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The Little Engine that Could: Family Week Day Six

4 Aug

My favorite book growing up was The Little Engine that Could. It was the most requested bedtime story and I think it has also provided a bit of a narrative for my life. And other than the creepy clown in the illustrations, it always made me happy.

We’ve been through five days and there’s only two more to go. I think I can, I think I can. Growing up gay is a constant reminder of the struggles that little engine faced. Getting knocked down and getting back up again over and over again, whether it’s literal or figurative – it’s something every LGBT person I know can relate to. And when we have kids, they’re sometimes going through the same thing on our behalf – helping to educate on what discrimination does to families like theirs.

The Outspoken Generation is a new program started by Family Equality and chaired by Zach Wahls and Emma Robinson. It’s focus is to provide a platform and guidance for teen children of LGBT parents. This morning we started with a heavily-attended panel featuring several of these well-spoken teens. Emotions ran deep and kids spoke from their hearts about their incredible families. Some kids have been raised in places where they’ve never faced a single adversity regarding their family and others have felt at times that to protect themselves, that they needed to lie about who their parents were.

Coming Out is not just something we do as LGBT people, it was explained by Zach Wahls and other members of the panel that it’s sometimes a similar process for our kids. And like us, we are sometimes faced with communities that are intolerant and even hateful. But as was made evident by the panelists, it seems the younger the kid the more tolerant and supportive our communities have become. The youngest people on the panel spoke about their families and the bigotry shown their parents almost as something you only hear about on television – all their friends and their friends’ families have never treated them as anything but another family in town. So as the panel progressed, it became more clear that through education, and through excellent parenting, the world is changing before our eyes.

If I learned anything from the panel, it’s that the parents of these young people have done an extraordinary job bringing them up.

Following the panel, we began preparations for the Annual Clambake. This is one of Family Equality’s major fundraising events and it’s held in one of the most beautiful places on earth – the base of the iconic Pilgrim Monument.

Roughly 300 made the climb up the hill to the tent next to the 100+ year old tower. Rainbow leis around everyone’s necks and smiles on their faces, they sat down to a lobster dinner. The kids were running circles around the monument and I was able to take photos of some beautiful families with one of the most stunning backdrops I’ve ever seen.

Following some brief remarks from Family Council leadership, a special guest of the event came up to Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler. A lesbian veteran burdened with an oxygen tank, bringing with her an enormous brood of kids said to Jenn “my daughter has something to say to you.” The young teen reached into her canvas purse and handed Jenn a crumpled $20 bill and a handful of change. Choking back tears, Jenn helped her fill out the donation form so the young girl would get proper credit for her contribution.

Dinner was followed by lots of incredible conversations and lively dancing. Please enjoy some of the day’s photos. Many more can be seen at Equality Photography.

 

The Giving Tree: Family Week in Provincetown Day 5

2 Aug

I’m trying to figure out why I’m calling this day The Giving Tree. It’s obviously one of my favorite children’s stories and I’m a fan of pretty much everything Shel Silverstein wrote. I also look at the story as a euphemism for parenting.

This morning, my day started with an emotionally-charged panel featuring kids from Family Equality Council’s “Outspoken Generation.” 7 teen children of LGBT parents were on the panel and it was one of the most heavily-attended events I’d seen all week. The room was packed to overflowing and Dr. Kim Bergman moderated the event. While one of the main draws of the event was Youtube star and author Zach Wahls, all the kids had really poignant and important things to say.

With the recent (and quickly debunked) study from Mark Regnerus has provided a springboard for misinformationists to spread lies and falsehoods about our families. But with these young men and women on the scene, a firsthand experience of being raised by LGBT parents can be told. I’m hoping Family Equality Council lifts up this vital program that’s currently missing from the national dialogue. Every one of the young people on the panel today should be appearing on television wherever we can put them.

Following the panel, Sean and I had scheduled time for some wedding planning and wound up at a tasting at one of the locations we’re thinking of. It seems we have a lot more work to do, but that just means another trip to Ptown this fall! I was also really happy friends Amy, Ty and (an asleep) Declan joined us for a little stroll as well. Wedding advice is always helpful!

