Tag Archives: inclusion

Groundbreaking Law Would Make It Easier For LGBT Couples To Start A Family

Gay couple Jeffrey Parsons (R) and Chris

Jeffrey Parsons and Chris Hietikko pose with their son Henry Hietikko-Parsons in the garden of their house. Henry was conceived by the couple via artificial insemination and a surrogate mother. | EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images

When Judy Appel and her partner of 22 years, Alison Bernstein, wanted to have children, the state of California didn’t make it easy.

Appel-Bernstein Kobi Graduation 5th Grade

Judy Appel, Alison Bernstein, and their children

Bernstein gave birth to their son using an anonymous sperm donor. But in order for Appel to gain legal custody of her child, she had to go through lengthy, complicated and costly measures to adopt him, which included allowing authorities into the family’s home multiple times for evaluations.

“It was really invasive,” Appel told The Huffington Post of the process. “They came into our home and studied it. It’s this extra legal hoop that, just by its nature, sends the message that our family isn’t equal.”

Appel and Bernstein’s son is now 16 years old, and much has changed in California since then. Gay marriage is now recognized under state law, and the adoption process for non-biological children of LGBT couples has become more streamlined. But certain counties in the state still require home visits as part of the adoption process. And if a same-sex couple with children moved to a state that didn’t recognize their marriage, the parents’ legal custody could be in jeopardy had no formal adoption taken place beforehand.

“In California, there’s the presumption that my wife is the parent of my child,” Appel said. “But elsewhere, that puts us at risk. What if a kid ends up in the hospital and one of the parents couldn’t visit?”

A new California bill aims to protect children from ending up in this kind of situation. Authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and dubbed the Modern Family Act, the first-of-its kind legislation would make adopting easier for LGBT couples in the state who want to start a family, providing legal protections from the moment formal planning begins. The measure would also benefit straight couples and single parents looking to conceive through alternative methods such as in vitro fertilization, sperm donation and surrogacy.

“The science behind having families has advanced more quickly than the laws,” Ammiano told HuffPost in a statement. “This bill is just an attempt to catch up with the realities and help these couples enjoy their modern families.”

themeasureThe measure, which passed the California Assembly by an overwhelming 60-2 majority earlier this week and now faces a vote in the state Senate before heading to the governor’s desk, includes multiple components. First, it would streamline the adoption process for same-sex parents, waiving typically required legal fees (which can range anywhere from $700 to thousands of dollars, according to Ammiano’s office) and protecting the family’s privacy by disallowing home visits and other invasive procedures.

“It will especially help for lower-income families in these situations,” Appel, who serves as the executive director of Our Family Coalition, a San Francisco-based advocacy group that supports LGBT parents and their families, noted. “This would provide security for kids across all economic levels.”

The bill would also apply to couples and individuals using what’s called a “known donor” to achieve pregnancy — in other words, using the sperm or egg of someone with whom they have a relationship, rather than an anonymous donor. Not only would the legislation require that all parties involved sign a statement of parental intention before any medical procedure take place, but it would also require would-be families using alternative reproduction technologies to explore their health insurance options in advance.

Alice Crisci, a government affairs liaison with California Cryobank, the country’s largest sperm donation bank, explained that using a known donor can sometimes lead to complicated legal situations. A donor or surrogate might seek custody of the child after he or she is born, for example, or the intended parents might go after the donor for child support. The Modern Family Act would eliminate any ambiguities at the onset.

“A lot of people use known donors because they want the donor to have a relationship with their child,” she said. “It’s really important that the law is as protective to all parties as possible.”

Crisci added that when legal issues arise after the fact, cases put pressure on California’s already-bloated family court system and impose significant financial burdens on everyone involved. “You can go broke defending your right to be a parent,” she said. “And it’s leaving the children vulnerable.”

