Tag Archives: parents

Top-10 Quintessentially Queer Self-Care Tips: Enjoying Parenthood & Partnership in the East Bay

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Congratulations! You have mastered the art of early parenting. You’ve figured out how to make it through the day on very, very little shut eye; you’re managing to shovel in cold bites of leftovers from the ever-so-appealingly-prepared Meal Train drop offs; biodegradable bamboo diaper changes on the fly are already a breeze; you’ve got the supplemental chestfeeding system down like it’s nobody’s business; and, you skillfully snatch scarce seconds uploading the cutest sleeping baby pics ever, so your eagerly awaiting Ello family of friends can virtually coo with you.

Now that you’ve indeed tackled the newest of newborn care techniques and are overly supplied with what seemed the most baffling in baby gear, it’s beginning to feel like you’ve got this. So let’s take a moment to look at what else you’ve got, for your other babe—your partner over the past many years. You know you have a sound thing going on; you’re both in it for the long-haul. How to focus attention so the chemistry stays fierce and fiery amidst the new family frenzy? What steps can you take to insure no fizzling out on your end?

Whether you identify as any of the myriad of parental self-signifiers such as Mama, Baba, Mapa, Pama, Papa, or DykeDaddy, down time essentials are as unique and intentional as you are. Finding the balance between raising your baby and meaningfully engaging with your wife, quife, hersband, spouse or partner requires a steadfast forging of a sustainable self-care regimen. To help keep you feeling fortified for you and your family, with your heart and health in mind, here’s a Top-10 sampling of the East Bay’s quintessentially queer offerings:

1. Get your Butch Yoga on with Skeeter or Richelle at Namaste Yoga.

2. Pound it out solo or lift with a skilled trainer at the nation’s first LGBTQ gym, The Perfect       Sidekick.

3. Hop on the Redwood Regional trail system with the San Francisco Bay Chapter of Gay and Lesbian Sierrans.

4. Make a friend date with a pal and enjoy a locally made meal or a double shot of espresso at dyke-owned Hive Café: the Place to Bee.

5. Start a queer parent MeetUp Group around a special interest (such as one for non-gestational co-parents) or join the already existing lesbian moms MeetUp group.

6. To further build your community of queer families, check out the TransDads or the Mamas and the Papas groups and events at Our Family Coalition.

7. Connect with other new LGBTQ parents and parents-to-be at Then Comes Baby.

8. Join the LGBTQI/SGL community at the East Bay Meditation Center (EBMC) Alphabet Sangha for your mindfulness meditation practice.

9. Book yourself a body-mind tune-up of acupuncture, chiropractic care, deep tissue massage or integrative counseling with your choice of the many LGBTQ Perinatal Wellness Associates.

10; Settle in by the lake, at a gastropub, or in your backyard hammock with a good queer parenting read:

  • Who’s Your Daddy and Other Writings on Queer Parenting – By Rachel Epstein
  • Confessions of the Other Mother: Non biological Lesbian Moms Tell All – Edited by Harlyn Aisley
  • Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood – By Cherri’e Moraga
  • Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag – By A.K. Summers
  • And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families – By Susan Goldberg
  • The Queer Parent’s Primer: A Lesbian and Gay Families’ Guide to Navigating the Straight World – By Stephanie Brill
  • Family Pride: What LGBT Parents Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods – By Michael Shelton

Or peruse useful web resources:

If not daily, at least a weekly partaking of some enriching activity or contemplative practice will aid tremendously in renewing your internal resources, in invigorating your parenting stamina, and in maintaining your relationship passion. In gifting yourself the opportunity to recharge, you will cultivate a self-care ritual or routine that will support, nourish, and inform you throughout the many enjoyable years of parenthood and partnership.

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. Please visit www.meghanlewisphd.com for more information or go to www.lgbtqperinatalassociates.com

What’s So Funny about “Transparent”?

