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Minority workshop focuses on LGBTQ families [1 August 2008]

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LGBTQ families are frequently non-normative, and not just because they’re headed by queer people.  Queer families may consist of single women raising children with sperm donors who maintains links with their offspring.  Two men might raise children together even after breaking up.

All this becomes more complicated when race and/or ethnicity enters the picture.  How does the media respond to such unlikely configurations and what can—and should—LGBTQ families do to effect the representations of their families?

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera is the manager of Project Harmony, an offshoot of the Family Equality Council, which advocates for the rights and visibility of LGBTQ “parents, guardians, and allies.”  Rivera conducted a Center on Halsted-sponsored daylong workshop July 20 that coincided with Latina/o Pride week.  Project Harmony advocates for families of color.

The workshop drew attendees who ranged in age, race, ethnicity and relational status.  Participants divided into groups and answered questions like, “What’s the greatest bond a family has?”

Responses indicated that LGBTQ people’s relationship to the concept of “family” can be complicated.  For instance, in response to the question of ‘the greatest bond,” one woman said that her “family of choice” (partner and friends) was more meaningful than her biological family—which had expelled her after she came out.

It became clear that LGBTQ families of color can face particular challenges.  Rivera gave a personal example that highlighted the issue of how such families might be perceived in public.  Rivera and her partner have a son who is blonde and blue-eyed.  On one occasion, while mildly arguing with her son in public, they watched as two white gay men came up to him and asked if his “nannies” were treating him badly.  For William Hall and Kevin Tindell, two Black men raising children of color, parenting includes showing their children how to negotiate racism rather than insulating them from it.

According to Rivera, the aim of such workshops is “to collect a variety of stories.  How do we come to be families? What role does race, class, and location play in creating family relationships? Is marriage the only thing that we consider to be family?” She said that many queer parents are also single parents, and that they are legitimate families deserving of protection.

During the workshop, C.C. Carter spoke of raising a son with an ex-partner and her current partner and of the conversations she needed to have with day care providers to explain a situation that should be seen as “normal.”  For participants, the workshop provided a forum to air their thoughts about living as LGBTQ parents.  It also appeared to give them much to think about.  Sharon, who is white, said she tended to be overprotective about her twins as the children of gay parents facing questions about their family.  But, after listening to William and Kevin, she decided that it was time to let them negotiate such issues more independently.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 1 August 2008

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