Tag Archives: inclusion

Out of the Dark: Emboldening Schools to Welcome Everyone

By Rick Oculto,
Education Coordinator at Our Family Coalition

8b68132b-157e-44b5-87e1-2ac91f7bbd5dOnly a few blocks from the White House is a building with giant glass windows. You can see right into the main meeting room from the street and every floor of the building is exposed to the light of the outside world. Even if you wanted to hide, it would be difficult. On the walkway to the entrance the ubiquitous blue and yellow equal sign hangs proudly from its façade. This is the national headquarters of the powerful LGBTQ rights machine known as the Human Rights Campaign. It is not ostentatious, but sleek, clean, and unapologetic… a marked difference from how the rest of the country is accustomed to talking about LGBTQ issues; under hushed whispers in the dark. In many places, gay is still a dirty word.

The week of Halloween, on the top floor of this building, on arguably the most exposed floor were about forty people from across the country dedicated to ensuring that LGBTQ youth and families never had to hide again. The irony of the impending holiday was not lost on me. The fact that many people in LGBTQ communities find solace in this holiday because it allows us to assume identities that are not always socially available to us also did not escape me. As trainers who have put ourselves on the frontlines of addressing issues of difference, we have encountered a great diversity of difficult situations. And now, we were charged with sharing the knowledge on how to do that; how to come out of the closet about our own experience, and how to create spaces that allowed others to do so. The task ahead would not be easy.

As a trainer, you never know what the participants will bring to a discussion. Many times it can lead to very deep and meaningful exchanges and sometimes the intersections of everyone’s identities crash into each other like a multi-car pileup on the freeway. When that happens, just like a freeway, everyone’s got to slow down to make sure we can all move forward together. If not, all traffic comes to a dead stop.

groupatFCT-1So, here we were eight floors above the ground in a glass room filled with eager minds and good intentions. Each face represented a story of struggle, and hardship, and tenacity to have come to this place to create and sustain inclusive spaces for everyone, but especially for those who have traditionally been unwelcome. And then it happens… as we go into examples of our communities, the inevitable and pernicious stereotypes about the threat each of our communities might pose comes to the forefront; first about gender, then about race. Everyone is on alert. The mood of the room went from jovial to urgent as representatives from each community plead their case for better understanding. Any amateur facilitator would have shied away, changed the subject, and inevitably hampered learning. We slowed it down and leaned into it. After all, we were here to help everyone better navigate identity, not ignore it. No one in the room was an amateur. We moved forward together.

The Human Rights Campaign has been criticized for its myopia and exclusivity, specifically on its actions around transgender issues and people of color. In recent years the organization has taken some initiative to address those shortfalls with some success. The Welcoming Schools Approach and the training of facilitators to address difference is part of the outcome of that effort. For the past five years Welcoming Schools has operated as a program of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation with the mission to make schools more welcoming of diverse families, inclusive of LGBTQ-issues, address biased based bullying, and to support transgender and gender expansive youth. It has been a labor of love that has grown and evolved as the national conversation on difference has taken center stage. It was formed out of the need for representation of LGBTQ individuals and families and has been tempered by the passing of Leelah Alcorn, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Seth Walsh, along with many other events. There has always been an undercurrent of liberation; knowing that the topics Welcoming Schools touched upon would thrust those issues uncomfortably into the light. The visceral experience of the aforementioned events further molded the conversation in ways that were more responsive and inclusive. Our Family Coalition, in conjunction with the other Welcoming Schools trainers, have been at the heart of this cathartic shift.

It was a long three days. There was laughter and tears and conversations that would have never have happened in the dark. The impact of Welcoming Schools had been constrained by a small and dedicated group of about ten people responsible for several regions around the country. After this 03f0b4a8-1985-4ef6-b0bb-a391540325d6training there were now thirty more. We have not found the panacea for the disparities we find among our communities because there is no one thing that will address the myriad of issues that impact our different identities. What we have found is a way to recognize, respect, and celebrate our differences without diminishing or excluding one another. With the inaugural facilitator training, these practices will have an even wider reach.

