterus but doesn’t end up having a partner who produces sperm, they may utilize a known or anonymous donor to help make their family dream come true. They should always work with an experienced lawyer to protect everyone involved, but in general the process is not too difficult. This process can happen less formally, using a friend and at-home insemination, or with a fertility center. In some cases, partners would like to each have a physical connection to the intended baby. In those cases, they may choose to harvest one partner’s eggs and work with a clinic to fertilize those eggs and implant them in the other partner’s uterus for the pregnancy and birth. In this way, the child will be genetically related to one and will also have a physical connection to the other. This is also a way to have stronger legal protections for each partner, as sometimes the law favors genetic/biological connections.
4. Surrogacy. If your child doesn’t have a uterus, having a child biologically is a tad more complicated because pregnancy and childbirth are really the hardest parts of making a baby. It’s often hard to find someone willing to go through that process on someone else’s behalf, but it’s not impossible. A surrogate may be a friend, or they may be someone secured through an agency. As with utilizing a donor like above, it is critical for everyone to work with a lawyer to make sure things don’t get messy at any point. Surrogacy is the most expensive way to become a parent: the intended parent(s) are responsible for all medical bills, in addition to dozens of other categories of fees. Some states have restrictions on surrogacy, so couples sometimes have to work with an out-of-state (or even out-of-country) agency to help a surrogacy happen.
If your transgender child plans to transition to the point of losing their reproductive capability (through having a hysterectomy, oophorectomy, or other bottom surgery), they can go through fertility preservation beforehand. A trained physician will extract eggs or collect sperm and save it at a cryobank for later use. Reproductive cells like this can last literally decades (maybe even centuries!), so a transgender person can undergo surgical transition and decide later if they’d like to use that tissue to make a child. This is a good option if your child wants the freedom to pursue their transition without worrying about long-term reproductive ability. There are two drawbacks to this option: most insurance plans won’t cover it (and it is incredibly costly!); and for egg retrieval, the patient must undergo hormone treatments designed to stimulate egg release and then have a procedure guided by an internal ultrasound wand. This can feel invasive to some transmasculine people, and they may opt out of the process on this basis alone.
If your child has a uterus and doesn’t plan to transition to the point of losing reproductive capability, they still may be able to have a baby when they’re ready. Contrary to historical understanding of the uterus, recent data clearly shows that taking testosterone will not seriously impact uterus or egg health. Even after many years of testosterone use, trans pregnancy and birth outcomes are the same as for non-transgender pregnancies. While it may not be common for transgender men to give birth, it has been done hundreds of times and is perfectly safe when done according to medical instruction. However, most transgender men may not feel comfortable being pregnant and giving birth; if a transgender person is committed to having a biological child but doesn’t want to carry the baby themselves, they can harvest their eggs and a surrogate or partner can go through the pregnancy process.
If your child’s body produces sperm and they don’t end up having procedures to remove their body’s ability to produce sperm, they may be able to stop taking their hormones and regain sperm production down the road. Sperm collection can be mentally stressful for some transgender women (or gender non-conforming people whose bodies produce sperm), but it isn’t painful. If they have a partner with a uterus, they can undergo the procreation process through intercourse or at-home insemination or they can go to a clinic to ensure a higher success rate through intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF). If they end up going the IUI or IVF route, good insurance will cover some, if not all, of the costs, but they are pretty expensive out-of-pocket.
As you can see, there are many ways for an LGBTQ person to become a parent. Personally, I have two children who were adopted by us when a relative couldn’t take care of them, and I gave birth to my baby, Leo, in 2017. It’s important to remember that there’s no “right” way to become a parent (or grandparent!)—it’s all about your child’s vision for their family, in conjunction with what’s allowed legally in their state and what their financial realities are.
Feel free to stay engaged and involved with Family Equality Council in the coming years. We exist to make the path to parenthood easier for LGBTQ people, and will continue to be a resource for you and your family for years to come.
Keep in touch, and good luck!
Trystan Reese is the Director of Family Formation at Family Equality Council. He is a transgender dad to two adopted children and one biological child. He lives with his family in Portland, OR.