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Review of Amazon Studio’s series Transparent for Our Family Coalition

The deep pathos about not living an authentic life is made very concrete with the double entendre of the word “transparent” in Jill Soloway’s new comedy-drama, Transparent, on Amazon. The theme of secrets and their long-lasting emotional and psychological scars are revealed through clever dialogue and plot structure in the show through the Pfefferman family. The central question of what happens when you parent as not an authentic and transparent parent while raising children drives most of the drama and backstories.

The series is structured around Mort Pfefferman’s (Jeffrey Tambor) social transition into Maura at age 69 and backstories—as family members recall different experiences of their understandings—which center around events that occur mostly between 1985 and 1994, and the revelations of the long-lasting damage his closeted transgender identity wrought on his family. Her whole life of having been pretending to be a man and a father forces his children, Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass) and Ally (Gaby Hoffman), to re-question their childhood and adult lives in ways that are fundamentally transformational.

The pilot episode begins with Pfefferman’s children talking about how daddy has summoned all of them, and how they are all worried that she has cancer. Through comedic twists and turns of the trials and tribulations of modern lives and the limitations of each child’s personalities, they are finally gathered at Mort’s Palisades home. She announces she is going to sell the house.  Mort cries, “I am done with the house!” We hear a one-way telephone conversation later that evening from Mort saying he couldn’t tell the children.

The following day at the Los Angeles LGBT Center you hear Jeffrey Tambor’s voice, the camera pans to a group session and slowly reveals Mort as Maura, and the audience understands that the previous evening was meant to be the big revelation about Maura’s transgender confession. Maura tells the group, “I don’t understand how I raised three selfish kids who can’t see beyond themselves.” This statement and the group session position the audience as an ally with Maura in her transgender social transformation throughout the series.

The series weaves in and out of backstories and recollections to great effect for the mystery of how the children become the way they do doesn’t become revealed until the final episode. This is great storytelling and the sense of how memory functions in repression in that it takes multiple attempts to uncover deep, family secrets. The Pfefferman family system created a dysfunctional system in which Maura has attempted to suppress her authentic gender identity by playing the ideal husband, which is symbolized by her beautiful Palisades home. The impact on her marriage and on her neglected wife, the time spent away from family, and the lack of authoritative parental guidance during the critical teenage years, however, is illustrated throughout the series without any clear resolution until the finale.

As with Solloway’s Six Feet Under and The United States of Tara her examination of the American family is where the series shines at its best and most heart wrenching. It is also where it made me cringe the most as a member of the transgender community. (I know there are criticisms against Solloway for hiring a cisgender actor to portray Mort and not a transgender actor. Those aside, Solloway did hire transgender actors and consultants for the series, and for that I applaud her.) I watched the metamorphosis of Mort into Maura and a lot of her self-loathing and discomfort about the female gait and posture became more natural and accepting over the series. I wish that it were a more happy narrative of having a transgender parent, but I suppose this is where Solloway was brave in providing a cautionary tale. The viewer is meant to understand that if one is able to be one’s authentic self in term’s of gender identity and by living your best life you provide a role model for your children that is transparent, honest, and authentic. We need to have more authentic and explicit conversations with our children about race, class, family, gender and sexuality. I hope for this new generation of transgender and gender expansive people protected by law and a discourse promoting more civility and respect that the need for secrecy and pain that drove Maura inside is no longer required. We can celebrate all of our diversity-race, gender, sexuality, family, class, ability-in this big “whirlpool”-together.

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                                                                                                          By Sandra S. Collins, Ph.D.

Executive Director and Founder of Bay Area Rainbow Day Camp and Assistant Professor of East Asian History, California State University, Chico

 

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:

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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

 

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.

Evening S’Mores, Wild Turkeys, Fun-Filled Campout… Oh my.

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Campout2014007This past weekend, several dozen LGBTQ families and allies finished off the summer in style, with our ever-popular BBQ & family camp-out in the East Bay hills, this time at Tilden Park’s Wildcat View Group Camp. This year we added an extra night, and more than half the families were able to take advantage of it, arriving Fridayevening and making a longer weekend of it. That amounted to two nights of Jiffy Pop popcorn over the fire!