At the end of the week, with few hours to spare, I was able to take my traditional walk down the Washington Mall. Autumn in DC smelled differently than it did in San Francisco. I was joined by a colleague that would become a new trainer a continent’s length away in the Puget Sound area. We passed the White House with lines of children in Halloween costumes visiting the President and First Lady, passed the World War II Memorial and found ourselves at the reflection pool where only a little over fifty years earlier thousands upon thousands gathered together to recognize and affirm the humanity of our African-American brethren. A short while away stood the Lincoln Memorial lit up against the eastern dusk and we realized we were on the same path.

9462b4ce-5f04-4d9b-80b8-d83ab9b98ef9“I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all [people] are created free and equal.”

–          Abraham Lincoln, July 10, 1858 Speech at Chicago, Illinois

Alphabet Soup Episode 5: Family Equality Edition

Featuring:
Cathy Sakimura, Deputy Director & Family Law Director at NCLR
Tarah Fleming, Our Family Coalition’s Education Director

Food for Thought with Hali Martin, Policy Intern at Our Family Coalition

Host: Renata Moreira, Our Family Coalition’s Acting Executive Director

Tune in to the new episode of Alphabet Soup, where we discuss family equality with Cathy Sakimura and what is still at stake for LGBTQ-families. Some topics touched upon are what steps families can take to protect themselves until full legal recognition and protection of LGBTQ families is established, and increasing access to legal services for low income families through the Family Protection Project.

Alphabet Soup Episode 4: Racial Justice Edition

Featuring

Amber Todd, Co-chair of Oakland Pride
Tarah Fleming, Our Family Coalition’s Education Director

Food for Thought with Allen Johnson, Our Family Coalition’s Development Associate

Host: Renata Moreira, Our Family Coalition’s Acting Executive Director

What does it mean to be an ally? How can privilege be used to move the pendulum of change? How can we give our kids the tools and knowledge needed to navigate growing up in a racist society, and empower them to use their voices to be a part of the solution?

Tune in to Alphabet Soup to listen to moving and urgent conversations with Amber Todd, proud mother of four and co-chair of Oakland Pride, and Tarah Fleming, Education Director of Our Family Coalition and co-founder of the Youth Action Project, which exists within the White Privilege Conference.

The Alphabet Soup – Episode 2: Family Activism Edition

In the second episode of The Alphabet Soup with Our Family Coalition, Julia and Zach of The Rainbow Letters share inspiring and powerful stories about growing up with parents who are lesbian or gay. Listen in to an engaging conversation with Willy Wilkinson on parenting, activism and his new book Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency.

Guests:
Zach Wahls and Julia Winston, The Rainbow Letters
Willy Wilkinson, Author, Activist & Parent

Host:
Judy Appel, Executive Director

Food for Thought with:
Renata Moreira, Policy and Communications Director
Our Family Coalition

A Night Out with Our Family…

By Martha Boesing

marthabpic There we were, my partner and I, invited by my daughter-in-law (Our Family Coalition’s Programs’ Director)  to attend an astonishingly elegant cocktail and dinner event at the grand Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco.

We walked into this sumptuous glass building to find ourselves in the midst of a massive crowd of people, all talking at once. They stood in line to collect a vodka and rum drink called “Tantrum.”  (Get the joke?) My partner got one. I didn’t. There was so much noise that, for my own sanity, I quickly pretended I was in a jungle surrounded by thousands of chattering monkeys – monkeys I can handle. I tumbled back and forth between wondering “who were all these people? Were they all gay?” to feeling overwhelmed in the “monkey jungle happy hour.”

