The Law School’s OUTLaw student organization gathered to celebrate a year of solidarity and accomplishment, and to take stock of what some called “the next hurdle for gay families in New York State.”
The annual dinner, held March 13 at the Pearl @ The Lafayette in downtown Buffalo, brought together lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender law students and their supporters – students, faculty and staff alike.
Among the highlights of the academic year, OUTLaw President Dan DeVoe ’14 noted that the Law School this year sponsored a symposium on same-sex marriage; introduced gender-neutral restrooms to O’Brian Hall; and began offering to prospective students, on their admission application, an opportunity to indicate their sexual orientation and gender identity. He also celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down one section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, opening the door to an expansion of same-sex marriage even beyond the 17 states where it’s currently written into law.
The evening’s keynote speaker, attorney Melissa Brisman, tackled the issue of gestational surrogacy and detailed the complications for same-sex couples in New York State who wish to contract with a woman to bear a child for them. Brisman runs Reproductive Possibilities, a New Jersey agency that arranges and manages surrogate mother arrangements, resulting in the birth of almost 200 babies each year.
Gestational surrogacy, Brisman said, is on the rise with the new acceptance of same-sex marriage. But, she said, New York is one of seven states that do not allow prospective parents to compensate gestational carriers – women who carry a baby conceived with another woman’s egg. As a result, she said, “New Yorkers are going to have to go out of state to find a compensated carrier. For most same-sex couples, we’re finding carriers in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, even in Florida, but you can’t find them in New York.” Same-sex couples who live in New York then must legally adopt the child.
A gestational carrier typically receives payment of $25,000, which, Brisman said, “considering what they have to go through, is a very small amount of money.” Carriers are also spot-checked against drug and alcohol use during the pregnancy.
In a twist, she said many same-sex couples seek to have twins, because it’s a bargain – the carrier receives only an extra $5,000 for gestating the second baby. For gay men seeking a child, she said, if sperm from both fathers is used, there’s a 50 percent chance of conceiving twins in the fertilization process.
She cautioned the audience that “some countries allow adoptions by single parents but not same-sex couples, so marriage could complicate things.”
The evening’s honoree, introduced by OUTLaw Vice President Anastasia Stumpf ’15, was longtime Western New York LGBT rights activist Madeline Davis. Stumpf noted that Davis was a founding member of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, the first gay rights organization in Western New York; taught the first course on lesbianism in the United States; founded the nation’s first all-lesbian political theater; and was the first “out” lesbian to serve as a delegate to a national political convention, the Democratic National Convention in 1972.
In her remarks, Davis noted that a new edition of her book Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, an oral history of the Buffalo lesbian community from 1935 to 1965, first published in 1994, will be out this spring.
She gave her own brief oral history of the local rights movement, saying it was born because “there had been just too many bar raids, there had been just too many men picked up in men’s rooms at the park.”
Davis also spoke with pride of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, enacted in 2003, which shields LGBT people from discriminatory treatment. “In New York State you cannot be let go from your job or refused a room in a hotel because of your sexual orientation,” she said. LGBT activists are now working to have similar legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, passed on the federal level.
Lisa M. Patterson, associate dean for career services, and Associate Professor Michael Boucai serve as advisers to OUTLaw.