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Planned events included a foam pool noodle obstacle course, messy art, an excursion to Little Farm (complete with celery), and evening s’mores. A great selection of books was available in a shaded toddler story time area, and several of the older kids volunteered to help OFC staff lead the youngins in games. A BBQ lunch, a burrito bar dinner, and continental breakfast were provided by OFC staff, along with between-meal snacks.

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Campout2014008Unplanned? A visit by numerous wild turkeys, a glow-stick path laid out through the meadow leading the way to the outhouse (a nighttime boon!) and a rollicking earthquake directly under our sleeping bags!  The next morning, we polled and discovered that 100% of the parents were awoken by it, and 0% of the kids. But none of us were worried by it: under the trees was the best place to be. And the hot coffee awaiting us the next morning didn’t hurt.

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We’re already dreaming of next year’s late-summer family camp-out. If you couldn’t make it this time around, try to make it next year! We can promise it’ll be at least as fun. Though we can’t promise another earthquake 🙂

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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

Mignon And Elaine’s Story From The Let Love Define Family Series

Originally published on the Huffington Post Gay Voices

foreverfamilyLong before Mignon R. Moore, 43, and Elaine Harley, 44, of Los Angeles considered raising a child, they focused their sights on building another type of family of choice by creating community networks for women of color first in New York and then in California. From their New York home 11 years ago, Mignon and Elaine launched “Persuasion,” a social network for “women of color of every persuasion.” Once they moved west, they established “Chocolate & Wine Upscale Events for Women,” a large and growing social group for lesbian, bisexual and same-gender-loving (SGL) women. The communities they have created have helped them forge friendships with women across the nation.

mignon2As a university professor and the author of Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships and Motherhood Among Black Women, Mignon has studied the unique factors influencing family-building among African American SGL women. Key among them is the fact that black LGBT individuals are less likely than other populations to cut ties with their families and religious communities when they encounter homophobia or outright rejection.

“I think that African American LGBT people work to retain ties with their racial and ethnic communities,” said Mignon. “Though many have found acceptance, some have faced resistance. But when there are issues they disagree with, they try to stick it out and work things through. The racial community acts as a buffer from the racism in society and because of that they are willing to negotiate, argue about and push through disagreements about their sexual orientation. That connection remains critical to their sense of self.”

Fortunately for Mignon and Elaine, their own families have been nothing but supportive. The couple, who have been together since 2002, were legally married in New York in 2012. The legal ceremony was followed by a wedding ceremony on the beaches of Los Cabos, Mexico.

The loving support of their families was much appreciated through the ups and downs of trying to create a family. They had already been involved in raising Elaine’s son from a previous relationship. Now that he was in college, the women looked forward to raising an infant together. After Mignon had tried various assisted reproductive technologies, they still wanted to grow their family with “babies that we could call our own.”

mignon1“We had some friends who became parents through foster-adoption,” said Elaine, a graphic designer who specializes in web design and branding. “Mignon’s own parents adopted children through the foster care system as well, so we had models for successful outcomes that we could draw upon. We did not want to spend thousands of dollars for private adoption when there were children who needed permanent and loving homes who were available in the public care system.”

Working with Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency (SCFFAA), Mignon and Elaine began the process of training and certifying to become foster-adopt parents. Although they were delighted when the first baby was placed with them, they were devastated when distant relatives came forward and were approved to raise the infant. Nevertheless, they got through it together and prepared themselves to be matched with a child who had no other relatives to care for it.

Baby Joi, now 14 months, was placed with them in March 2013 and her biological brother Ryan, now five months, joined the family in January. Mignon and Elaine look forward to making them a permanent part of the Moore-Harley family when their adoptions are finalized this year.