After an hour or so, we were invited to move to the dining area where we were seated at the grandparents table. My partner and I might have been the oldest grandparents there (both of us being in our late seventies), not to mention possibly that the only gay people at the grandparents table. The others all seemed to be heterosexual single women or couples whose children had come out gay and whom they had chosen to support, like parents in PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).  I found myself assuming that they might have raised their kids in nice middle class homes, instilling conventional values in their young minds, while we had been out marching in the streets, “Taking Back the Night,” getting arrested, living in communes, moving in and out of primary relationships (“everything changes – don’t get attached!”), writing plays and novels about what it was like to be gay and proud, and bursting towards “Yes!” as lesbian-feminists on the cusp of the second wave of the Women’s Movement. It felt at that table that we were somehow not quite cut from the same cloth. But there we were.

martha01On the stage our proud, gay grown-up children were giving out awards to teachers, students and counselors who had worked to bring equality and social justice into their classrooms, their meeting halls and onto the streets, and showing us photos and videos of gay parents playing with their children, tossing them into the air, bathing them, hugging them, just like all parents do every day all over the globe.

It seemed likely to me that a majority of the speakers at this event had come out on their own, with no foremothers or forefathers there to light the way. They had to tell their straight parents that they were queer, and suffer the consequences. Some parents had accepted their choices and were there tonight to celebrate their extraordinary accomplishments and courage, while others had thrown them out on their butts.

But then there were those of us who were on the front lines way back then when the radical gay movement and the passionate second wave of the women’s movement took flight.  We built a defense for ourselves by simply not caring what the rest of the world had to say about us. We turned away, denying that they had any power over us. Many of us were artists, activists from the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements, and – for the most part – we could choose not to hang out with anyone who gave a damn about who we were sleeping with. So we didn’t have to notice that there was a whole society out there composed of people who scorned us and thought we were losers, crazies, perverts.

BUT….

Our children had to notice. They did notice.

Our children had to face bullies and bigots, who might have made fun of them for having gay parents. Almost every day.

martha03Then it struck me – I realized that the other grandparents sitting at this table with us, no matter what our differences might have been, were banded together by a common thread. We were all there to witness these children of ours celebrate something truly magical that they had diligently worked for over many years, which is to provide a safe and loving environment for all our wondrous and perfect grandchildren to grow up in. Our Family Coalition has accomplished something I couldn’t have even imagined back then when we were walking in the streets. They have created a net, which will one day hopefully reach out over the entire nation; that enables children growing up in a gay family to feel perfectly normal. Normal – what a concept for an LGBTQ family!

That is something my children never got to feel, but are a part of creating for their children and my grandchildren – a path toward equity and visibility for their family in society.

My children had to face, every day, a society I was not part of. That society believed a family consisted of a Mom and a Dad, two kids, and a dog. And my kids knew, somewhere deep in their bones, that this was not the kind of family they had.

As I approached my daughter-in-law following the event in gratitude of this work, she kept trying to assure me that what her generation has accomplished could not have happened if we had not paved the way. “We were standing on your shoulders,” she said, again and again. Of course that’s true.  I believe it is deeply important to acknowledge our ancestors, as she has done ever since I first met her. But then of course there’s also that shadow side that we must live with. There’s always a cost, and that cost being that my children did not have the comfort of feeling their family was normal while growing up.

martha03On the other hand, my lovely grandchildren will not grow up with that pain. They will be free– not only because their parents love and support them, but because the society they live in will not dare to reject them. They will be free because of the work being done and celebrated here at this event by our children. They will be free to love whoever they love, in whatever way they love, free to open their hearts to life however life presents itself to them. Now I am filled with gratitude for my daughter and her amazing partner and their peers – grateful for bringing this dream, which we hardly knew we could dream, to life. Grateful to sit at the table with this group of people I was unclear I’d have anything in common with but after leaving the event I am more certain than ever we are banded together but the ever-growing visibility and inclusion of our families. That we were together and it was normal.

