This month the Parents At Work team reached out to Ashley Scott, Executive Director at Rainbow Families. We asked Ashley about his experience being a working father in a same sex marriage, how his family came about and some of the things he witnesses in his work where rainbow families still experience discrimination, in the home or workplace.
Here's what he had to share...
As a father in a same sex marriage, can you tell us about your decision to have children and how you and your partner made that a reality?
My husband and I didn’t talk about having children until we had been together for around five years. I am a donor for a lesbian family and starting this process with them made my husband and I think about having our own children. It wasn’t a quick or simple decision. We talked about it and researched the options for years before embarking on the journey to parenthood.
The pathway to parenthood for LGBTQ+ people is not straightforward.
Initially we looked into fostering, however at the time in NSW it was illegal for same sex families to foster children. Thankfully this law was changed in 2010 so now many more families are created through fostering and adoption. For us though we looked into surrogacy. Domestic surrogacy was and still is quite uncommon in Australia, and for us was not an option. Which left us with international surrogacy. With the help of an egg donor and surrogate our eldest daughter was born in 2012, and our second daughter was born in 2015.
How supportive (if at all) was your workplace during this time?
During the surrogacy process my employer was very supportive – giving me time off from work to be able to go through the IVF process. They also happily gave me parental leave in line with the Fairwork requirements. When I returned to work however, my employer was less supportive… I was demoted to a lower position and had my salary adjusted despite lengthy negotiations. Adjusting to life as a new parent and then returning to work is a difficult time. The lack of support from my employer at the time made this transition even more difficult for our family.
There tends to be quite a process for any working parent with the arrival of a new baby or child into our lives. What advice in relation to parental leave and or flexible work would you give to other same sex couples who are planning on taking the leap into parenthood?
Generally LGBTQ+ parents share the parenting load more evenly than traditional families. Many parents will both take substantial time off work to spend with their baby, and many families access flexible work options so they can spend more time with their family.
Returning to work is a challenging time for families with so many changes for everyone involved. To make this transition as smooth as possible my suggestion is to have very clear discussions with your employer from the outset about your intentions, so that a plan can be put in place and there are no surprises while you are adjusting to the new normal of being a working parent.
In your role as Executive Officer at Rainbow Families, what are some of the challenges you see the LGBTQ+ community facing when becoming parents or throughout the parenting journey?
One of the biggest challenges for LGBTQ+ people is how to become a parent. Generally it involves the help of a third person through egg or sperm donation or surrogacy, and it often involves the assistance of IVF clinics or foster agencies. It is not a simple process and it takes drive and determination to navigate these systems.
Once the baby is born our families face the same challenges that traditional families face – sleepless nights, juggling family time with work commitments etc. Although we now have marriage equality, there are still some LGBTQ+ families living in areas where they know many of their neighbours voted no in the postal survey – essentially voting no on whether that couple is a valid family unit.
Some families in the Rainbow Families community talk about the added pressure of having to be perfect parents to prove to society that they are great parents and worthy of having children.
This added pressure can take its toll on families. Rainbow Families supports these families through our parenting classes, new parents’ groups, playgroups and family resilience camps, as well as our resources designed to share the stories of other families within our community.
One of the wonderful aspects of same sex relationships is the negotiation of who will do what. We have the freedom from gender roles which means we need to talk about who will do what as a parent – who will carry the baby, whose egg will be used, who will take time off work, who will do the cooking, and who will take the kids to sport. This means LGBTQ+ families generally have better open lines of communication leading to happier, healthier relationships.
Having the right to marry was a huge win for equality for same sex couples, but we know there is still a long way to go for full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. Are there any areas of discrimination that LGBTQ+ parents still face in the workplace?
Despite the recent marriage equality win there are still many areas of discrimination our families face.
In the workplace generally employers are very accepting and accommodating of our families thanks to family friendly policies and the focus on inclusion and celebration of LGBTQ+ staff.
I do however hear of employers that deny paid parental leave to some families that don’t fit the traditional family mould, particularly families through surrogacy.
These families need time to bond with their babies just as much as any other families and deserve the same paid parental leave entitlements as any other family.
Has your family faced discrimination for being a LGBTQ+ family?
We are very lucky to live in the inner city where our family is accepted and celebrated at school, work and in the community generally. We have had our fair share of inquisitive questions from people wanting to better understand our family and how it was created. These questions are well intentioned, and we are happy to chat with people about our family to help increase the understanding and acceptance of diverse families.
I know however that our story is not shared by all LGBTQ+ parents.
There are many families in regional areas, and even in the outer suburbs who face discrimination regularly in their local areas. Some families are not “out and proud” for fear of discrimination, homophobia and harassment. I have even heard of families being spat at and abused when walking down their local street.
Although we have come a long way in accepting and celebrating diverse families, in some parts of the country there is still a long way to go.
If there was anything else you could share with same sex couples who are planning on starting a family, what would it be?
For people starting the journey to parenthood it can be a difficult process with setbacks and roadblocks along the way. If being a parent is something you know will make you happy and is something you really really want, then keep working towards the goal, because being a parent is one of the most amazing things in life.
For access to some great resources to support Rainbow Families you can visit their website here
If you enjoyed this article you might like to read Trailblazing, Change & True Support - A Mother's Day interview with Yasmin London from ySafe Australia.