Since becoming foster parents, they have discovered through their social networks the high numbers of African American and Latino LGBT parents who foster to adopt. Those numbers echo findings by The Williams Institute, which has shown that African American lesbians and gay men are more likely to be raising children than their Caucasian counterparts.

Despite the disappointment of the first placement ending, Mignon said the couple has experienced more highs than lows and says the foster-adoption process has been “relatively smooth for us.”

“We have had positive experiences with state agencies,” she said. “Social workers, child advocates and others who work in the child welfare system have learned that sexual orientation is not a determining factor in a family’s ability to provide a loving home for a child or sibling group.”

Mignon praised the services of RaiseAChild.US and its Parent Advocate program, which provides free personalized support to prospective parents through phone calls and emails as they explore the option of fostering and adopting, choosing an agency to work with and moving through the steps of orientation, training, certification and placement.

“There are many LGBT people who have fostered and adopted, and we just didn’t know about it before we started the process,” Mignon said, “but problems can arise when you do not have an LGBT-positive agency like RaiseAChild.US to help. RaiseAChild.US’s Parent Advocate Jason Cook understands that you‘re trying to form your ‘forever family’ so he provides personal assistance to help navigate the bureaucracy. We have referred many families from different areas across the country to RaiseAChild.US and they have been able to talk with Jason and find help.”

Both Joi and Ryan were born before their due dates and faced challenges at birth. Mignon and Elaine are proud of how the babies have flourished while in their care. They take every opportunity to share the joy that their children have brought to them. Mignon currently serves on RaiseAChild.US’s Honorary Advisory Council where she sees opportunities to make a difference for children in foster care.

“We would like other families to know that it is possible to find a child or children to love and raise through the foster care system,” said Mignon. “There are beautiful, kind, wonderful little souls just waiting for the right adult to nurture them and help them reach their full potential as human beings. They are counting on you to come and find them!”

“We also want families to know that the road can be difficult at times, but well worth the hard work,” added Elaine.

“Call Me Mom,” a free brunch event hosted by RaiseAChild.US at Andaz West Hollywood hotel on May 3, will provide information to all women interested in becoming parents through fostering and adoption. The presentation will feature a welcome from a Los Angeles sheriff who is also an adoptive mom through the foster care system, a parent panel and Q&A and an opportunity to meet participating partner agencies. For more information or to RSVP visit www.RaiseAChild.US.

Corinne Lightweaver is the Special Projects Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. RaiseAChild.US works with foster and adoption agencies that have received training in LGBT cultural competence through the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “All Children-All Families” initiative. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,000 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”

The Entrustment Ceremony – Creating meaningful ritual in open adoption

By Leah Sheldon
Originally Published by Adoption Connection
Entrustmentceremony

Ashlee (left) and adoptive mom Bobbie exchange vows and bracelets at the entrustment ceremony of daughter Fait

Rituals have always been used to signify a change or rite of passage, or to mark a transition in the life of a person or community. Although they are often interwoven with religious traditions, rituals can be anything that symbolizes and celebrates a life change.  We mark birthdays, baptisms, bar/bat mitzvahs, and weddings with a special ceremony, so why not open adoptions?

The transfer of parental rights from one family to another in an open adoption is bittersweet. The birthmother is giving up her role as caregiver while the adoptive parents are gaining a new family member to love and nurture. The role of a ritual–or entrustment ceremony– to honor this event is becoming very common as adoptive and birth families feel empowered to create open and trusting relationships.

Just as each open adoption unfolds differently, each entrustment ceremony is unique and can be tailored to fit the needs of the birth and adoptive family. Ideally, the ceremony should emphasize that the two families are now creating a new, extended family connection that will forever honor and respect the birthmother’s biological bond to the child.