Pockets of Fun and Love at the Berkeley YMCA

by Maria Luisa Jimenez-Morales, Our Family Coalition Parent

FamilyPortraitSpring2014Our Family Coalition’s “LGBTQ Family Night at the Berkeley YMCA” last year was my first ever visit to a YMCA. Our six year old son, Alejandro, had only heard of it from the Village People song on his Wii dance game, and he was expecting a nightclub dancing style party! I explained to him that it’s a time for us to do sports and see and play with the friends we’ve made with so many Our Family Coalition staff and the many families who attend OFC gatherings.

eastbayplaygroupMy almost three year old daughter, Ana, and I have been attending the weekly play group on Tuesday mornings in Oakland for over a year. We have created family with two other children and their parents. I was expecting to just see our friends at the Y even, so when we came to the large dinner area I was shocked to see the large number of families I did not recognize!

ymcapullquote0

That was another first for me, seeing so many of us LGBTQ folks with kids in one place. It is amazing how OFC creates these spaces that don’t exist anywhere else in the universe. I’m not just talking about renting a venue and making it available for us LGBTQ families: I’m talking about how you feel when you come to one of OFC’s gatherings. You feel enthusiastically welcomed.

pollyatymcaThe YMCA in Berkeley is huge and a bit daunting to me, but I saw friendliness and love as soon as we reached the OFC table there. Even if there is someone I don’t know at an event table, I always feel warmth emanating from whoever is helping us. My son was a bit shy, so it really made a difference when the first thing we felt was welcomed. Soon after we arrived we went to eat with folks, and then we did our different playing activities with the kids. At every turn, the OFC staff was helping and guiding and available, providing support to all the families. There were so many great moments that night, like talking to other parents and meeting new families or just watching our kids play.

ymcapullquote1

What sticks out for me most are small interactions that remind me why it matters that it was an LGBTQ friendly space. It came down to swimming in the pool, dressing our kids and using the bathrooms and seeing kids and adults of varying gender differences in the open locker room — feeling comfortable and maybe somewhat vulnerable but safe and supported to be ourselves. I reflect on loved ones who have struggled with this moment that maybe takes seven minutes: get a locker, change clothes, put your clothes away, use toilet and swim or rinse off after pool, use toilet, dress, and go. My son dressed for the first time in front of “strangers” but he adjusted well. He quickly realized we were all on a time crunch for the next swim time to start and saw that we were all families just getting ready to have a good time together.

My kids liked the kindergym area and swimming the most. Victoria and I enjoyed the time with other families like ours and watching our kids have so much fun. It was much more fun than the nightclub dancing style party my son thought it would be! Thank you Our Family Coalition for creating pockets of fun and love in this world for our families.

It’s Time to Make Education FAIR

NARRATIVESAs a person of color that went through the ‘American’ K-12 education system, I felt that the social sciences we were taught did not accurately reflect the history of communities of color or any other marginalized groups–times minorities were mentioned were when we learned about exploitation, colonization, racism, etc. I never understood why inner city schools, such as the one I attended, taught history that was irrelevant to the demographic of the school—most being sons and daughters of low-income immigrant parents. Narratives of significant people and/or historical events were briefly told, if told at all. And of course, they were told through the colonizer’s point of view rather than by the colonized.

Once I got to college, I learned that there were classes that offered an alternative point-of-view to the history I had been taught. The content from these classes differed from what I had already learned in the sense that it presented me with relatable material and material that was more inclusive to the diversity that exists within the United States. Classes I took ranged from ethnic studies to gender and sexuality studies. I found it a bit problematic that I had to go out of my way to seek such courses rather than being presented with the information earlier in my education career; however, I am grateful to have had the privilege to access these resources that helped develop my consciousness and form my identity.

With just four years of getting out of the California’s K-12 public school system, I am excited to know that there are positive changes to the curriculums of public schools coming down the pipeline. In July 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 48—the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act. It calls for the inclusion of people with disabilities and LGBTQ Americans’ important historical contributions to the economic, political, and social development of California.

Now in 2014, I was disappointed to see that the Instructional Quality Commission really did not fulfill the intent of the FAIR Act since their recommendations to the new social science framework are minimum to none.

In an attempt to align the History – Social Science Framework with the requirements of SB 48, Our Family Coalition (OFC) partnered up with Gay-Straight Alliance Network and the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History (CLBTH) to recommend revisions to the existing framework and submit those to the State Board of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC). The revised Framework calls for a transformational approach in which students understand concepts and issues from the perspectives of diverse groups of people.

