I spent last week at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference in Chicago, joining 4,000 activists from across the spectrum, of all ages, colors, and backgrounds, to learn, network, and plan for the future. Here’s a look at some of the family-related highlights I observed.
The conference started with a plenary panel on “Black Feminism and the Movement for Black Lives.” Panel member Barbara Smith, a founder of the Combahee River Collective that produced the classic 1977 statement of intersectional feminism, related to the audience at one point: “I was told Black homosexuality would be the death of the race. I said, ‘What about these children we’re raising?'” It was a reminder to me that these “modern families” of ours really aren’t all that newfangled—nor as White as most media depictions would have us believe. And if we are to support LGBTQ families, we must also believe—and act on the belief—that Black Lives Matter.
On the second day, a workshop by author Andrew Solomon (Far from the Tree) and the Task Force’s Julie Childs explored the ways some of our families incorporate more than one or two parents and their children. Childs and her wife are co-parenting their two girls with their sperm donor. Solomon and his husband John Habich are raising a child who is biologically Solomon’s and whom they created with the help of a surrogate. The surrogate is herself raising two children with her wife, for whom Habich is the biological father. And Solomon is the biological father of the child of a college friend, who is raising the child with her male partner. He considers all of them to be part of his family. The session raised the question of whether we are doing enough to protect families with such sprawling structures as well as the ones who now have greater security because of marriage equality.
Both Solomon and Childs also said that they had once thought they had to choose between coming out and having a family. They reminded me that our visibility as LGBTQ parents is important not only for our own children, but also for many LGBTQ young people who may be hesitant to come out for fear of abandoning a dream of parenthood. Not that all LGBTQ people (or people in general) should necessarily be parents—but those who want to should not have to give up their own authenticity for it.
In another workshop, speakers from several organizations dedicated to family-friendly workplace policies (Strong Families, Pride @ Work, A Better Balance, and Family Values @ Work), discussed the ways they and others are using cross-movement organizing and the power of collective bargaining agreements to ensure that benefits such as paid sick days and family leave are extended to encompass all important family relationships.
They spoke of encouraging employers to use a definition of family by “blood or affinity,” as the federal government does for its employees. Expanding benefits in this way would help a variety of families, such as those co-parenting with a donor or surrogate or those in which siblings are caring for each other. And using such language may also be a way to help polyamorous families, since it may be less off-putting to many people than words like “polyamory.”
The speakers also shared examples of efforts in Oregon, New Mexico, and Chicago towards this expanded vision of family recognition. In Oregon, for example, organizations led by people of color worked in partnership with LGBTQ groups on a 2014 campaign around paid sick days. They did not achieve the full “blood or affinity” definition, but did get some expansion, such as paid leave to care for grandparents. Now they are building a bigger cross-movement coalition. And in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has created a task force to look at the issue of paid family leave, build consensus, and make recommendations.
If I were to distill one theme across all of this, it would be “supporting families in all our variety.” Marriage equality may be won, but there is work to do—legislatively, socially, in the courts and in the media—to ensure that all families, in their sometimes complex webs of love, are better understood, respected, and supported.
Change comes not only from established organizations, political task forces, or even activist conferences, of course. We each create change every day simply by being visible in our communities, speaking out on the issues, big and small, that we believe in, and passing on our values to our children, who will have their own impact in the world.
That is why, in my opinion, the best family-related event at the conference was not any of the workshops, but rather the more social gathering of parents and prospective parents on Saturday night. In the end, it is our connections with other families, our shared stories of challenges faced, and our celebration of both similarities and differences that give us strength and sustain us in creating change.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.