The late afternoon and evening activities included a screening of The Muppets, a happy hour for Transgender parents and then a fundraiser comedy night starring Kate Clinton. All were extraordinarily well-attended and Kate’s show was so packed, I got booted from the theatre, so I couldn’t take the photos I was asked to. It looks like Family Equality is having quite a successful week!

The night closed with some drinks with the now-legal Zach Wahls and then a run-in with some old friends from New York. I’m glad the rain seems to be gone as it was one of the most beautiful nights I’ve seen in a long time!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Family Week Day 4

1 Aug

What a day!! There are so many incredible families here. I think probably twice as many as there were last year. It all reminds me of being on Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Cruise when it was brand new. Seeing so many dads and moms and these kids that nearly every one of them had to fight for. I believe there’s something to be said for that.

How many straight parents can say they had to fight to have their children? Of course there are many, but I don’t know of a single case where a gay or lesbian couple was able to fall into parenting. They all either adopted, worked with a surrogate, had to deal with artificial insemination, or even if they had kids from a previous heterosexual relationship, many live in places where their spouse still isn’t the legal parent of their child. I’m sure there are cases out there where everything worked out swimmingly, but the vast majority of gay parents had to/has to fight to be a parent. I’ve never heard of a gay or lesbian couple having a child by accident. Every one of these kids is wanted, loved and it shows.

This morning, I went back to take some more shots with the Littles. A whole lot more bouncy house time, some bouncy slide time, facepainting, temporary tattoos and pure joy everywhere. I followed that up with a trip to Kidapalooza where everyone was tie-dying t-shirts (or legs and arms if you ask Riane from Family Equality). I stopped to support Cape Cod’s PFLAG group and pick up a gorgeous rainbow sweater for Eli – pictures of that will follow once we return home.

In the afternoon, I got a surprise text from my extraordinarily pregnant friend Amy. She’s amazing and one of my besties from high school. She and her husband Ty and adorable boy Declan were in town for the day and wanted to grab a bite. I was happy to have a little break where I could join them!

Then came the bonfire. Now as history tells it, we’ve never (or at least very infrequently) had a bonfire night that wasn’t at least a little rainy. Last year it drizzled a bit throughout, but I don’t recall it being all that bad. And as of this past weekend, things looked pretty good. No showers in the forecast. But then apparently, someone must have told whoever’s in charge that it was bonfire night. And the rain came. Now the bonfire and s’more-making (with a generous donation from Hershey’s) happens to be the obsession love of Family Equality Council’s Executive Director, Jennifer Chrisler. Unfortunately I’d heard Jenn wasn’t going to be coming to Family Week this year due to the very recent birth of her third little boy, Matthew. But there were then rumblings that she would be here on Wednesday. Why would she come on Wednesday? The day AFTER her beloved bonfire and s’mores??

The bonfires were set-up, with holes dug and fire started by my very own Beyoncé, Family Equality Council’s New Media Manager Sean Carlson. The misty rain was annoying and it was overcast, but it looked like it maybe possibly perhaps could clear up. And it did, briefly anyway. Then in came the families. I was in shock. We all assumed no one would come due to the rain, but there were twice as many there as last year. I was instructed to get photos of the messiest s’moriest faces I could, and it wasn’t hard.

Then the rain turned from a mist to a drizzle. The camera was put away so it still works for the rest of the week. And the s’more-covered kids (and adults) made their way out. Drenched, we worked to extinguish the fires – btw – didn’t know this, but you’re not supposed to just cover a beach fire with sand. You have to put it out with water because the heat from the fire will get trapped under the sand and stay hot for days. Then someone could step on it and get burned. Crazy, right…just a little tip for all you beach fire lovers. And just as we were about to put out the last one, there’s Jennifer Chrisler – also drenched, toasting a soggy marshmallow over the flickering flame. She just couldn’t stay away.

Where The Wild Things Are: Family Week in Provincetown Day 3

31 Jul

The wild things were abound this morning in Bas Relief Park. The park, for those who haven’t been to Provincetown, features…wait for it…a bas relief of the pilgrims signing the Mayflower Compact. I happen to have two ancestors who were on the Mayflower who both happened to sign the compact. This makes me fancy. But I digress.