Here are some recommended revisions by grade and theme that were brought up in the Making the Framework FAIR report that I support:

• Grade 2: LGBT families in the context of understanding family diversity as a contemporary and historical reality

• Grade 4: Central roles played by gender and sexuality in California’s history as a site of rich, contested, and changing diversity

• Grade 5: Variation over time, region, and culture in colonial American practices and laws with regard to gender and sexuality

• Grade 8: Fundamental transformations in gender and sexuality in conjunction with nineteenth-century urbanization and industrialization

• Grade 11: The evolution of modern LGBT communities and identities; twentieth-century persecution of sexual and gender minorities and the growth of the LGBT civil rights movement

The inclusion of the LGBT community in California’s K-12 public school curriculum is long overdue. The LGBT community represents a significant part of the history and social fabric of California, yet their presence in textbooks is nonexistent. I believe the absence of such communities in the early learning stages of youth can affect their perception of the LGBT community. It can be something that they do not see as ‘normal’ thus they may develop a sense of dominancy and begin harassing the community.

As we know, individual students feel safer at school when diversity issues are included in the curriculum; this is true for LGBT students and for their straight peers. Schools without inclusive curriculums see more cases of reported bullying. Maybe if I would have seen myself accurately represented in textbooks, I wouldn’t have to wait until college to truly understand my history and that of my peers.

its timeNow let’s hope that the inclusion of LGBT communities in history and social science classes actually helps students navigate the economic, political, and social development of California rather than just present students with a few token historical figures. It is time to call for a truly representative curriculum that does not exclude to contributions of great portions of our communities, including the LGBT community.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE FAIR ACT IMPLEMENTATION AND PUBLIC COMMENTS THAT YOU CAN SUBMIT TO THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

By Isidro Manuel Lopez, communications/media intern at Our Family Coalition and broadcast & electronic communication arts student at San Francisco State University.

 

Everyone’s Schools Town Halls through a Queer Parent’s Eyes

Meghan Lewis, Family Advocacy Liaison, Oakland Unified School District

meghanI attended the last four “Everyone’s Schools Town Hall” gatherings sponsored by Our Family Coalition. As a queer parent of a fourth grader in OUSD, I was deeply inspired and filled with hope learning about all the positive programs happening within the different school communities throughout the Bay Area.

It is truly valuable having the opportunity to hear from – and work with – other parents, teachers, administrators, OFC’s staff and so many other bright voices in our community. I see that necessary changes are being identified, and that strategies toward improving learning environments are being gradually implemented so that all children and families can come to school knowing they will be kindly respected and appreciated.

TownHallIlloI am delighted that my child’s elementary school, Glenview Elementary, will be hosting OFC’s next Town Hall gathering in the East Bay! Glenview is becoming like an oasis of positivity and welcoming energy for LGBTQ families, so I am personally excited to share with others throughout OUSD how a welcoming school environment can evolve, look, and feel.

Those who attend the Town Hall can expect to get a feel for the kind of enthusiasm that initiates, promotes, and creates lasting change within a school culture. They will also gain:

  1. inspiration to get involved

  2. strategies for effective advocacy

  3. ideas to better implement activities unique to their school’s identified needs

  4. new connections and friends

Don’t miss the opportunity! Everyone’s School: OFC’s Annual Town Halls on LGBTQ Inclusive Schools will happen on Thursday, Oct 23 in San Francisco and Thursday, Nov 20 in Oakland.

We hope to see you and your family there! Get more information and register now!

PS: What happens after the Town Hall? We get that it takes time to implement sustainable, deep cultural shifts in our schools and communities. With the goal of continuing the fruitful conversations that emerge during the Town Halls, OFC has launched a new “Family Advocacy Program (FAP).” Parent Advocates worked with our support to contribute to the creation of authentic inclusive environments for ALL families in their schools. Here are some of the great activities that the parents co-created during the first round of FAP:

townwhallparentadvocatebox

Interested in contribute to a more inclusive culture in your school? Join us at the upcoming Town Halls or get in touch with tarah@ourfamily.org – We look forward to working with you!