334562_10152109118485035_1702709103_o

Renata Moreira, Lori Bilella, and their dog Pete

Renata Moreira, the policy and communications director at Our Family Coalition, married her wife, Lori Bilella, in San Francisco last year following the overturn of Prop 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. She and Bilella hope to start a family in the near future using Bilella’s egg and a known sperm donor. Moreira will then carry the pregnancy herself so that, as she explained to HuffPost, she and her wife both have the opportunity to bond emotionally with their unborn child.

renataquote

“The Modern Family Act will directly protect my intention to parent the child I will subsequently carry,” she said in a statement of support for the bill, adding to HuffPost that the legislation would “reduce the need for any future litigation in case something goes awry.”

Appel is quick to point out that the legislation reflects society’s evolving definition of what constitutes a family. “We’re in an age in which people create their families in different ways. This act allows for clear understandings going in, so we can create a loving environment for our kids,” she said. “It’s not to protect our rights, but to protect the security of our children.”

Originally posted on the Huffington Post

A Night Out to Remember

By Jessica Israel Cannon

cannonsatprideFor the past five years, Our Family Coalition’s Night Out has been an annual favorite event for the adults in my family. We get dressed up, head into San Francisco and enjoy a festive date night, while supporting OFC’s amazing work.

As an elementary school administrator and a bisexual mom (married to a transgender dad), I know firsthand the power of Our Family Coalition’s professional development to empower educators. They work hard to bring inclusive curriculum to many schools throughout the Bay Area, including the one our son attends. And they are fiercely dedicated to creating truly welcoming environments for all our children and families, helping many of us to embrace and celebrate our full selves.

NightOutToRememberQuotation-1
One of our favorite Night Out traditions is to invite our son’s teacher to attend the event as our guest. We know how hard these teachers work and inviting them to the Night Out festivities is our 20131129_124541way of saying thank you for all they do for our family. We have been so lucky to have one caring, inclusive educator after another. Each of these dedicated individuals has been completely open to our unique family story and has gone out of her/his way to make sure all families are represented in the classroom. The teachers we have invited share a huge sense of connection with the other guests at the event and are proud to be a part of Our Family Coalition’s work.

My husband Ali and I are so proud of being part of this family that, after our first year as attendees, we decided to become Table Captains. In this capacity, we have been able to share the inspiring stories behind Our Family Coalition with other queer parents, co-workers, extended family and numerous straight allies. I cannot describe the feelings as I sat at the event next to my straight father-in-law two years ago, watching his eyes fill with tears as he realized how much this organization has done for his family. That same year, one straight couple was so moved by what they witnessed at Night Out, that this year they are captaining their own table.

NightOutToRememberQuotation-2

Best of all, Night Out is fun!  It’s a great opportunity to meet other queer parents and educators, and catch up with old friends who we may not have seen in quite some time. The hotel is exquisite and the food delicious. We also enjoy competing in the Silent Auction knowing that all the money we spend will go to support such a fabulous organization. The emcees, such Marga Gomez and more recently Alec Mapa, bring unforgettable queer humor to the event. And, the awardees, from Jesse Tyler Ferguson to Betty Degeneres to the Bay Area’s own Jill Rose, have been inspiring leaders in promoting visibility and equality for all families.

NightOutToRememberQuotation-3
Each year, my husband and I leave Night Out feeling a renewed sense of community, commitment and connection. It is an amazing experience to be a part of something that so benefits our family, but is also so much bigger than we are.  Night Out celebrates that work and reminds all of us of the tremendous possibilities for social transformation when people are truly able to celebrate who they are.

We are looking forward to this year’s celebrations and we hope many more families will also be able to share OFC’s amazing work with their own family and friends!

Jacob’s New Dress is a Hit! A Q&A with authors Sarah & Ian Hoffman

JacobsDressQuotationHave you and your children read Jacob’s New Dress yet? This beautifully illustrated, heartwarming book hit the stores last week (Amazon has been shipping it for longer) and it’s already into its second printing! I recently had the pleasure of chatting with authors, Sarah and Ian Hoffman, about their wonderful work. They are now officially on my “Phenomenal People on Earth” list (and OFC’s recommended children’s book list).  Read on!

OFC: Can you share a little bit of your journey from inception to birth of this touching creation?