Tips To Planning an Entrustment Ceremony:

  • Make sure that the ceremony is directed as much as possible by the birthmother and her family. (It is okay if it is planned by the adoptive family, adoption agency, or clergy member if it suits the situation.)
  • Invite key contributors: the birthmother and selected family members of her choosing, along with the adoptive parents and the baby.
  • Make sure everyone has a role in the celebration, however small. Poems or religious passages may be read, or perhaps both the birth and adoptive parents can speak about their hopes and love for the baby.
  • As with all festive rituals, flowers, food, candles, and meaningful music can all be a part of the ceremony.
  • There is no right or wrong way to plan an entrustment ceremony. Do what feels right and what will contribute to connection and meaningful memories.

The Ritual Unfolds

Adoptive parents Karen and Chris suggested the idea of creating an entrustment ceremony with Denise, their son Jonah’s birthmother. Before the ceremony took place, the couple videotaped Denise holding Jonah and saying her goodbye on camera. (She had said a private goodbye the day before.) The family brought in a local pastor to lead them in a few readings, and the adoptive family shared an oath and a commitment to raise their son in a strong and loving home. Flowers were exchanged, and birth and adoptive grandparents and friends were present to witness the special ceremony.

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Eric and Robin originally planned on a ceremony at the hospital as well, but plans changed when Shelly, their daughter’s birthmother, had an unexpected Caesarean section. Much of her family wouldn’t be able to make it. They decided to meet at the birth family’s home the day after Shelly was released from the hospital, when her extended family could participate. Shelly and her mother were able to print and frame pictures of the baby taken at the hospital, as well as images of family and friends to display around the house. The birth grandmother ordered a sheet cake with four candles for the four days of life their daughter had had. Eric says, “We called it a ‘Celebration of Life’ so it wouldn’t take on a religious tone, and it really was a celebration. The family had put together family heirlooms for us to take home for Madison, including Shelly’s silver baby rattle.”

Eric and Robin knew that Shelly and her family were private people, so instead of speaking publicly at the party, they gave her a letter that they had written the night before.  “We wanted to let her and her family knows how thankful we were for them and how much we love our daughter,” says Eric.

Bobbie and Eli and their birthmother, Ashlee, waited until two weeks after their daughter’s birth to host a ceremony. It coincided with the signing of Ashlee’s relinquishment papers, making the adoption legally binding. Bobbie says, “Waiting those two weeks felt like a good decision for everyone because leaving the hospital was such an emotional experience for all of us.” During their ceremony, Bobbie and Eli presented their birthmother with a special bracelet that was inscribed with the words “Faith, Hope and Courage,” which matches one Bobbie wears as well.

Birth grandfather and poet, Paul, incorporating a special adoption poem during the legal relinquishment process of his daughter creating important memories and a keepsake in their open adoption process.

Take the Long View

An entrustment ceremony isn’t going to be possible for every adoption, but Lynne Fingerman, Director of Adoption Connection, believes adoptive parents can do little things in the hospital that can ease the transition and celebrate the birthmother’s love and care. “Whether you send flowers to your birthmother or have her family participate at the hospital in feeding the baby, there are things you can do to create trust and ongoing tradition… things that you can tell your child about later on.”

When Bill and Danielle adopted their daughter, Cassandra, their daughter’s birthgrandmother wanted to be the first to hold her. The adoptive family made it as easy as possible for her by finding a room next to the nursery where a rocking chair would fit so that she could have some quiet moments with Cassandra and be the first to hold her.

entrustmentceremonyquote2An Event to Remember

When Bridget chose to place her son with Erik and Christina, she was hesitant to go forward with an entrustment ceremony at the hospital. “I was initially scared and only agreed because Erik and Christina wanted to do one,” she says. “But it turned out to be very powerful for me.” Since both families were Catholic, the couple brought in a member of the clergy to say a few words during the ceremony.

Bridget would definitely recommend a ceremony to other birthparents. Her advice? “Be open-minded to the adoptive parents’ ideas and just let them plan it if you feel overwhelmed.”

