By Michael Taylor
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The world's largest "boot camp" to help gay men become parents will stage its first Asia event next month to address growing demand for surrogates from China and the region, organisers said on Thursday.
New York-based non-profit Men Having Babies (MHB) stages events across the world to provide advice and support to all LGBT+ people who want to become parents and plans to stage its first annual Asian event on March 9-10 in Taipei, Taiwan.
"We have been witnessing over the last three years, a growing interest from Asia - mostly Chinese - intended parents coming to the United States for surrogacy," said Ron Poole-Dayan, founder and executive director at MHB.
Socially conservative attitudes prevail across most of Asia where Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei outlaw sexual relations between men, and Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT+ people.
But changes are happening, with India moving to scrap Section 377 outlawing same-sex relations last year, and Taiwan this week proposing a draft law to allow same-sex marriage.
The issue of lesbian and gay couples having access to medically-assisted reproductive treatments like IVF has stirred political debate recently in several countries.
Many countries, including Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, and Britain, ban for-profit surrogacy, although they allow some form of surrogacy if no payment is involved. In the United States, the legality of surrogacy is determined by each state.
Gay couples are banned from applying for surrogacy in countries such as Nigeria and Russia. [nL8N1W73BE}
Poole-Dayan, who has 18-year-old twins with his husband, began MHB in 2005 with monthly workshops giving advice to gay men interested in becoming biological parents and now holds about seven conferences a year.
The two-day events, which are held across the United States, Europe, Canada and Israel, have made MHB the largest "boot camp" for gay parenting in the world, said Poole-Dayan.
He said the internet was flooded with people trying to push surrogacy information but it was hard to know where to start so the two-day events involved surrogate mothers and egg donors, doctors, lawyers and local clinic representatives.
"Our conferences are not meant to persuade to become parents ... they are meant for people who already want to become parents (and) to make the process more accessible and easier," Poole-Dayan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"People are starting to realise .. the fact that they're gay doesn't mean that they're not going to be able to have a full life including starting a family and having children."
Jay Lin, a prominent gay activist in Taiwan, became a father-of-two with the help of a surrogate in California using an egg donor who was a close friend in Taiwan. He said it was hard to navigate the realm of information about gay parenting.
"MHB is important because it is difficult to gather sufficient, trusted information on the internet by yourself," said Lin.
"Also, when I walked into an MHB conference in San Francisco and saw hundreds of men of all colours and ages sitting there trying to start their own families, I knew that I was not alone and that I could do this." (Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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