By Howey, Noelle
The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Sand castle building contests. Movie nights. Bonfires. Cookouts. It sounds like the itinerary of activities from virtually any summer camp--until you hear about a few of the other scheduled events, like a workshop for the children of transgendered parents or a seminar on artificial insemination. (The location, Provincetown, Mass., is a bit of a giveaway too.) Indeed, the annual Family Week, sponsored by the Family Pride Coalition, with youth programming by Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, is fast becoming a tradition among hundreds of gay and lesbian families.
The August event, whose attendance has increased 20% almost every year since its inception in 1996 and which spawned a sister event in Saugatuck, Mich., is so popular because it combines kid-friendly fun with parent education and support groups--information many of these families can't access back home. Or as Beth Teper, executive director of COLAGE, puts it: "It's one of the only places where kids can hang out without being asked how they can have a donor and not a dad."
According to Aimee Gelnaw, executive director of Family Pride, Family Week has become essential to gay and lesbian parents who, for one reason or another, are isolated from other support networks. "It's so important to people's well-being that they really make the trek," she says. (The 400 families who attended last year's gathering came from 31 states as well as Canada, China, France, and the United Kingdom.) She cites a Florida father of triplets who, except for his own partner, had never had contact with another gay parent. He and his partner brought their nearly year-old girls on a plane to the Michigan gathering just to get a sense of community for the first time. And Gelnaw says that's not an unusual case. "For people who don't have the option to be out, this is an incredible experience," she says. "For many families, not going [to Family Week] would be like not celebrating Christmas."
And for kids who have fewer support outlets than even their parents may have, Family Week and similar events around the country, such as Family Pride's Dads and Kids in the Desert event in Palm Springs, Calif., or Rainbow Families' annual conference in Minneapolis, provide a much-needed sense of belonging. Ember Cook, 21, of Columbia, Mo., credits attending Family Week as a young teen with helping her to finally accept her dad's homosexuality.
"I was raised as a Mormon," she says, "and the church was the only thing I knew from my first breath. When my dad came out, it wasn't like anyone was saying 'Yay--thumbs up for you.' And I was ashamed. I loved my dad but [thought] he was going to hell. Even my supposed friends said that."
Cook had no desire to go with her father and younger sister to Provincetown. "I was completely dreading it. We're going to have to talk about our feelings, I thought. How lame." But when the reticent teen arrived, she says, she was amazed at how accepting other kids were of their parents. …