Becoming a parent while juggling the demands of a high-pressure job is never easy, but for SNR Denton banking and finance associate Alexander Semernin the journey to fatherhood has, to some extent, been a greater challenge than for many of his peers.
The gay lawyer and his partner, a director of a boutique real estate consultancy in the City, recently became parents to their first child, who was born four months ago in the US via a commercial surrogacy agreement.
Semernin admits that the decision to become parents was not taken lightly.
“It was our joint and conscious decision to become parents, and a difficult one to make,” he says. “A child in your life means a lot of changes, compromises and sacrifices. Being a child of gay parents can also attract animosity from some members of our society.”
With the child’s surrogate mother based in California during the pregnancy, the 34-year-old associate says that the process of surrogate selection was challenging, especially as both fathers were keen for their son to have contact with his surrogate mother from the outset (she is not the child’s genetic mother – an egg donor was used).
“It’s not an easy task to find a surrogate you feel comfortable with; she does, after all, carry the most important thing in your life for nine months and has to work with you for longer than that,” Semernin says. “We’ll continue to have regular contact with our surrogate and would like our son to meet her when he’s older.”
As commercial surrogacy is illegal in the UK Semernin says the biggest issue facing both gay and straight couples is the need to travel abroad to fulfil their dreams of parenthood, or risk having a voluntary surrogate revoke her agreement to become the child’s legal guardian even if she has no genetic connection with it.
Thankfully, the pregnancy went smoothly, with Semernin and his partner making regular trips to the US.
Once their son was born Semernin and his partner had to establish parental responsibility through a separate parental order in the UK, despite a court in California ruling that they were the legal parents of their son on his birth certificate.
When it came to paternity leave Semernin admits that SNR Denton had no guidance in relation to surrogacy arrangements, but says the HR department had been “very accommodating”.
“I was treated fairly and generously by the firm, and have asked not to be given preferential treatment. Although with two working dads in the family we’re almost always short of time,” he adds.
Semernin received support and encouragement from colleagues when he came out and during the surrogacy process, but asked the firm to introduce diversity training after a few people inadvertently expressed remarks he felt were inappropriate.
“I’ve not experienced discrimination in my firm,” he says. “I did, however, request that diversity training be introduced. SNR Denton was enthusiastic and introduced the training fairly swiftly. But I don’t think the UK legal profession is openly supportive of its gay members. It remains very conservative.”
When asked whether LGBT lawyers are still reluctant to come out in their firms, Semernin’s views are twofold.
“Some people don’t come out because they want to separate their personal and professional lives,” he explains. “Some people are just private and it’s their right and choice to be so.
“My other view is that people who don’t come out to their firm fear their careers will be jeopardised. I can understand that fear because of the conservative views of some partners in City law firms. I know colleagues in other firms who don’t come out because they fear being marginalised and driven out of their jobs.”
He does, however, feel that things are getting better, with several firms introducing initiatives, events and support networks.
“In the legal profession, as in other parts of society, diversity issues could always be treated a little better, but while law firms could do more I’ve seen some positive steps,” he concludes.