With 50% of our Intended Parent Membership from the LGBTQ community, and Brighton Pride 2019 a distant memory, we wanted a blog that would set the tone of what is a true ally and beautifully tackled diversity and inclusion within the fertility sector; there would only be one author and fertility expert to write this. Our Directory Partner clinics take support of patients very seriously, it’s why we chose to work with them. Raising awareness of all types of families and families conceived by science will forever be a mission here at My Surrogacy Journey and what’s wonderful is when our clients are aligned in the way that The Agora Fertility Clinic are from Brighton. We asked their Founder and Medical Director Dr Carole Gilling-Smith to write a piece on Diversity and Inclusion. Below is her wonderfully written contribution. Thank you Carole. Enjoy.
‘Every parenting journey is different, every human being is unique. Recognising and acknowledging this is of fundamental importance to me as a fertility specialist. That’s because I am passionate about celebrating Inclusivity and diversity and particularly so in my fertility clinic, the Agora Clinic in Brighton. Here you will find straight and same sex couples sitting and chatting together, sharing their stories and struggles, bonding with our diverse and compassionate staff who embrace the fact that everyone who comes to us shares the same dream of having a family, whether that be now or in the future.
In our fertility clinic, there are no boundaries to demarcate straight, same sex or single, cis or trans parenting routes. Each one is of course unique but the objective is shared. Your wish to become a parent are what matters to us and our role is to better understand what a couple or individual see as their ideal family, their chosen route to get there and who should be the biological and/or birth parents.
As a woman in a profession traditionally dominated by men (only 10% of Consultant Gynaecologists were women when I was appointed), I have spent much of my life confronting closed doors. As such, I can totally relate to how frustrating that feels for those in the LGBTQ+ community who have long been denied access to good, compassionate and affordable fertility care. Being of a tenacious disposition, I have never allowed any closed doors to get in the way of what I believe to be the right, fair and ethically correct path for myself or others. Which is why I have always championed the cause of all those unable to get equitable fertility care. Starting over 20 years ago, I established the first UK fertility program to help those living with HIV become parents safely through assisted conception. We used a technique called sperm washing and later I succeeded in getting this treatment funded through the NHS. Today, despite HIV having been reclassified as a chronic disease due to highly effective treatment, those living in the UK who are positive are still denied the chance to become parents through egg and sperm donation or surrogacy. So there is more work for me to do there but I’m on it. Current regulation is outdated and must be challenged!
Opening the Agora Clinic 15 years ago was my first opportunity to break a few down a few more barriers and do things my way. I was at last in charge and one of the first things I wanted to do was to make sure the door was wide open for all those in the LGBTQ+ community to feel welcomed and nurtured in our clinic. Based in Brighton, the UK LGBTQ+ capital, I made sure the Agora was a trail blazer by bringing inclusivity and diversity into everything we did, from introducing gender neutral consent forms, recognising the importance of sensitivity with pronouns and terminology in our literature and website and making sure our facilities were in every way gender neutral. However, the one thing we have never done is to try and ‘fit’ our same sex couples or trans folk into our existing heterosexual programs. I have to thank many of our same sex lesbian couples who came to us for donor sperm treatment when we first opened for helping me fully understand what their perfect route to parenthood through insemination or IVF should look like. Taking all that feedback on board is how we have developed and refined all our bespoke LGBTQ+ fertility programs. In more recent years, we have engaged with many gay couples and trans folk to help build very successful and emotionally supportive pathways to parenthood through both surrogacy and fertility preservation before gender confirming hormones and surgery.
I am also indebted to all those on my team who are from the community for voicing their ideas and enriching what we offer, especially in terms of day to day support and advice. At the Agora we are proud to have a dedicated LGBTQ+ coordinator as well as an experienced surrogacy team with medical, nursing, laboratory and administrative expertise only a phone call or email away.
This is what makes us stand out from other fertility clinics and why so many patients tell us that we are the first clinic they have spoken to that really understands them. We know how daunting some of these parenting journeys such as shared motherhood using donor sperm or surrogacy can seem when you don’t understand complexity of what’s involved. Which is why our staff will always make time to talk to each and every individual or couple that calls us, so they are empowered with a full understanding of their options. We want all our future parents, whether they are hetero single people or couples or from the LGBTQ+ community, to clearly visualise what lies ahead so that they can plan physically, emotionally and financially for their fertility journey.
Educating our patients is just one part of this mission, as we believe that true and complete empowerment can only happen once a much wider program of fertility education is made available throughout society, in schools, colleges and the work place. I have delivered many talks, led workshops and shared knowledge through films and videos to help young people and employers understand there is no longer one stereotyped route to building a family.
Many of our young teenagers currently going through outdated school sexual education classes are likely in the future to turn to some form of assisted conception such as IVF and/or have many friends who do. Certainly it is likely to apply to around one in six hetero couples and the majority of gay, lesbian and trans folk, as well as those who are planning solo parenthood. We also support fertility inclusivity and diversity through all the work we do with our wonderful partners, TwoDads UK, My Surrogacy Journey, LGBT Mummies Tribe and Fertility Help Hub and on the 18th September the Agora Clinic will be the exclusive educational and volunteer sponsor at The Modern Family Show in London.
This is what lies behind the Agora mission statement ‘empowering the freedom of reproductive choice’, the ‘why’ behind everything we do.Dr Carole Gilling-Smith, Medical Director
We have come a long way since IVF first became an option for heterosexual couples struggling with fertility issues but whilst there have been formidable steps taken to improve the science and outcomes for patients needing assisted conception, four decades later the fertility sector in the UK is finally starting to realise the true potential of IVF to help those in the LGBTQ+ community achieve their families. Sadly the NHS is lagging far, far behind with respect to equity of funding and very few areas in the UK offer NHS funding for donor egg or sperm treatment and none support surrogacy.
In these challenging times, Covid has brought everyone to realise the importance of family so let’s bring that within the reach of everyone. To fully embrace fertility inclusivity and diversity, we have to change the narrative in this highly regulated and controlled industry. Time to redefine modern parenting as family-making in an age where assisted conception technology can assist all who need a little bit of help, for whatever reason.’