The morning activity for the smaller kids, called ‘The Littles’ featured two bouncy houses (when I was a kid we called them “Moonwalks,” what happened to that?), face painting, parachutes and a story telling from Family Equality Council Board Member and children’s book author, Tommy Starling. His book, “Bob the Ladybug” is one of those great new children’s stories that hits home the idea that it’s okay to be different – the terrifying gay agenda at it’s best.

Following that, Kidapalooza and afternoon camp activities began. While the kids played, the parents participated in “Parent Cafés.” At the cafés. parents get the opportunity to discuss the specific challenges they are facing raising children – everything from adoption and pregnancy options available to fighting discrimination in their local schools. It’s a really useful tool for LGBT parents and this kind of thing is where Family Equality Council is able to provide the leadership that our families really need.

On to afternoon activities with teens from the Outspoken Generation (teen children of LGBT parents), gatherings for Moms and for Dads, and an Interfaith Photo Exhibit. We Have Faith is a touring photo exhibit which highlights LGBT people of many different religious backgrounds and their stories. It’s a truly eye-opening and stunningly photographed display. They are currently seeking funding and partnerships to bring the exhibit to more locations. More information is available at their website.

Here are some photos from yesterday’s activities!

Make Way for Duckings: Family Week Day One

28 Jul

It was a book that was read to our class in Kindergarten, First Grade and again in Second Grade. Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings about a family of ducks looking for a place to raise their young ones was always a favorite – especially in my Boston suburb school. And it’s a story I’m frequently reminded of at Family Week. Finding a safe place for us to raise our children is a concern of every LGBT parent. And considering Family Equality Council’s guests of honor this year, it’s particularly significant. More on them later…

I’m going to attempt, I repeat, ATTEMPT to keep a daily blog of my week long excursion to Family Equality Council’s Family Week in Provincetown, MA. I’ll be surprised if I make it through Day 1.

We started EARLY. A 6:20 flight out of DCA had us up at 4:30…AM. Sean poked his head in the sh0wer, “Is this like, and ACTUAL time?” Sean walked Eli and took out the trash, I did a load of dishes and got the house ready for our Eli sitters. Said our goodbyes to the pooch and out the door.

Not much can be said about the airport trip other than they had nothing to eat for breakfast in the JetBlue terminal. Hungrily we took our seats.

We arrived in Boston and cabbed it to the Provincetown Ferry. It was packed. It was hard not to notice lots of gay and lesbian couples with their kids in tow – clearly thrilled for a week on the Cape.

A little overcast, but warm and misty in that summery way that only New England can do. This was the kind of weather I loved growing up. We made our way down the pier and to our hotel. Family Week volunteers were frantically and furiously setting up for registration. Water bottles, t-shirts, wristbands and name tags were flying. But everything in order. They were ready to greet these families from all over the country. These families who are coming to spend this week where they won’t be the only one like them in their town. Kids getting to meet and hang out with other kids who have two moms or two dads. For the first time in many of these kid’s lives, they aren’t “the other.”

Registration began, along with games on the beach, hosted by my Beyoncé, Sean. I snapped photos while the children kicked sand on him, tackled him and made him happier than I often get to see him. He secretly loves kids and I can’t wait to be a Dad with him someday. He lights up and is such a natural with them. Never talking down and always meeting each kid where they are whether it’s tossing a frisbee or holding a 3 year old’s hand – just because that’s what the 3 year old asked for.

Enjoy some photos from today! There will be more to come if I’m not too tired!

Gay Dads, 4 Kids Terrorized by Neighbors – You Can Help!

13 Jul

Roy, Felix and their four children

You may recall last week when we told you about the Arizona family that has been threatened, had their property set on fire and their children chased down the street by men with guns while police did nothing.

While local authorities are  still being pressured by the media and people around the country to investigate this and prosecute accordingly, not much has changed for the two dads and their four adopted children.

While we can’t go wave a magic wand and make Arizona police and elected officials comprehend the idea that all families should be treated equally, we can show them they’re not alone.