BIO: Dr. Meghan Lewis is the founder of Integrative Perinatal Psychotherapy as well as LGBTQ Perinatal Wellness Associates of the Bay Area with offices in Oakland and San Francisco. With over 18 years of experience in reproductive wellness, Meghan brings unconditional support to her clients exploring a range of preconception, pregnancy, birth, postpartum and early parenting concerns. Her work with families also includes facilitating support circles and has done so at Bloom Retreat in Walnut Creek, Natural Resources and Our Family Coalition at the LGBT Center in SF, The Tulip Grove in Oakland, Blossom Birth in Palo Alto as well as BirthWays in Berkeley where she has served on Board of Directors. Meghan also has professional training and experience as an apprentice midwife, birth and postpartum doula, and in perinatal bodywork. She is a queer solo parent by choice of a 9 year old son who enjoys painting, sailing and exploring new terrain. Please visit www.meghanlewisphd.com for more information or go to www.lgbtqperinatalassociates.com

 

VICTORY: Governor Brown Signs the Modern Family Act!


Dear families and friends,

I am thrilled to share with you that the Modern Family Act (AB2344) is now the law!

Over the past twenty years California’s LGBTQ families have been gaining increased legal protections through the legislature and the courts. This victory shows the great impact that we can have when working united for laws that keep up with the evolving nature of our families. Your support is critical to our making change.

You may be asking what exactly the Modern Family Law means for our families. The law essentially does three things:

1. Establishes a statutory form that spells out the agreement between a donor and parents – much like the one that currently exists for wills – that may be used in the event of pregnancy achieved through sperm donations. The form would include  parenting rights and responsibilities, if any, for the donor. While we still advise that parents seek counsel, this form adds protections for all parties involved and will reduce future litigation on the issue.

2. Provides  clear specifications related to the financial responsibility of medical costs of the surrogate and the newborn.  This is important since some insurance coverage specifically excludes surrogacy.

3. Provides a streamlined adoption process for parents that meet these specified criteria and would waive associated fees.  This rectifies the inequity caused by states, unlike California, that do not accept birth certificates unless they include one female mother and one male father, forcing same-sex couples to go through an expensive and invasive step-parent adoption process to guarantee parental rights in other states.

I am elated knowing that the Modern Family Act will help build clarity in families that can help prevent non-biological parent from losing contact or custody of their child, in addition to removing the unnecessary financial and emotional cost that our families currently have to undertake to protect our kids across state lines.

We applaud Assemblymember Tom Ammiano for championing this bill in Sacramento, in collaboration with our many allies, and thank Governor Brown for signing the Modern Family Act. This bill is a big step in the right direction toward protecting families across California.

We need your help to build on two decades of work supporting and protecting families. Our Family Coalition is built on reciprocity, we cannot continue to exist and push for progressive policies without your generous support; please join our movement and make a donation today.

Please keep an eye out for more information about all the ways you can get involved with Our Family Coalition and help in the fight for equity and justice. We simply can’t do it without you.

Towards a new future for all of our families,

PS. In more exciting news that supports healthy schools and families, the Governor also just signed AB420 which prohibits suspending students in grades K-3 and prohibiting expulsion for willful disruption/defiance. We played a central role in advocating for this bill and will continue doing so with your support!

 

Banned Books Week Special: Some favorite kids’ lit titles

bookstackBanned Books Week (this year, Sept 21– 27): always a favorite among bibliophiles, and a particular favorite among we who keep finding books about us banned. I want to call out a half dozen or so favorite kid’s book titles from our family’s library.  There aren’t nearly enough books for children with family or gender diversity in them, but the lists I consult can still be dizzying. And given how few images our kids get of ourselves and our families in the culture around them, dull, one-dimensional, pedantic, inadequate, or pat books are even more disappointing. It’s tough, but it’s true: when there’s a paucity of imagery, what is out there is subject to high scrutiny and higher expectations.

rainbowfamilycollectionsEnter the indispensable resource Rainbow Family Collections: Selecting and Using Children’s Books with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Content (Libraries Unlimited, 2012). Author Jamie Campbell Naidoo lists and reviews some 175 picture books, over 30 chapter books, and over 40 other media resources for children (defined as birth up to 11 years old) that depict “same-sex parents, queer relatives, nontraditional families, gender-variant children, and influential LGBTQ historical figures.”  It’s written as a resource for librarians, and priced in that range ($50!). As harsh as that price tag is, it really is a fantastic resource.  Dana gave it a thorough review at Mombian back in June 2012.  The main thing I want to note here is that that the descriptions and ratings of each title (“Highly Recommended,” “Recommended,” “Additional Selection,” and “Not Recommended”) are a great help to those wishing to build a home library of even modest proportion.