Hoffman: Our son was 2 years old when he went to pre-school and chose a path different than the other boys in his class. We saw our pink boy being teased and struggling to find ways to be himself. It was a tough process to go through. We felt it was important to share this story about kids who are different in a way that would appeal to a mainstream audience. We especially wanted to speak to pre-school and elementary school kids so they can learn, early on, that it’s okay to be different. It’s important to teach that message both to the kids who are different and those who are part of the norm.

OFC: Have you received any backlash about this or other published work about your kids’ journey?

Hoffman: So far, Jacob’s New Dress is receiving a lot of very positive responses, both from the press and from parents. In past publications, we have been flooded with positive letters from parents everywhere. However, there’s always some negative feedback from folks that say “we’re making our child gay by forcing him to wear a dress” or that we’re “going to hell for not educating our child.” Most of these folks, I think, are just not open to seeing the impact of repressing our kids at home. So we tend to ignore the letters that come from a place of anger and not inquiry. We are grateful that the publisher is so supportive and thrilled about the work.

OFC: You mentioned elementary schools as a primary audience, but do you see the book finding a home in other places?

Hoffman: Yes! We would love to see the book wherever kids and parents are – libraries, doctors’ offices, you name it. We want it to be a staple, so more and more kids can see themselves and their friends represented. Kids are, in fact, totally open to this. Just think of Cat in the Hat. It’s initially an uncomfortable book when you first read it as an adult, right? It doesn’t really phases the kids, though. Kids understand the world is not orderly.

OFC: This is great! It sounds like the book is landing well with parents and caregivers across the country. Is there anything else you’d like to share with Our Family Coalition today?JacobsDress

Hoffman: We are so grateful to be receiving hundreds of emails and notes sharing the impact that Jacob’s New Dress has on their children’s lives.  Families have submitted photos of their kids reading the book, shared news of bringing the book into their children’s schools and libraries, and told stories of tears and recognition and comfort. Receiving this feedback is utterly gratifying, as these families are the reason we wrote this book. We feel honored to be on the same shelf as author Leslea Newman (The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, Heather Has Two Mommies), and so many other fantastic kids books that are challenging archaic notions of what it means to be different than the norm.  For more on Sarah & Ian Hoffman, visit their website.

Everyone’s School

Rick
Rick Oculto, Our Family Coalition Education Coordinator

In October and November Our Family Coalition gathered teachers, school administrators, and families in San Francisco and the East Bay to talk about how to address intersectional needs of diverse families and students at school.  They say that you need a happy environment to have a happy home and the same is true for our schools. In order for our students to succeed we need to provide an environment where they do not have to fear being ostracized for who they are, where they come from, or what they believe. Families from different faith structures, have interracial caregivers, speak different languages, are adopted, have LGBTQ parents, are headed by an aunts or grandparents, have one parent, and many other family structures are every bit as deserving to feel welcome and included at their schools.

Town-Hall-East-Bay-Crowd
The crowd gathered at the East Bay Town Hall 

The events hosted approximately one hundred families and we talked about the importance of representing the diversity of our communities in schools. With topics ranging from racism, homophobia, cyberbullying, transphobia, and cultural identity it was a packed night filled with rich insight on how to address these various issues from a comprehensive and intentional perspective. Guests learned that providing for and understanding different family structures requires visibility of those differences that celebrates rather than segregates; we all win in an environment where we can appreciate one another. Furthermore, the absence of the pressure of not fitting in allows youth to fully embrace their identities and explore their potential without negative prejudice about how that potential should develop. Families were encouraged to participate by sharing their stories and school staff were eager to learn that they had partners in their parent communities to help them with these issues.

The end of each of the events were marked with parents and teachers talking with one another about the needs of their students and what they could do to create a climate that felt supportive and schools that are better suited to help them succeed. The dialogue from these events is only the beginning and with more involved partnerships between schools and parents our schools will only become better. It’s true, the work is far from done and Our Family Coalition is proud to be here every step of the way to educate and advocate for families that are LGBTQ!

Join us as we continue the work throughout the year! Our next event is Everyone’s Story at the Oakland Main Library. We’ll be reading a recommended book from our book list and running a Welcoming Schools lesson plan. Come see what inclusive schools are like in action and learn how to advocate as parents at your own schools!

Rick Oculto