Taking pictures and videotaping the event are also good ideas. When adoptees start to ask questions about where they come from, they want to taste, touch, and feel as much of the early stuff as they can. Having a video or pictures of the entrustment creates a legacy of caring and love for the child. Just as importantly, it can show the growing child that his or her adoption was a deeply loving choice based on a conscious decision.

Straight Talk From a Lesbian Mom

Judy Appel and Family (Oakland Tribute Pictures 1)I am a real live lesbian mom. My wife and I have been together for 23 years, way back before we could even think of being wives. We have a 16-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.

We are pretty much like any of you and your families. We get up every morning, make lunches for our kids and then scramble to get them out the door to school on time. Then, my wife Alison and I rush off to work, texting when we can catch a moment during our busy days to navigate the chores and details of dinner, shopping, dentist appointments and the ever changing complexities of our kids’ schedules. At the end of our work day, we rush home, make dinner, help with homework and, like many other parents these days, nag our kids to put away their electronic devices. When we are lucky, they share their struggles and their triumphs with us. And, in between all of this, we worry about our kids. Actually, we worry all the time, for all the reasons every parent does.LesbianMomPullquote1

We are fortunate in that we live in a place where our kids are growing up in an oasis of inclusion, with a community of friends and family that span the rainbow of sexual orientation, gender identity, race and class. Inside our bub  ble there is a culture of acceptance. Lesbian moms are hardly worth noticing, certainly far less noteworthy to our children and their friends than our questionable fashion choices or embarrassing dance moves.

But, our bubble is transparent, and both the awesomeness and the ugliness of the world are right outside. Our kids are tuned into American culture through social media, literature and Hollywood movies; but, until very recently, they saw little, if any, reflection of our family in the media, on television, on the web or in the books they read. However, partially due to the popularity of shows like Modern Family, Glee and The A-Bs outsideFosters, this has begun to change. Now that marriage equality is cascading through the blue states, and even some of the red ones, corporations like Coca-Cola and Chevy are clamoring to embrace family diversity to grab a piece of the market share and consequently, send a message out to the world that change is no longer coming, it’s here.LesbianMomPullquote2

Unfortunately, there are some that still react with fear and hate to families like mine. The conservative opposition continues their 50-year crusade leveraging the anxieties of well-meaning straight people, advancing the tired and unfounded notion that somehow gay people, like my wife, and me, will harm their kids. They continue to demonize our families with unfounded truths like, “Kids need both a mother and a father to be well-adjusted members of society” or “Children will be harmed if they grow up in gay or lesbians families.” These statements are slightly watered down version of the repressive Russian laws that led to an international outcry as LGBT families were pushed deep into the closet and out of their homeland. The same way of thinking leaves American children of LGBT parents vulnerable when they are denied legal connections to both their parents in so many states.

Our families are scattered throughout the United States: a quarter of all same-sex couples are raising kids in the American South. Salt Lake City has the highest ratio of same-sex couples raising children. States in the South and Midwest that have the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children, also have the most precarious legal protections for their families. We have become accustomed to the one step forward and two step backwards pace of achieving equality. Yet, I feel confident that our path is inexorably set and that we will ultimately, some day, triumph in the Supreme Court.

LesbianMomPullquote3The battle for acceptance is not solely taking place in the courts, but also at playgrounds, schoolyards, little league games, chess tournaments and in churches, synagogues, mosques, everywhere LGBT families are quietly going about the business of raising children and living their lives. LGBT parents are your neighbors. We are your kids’ coaches, team managers and fellow carpool drivers. We can be people you rely on, people you turn to, people you trust with that most precious being, your child. We don’t just stay in our bubble and neither do you.

The only way I know to start paving the way for a future of full-scale equity, one that goes beyond marriage equality, is for us to reach our hands across the playground and really meet one another. I ask you to put away any discomfort you might have about my family or other families that are different or simply don’t look like your own. Welcome that two-dad couple when they come to Back-to-School night; take the leap and let your kid attend my kid’s birthday party. Let’s get to know each other. It is the only path to real change.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post blog

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.