What gets a book a mediocre rating is overly didactic content, or uninteresting illustrations, or words or language (one e.g.: “innate”) that are ill-suited to the reading level of the intended audience. These are just the sorts of complaints I’ve had of the lesser options in this literature.  The “Not Recommended” titles are often ones that are confusing to children, or depict some homophobic treatment in the storyline but don’t sufficiently explain or resolve it (thus creating more problems than they solve); some are outright homophobic and recommending the dissolution of a gay couple, for instance, or insinuating that gay people are pedofiles.  All of this is useful stuff to know about a book before you buy it sight unseen based on the title.  Out of the 175 titles listed in the “Picture Books” section, Naidoo either recommends or highly recommends some 79 (including some vintage titles from 1972, like William’s Doll). I was surprised to find some titles only designated as “Additional Selection”: Lesléa Newman’s The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, or Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House, both of which are major favorites of our kids.  But: à chacon son goût.

And speaking of goût! Here’s some of what’s to my family’s taste: a few of the books that have become favorites at “books ‘n’ milk” time in our household, and why:

  • abcfamilyalphabetbookABC: A Family Alphabet Book, written by Bobbie Combs, illustrated by Desiree Keane & Brian Rappa (Two Lives Publishing, 2000).
    • This is your alphabet book. One of the earlier books to include same-sex parents but without fanfare or hoop-dee-do. Basically it’s an alphabet book. But there are numerous sorts of same-sex parents (both of color, both Caucasian; interracial; one using a wheelchair, etc.).
    • The illustrations are fun, featuring kids doing something or another fun, wacky, madcap, silly, etc.
  • inourmothershouseIn Our Mothers’ House, written and illustrated by Patricia Polaccco (Philomel Books, 2009).
    • Sweet recollections of family life by the eldest child, now grown; all kids are adopted, two are interracially adopted (African American & Chinese American) by the two white moms.
    • Gorgeous illustrations, rich and sufficiently developed/ evolved story (note: our kids now 5 & 8; it was a little too long for the little guy up until a year or so ago).
    • Set in the kids’ hometown of Berkeley! Woah nellie! We let out a whooop whenever we’re on the street where they live.
    • Note that it includes reference to the moms’ eventual passing, but in a sweet way; I was skittish that it’d set our kids off to weeping, but nope!
  • frecklefacestrawberrybffFreckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever, written by Julianne Moore, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Bloomsbury, 2011).
    • Yes, that Julianne Moore.
    • A fun story  about friendship between two kids; the fact that one has two moms is (ideally!) treated totally incidentally and folded in smoothly, which is still relatively rare: too many books published in earlier years are issue-driven, and also presume a homophobic or uncomprehending reaction from other characters, which may well not be many of our kids’ experience–or perhaps, may be something some would rather not plug into their kids’ heads earlier than necessary.
    • The text doesn’t have a particularly zippy rhyme scheme, but it’s still a sweet story and the illustrations have a cool, retro-y feel that could engage keep grown-ups & kids alike.
  • boywhocriedfabulousThe Boy Who Cried Fabulous, written by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Peter Ferguson (Tricycle Press, 2004).
    • The story of an exuberant boy whose enthusiasm and fascination with the beauty around him is uncontainable–so much so that he loses track of time and arrives late to school. Also he loves spiffy clothing and nice handbags and some of the sorts of things you might imagine a future gay man might like
    • Fantastic illustrations, zippy rhyme scheme makes it somewhere between tolerable and fun for the grown up to withstand multiple re-readings
  • what-makes-a-baby-coverWhat Makes a Baby, written by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth (Zoball Press, 2012).
