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July 04th 2013 print

Roger Franklin

The story the ABC doesn’t want you to see

When the ABC profiled a pair of gay dads, its report was replete with throw-away lines about homophobia, official prejudice, bureaucratic obstacles and, inevitably, a reminder that "gay families are just like any other family". Except, in this case they weren't

Funny, isn’t it, how change can creep up and take you by surprise? If you are not homosexual, for example, and pay little attention to gay matters, it may be that you think no more about the topic than subscribing to a general, unfocused view that undercover policemen could surely find better things to do than loiter seductively in public toilets. There is a good chance you might also believe that what consenting adults get up to is none of anyone else’s business so long as doors are shut and no horses are alarmed.

But then, one day, you suddenly realise that the cause has evolved and expanded, perhaps while you were bemused and distracted by the notion that parading down Oxford Street in bottomless chaps and nuns’ regalia is a peculiar way for homosexuals to demonstrate that they are just like everyone else. From garden-variety gay rights, the push has moved through gay marriage to the issue of gay adoption and gay parenting. More than that, the news reports and scholarly research you can find via Google suggest that the new orthodoxy has skipped the debate stage and gone straight to open advocacy. Harbour the slightest qualms about gay adoption and the lesson will be that “heteronormative” intolerance and prejudice are the real problems.

That was certainly the message Age readers were invited to absorb a month or so ago, when the interim findings of a Melbourne University research program were hailed as proof that same-sex couples not only make wonderful parents, they may actually be better at raising children than old-fashioned heterosexuals. Citing “the 315 gay, lesbian and bisexual parents who completed the globally recognised Child Health Questionnaire”, writer Vince Chadwick reported that “children of same-sex couples scored higher than the national average for overall health and family cohesion, measuring how well the family members get along.”

While the lead researcher, Dr Simon Crouch, was quoted, not mentioned was the fact that he is himself a gay dad and an ardent crusader against the “stigma” same-sex parents must endure. As Crouch wrote in a first-person piece for the Mamamia website, “I have been met with disbelief when I inform people that same-sex couples are still not allowed to adopt in Victoria.” Reading that, and noting that Crouch has been soliciting survey volunteers from members of  “the rainbow community” — people like himself and who share his views, in other words —   one need not be clairvoyant to  anticipate the survey’s conclusions. After all, how many parents, gay or otherwise, would voluntarily concede that they are less than ideal?

Readers who might have appreciated a little background on Crouch and the survey’s methods were left wanting. Then again, no real surprise there. At the Age, journalism has come to be the process of filtering out the lumpy, distasteful and inconvenient bits, with whatever is left over scooped out of the drip tray and smeared all over the next day’s edition.

Not that Fairfax is alone in grinding a rose-tinted lens and offering it to readers as the only correct instrument for framing any discussion about gay adoption.

As you might expect, the ABC also has been doing its bit. Stories like this one, for example. Oh, but don’t bother clicking the link because you won’t find anything. For reasons we will get to in a moment, the national broadcaster has flushed its set piece on the joys of gay parenthood down the memory hole. But another site, Gay Dads Australia, was so tickled by reporter Sam Davis’ article it reproduced in full the happy, wholesome taxpayer-funded portrait of gay dads and their thriving, cherished, well-adjusted five-year-old son. Here is what the ABC put to air.

Becoming parents was hard work for gay couple, Pete and Mark but they’d do it all over again if they had to.

A shiny child’s bike lies on its side on the front lawn of an immaculate garden.

Around the back gay dads Pete and Mark chase their son’s pet chickens around, trying to catch them.

Drake, 5, exclaims that the little birds are too fast for him.

It’s a happy, relaxed family scene. But it wasn’t an easy road to get there. After many hurdles Drake was born by surrogacy in Russia.

"We decided that we would have a child, that it was time for us to have a family. We wanted to experience the joys of fatherhood and we started our surrogacy over in the United States back in 2002," Pete said.

At the time, Pete and Mark were living and working in the US.

"Surrogacy rules and laws are much easier in the United States," Mark said.

While not everybody was comfortable with the idea of surrogacy, Mark said the couple felt their options were limited.

"We knew that there were certainly plenty of women willing to do it so if it OK with them, then I guess it was OK with us," he said.

Mark and Pete used the internet to find prospective mothers for the child they longed to have. Apart from the woman’s health, Pete said one of the big concerns was how genuine the candidates were.

"We have heard about a lot of scams and certain people who represent themselves as so-called surrogate mothers who are really out there just to make money," he said.

Pete said the couple also wanted to make sure that any woman they employed as a surrogate fully understood the commitment she was making.

There was also the issue of whether the mother would actually give up her baby, Mark added.

After many failed attempts in the US, the cost was becoming prohibitive. The pair decided to try Russia as cheaper alternative.

That decision presented its own problems. Language was the main one. The couple took on a private Russian tutor and Pete gave up his job in Australia to oversee the process.

"We were very dedicated to making this work….we decided that at some point we didn’t have a budget. Our budget was anything that we had earned, anything that we had saved, anything that we could borrow to make this happen," Pete said.

In the end Pete said they found a woman who they ‘clicked with personality-wise’.

