by Maria Luisa Jimenez-Morales, Our Family Coalition Parent
Our 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.
My 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!
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.
The 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.
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.