    • The all-time best, most direct, simple, explanatory, every family configuration-inclusive picture book about how a person comes to be. As in: a sperm (from somewhere! could be the person one calls “dad,” but not necessarily!) meets up with an egg (from somewhere! could be from inside the person one calls “mom,” but also possibly not!) and develops into a baby, which leaves the birth mother’s body in any number of ways (including Caesarean), usually being fully developed, but sometimes not quite! Which baby joins a family in any number of ways! I’m making it sound wacky, but really it’s just calmly inclusive and big-tent.
    • The first printing of this book was totally crowdsourced! How frickin’ cool is THAT?
    • Our 8 yr old, who is keen on becoming a medical doctor (cardiologist? brain surgeon? she can’t decide) is interested in it; 5 yr old engaged more by the fabu imagery. We like it that our family’s origin story can sit inside, and is not relegated to the outside, of the narrative in this book.
  • donovansbigdayDonovan’s Big Daywritten by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Mike Dutton (Tricycle Press, 2011). and Mom and Mum are getting Married, written by Ken Setterington, illustrated by Alice Priestley (Second Story Press, 2004).
    • Both of these are sweet stories focussing on the excitement of a kid (Donovan) or kids (Rosie and Jack, Mom and Mums’ kids) on the thrilling occasion of their parents getting married. Both have great illustrations, a fun plot that builds enthusiasm toward the big moment which, though about their parents, is also about them, since they play a big role in the ceremony (as ring bearer or flower petal strewer).
    • Donnovan is centered entirely around the boy, whereas Mom and Mum tells the whole family’s story more or less through the kids’ viewpoint. One of the moms in Mom and Mum is just a weeeensy, teeeensy bit butch. Ish. In one illustration (kind of goes Then There’s Maude for the ceremony outfit).  That’s the next big milestone for LGBT depictions in kids’ lit: gender traitors. Meanwhile, baby steps.
    • Neither story makes any to-do about the legality (recent, revoked, or il-) of the unions. Also, each one includes loving family members and an extended friendship network in a weave of support and excitement around the event.
  • rainbowsThe Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans and  The Day They Put a Tax on Rainbows, written by Johnny Valentine, illustrated by Lynette Schmidt (Alyson Wonderland, 1991 & 1992).
    • Three or so stories in each collection, following, for lack of a better term, the classic European renaissance-era Fairy Tale genre. As most of the best such books do, the story line foregrounds the kids, and has their same-sex parents occupying about as much air time as parents do or should in a kids’ story.
    • These were among the first books we read to our kids (our local library has both), and it was such a delight to be able to sink into a genre that was so beloved and find (quietly, in the background) families like ours.

And for good measure, I’ll include a few more books here that don’t have same-sex parents or LGBT people in them, but illustrate the huge value of the larger narratives of self-love and respect in spite of difference. These, too, mean a lot to our kids, and are high on our list of favorite reads.

  • boywhogrewflowersThe Boy Who Grew Flowers, written by Jen Wojtowica, illustrated by Steve Adams (Barefoot Books, 2005).  Basically, a boy comes from a really unusual family which includes many odd birds (from snake wranglers to people with snakes for hair, more or less). His special trait is that on the full moon, he sprouts flowers from his hair. He befriends a girl who has her own difference, and together, they see each other. Beautiful illustrations, amazingly sweet.
  • ilikemyselfI Like Myself! written by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow (Harcourt, 2004). Infectious rhyme scheme and very imaginative illustrations. An exuberant girl (African American) basically sing-chants her way through the book, declaring all the things she loves about herself, “Inside, outside, upside down, from head to toe and all around.”

My favorite page of I Like Myself gets me verklempt every time:

No matter if they stop and stare, no person ever anywhere can make me feel that what they see is all there really is to me.

So there.

What about your family? What are your favorite books? Share them with us in the comments! Or better yet, blog about it and give us the link!

By Polly Pagenhart, Our Family Coalition Programs Director and Lesbian Dad! An updated version of a 2012 post.