"She was very quiet. She didn’t have a lot of demands or conditions that some of the other woman that we had met had. She seemed like somebody we could work with," he said.

At the first attempt, Drake was conceived via artificial insemination using Mark’s sperm.

When asked why it was Mark’s sperm and not Pete’s, Mark laughed.

"A flip of the coin I think," he said.

During the pregnancy the couple stayed in limited contact with the mother via a translator. Mostly they were in touch just when there were practical things to care of such as visiting a doctor or getting an ultrasound.

"We made it clear to her that we wanted her to take vitamins, that we wanted her to eat well. We provided the money to do that and we just had to hope that she would do it," Mark said.

Neither man was at Drake’s birth because they felt it was important to protect the mother’s privacy.

When their son was five days old, Mark and Pete were handed their child. To their surprise, Drake’s mother gave them the baby and walked away.

"I think she had resigned herself to this much earlier on and was trying not to let emotions get in the way," Mark said.

In fact, it wasn’t the mother who got in the way of Drake coming back to Australia with his two dads. What followed was two and a half years of bureaucracy before the child received permanent Australian residency and another year before he got citizenship.

On arrival in Australia customs quizzed Mark and Pete for hours. Police were also sent around to their house on a Sunday morning to investigate.

"When people see two guys together, you know it’s like, ‘Where’s his mother?’ We’ve had a lot of people ask that," Pete said.

"I think that even if one of us was a woman, we wouldn’t have had the same suspicions and problems that we went through."

Thinking back to the police visit, Pete said the police seemed to want reassurance that the situation was ‘right’.

They checked if the couple had equipment to raise a child like a bed, clothes and bottles.

Mark said he’s sure that they were under suspicion of paedophilia. But despite the difficulties, he said the couple would do it again with no hesitation.

"We’re a family just like any other family," he said with pride.

That “suspicion of paedophilia” was an unfortunate turn of phrase, given events of the past week in the US, where Mark – full name Mark Newton — was sentenced to 40 years for sexually abusing the “son” he spent $8000 to purchase from the child’s Russian mother, his account of surrogacy and IVF procedures being nothing less than an outright lie. His partner, Peter Truong, is due to be sentenced shortly.

On 7.30 this week, the ABC reported the sentencing and featured a few seconds of footage in which a producer who worked on the report expressed her wide-eyed amazement that the nice dads she interviewed were actually degenerates who shared the child with each other and their friends as well.

More than that, they had videotaped those encounters and others involving other children and uploaded them to a file-sharing site, boylovers.net.  At this point it is worth considering another Fairfax story, this one by David Marr and published when Newton and Truong were first arrested. “Boy, 6, taken from gay  pair” is the headline, which is true so far as it goes, but that isn’t very far at all. Why not, “Australia pair arrested in child-porn case”? You could almost believe the headline writer didn’t want to be accused of sympathising with that heteronormative stuff.

Midway through Marr’s account, these paragraphs appear:

The men blame their predicament on innocent visits to three men in the US, New Zealand and Germany, who, to their complete surprise, turned out to be collectors and producers of child pornography. All three were arrested last year.

The key figure was a lawyer, Edward de Sear, 64, an old friend of the boy’s father, who was arrested in New Jersey and charged with distributing child pornography on the internet.

In the old days, before the web, readers would have had to content themselves with the information Marr passed along and nothing else. Now, though, anyone can read a New Jersey prosecutor’s charge against De Sear, complete with stomach-turning descriptions of the sort of abuse inflicted on the Australian couple’s “son”. Be warned: it is vile, graphic stuff. This excerpt from the indictment, however, should be noted:

The defendant, EDWARD M. DE SEAR, also used the P2P’s [peer to peer file-sharing] chat function to communicate with members of his P2P network.

In a conversation with someone named "boycuddle2" on or about February 26, 2011, defendant DE SEAR observed that "redneck parents are more careless with their kids," that he "love[d] child talent shows," and that some parents "will do anything to make their kids famous[.]"

DE SEAR further told "boycuddle2" that "best are guys who have kids of their own to share,” stating that “there is a network of those guys" but that it is "hard to get into that club without a kid."

That 7.30 segment is as close as the ABC has come to admitting it was played like a fiddle by the gay dads from Cairns.

An honest news organisation, especially one sustained by the public purse, should be conducting a full and frank examination of the bias so evident in the ABC story reproduced above. Such a probe might, for instance, conclude that the “bureaucracy” which delayed little Drake’s arrival in Australia was not a manifestation of anti-gay prejudice but an example of justified suspicion and due diligence.

Similarly, it would be obliged to conclude that those suspicions of paedophilia were rooted in something more substantial than a reprehensible antipathy toward gays and same-sex parents.

But don’t count on probe being launched. Remember, we’ve moved on from those dark old days, even if you were not cool enough to notice. Now, at least at the ABC, everything can be set right by the simple expedient of making embarrassing and inconvenient stories disappear.

Phhhtttt! It’s gone.

Now everyone can go back to the business of being modern, enlightened and oh-so non-judgmental.

Roger Franklinis the editor of Quadrant Online