The Family Equality Council and their new media manager, Sean Carlson (my fiancé) are attempting to do just that. Last August, I took part in a life-changing week in Provincetown, MA. Family Equality Council’s Family Week is a place for families of all different combinations. Two Dads, Two Moms, Two Grandpas, Two Grandmas – no matter what – everyone is welcome.

For the first time in many of their lives, children of LGBT parents are shown they are not the only family like theirs. In fact, not only are they introduced to a world with hundreds of families like their own, they are even celebrated in a parade down the main street of town.

With your help, the Family Equality Council is going to be bringing this family to Provincetown for Family Week this year.

From their fundraising page:

“It started with grafitti, then escalated to setting their bushes on fire and banging on the windows at night. Then the unthinkable happened: someone broke into their home and vandalized the children’s furniture.

The past few months have been a nightmare for the Bermeas – the harassment, the late night calls to the police, the aftermath, and the increased media attention have all made this time a less-than-ideal summer vacation.

We can do something about this – raise enough money to send the entire family to Family Week in Provincetown, MA.

Please help show this family they’re not alone! Contribute Now!

Catholic Charities Abandons Thousands of Children Instead of Adopting to LGBT Parents

15 Nov

It seems one of the final frontiers in the struggle for equality for LGBT families is teaching the rest of the world that we are incredible parents and that our families not only deserve equality, but we are suffering without it.

Even some who I once considered allies in our fight have said to me “I think you should be able to get married, but I really believe children should have a mother and father” or “gay people should not be allowed to adopt.” This belief stems from generations of lies which make people think of gays and lesbians as pedophiles. From public service announcements in the 50’s to anti-gay hate groups scraping to connect the recent child rape tragedy at Penn State with gay men, we have never been at a loss for people who – even subconsciously – carry this ignorant defamation.

In 2005, I was lucky enough to go on Rosie O’Donnell’s first “R Family Cruise.” I watched shows, had conversations with LGBT parents and I wished that some of the people who have spoken so falsely about us could see how much love there was there.

Almost every one of these children had to be fought for – some parents lived in states where same-sex parent adoption was not legal and some fought tooth-and-nail through divorces where anti-gay judges refused custody because one parent was gay. And I thought – how many heterosexual parents do I know that can truly say they had to fight for their children – legally – in court? How many straight parents do I know had the state they live in tell them they have no rights as a parent?

Well, times are changing.

Every reliable study that has been done, has proven again and again that LGBT parents are just as, if not better equipped to parent than opposite-gender parents. And a recent study released by the Family Equality Council shows us all the great inequalities our well-equipped families are facing all over the U.S. And in the past decade, the number of lesbian and gay adoptive couples has tripled.

Anti-Gay Governor Bob McDonnell

In states across the country, adoption agencies are still discriminating against gay and lesbian parents. In Virginia, a study was done by the previous governor which confirmed what every other reasonable study has found – that we make excellent parents. But of course, under the current anti-gay administration, all the scientific findings were dismissed and the lesbian and gay adoption ban was left in place by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell. This, despite the fact that there are more than 6,000 children in the Virginia foster care system waiting for a forever home.

Catholic Charities in many states have fought tooth-and-nail against laws which require adoption agencies treat all families equally. And after a hard-fought battle in Illionois, Catholic Charities has chosen to abandon up to 2,200 children instead of allowing them to be placed with capable, loving gay and lesbian parents. Several Catholic Charities Adoption Agencies have chosen to do the same in other states. Over and over again, the Catholic dioceses have made the conscious decision to abandon orphans and foster children rather than place them in loving, forever homes, based on nothing in their actual belief system.

As the Bible clearly says zero about lesbians and gays raising children, the choice to close down their agencies has nothing to do with their religion and everything to do with wrongfully-held beliefs based on nothing but rumors and baseless fear tactics created decades ago. It is indeed heartbreaking to see those who claim “Christian” beliefs act so hatefully by leaving thousands of children with nothing to fall back on.

Fortunately, Catholic Charities around the country represent a tiny sliver of all the adoptions that take place on a regular basis and the children represented by them will be taken in by state agencies which do not practice discrimination. So, at the end of the day, this is a good thing and those kids will now have a much greater shot at finding their forever home.

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