Thursday, April 26, 2012

David & Elton Planning 2nd Child

Elton John and David Furnish may father a second child with a surrogate this summer as a brother or sister for their one-year-old son Zachary. “I would like Zachary to have a sibling,” says Furnish, 49. “I think he would be better with a sibling than on his own. It’s something we talk about all the time. But in terms of when, where and how, nothing’s decided yet.

“I think we are going to wait till this summer. Our life is always like a treadmill with Elton constantly working and touring. But when we go away to our house in France, that’s when we sit back and go [big exhalation] okay, how is this working, how are you feeling?”

The logistics have clearly been discussed. “We could go back to the same egg donor, so biologically there would certainly be a connection between brother and brother or brother and sister,” Furnish says. He adds that he and Elton would probably again both donate sperm to fertilise the egg, “so we don’t know which one of us is the father”.

They may, however, be compelled to seek another surrogate. The unnamed woman who carried and gave birth to Zachary at the couple’s home in Los Angeles “has been a surrogate before but has a life of her own and her own family. It’s a big commitment to make, nine months of their life that doesn’t just affect them but their children, their husband, their partner. If we found a surrogate who is half as beautiful as our first, we would be very lucky.” Heaven knows who they would get as godmother this time — Lady Gaga is Zachary’s.

Furnish, a former advertising executive turned film and stage producer, became Elton’s boyfriend in 1993 and his civil partner in 2005. His willingness to talk more openly than he has in the past about parenting, gay marriage and homophobia reflects his belief that we are living in “pivotal times” in terms of acceptance of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) lifestyles.

Western governments are espousing equality as never before, in the face of increasing intolerance from the Islamic world. It is down to prominent gay couples like him and Elton to stand up and be counted. Their civil partnership and joint fatherhood were, arguably, important steps on the road to equality.

“When I tried to come out to my mother when I was 23, she cried her eyes out and said, ‘You don’t have a future’,” Furnish recalls. “There were no role models I could point to. I couldn’t say, look at [gay entertainment executive] David Geffen, look at the chairman of BP, or the new CEO of Apple.

“My mother said I would never get married, and that she was sad for me because I would never have children, that it was the greatest joy of her life and she thought I would be a wonderful parent.

I couldn’t answer those things. When someone throws those walls up in front of you it fills you with self-loathing and disappointment. So to see each of them knocked down — these have been huge milestones. To see my parents and my brothers and their wives and children at my civil partnership was a big step on the way. And now I’m a father.”

By his own admission, Furnish had been “living a double life” in Toronto. “I’d spent my twenties trying to be everything to everybody. I had my family, my straight friends, and I was starting to develop a gay circle of friends. I was seeing some men, seeing some women, and trying to sort it all out.”

Moving to London for his ad agency enabled him to “hit the reset button”. His subsequent meeting and romance with Elton is well documented, and it enabled Furnish to reconnect with his family. “I always said I wasn’t going to come out to my family until I was in the relationship,” he says. “My parents have been married for 50-plus years and I wanted to have what they had.”

When civil partnership became legal in the UK he and Elton were the first to sign up, to demonstrate their long-term commitment. “I didn’t know if we’d be flour-bombed or picketed,” he smiles, “but we walked out of Windsor Guildhall into this huge throng of thousands from all walks of life: kids, grannies, businessmen, all well-wishers. And the media treated it like a royal wedding.”

We discuss the fact that coverage of civil partnerships that fail has moved on from sniggering about “gay divorce” to a matter-of-fact reporting of the settlement paid by banker Peter Lawrence to Don Gallagher, star of the musical Priscilla. Furnish reckons Barack Obama will legalise gay marriage in what he confidently predicts will be his second term. In the UK, he says, there is “still a lot of work to do” in the field of surrogacy and adoption. He and Elton opted for surrogacy after it proved impossible for them to adopt two young boys from Ukraine.

“But I feel profoundly lucky as a gay man to be living in the times we are living in,” he continues. “Look at Cameron telling the Commonwealth summit in Melbourne that any country that criminalises homosexuality will lose their foreign aid. On a bigger scale, Hillary Clinton made that speech in Geneva for the world’s biggest superpower that reduced me to tears: she got up and said gay rights are human rights; we have to draw a line in the sand and treat people equally.

“We are at a tipping point. We have really good momentum, although there are lots of frightening things going on too. They’ve just passed a law in St Petersburg making it illegal to talk about anything gay in public. And I think the president of Pakistan said on behalf of all Muslim countries that they weren’t going to discuss LGBT issues at the UN.”

He is hopeful that Zachary, and any potential siblings, will grow up in a more tolerant world but not blindly so. Zachary is already “registered for school in Windsor — where our main residence is — because I think this country is a wonderful place to raise children”. Mindful that he might be bullied for having no mum and two gay dads, Furnish and Elton have organised play dates with other children of same sex partnerships — “as well as mixing him in regular, everyday-kid circles” — and bought in a library of storybooks exploring different kinds of relationships.

“But I think he is going to have to have square shoulders,” says Furnish. “Kids will often see something different and feel insecure about it because they don’t understand it. Fear and ignorance fuel so much homophobia. That’s just something we have to deal with as it comes along but he needs to know it’s fine, that he is loved and supported and there are other children in the same situation.

“Children are born as these little empty shells and we fill them in,” he continues. “If we get them young enough, and get anti-bullying messages and tolerance messages into curriculums, we can nip all this stuff in the bud. I use my brothers’ children as an example — they range from early twenties to seven. I’ve been with Elton 18 years. It wouldn’t even occur to them that it was an issue. They took a bit of ribbing at school but they stood their ground, and I am proud of them.”

I initially met Furnish to discuss his role as an “ambassador” for Pride House, a charity set up by his fellow Canadian Chad Molleken to combat bullying and homophobia in sport. Molleken planned a huge 18-day festival on Clapham Common to coincide with the 2012 Olympics to promote the cause and Elton — shunning the chance to headline official Olympic events — agreed that he would play the opening concert.

He and Furnish put their copious address books at Molleken’s disposal. “We are very well connected in the world,” Furnish concedes. “So Chad threw out some names to me. He said: ‘Billie Jean King.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s a phone call, that’s an easy one to do’.” He also introduced the charity organiser to gay sportsmen such as rugby player Gareth Thomas and cricketer Steven Davies, with whom he had become friendly. Unfortunately, following the withdrawal of some acts and financing this week the festival is on hold, and Elton’s concert is cancelled.

Molleken and Furnish clearly hope some form of Pride House celebration can take place during the Games. “As Elton says, the two great uniting forces on the planet are music and sport,” Furnish says. “To be honest, I’m not the biggest sports guy. I’ve mostly been aware of [the prejudice] from Elton’s perspective: when he managed Watford football club in the Eighties he had a lot of homophobic abuse shouted at him in the box. Being very British, he laughed it off but those are still words, sharp words, that hurt and can scar you.

“The Olympics are an amazing celebration of optimism, the future, youth. They’re about breaking barriers, breaking records. Marrying that to a message of supporting LGBT sport, opposing bullying, and promoting diversity and inclusiveness, is a wonderful thing.” If it helps one gay sportsman or woman to come out and not live a lie, it’s worth it. Furnish contemplates the ideal role model for the future. “A gay Premier League footballer would be a huge milestone,” he grins.

- This is London

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